Designing Your Experience

with Jeff Veen

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An overview of design and product sense

Jeff Veen

Design Expert, Good Taste Purveyor, Product Guy

Lessons Learned

Design is identifying a problem & providing a solution that is satisfying and accomplishes a goal.

Design Co-Founder: somebody with deep and inherent product sense has to be a founder on the team.

Product design: deeply technical, requiring knowledge in technology, psychology, & narrative.


Lesson: Designing Your Experience with Jeff Veen

Step #1 Design: An overview of design and product sense

I think a lot of people believe right now that design is this magic silver bullet. We need a designer. We got to put some design in there because then we'll be successful. Part of me is super satisfied with that. Part of me is really frustrated by that.

The satisfied part is that I spent a couple decades fighting for good design and getting a seat at the table. Now, we have that seat, or we have our own tables. The design co-founder now, somebody that has the deep inherent product sense, has to be a founder on the team. So that's awesome. Good.

Design now, I think, has just about gotten that level of importance. It's good engineering, good marketing, growth, product fit, and all that kind of stuff. Awesome. But it's not just this magic thing where you get a designer, and they'll just fix the product and take risk out of our whole endeavor.

It's so much more than that. I see, in a lot of products, that sort of cargo cult mentality. I don't know if you know. If you look up cargo cult on Wikipedia, it's fascinating. In World War Two, all of the soldiers went to these Pacific Islands and brought all this amazing resources with them, and then all the soldiers left. The people who lived on the islands wanted those resources still, the crates of food and things. So they started marching around with fake guns, trying to get the airplanes to come back. They just copied what they saw, but they didn't understand how it worked. It's this documented ethnographic thing that happened.

We do that with our design all the time. Apple and Samsung phones, we just copy it. Look at the beautiful interface design. I want that. Make it look like that. That's not problem solving, because that's ultimately what design is. It's identifying a problem that somebody has and providing a solution for that problem that's satisfying and accomplishes a goal.

You can't just copy your way to get to that. You can't just stick design in there and hope it works. There's no such thing.

There's so many ways to define design, and that's one of the problems that we have, I think, is that I say I'm a designer, but people immediately think, "Oh, so you make things pretty? You decorate?" I don't see that at all.

I do product design, which means it's a deeply technical discipline that requires a tremendous amount of knowledge of how our technology works and things like that. It requires a lot of understanding of psychology and how people respond and behave to things.

It requires a tremendous set of narrative skills, I think, to be able to communicate in that abstract way through a screen, where I can't just talk to somebody. I have to draw a picture, and they have to look at the picture, and that has to let them know what to do.

So everything I just outlined right there are different disciplines in design, everything from interaction design to scalable systems to typography, color, to usability and cognitive theory. All of those things are part of design.

I also don't necessarily consider design a separate discipline in the product development process, which still a little bit unique, in that I spent a lot of time at Typekit, we all did, hiring engineers who were good designers or at least had good taste and had a strong appreciation.

Even pager guy, that would kick the servers when needed to, knew that he would have essentially constraints put on him to ensure that we had an appropriate user experience and things like that. So we all shared really good design. I'll tell you, now, I'd say a good half of the things that are designed, that you see on the screen at are done by developers.

We have a language that's done by a creative director, but they can work in that language. They are good at doing layout and interface and elements and communicating through there and even writing the copy, because we focus so much on that.

In fact, I think the thing that I would consider the one type of peer pressure we had on our team was to have better taste, always. We competed on that. That was great. It just made everything. It was light-hearted and not mean-spirited, but so important that everybody felt almost this calling to make beautiful, highly functional, and highly usable things.

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