You don’t need professional designers to develop good products
July 4, 2011 by Guest Contributor
“Design can never be complete because design solves people’s problems, and people are constantly changing,” said Kevin Fox, a product designer of Mozilla Labs, in concluding the Rainmakers LIVE! 2011 mini-conference in Silicon Valley.
With the theme “Bridging People and Technology with Design”, the Rainmakers put Fox onstage together with four other Silicon Valley-based designers and/or start-up founders; Luke Wroblewski of Bagcheck, Jason Putorti of Votizen, Garry Tan of Posterous and Y Combinator, and Jessica Mah of inDinero.
Three hundred participants made up of design and product enthusiasts, entrepreneurs and students based in Silicon Valley attended the event held at the AOL Auditorium on Jun 20, 2011.
We bring you the key takeaways of the panel discussion:
Q1. What does design mean to you?
Jessica Mah: Helping solve problems for users. In the case of InDinero, design is about helping business owners track their money online. It does not matter how something looks visually, but more of the user interaction.
Jason Putorti: Design is a process. In design, we work to find the intersection between user needs and business needs.
Luke Wroblewski: It depends on whom you ask the question to. To me, design is all encompassing.
Kevin Fox: Design can be anything. But it has to be functional, appealing and gratifying. It is important to give joy to the users.
Garry Tan: Good design is making something that people want.
Q2: What is your top principle in web design?
Jessica Mah: Test your design out with people. Go through your mock-ups with people.
Jason Putorti: I come from an advertising agency background. To me, user comprehension is very important. What is the most important thing in the page for the user?
Garry Tan: People do not get copy correctly. As a result, users get lost. This is a big problem. Designers should think about how they are communicating to one single person, what is in their mind, and what needs to be done to make the person do what they intend.
Luke Wroblewski: This is a big question. To me, the number one principle is “Do no harm.” Do not communicate the wrong thing and waste the users’ time. Today, time is the most precious thing. Wasted times means doing harm.
Kevin Fox: Design should make something very easy to understand yet seemingly invisible. Design is creating things to make things more productive.
Q3: Is there a shortage of designers in Silicon Valley? If there is, what can be done?
Jason Putorti: The stereotype of a designer in Silicon Valley is someone who has done “XYZ”, has “N” years of experience and maybe lives in San Francisco. The point is, most of them are happy. It is tough to move these guys unless they are inspired. However, most people (founders) do not have things that are really inspiring. Great designers want to work on something inspiring; something that is going to create social impact and change the world.
Founders have to think bigger and have an inspiring vision. This way, he/she can attract people to solve the big problem.
Secondly, consider thinking outside of the box. Look further out. For example, I have worked with designers from Sweden.
Jessica Mah: There is a massive reliance on design help. For example, think of a businessperson trying to recruit an engineer. This is like a start-up founder trying to recruit a designer but do not know how to design.
Kevin Fox: Designing is like cooking. Anyone can cook. There are recipes to follow for baseline design. But they are recipes. Imagine yourself as a chef. You have the recipe, but you start to play with the recipe, create your own techniques, explore what works and does not work. What are the patterns? How do people think? How to make new things that people like? This is the path for people to become designers.
Luke Wroblewski: When start-up founders say they are looking for a designer, they are not looking for a designer. For example, when I hear people saying “I need someone to create killer user experience”, it is too late. You already made the product. You already designed it. You already created the user experience. The sheer fact that you got that far means it is too late.
When people say that they want a designer, the designer has to take the technology and make it meaningful for people. The question in designing is what is the core essence of the product?
Many people have the misconception of the word “design”. People think it is making a product fanciful, when design is the core of the product.
Also, people tend to separate product from user experience. Fundamentally, product is the user experience.
Q4. For a coder who would like to learn design, what skills should I pick up? Which component (e.g. Typography, Copy) is the most important?
Kevin Fox: Get to the core. Components such as typography and copy are the makeup.
Luke Wroblewski: There is no need to take a class. Just put things out there, see how people use it and then iterate and move on.
Also, remember that engineering is crucial. There is no design without building something on the web. It is about collaboration – I learnt most about design from my engineering co-founder. He sees the system. He tells me what can be done and cannot be done.
Jason Putorti: Focus on interaction design and usability – everything comes in later.
Rainmakers LIVE! started with the simple idea of bringing amazing people passionate for design and entrepreneurship together. The event aims to be the catalyst in bringing people together and fostering a network of entrepreneurs.
Rainmakers LIVE! 2011 was organised by Julian Koo, Amanda Lim, Tay Kah Hong, Lucas Ngoo and Ang Sea Law together with NUS Entrepreneurs’ Association (NUSEA). NUSEA consists of participants of the one-year NOC in Silicon Valley programme, where participants take classes at Stanford University while working full-time in a Silicon Valley start-up.
Rainmakers was the name used by Gwendolyn Regina Tan (editor’s note: yes, the Gwen from SGE) when she produced the first NUSEA newsletter back in 2005. Later on, Rainmakers LIVE! the conference was conceptualised and organised by Gwen and the rest of the NUSEA executive committee then. Her Silicon Valley juniors have since then continued to carry on the legacy of the brand.
During the mixer, attendees got to enjoy the food catered by Coho and were invited to leave their feedback on Surveylicious a mobile survey platform. Surveylicious made giving feedback easy and fun amidst the bustling networking taking place at the lobby of AOL.
The Rainmakers LIVE! event is sponsored by Infocomms Development Authority of Singapore. AOL is the venue sponsor.
About The Guest Author
This article was contributed by Ridza Salim and the Surveylicious team. Surveylicious is a location-based mobile and web platform that enables businesses to collect constructive feedbacks from their customers in real-time. Surveylicious is also the winner of Stanford’s Entrepreneurship Bootcamp pitching competition 2011 sponsored by Sequoia Capital.
Find out more about SGE’s research arm: SGE Insights, providing customized in-depth research reports to help you navigate the business of technology in Asia.
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