Product Leaders

with Adam Nash

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Design is all about human emotion & passion.

Adam Nash

CEO of Wealthfront, Product Expert, Founder

Lessons Learned

All good social software is built off at least one of the seven deadly sins.

What are the strong emotions that people feel when they interact with your product?

Strengthen strong emotions, mediate negative emotions.


Lesson: Product Leaders with Adam Nash

Step #8 Emotions: Design is all about human emotion & passion

When I went to LinkedIn, one of the things we had to build was the user experience and design team and we built a great team. I am really proud of what that's turned into. It went from kind of a two designers and a couple of web developers floating around, into a real team that feels like they own and want to drive the user experience. Hopefully, you have noticed that LinkedIn 2013 looks a little bit better than it did in 2007.

It took me a while to get over this "utility" thing and start really embracing what design is all about which is human emotion, passion. There's a joke in the PayPal mafia that all good social software is built off one of the seven deadly sins, at least. You've probably heard this in press. I actually always thought LinkedIn was underestimated because we had two, because we had vanity and greed which are both great drivers.

Unfortunately, compared to social networks, we didn't have lust so there's only so big you can get without that one, at least with humans as customers. But there are some truth to it, it's not about the deadly sins. The seven deadly sins or the seven virtues are just parables about the fact that human animals haven't changed that much in the last thousands of years.

We're in a new environment with technology and we inter-operate in different ways but we are actually wired very much the way that we were wired 5,000 years ago. So what are considered strong emotions and weak emotions haven't change that much. Getting comfortable talking about the strong emotions that your product evokes is really, really healthy.

When I was at eBay, we had great designers and we had great people on marketing who would talk about the brand. Actually, there's a lot of great people on marketing who are very comfortable talking about emotions. I mean it goes all the way back to the "Mad Men" era. What really motivates purchasing behavior. The problem is traditional marketing and brand always want to focus on positive attributes. They never want to talk about negative emotions, bad things. They only want to talk about good things.

Humanity is not that simple. Both the negative and the positive are big drivers. I am a big believer that when you are designing a product you should always ask the hard questions. What are all the strong emotions that people feel, when they get your product. When we did "Apply with LinkedIn", which was meant to replace the resume. A one click "I want to apply for this job." We talked a lot about what the strong emotions were.

Why do you apply for a job? Do you hate your boss? Are you underpaid? Are you worried? When you apply, are you afraid that you are not connected? Are you afraid that you don't look good that they won't appreciate how good you are? If they only knew that if you get this job, you are going to crush it for them. You are going to do a better job that anyone has ever seen.

Or are there positive emotions like hope? "My life will change if I get this job"? I can afford to start a family, I can afford to get married. If I do this, it's the first step in a big career that ends with me doing X, Y and Z and being on the cover of "Forbes". Who knows? There was hope and there was fear. So every time we did design iterations on the product, we kept talking about were we doing enough to strengthen the strong emotions and mediate the negative ones.

So if you clicked "Apply with LinkedIn" the 1.0 product we did – for the first time, I think, in LinkedIn's history you had a product when you clicked it and you looked at this thing, you said, "Wow I look good."

We took all that LinkedIn data and tried to make an interface where you looked at yourself in the mirror and said, "Wait, I look great for this job." Then you clicked the button and you saw how you were connected to the company and you had this visceral feeling like, "Wow, I have the inside track. Oh I feel bad for those other suckers out there applying for this job. They don't have all these connections into the company."

We tried to magnify up the hope, dampen the fears. The truth was the metrics we got from that initial launch were much, much higher than what we expected, given the placement and how slow moving that field was. I attribute a lot of that success in those early metrics to the fact that we first, as a team, started talking about emotion very heavily.

I know that this is a school, it's biased towards design. I know that you talk about these constructs. Don't lose that. Don't be afraid to talk about the positive and negative feelings. At eBay, we were very comfortable talking about auction mechanics and the fact that when you get outbid, you have this visceral negative reaction. Such as, "Someone's stealing that from me." It's like behavioral science. "No, that's my item. What do you mean I was outbid for $1.25?"

A lot of eBay's economics in the early days around auctions, were driven around the fact that people aren't rational about that. There're emotions to it. I recommend that all of you think about the emotions in your products and services. Don't be afraid of them. Don't try to dial them down. Embrace them. Drive into them. That's where powerful consumer metrics come from. I am personally of the belief now, that if you hit people's emotions, you will see your metrics skyrocket, compared to the folks who focus purely on utility.

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