As designers, innovators, and entrepreneurs, our mission is always to make people’s lives easier. Every workflow we design is aimed at reducing the amount of cognitive load our users’ experience, and every product we create is pitched the same way – “Hey the way you’re currently doing things is painful; here’s an easier way!” So when Steve Selzer, a Designer Manager at Airbnb, gave a talk suggesting that ‘making things easier’ isn’t always a good idea, I did a double take.
The Lean Startup. Lean Manufacturing. Six Sigma. If you’re a student of entrepreneurship and organizational efficacy, you know there’s one principle that has been the key to success for thousands of companies — Kaizen. But if you’re like most people, you probably haven’t heard of Kaizen. That’s because Kaizen is actually a Japanese word that literally means “improvement,” but today most people use it to mean “continuous improvement.”
Me – living the dream – playing poker in the Westworld “Park” at SXSW
Despite the fact that I attended South by Southwest for the talks on design and innovation, and despite the fact that (most of) those talks were truly amazing, when I returned home, the thing that I couldn’t wait to share with everyone was actually an immersive marketing experience for the popular HBO show, Westworld. And yes, after telling some friends and family this story they all thought that the conference didn’t have anything to do my job and that it was just one crazy party; but after giving it some thought, this marketing stunt might just have the biggest impact on my role as a designer.
You hear lots of people talk about the importance of authenticity, but why is authenticity so critical for innovation? Well as it turns out, your users will treat their relationship to your innovation (and you, by extension) as they would any other personal relationship in their lives. So, even though your innovation is most definitely not a person, your users will tend to think of it like one. They’ll think of it in terms of personality, and sometimes even gender!
As soon as we realize that our designs are being thought of as a personal relationship, authenticity becomes critical. We don’t like people in our personal life that are inauthentic, and our users won’t like products that are inauthentic. Your users are smart; they can tell when you’re being inauthentic. Once they sense that you have a purpose other than what you purport it to be, they will lose their faith in you.
My View of Musk As the Crowd Goes Crazy at SXSW 2018
If you’ve ever been to the SXSW Conference, you know it’s full of many surprises. This year none was bigger than the announcement that Elon Musk would be speaking. As soon as the email went out, I knew I would wake up as early as I had to in order to get tickets to see him talk. It didn’t matter if it meant waiting in line for hours or that I would miss the Melinda Gates’s keynote (that was poorly scheduled right after his). And I wasn’t the only one that felt this way.
Photo by Web Summit via Flickr CC
As someone who considers themselves up-to-date with the latest news and trends on everything design and innovation, I was taken aback when I saw a Facebook post back in December. My friend was calling out Elon Musk for being a jerk (and no it wasn’t one of the those Facebook friends that rants about everything). He was referring to a Twitter battle between Musk and Jarrett Walker, a public transit policy consultant with a PhD in humanities.
Their Twitter feud began because of Elon’s comments at an AI Conference. Musk had called out public transportation for being a “pain in the ass” and that you could end up sharing a ride with someone “who might be a serial killer.” This led to a series of tweets by Walker aimed at Musk, saying that Musk wanted to create a public transportation system designed for the protection of the elite. To which Musk simply responded, “You’re an idiot.”
Photo by Tim Gouw via Unsplash
Feedback is absolutely essential to producing a successful innovation. Innovators and designers probably subject themselves to more feedback than just about anyone else. And while feedback is good for the product they’re creating, feedback can take a toll on the creator. Sure it’s truly great to discover what kinda sucks about what you’ve made. But hearing over and over again that what you’ve made isn’t all that great can wear on you. This is why innovators need to be resilient. They need to embrace the mindset of an idealist.
Idealists are strange folks. They’re relentlessly optimistic, but they’re not blind. Far from it. They’re keenly aware of all the imperfections in the world. Seeing so much wrong doesn’t get them down, though. Idealists are the kind of people that believe all problems are solvable. They’re both rationally unsatisfied and emotionally optimistic.
Maintaining this balance takes work, but there are three habits you can practice to help bolster your idealist mindset.
The innovation process requires a lot of communication. It begins by discussing the problem, then talking through potential solutions, followed by clearly articulating how to implement the selected solution, and finally it involves telling (and selling) the innovation’s story. These different stages of communication involve not just the core design team but also every department of the organization (oh yeah, and the people we’re designing for as well). Because of this, designers and innovators need to be elite communicators. We have to think of ourselves as the Chief Communication Officers (CCO) of our organizations.
Photo by Jakob Owens via Unsplash
One of my favorite movie series of all time is Back to the Future. Back to the Future gets everything right. On a macro level, the story is about an ordinary kid that gets thrown into an extraordinary situation stuck 30 years in the past. He spends the rest of the movie trying to get home and along the way learns that “If you put your mind to it, you can accomplish anything.” But it’s not just the overall plot that makes Back to the Future great; it’s the thousand small details. During the opening scene as the camera pans across Doc Brown’s empty lab, you can hear the faint sound of a TV commercial in the background proclaiming that “October is inventory time at Statler Toyota.” Two movies later, as our hero finds himself in the Old West, he rides past a sign for “Honest” Joe Statler’s horse and buggy business, suggesting that the Statler family has been in the transportation industry for generations. These blink-and-you’ll-miss them moments demonstrate the filmmaker’s attention to detail and inspire the loyalty of countless fans like myself who watch these movies year after year.
GIF via Giphy
Designers are friends (not food). Say it again with me, designers are friends (not food).
While at times it might feel like we, as designers, are swimming around in a tank full of circling sharks, we have to remember that everyone we work with is also trying to fulfill our organization’s purpose. We’re not enemies; we’re friends.