Yesterday, Google announced it's taking a big step into its future: By buying Gecko Design, an 18-year-old product design and mechanical engineering studio, to be part of Google X. What could Google want with a smaller engineering company like Gecko? Its ability to build real-world products, that's what.
Google X a little bit like the New York Yankees of the tech world. It has all the money, all the backing, it could possibly need—and yet it still doesn't always seal the deal. In Google's case, that's often intentional, since Google X is devoted to the so-called "moonshots," big ideals that are intended to fail, from space elevators to hoverboards. But increasingly, Google X is dealing with technology that very well could become commonplace, like self-driving cars and Google Glass.
Which is where Gecko comes in. Gecko, which is almost two decades old, isn't a household name in the design world the way that others are—like frog design, NewDealDesign, or Fuseprojects. But it's worked on some of the most high profile consumer technology products of the past decade, many of them in partnership with those very studios.
For example, Gecko carried out the mechanical engineering work on FitBit, a product that was designed by NewDealDesign. It also took Aliph, the maker of Jawbone, "from concept to manufacturing of this small yet complicated consumer product." It engineered Sonos' Zone Player. It helped Logitech with the electro-mechanical components of its cordless joystick. It oversaw the Chinese manufacturing of a Herman Miller lamp.
Top: Portable espresso machine MyPressi. Bottom: Herman Miller Leaf desk lamp.
So why haven't we heard more? Let Gecko explain: "Creativity without practicality is useless in consumer product development," the company explains on its website. "We're aware of the limitations of manufacturing and can intercept potentially costly design glitches early on. The language of design and manufacturing is often divergent."
Its job, in other words, is to get shit done. More specifically, to pull great ideas out of creative people and thread them through the multi-national, setback-laden pipeline of global manufacturing. It's the hardest job and the most important expertise to have—and as Google aims to introduce a huge number of new hardware projects, it's going to be invaluable.