These chairs would soon be sat upon by some of the country’s most influential designers of today. Last night I virtually attended a panel discussion that was put on to bring together some of Silicon Valley's most influential designers; it was an event hosted by Invision and housed at Adobe's headquarters here in CA. On the panel, sat Facebook’s designers Geoff Teehan and Julie Zhuo, Twitter’s Mike Davidson, Pinterests’s Keith Bormuth and Instragram designer Ian Silber. The audience was no less impressive as there were those from Google, Evernote, Adobe, Mintboxx, and more.
This was a full house, buzzing with designers and technologists from all over to come together for a simple social and discuss some of the challenges that come with designing for the most powerful tools in social media today. Cocktails were flowing and free appetizers were on the rise; more importantly, some of the toughest questions were about to be answered: How do you design for millions of people without alienating certain groups? What does it take to be a great product designer? How do you communicate the value of UX to your stakeholders?
Included here, are 7 things I believe were some of the key take aways that could help anyone who’s trying to “make it big” or perhaps more appropriately make an impact in the field of design. Afterall, this is insight directly from some of the most powerful tech companies in our day. Effectively, this group of people has impacted the lives of over a billion people on our planet; some were with the companies from the beginning. I share the insight here, with you today.
- Designing for the billions. When designing for a mass group of people, the goal should never be about how to please everyone, but rather how to provide enough value in such a way that people are able to leverage technology to enrich their lives. Twitter’s designer, Mike Davidson speaks about about how they need to remember that the goal isn’t to necessarily increase the data of how many people are tweeting, but rather, how to increase engagement. Instagram’s Ian Silber also mentions how it’s easy to get lost in the data but that we need to remember that, at the end of that day, it’s about the community that we’re trying to build and foster.
- Data = insight, but is not always interpreted in the way, that’s most useful. Instagram designer, Ian Silber who also used to work for Groupon spoke to his past experience as an example. When Groupon used to send out mass emails to people, they saw a spike in ROI, they then increased the number of notifications they were sending and the unsubscriber numbers started to soar. “It’s important to keep in perspective decisions for the long term rather than only focus on short term gains,” Ian shares. The deception of data can lead teams to make decisions that appear good in the numbers at first but should be cautioned because if you’re not remembering design for people, then you can run the risk of having short term gain in data, and long term loss.
- Empathy is a thing. Julie Zhou of facebook began to talk about how the most successful designs are the ones that we can relate most closely; she was on Facebook’s team when they first started designing the application only for college students. “Back then - It was easy,” she said, “We would make decisions based off things that we would like.” But now, Facebook faces the new challenge everyday about their expanding user base who has surpassed over 1 billion active monthly users. They’re now sitting in a spot where they have a hard time truly defining a niche user-persona because, well, nearly every demographic imaginable holds a significant number of users. Facebook, then has to reflect internally and truly think about how to provide value to people and understand their core purpose, rather than saying ‘let’s figure out how to please everyone.’ Each of the designers (Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram) agreed that its critically important to have researchers go out there, and be on site observing users in real time with their applications. That’s when you can truly start to achieve empathy, for demographics that are on the other side of the world.
- Be the user. Julie went on to share, about how Facebook also will bring empathy in-house through things such as putting people in the company on 2G. Facebook as a company has done a great job at forcing its team to understand what it’s like to have “slow” data plans, and not just through Q&A but rather having them experience it themselves, on their own devices. This has been a radical shift for the company, because they are able to tangibly experience what challenges they are facing and must overcome as designing their applications for demographic in areas that may not have access to the kind of high-speed data that we do, here in America.
- The future of technology. When asked about the future of technology from these 5 designers, part of the answers started to brew around being more connected to our hardware devices. Mike Davidson began to speak about how technology is likely increasingly going to become more integrated with our bodies and then Geoff Teehan of Facebook took a pivot and brought up how there are parts of the world that still don’t even have internet. Rather than going deeper into tech, he reminds us that the expansion and accessibility of tech is also in store for our future. It’s up to us as designers to keep that in mind, that widening accessibility is of just as much importance as creating more in-depth products with deeper feature sets.
- Good Design and Good Business aren't mutually exclusive. The design panel was asked about the challenge of designing incredible user experiences while still designing applications that are able to monetize. Julie Zhou brought up her perspective, that in fact a well designed application doesn’t need to avoid monetizing on things such as ads so long as it’s done in a format that is valuable to the end-user. Many people who are designing apps on the marketplace today forget that we don’t need to be spammy and as a matter of fact, that spammy-ness (unsurprisingly) is not effective. What is effective is when the application aligns with the user’s goals and interests. For example, Keith Bormuth of pinterest spoke about how Pinterest just launched an option for people to buy the things that they are pinning. -- This is genius because the reason why people are looking at these things, and pinning them in the first place is because they aspire to have those things, or at least are already in admiration-mode. Instagram followers started to notice advertisements on their app and comment that their ads from the earlier days were better. The reason for this was because Ian shared that at first, hand-picking which ads were “worthy” of being placed on their application was the approach they had taken. They almost immediately saw a return on the approach, and later opened the doors to mass advertisers, which is when people felt the quality may not have been “as good,” meaning that it’s important for designers who are artfully trying to integrate ads on their platform need to do it in such a way that is relevant and useful to the people on the other end.
- The secret sauce to good design. The panel was asked 2 things: first, what’s the secret sauce to good design and second, how to best get buy-in for one’s design. I personally have learned this lesson. First, “good design” is about how to best provide value to the end user. Facebook’s designers Geoff Teehan and Julie Zhuo both touch on how performance and reliability of the design should be major focal points. With regards to creating buy-in, it’s critical that designers don’t overlook the power of presentation. You can’t just email a raw file to the stakeholders and expect the whole story to be communicated because without the power of avid presentation and contect, communication is lost. Imagine if TED speakers emailed a thousand people, the bullet points on a presentation slide and expecting them to walk away life-changed… Now when those same bullet points are presented on-stage at a world-renowned venue with a powerful figure walking you through it, the message resonates. -- this example, is how the power of presentation of a TED talk radically changes our perspective. Just like how you can’t expect to inspire people with emailed bullet points of a TED talk, one needs to inject emotion and allow for the audience to see your designs how you see them. How? through investing time in a compelling presentation. You do NOT need to create a huge staged show for your designs, but it’s important to invest time in how you’re presenting the designs (even if it is via static email) and add enough context (i.e. story) around the pieces to paint a vision for how you see it. Oftentimes people forget that their audiences aren’t in the same mentality as you, the designer; that is why they’re hiring you. Make an effort to communicate the vision of your design through adding context and truly investing time in the presentation to create maximum buy-in.
Principal Designer of Mintbox Design