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Tim Wood is the Design and User Experience Innovation Lead at Corning Incorporated. With a focus on R&D, he’s developing new tools and technologies within the scientific informatics space for Corning’s research scientists. Tim is also a tenure track professor within Rochester Institute of Technology’s School of Design. During the school year, he’s a full-time professor where he works with graduate students and upperclassmen to integrate strong interaction design skills into their practice.
Tim is a 20+ year veteran of the software development, consumer electronics, and professional services industries. An internationally recognized thought leader, speaker, and author on the topics of design and user experience, Tim has built a proven track record as a hands-on solutions-driven designer.
About Face, by Alan Cooper. Tim’s review: “If you’re a designer or a design student, it’s a really powerful book and gets into all the details and ways to address interaction design.”
The common understanding is that to be successful in today’s digital environment designers need to solve problems while building products that people want and need to use. While that may be the core of it, it’s only the core. There’s so much more to it these days. When we talk about interaction design, today’s rapidly emerging next-gen experiences, and the future of product design, designers now need to think about what it means to learn, to adapt, and to change.
In this episode, Sean and Joe chat with Tim Wood. Tim wears a couple hats these days, one as Professor of Industrial Design and Interactive Design at Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT), the other as Design and User Experience Innovation Lead at Corning Inc. Playing in both sandboxes gives Tim the opportunity to engage in the private sector while peering beyond the horizon, to the future of product design, through the lens of higher education.
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Joe [00:01:29] OK. So on today’s episode we have a friend of ours, someone we’ve known for a while, Tim Wood, and we wanted to have Tim on to talk about just kind of everything design related to product management, you know, how it works in software development now, and really just all kinds of different topics that we’re going to talk about. So Tim, welcome.
Tim [00:01:48] Hi, great. Thank you for inviting me to your podcast. I’m excited to participate in all of this.
Joe [00:01:53] Absolutely. So if you wouldn’t mind, if you could just introduce yourself quickly. You know, where you work, what are your roles, where do you come from?
Tim [00:02:00] So my name is Tim Wood. I am currently design and user experience innovation lead at Corning Incorporated. My focus there is primarily within the R&D space where I’m developing new tools and technologies, kind of within the scientific informatics space, for the research scientists that work there at Corning, developing the new tools and technologies of things that they use on a daily basis to get their work done and there’s a lot of really interesting challenges there. Once fall kicks in, I’m a full time tenure track professor at RIT in the School of Design there where my focus is primarily in the kind of industrial design and interaction design disciplines.
Sean [00:02:43] Awesome. So as a professor you’re committed to ensuring the next generation of designers have the right skills to shape the future of our world, right? I read that on your profile on RIT.
Tim [00:02:53] That’s what I do, yes.
Sean [00:02:54] So I’d love to kick it off by talking about that. So what does the next generation of designers and product people, what are the skills they need to have? What are the power skills of the future?
Tim [00:03:03] Well I think, you know, there’s kind a misunderstanding of like, the basic and fundamental design skills that one needs to have to be a successful designer in the world, being able to solve problems and build and make things that people want and need to use. That’s kind of at the core of it, but there’s all these other things that are happening now. When we talk about interaction design, designing software products, and all these next generation experiences that are kind of emerging today really enabled by, you know, some of these really interesting developments from a technological perspective, these types of steels need to be able to have the skills to adapt and change and learn, right. They need to be active learners, to be able to engage in this sort of rapidly changing environment, to develop and create these new types of things that are coming to market. Technology is in a constant state of evolution and that evolution is only accelerating. So really what I’m doing with my students is teaching them to think critically, to be adaptive, to always be learning, to understand the constraints and capabilities of new technologies and understand how those technologies may fundamentally impact human experience, really trying to examine those things in deeply critical ways in order to be able to adapt to this kind of ever changing environment that we live in today.
Sean [00:04:21] Great answer. So one of the courses that you teach, I read, is about design experimentation specifically. So I’d love to hear what you’ve learned about experimentation and what things make experiments better in the design space, what things have you learned not to do the design experimentation space? Because I know you’re doing a lot of labs and coursework on design experimentation specifically, so obviously you believe in it.
Tim [00:04:47] Yeah well almost all design work is a kind of experimentation and really what I’m focused on within the academic environment is getting students to think beyond just the conventions that we’re presented with today. If there are new technologies and new things are emerging and new types of capabilities, you know, from an engineering perspective that are becoming available in the market, we’re really trying to understand the implications of what those technologies might be able to deliver from a user’s perspective. Oftentimes we see students thinking very ridgidly about how they perceive the world, how tools need to be presented, how design needs to shape certain types of ideas. And I’m really focused on trying to shake that up, trying to get students to think in very different ways about the types of solutions that they produce and sort of challenge the convention that they’re presented with on a daily basis because the conventions that we’re dealing with today are legacy ideas that date back to the 60s and 70s, especially when we talk about user interface and user experience types of conventions that are out there in the marketplace. And so oftentimes my labs are structured in such a way to really get students to sort of probe in different areas, develop new types of ideas, to take risks, to explore new ideas in order to see what types of new experiences might even be possible given what we’re seeing emerging in the marketplace from a technological perspective today.
Joe [00:06:13] Great. So, you know, you’re talking a lot about design and going beyond the conventions of today. Just for, I think, setting a bit of a stake in the ground, per se, for a long time design was thought of as kind of just how something looks, making it pretty, pushing pixels…and I think it’s getting a lot more respect over the past few years because when we hear certain clients or other peers talking about building features, they’re not disconnected from the design anymore. The design is how the features work. So could you kind of just define what you believe design is?
Tim [00:06:43] Well that’s an awesome question, Joe, and I’m always thinking about what design is and I’m sure if I really have a great answer and I’m not sure if anybody really does because it’s always kind of an evolving thing, but there’s some things about design that I do know. One of those things is that design is really about solving problems, right. I mean fundamentally trying to make things better for people, trying to create experiences, products, things in the world that align to users needs, desires, etc., right? So fundamentally like, you know, oftentimes I think about that definition of design that I just gave versus other types of disciplines, like engineering, I can say that exact same definition around like, engineering, too. So design is kind of an amorphous thing. It is fundamentally transdisciplinary in structure, right. It always branches off into other fields. It’s always looking at lots of different ideas. It’s always thinking holistically about the nature of solutions, not just about a technical capability or a user need, right, but understanding technical capability, user need, the context of use, the holistic sort of phenomenological nature of human experience as well, right. All of those things come into the mix when a designer is thinking about how to address a certain type of problem and the types of solutions that might kind of flow out of that type of thinking. So design is kind of a big thing and it really is, you know, understanding how certain types of methods and processes and considerations can be applied towards solving lots of really interesting problems, right. It’s a way to think about not just solving the problems, but a way to think about the world.
Joe [00:08:29] Yeah, I mean we’ve seen design thinking, that kind of term, being used so much more lately. So do you think there’s ways to differentiate types of design, like industrial design versus software design based on if there’s a different form factor or if it’s physical versus digital, or is design just kind of design and solving problems like you’re saying?
Tim [00:08:47] Well my perspective is that design is just design. I think we kind of refer to that in the design community as like “Big D” design or capital D design. It kind of encapsulates all the design disciplines and sort of design approaches. I spend a lot of time working with industrial designers, industrial design students, industrial design professionals; and it’s really interesting when we talk about the classic context of industrial design and maybe comparing that to something like interaction design, which spends a lot of time being focused on digital products and software and things like that. Fundamentally, the processes and methods are exactly the same: the way that you think about solving a problem, the way that you go about approaching a problem definition, researching users, investigating solutions, etc., that’s sort of like a macro scale sort of talking about design processes, but fundamentally what you’re doing is exactly the same. Now the specifics of those activities and the way that you focus on things and what you’re specifically focused on is what really kind of differentiates the design disciplines. Like fundamentally, industrial designers are very much focused on form, right. That’s their primary concern, however it’s not their only concern. They’re also thinking about functionality and manufacturing considerations and a lot of issues associated with usability, etc. and that’s really not any different from what we’re doing in an interaction design kind of scenario as well. We’re thinking about the form of things, like the shape of the design and how it’s presented, albeit in many cases those are two dimensional considerations, but we’re thinking about the user context of use, their behaviors, the utility and functionality of those applications, and the sort of usability of those things as well. So when I’m teaching interaction design to industrial designers, I’m often relating back, you know, typical interaction design and human-computer interaction concepts to what they’re doing when they’re developing, you know, three dimensional products, right, kind of taking them through the steps of different design processes and kind of relating that back to the core things that they know. And, you know, again and again there’s always an ah-ha moment saying, “oh these design approaches are all the same, it’s just a matter of kind of what specific area are we focusing in on, what problem are we trying to solve,” right. A graphic designer might be thinking about the structure of a two dimensional communication right: understanding the layout of typography, the hierarchy of that typography, how it supports the message, et cetera; but how they approach all that, how they investigate those solutions, is no different than what I might do as an interaction designer and no different than how an industrial designer might approach their problems they’re addressing, too.
Sean [00:11:30] Fascinating. Alright, this is the part of the interview where we go into the deep webs and we do a little research. We’ve pulled some things out that you’ve said in the past and are going to ask you some questions. I found a paper that you wrote with Alex Lobos on RIT’s site about statefullness and tangible interaction in industrial design. And I thought it was very cool, very cool. One of my favorite quotes in there was about how industrial designers are trained for enabling physical interaction between users and their products which requires a strong focus and understanding on how attributes such as shape, materials, texture, color, and relative position communicate functionality. Alright. Now I think, purely hypothetical here, but you look at how even interaction design and software products are changing and you think about how like Pixar has changed the movie industry, right, and how this unbelievable processing power that we have now can put, you know, you think Monsters Inc. and you think of all the individual fibers of the hair on the monsters and like the unbelievable depths that can be provided to that really digitally created interface, right. And we’re gonna be able to do those things with our software products soon, too, so that we can create this sort of virtual experience around how things look and how physical interaction kind of crosses that divide into the digital world. That’s going to become more and more of how we think about how we’re building user interfaces, right?
Tim [00:12:57] Yeah absolutely.
Sean [00:12:58] So shape, material, texture, movement, relative position, these are things that we as designers have been thinking about for years but it’s going to become much more powerful. What do you think about that?
Tim [00:13:09] I think when we talk about tangible computing we’re talking about the physical manifestation of computing into our real world, our real environment. I think Sean, you’ve inverted that, right, and what you’re talking about is this sort of physicality and fidelity of the real world being manifested within a digital environment given the increasing technical capability that we have: the processing power, you know, super fast GPUs, massively parallel processing CPUs, etc.. This has deep implications in terms of how we think about interfaces and interactions in a digital environment, right. You know, we’re on the cusp of really kind of embracing new and emerging spatial computing models. Like people are talking constantly about this sort of XR environment, right, this sort of augmented reality, virtual reality, mixed reality sort of spaces, right, where we’re not so much limited to these two-dimensional screens with very sort of what I would consider like classical googly presentations, right, where, you know, features and content are presented in this very sort of traditional type of X-Y kind of matrix going on. In the future obviously things are going to get much more interesting when we start thinking about the manipulation of information and data that doesn’t have to be done in these very sort of rigid frameworks of, let’s say, like an Excel spreadsheet or something like that. We’ll be able to manipulate data through physical interaction in space, you know, and if we’re thinking about kind of how information and control kind of manifest in that environment, I think you hit the nail on the head. There’s all kinds of new possibilities, new ways to present that information, new ways to sort of manifest that into our environment even, new ways in which we’re going to be able to explore and understand connections between things in very compelling ways because of the new visualization method. There’s all sorts of information and metainformation that will be uncovered through these new types of presentation. But I think what we’re seeing is that technological evolution is not a straight line; it’s a curve and we’re at that sort of inflection point in that curve where things are starting to go straight up. So change is happening now; things are evolving really quickly. One of the fundamental challenges of designers, and interaction designers specifically, is understanding how to sort of address these issues. How do we want to rethink our interactions inside of digital environments with information, with functionality? What does that really mean? Like right now we’re so locked into a certain type of convention that really is a manifestation of thinking done in the late 60s and 70s. But it’s been deeply inculturated into, you know, the environment that we live in today. But that’s all going to change very radically, and that, again, speaks back to some of the things I’m trying to do with my students but also, you know, presents some very interesting opportunities for product developers and businesses who are thinking about these new types of applications that are going to be emerging shortly, right. It’s a really exciting time right now to be a design professional.
Sean [00:16:14] It is. I’m going to steal your quote, “beyond the conventions of today,” and publish that one because I think that defines the future of design right there.
Tim [00:16:22] Absolutely.
Sean [00:16:22] “It’s beyond the conventions of today…” We’ve got to take these new technologies… And the cool thing about what you do and where you are is you’re doing this with an organization like Corning that’s really on the cutting edge of material science and how these technologies can be actually applied, and you’re teaching it to the future designers at RIT, which is great.
Tim [00:16:42] Absolutely. My research work within academia, the teaching, and the professional work are coming together in some really compelling ways, absolutely.
Sean [00:16:51] It’s exciting what the future holds.
Tim [00:16:54] It is.
Joe [00:16:55] So, you know, we’re talking about students that you’re teaching and how to get them prepared for the world. What about designers already working in the world today? Just in general, like anything, what do you think they should be doing more of today that you’re not seeing?
Tim [00:17:07] I think one of the biggest things is understanding like, you know, we have some things happening right now. One of the things I think is really interesting is just understanding this convergence of sensor technology. And by that I mean, there are so many ways to capture information about the world, about the user, about the context of what you’re doing in real time; that type of information can be leveraged in some really interesting ways to drive a very very high degree of automation for the user. I mean I think of kind of the apotheosis of the interfaces is no interface, and I’m obviously not the first person to say that, but the less interactions with the system, direct interaction where the user has to make a decision and has to execute a task, the less of that that you have to weigh the user down with the better, right. Thinking about sensor technology, and when I talk about sensors I’m talking about things like understanding the capabilities of accelerometers or, you know, light-sensing or integrated cameras, integrated microphones, all of that type of technology, right. There’s innumerable sensor technologies out there. The more that you can understand about context and the more that you can infer about the user’s intent, the more that you can drive towards greater degrees of automation and less indirect interaction from the user. So I think when, you know, oftentimes designers are thinking in very limited ways about kind of what interaction design needs to be or how interfaces need to be presented to the user without really looking at, what are the real possibilities? What can we actually do with all of this data that we might be able to capture and how might we be able to use that to streamline experiences in really compelling ways? And so I think, I mean this is being addressed; there are a lot of designers kind of focused in on this space and there are interesting things happening right now. But I think generally when we start talking about professionals who have maybe been around for 5 or 10 years or longer really kind of need to embrace all of this and think of ways to bring those technologies to life in compelling ways for the user.
Joe [00:19:14] Yeah that’s so true. There are all these new dimensions evolving. I just was reading the other day that Amazon’s working on a wearable device to detect your emotions. I mean there’s a million ways you go with that once that’s in the world, so…
Tim [00:19:26] Yeah if you’re detecting emotions or you’re tracking eyes, I mean, our devices are watching our faces all the time now and can do really interesting things and so if you’re looking at somebody’s face, if you’re understanding emotions, if you’re looking at somebody’s heart rate at the same time, you understand the context of what they’re doing, you can actually infer certain things about intent and then execute, you know, events kind of from those data points.
Joe [00:19:52] I just saw a car the other day that they’re working on where it’s going to have a camera pointing at you to see when you take your eyes off the road and I guess shock you or something. But it’s amazing what they’re going to be able to do with all these different kind of ways to measure everything around you.
Sean [00:20:05] Or we’ll just skip right over all that and go right to self-driving cars, which I’m excited to see happen.
Joe [00:20:11] So I really wanted to ask this question the most just based on your experience, you know, and we’ve got product management professionals, designers, but is there a way to think differently in terms of design when you’re approaching, let’s say like an enterprise software product, versus maybe like a startup that’s got a smaller product that’s just trying to find product-market fit, or it’s just a less consequential product, like its not having any lives depending on it, like are there different ways to adjust how you approach design?
Tim [00:20:39] I don’t think there’s a fundamental difference in how you approach design when you’re talking about maybe a larger scale enterprise experience deployed within kind of a lulled environment versus maybe a startup who’s trying to kind of break mass market, right; get a product out there. I don’t think that the approaches are fundamentally different. There definitely is a difference in terms of understanding user and context though, right. I mean, you’re still doing the exact same type of design activities, but enterprise environments are interesting because your user base is more fixed, right, and can be much more defined and you understand the context of the work much more clearly. So it kind of streamlines things for you to a certain extent, right, because the enterprise environment is kind of like a walled-off world more or less. But there’s nothing fundamentally different about how you maybe approach design. And I wouldn’t say one is easier to design for than the other. I mean the challenges are unique in both spaces. I mean obviously if you’re like a startup and you’re trying to kind of create this sort of mass-market product that gets traction out in the world and you get a ton of users around, I mean, certain kinds of considerations and thinking sort of drive that effort. In the enterprise space, you know, even though you have maybe a more sort of constrained environment to design, for it obviously kind of presents its own challenges, right, based on the fact that there can be certain constraints or restrictions in terms of what sort of capabilities are available, or maybe you’re designing for a specific platform that’s only available in that environment, or a certain type of, you know, maybe laptop configuration or whatever the situation is. You always have your challenges there too. So I don’t see them being fundamentally different but they have their unique sort of considerations that have to be addressed, if that makes sense.
Sean [00:22:28] Sure, it makes a lot of sense, and I agree with you. I think fundamentally the challenges are the same. It’s just a different environment, different context, and the more you take those things into account, the better the result is, right?
Tim [00:22:38] Yeah and I think what I like about maybe designing in that enterprise space is, I think when you design for the mass market you’re often designing kind of, and I hate to say this, but it’s almost maybe lowest common denominator, at least, you have to have some design considerations in there to address many different user types, and consumer products have a certain implications, right, in terms of their level of complexity. When you start talking about enterprise software and you know your users really well and now you’re designing maybe for an expert user or an expert type of operator, it opens up different sorts of design opportunities, right. As opposed to trying to make something simple and highly usable in that kind of enterprise environment, or even when you’re designing, I wouldn’t even say for enterprise, but for a specific market or user group, when you know those users and they’re expert users sometimes you can work with complexity in really interesting ways and not have to feel like you need to constrain that complexity because of certain usability considerations or adoption considerations.
Sean [00:23:42] So if I can pull on that a little bit, you’re clearly speaking from your 20-plus years of experience as a UX architect and design strategist. What best practices have you found make products more successful? Like, do you find it’s better to design ahead or design in parallel? I mean obviously we are learning about the importance of user testing and getting things in front of people so you can get real feedback, but outside of that, what are some other best practices that you’ve found process-wise?
Tim [00:24:09] I mean it’s interesting when you say ahead or in parallel which implies a fundamentally agile mindset in terms of software development processes. I’m kind of old-school and I believe that design is essentially a very linear type of process. And from a development perspective we would talk about that from the, sort of quote-unquote, waterfall perspective. So there can be fundamental conflicts between design processes and agile development methodologies, which is kind of the subtext of your question, right? I would say in terms of reconciling, quote unquote, design into the agile world, design should be ahead of the development process and should be considerably ahead of that development process. If we’re speaking in terms of sprints, I would say something in the order of four sprints ahead of development, if not more. But obviously different organizations have different constraints and needs and that has to be sort of balanced accordingly. But I’m kind of of the mindset too that in order to enable very sophisticated agile development process, you know, in terms of actually getting functional code out representativie of design that you have to have very strong sort of user experience architecture foundations in place. Let’s say you may be offsetting design sprints against development sprints focused on specific functional areas, but you can’t really do that until you have all of your design, quote unquote, first principles well established and you understand sort of the framework of execution which all design is going to unfold. User experience architecture efforts can be fairly significant and intensive up front, but once you put that effort in place, it can really streamline design activity and develop activity at the back end and empower more agile types of development methods in very significant ways.
Sean [00:26:07] I love that. It reminds me of the overused Steve Jobs quote about, “my customers don’t know what they want until I show it to them,” right.
Tim [00:26:16] Right.
Sean [00:26:16] We have to have something to show to him before we can really get any good feedback.
Tim [00:26:20] And I think design is important too, like, to the developer. You have to envision a fair amount of the functionality as really a sounding board for all parties, not just developers, but your product managers, your stakeholders, etc., really need to understand the nature of an experience before you dive into trying to build that experience. Trying to incrementally define a design in an agile process never really addresses the sort of end-state vision where we’re trying to reach an end state at some point where we have, like, critical mass. Now in the software development world there is no final state, right. Things are always evolving or should always be evolving. But there should be some lighthouse or flagships out there that kind of point the way, that provide the vision that everybody can rally around or be united underneath, right? And I think design plays a fundamental role in establishing that. It’s not the only role, they’re not the only stakeholders in that, but designers are the ones responsible for establishing that vision, right, and actually making it, demonstrating what that looks like and how it will work. And then from those points then, obviously, if it’s early in a development cycle or early in a project, those things can evolve, but there has to be some sort of stake in the ground in terms of what’s trying to be achieved.
Sean [00:27:40] So that creates an imperative here around finding really good designers. And you see a lot of students, and you’ve been in this field since the beginning of your professional life, so you’ve seen a lot of successful designers. What traits do you find in a designer that makes them successful?
Tim [00:27:54] That’s a great question, and I’ve thought a lot about this actually. I think for me, the most important trait is intellectual curiosity, right. This is the trait in which you are the active learner, right. You are the one who is always asking questions, trying to learn new things, trying to understand ideas. When you’re a designer, oftentimes your domain of expertise is the design field, but oftentimes, or every time, you’re having to design for people who do other things, who have other types of expertise, who have other types of backgrounds, who live in other spaces. And so you’re always having to learn about those users, learn about the nature of their world, learn what about what they’re trying to do, etc., to design those solutions. And that intellectual curiosity goes beyond just understanding kind of user need and context, it goes into like, you know, if you’re in the technology space, designing solutions from that perspective. You have to understand a lot of fundamentals about technology. We were just talking about sensors and, you know, the constraints in an enterprise environment or whatever the nature of the situation is, you have to study those things, you have to understand them, you’re constantly learning, you’re always going to be a student. And you have to sort of kind of embrace that. And the young designers that I see who have that drive and that intellectual curiosity are the ones who always end up being very successful and have very rich and robust design careers. I do see a lot of students who have a lot of talent in terms of making very beautiful things. My experience has been that those types of students who have that kind of talent but lack that intellectual curiosity have very limited careers. They’re doing the design work, it may be a very satisfying or a rewarding job, but they don’t seem to kind of advance through the design ranks and their careers don’t seem to grow. They’re never really presented with the really compelling challenges that those who are intellectually curious are able to really kind of embrace and tackle.
Joe [00:29:46] Very cool. So I’m curious, what do you recommend to maybe start ups or smaller businesses or just businesses in general who don’t maybe have unlimited budgets, obviously, or, you know, they have to do design on a dime, let’s say. What are some ways that they can do user research, or just design in general, prototyping; on a limited budget? Do you have any advice for them?
Tim [00:30:07] Well, I mean, they should try to hire a designer. That would be my first recommendation. I mean, get some design capability in-house, right. Design can accelerate your business in so many ways. It can address so many issues in terms of really trying to drive your business forward and make your business successful. So I’d say the first step is to like get a designer onboard. If you’re not hiring one internally, go find an external resource, an agency, you know, some partners to potentially work with. Design doesn’t have to be super expensive, it doesn’t have to be super resource-intensive. There are lean methods and approaches to solving certain types of problems. It really kind of depends on the context and nature of those problems to talk about how certain things might be addressed. But if you’re able to engage with an agency or a designer or in some way, they can really kind of outline those approaches to you. If you only have a limited budget to get something done, and let’s say you want to test the usability of a product or maybe you want to improve the interface of a product or you want to improve the branding of something, whatever that situation is, consult with that designer, talk about the constraints that you may have, talk about your budget, and they’ll be able to sort of outline those solutions available to you. There are certain types of methods and techniques, you know, there are certain types of user research that can be very expensive and very time-consuming and take months and months to do and hundreds of thousands of dollars to execute, but there are very simple things to. There are gorilla research efforts that can be undertaken, there are very informal types of methods that can be applied as well, and all of that can bring more information, more context, more detail into the space that you’re working in in order to create better experiences for your user. So there’s many ways to potentially do this. It really has to be kind of addressed by the designer understanding the context of your situation.
Joe [00:32:03] Got it. You’re also being a recruiter of your students. You’re not just teaching them, you’re helping them find a job. Hire designers.
Tim [00:32:10] Most definitely.
Sean [00:32:11] Increase the demand for design. I always like to say the core thing we all compete on, I don’t care what business you’re in, is how you make your customer feel. It’s the experience that you provide. You know, in business school they teach you that there’s a tradeoff triangle between price and speed and quality, right.
Tim [00:32:26] Right.
Sean [00:32:26] But the interent’s changed all that, especially in the technology space. So there’s no place to hide anymore. And prices is so transparent. You have to be fairly priced. The only thing that we really compete on is how we make our customers feel. They come back when we make them feel good and we solve their problems in joyful ways. And that’s really a function of design the end of the day. So I support that argument. Don’t skimp on design. Absolutely.
Tim [00:32:51] Yeah it’s interesting that you bring up this idea of how somebody feels, right, because this is really what differentiates maybe the designer from the engineer, right. We’re looking kind of holistically at that user, and their emotional state, you know, their excitement around a product, whether or not they love a product or hate a product or they love a feature… This is really the type of space that the designer is focused on, like, trying to drive the desire in addition to the utility and the usability of the product, right, really addressing some of those emotional factors and understanding that, I mean, ultimately we’re designing products for human beings, right, and human beings are very very complex things that live in a very very complex environment. This is something that we talk about in school alot is really trying to embrace the fact that we are very very complex organisms with complex mental states in this politically, socially, culturally, linguistically complex environment, right. And the designer is the person who kind of takes all those things into consideration whether they’re being addressed in a very formal manner or if these are internalized ideas, whatever the situation is, we’re the ones who are addressing those dimensions in addition to some of the other more sort of tactical executional problems that we deal with.
Joe [00:34:12] So you obviously have a very deep understanding of design and probably high standards when it comes to design. I’m curious, what’s a design or a product that you’ve seen lately that really just caught your eye and you just clapped your hands and were like, “well done, well done to that”?
Tim [00:34:29] That’s a good question. I’m trying to think of something that stands out, an experience that I had most recently. I’m not so much struck by good design because in many ways good design is almost invisible. It’s almost like you don’t even perceive it. When something just works well, you’re not thinking about it, “hey this works really well.” Somebody like me might be thinking about that, but the public in general doesn’t. I think oftentimes what stands out more to me is when things are designed horribly, right, and horrible design is like everywhere. I experience it constantly. And it’s almost like, “why didn’t somebody just think about this a little bit harder? Why didn’t they address this detail? Why didn’t they think about X Y or Z?” That’s kind of more what my experience is, and the more that you learn about design, the more that these sort of egregious sort of designed experiences kind of stand out to you. Like if you see bad typography in signage or a flyer or an advertisement, or if you’re interacting with the interface, let’s say in your new car, and you’re like, “well why do I have to swipe three times they get over here, why didn’t they just bring that button over to the forefront?” It’s those types of things that maybe stand out to me. I try to surround myself with as much a good design as possible, but it’s inevitable that you come across these experiences that aren’t invisible, they’re disruptive, their failings are immediate and they’re direct and they’re very visceral, right. Like, “why isn’t this working the way that it needs to wor, why is it this way?” I run into those things all the time and probably could give you guys a litany of bad experiences that I’ve had or things that I think have been designed poorly.
Joe [00:36:12] Preach. I totally agree. I’ve got a bunch coming in my head as examples as well. But, okay, so you know, we’re coming up on time here, so we always like to ask everyone, is there a favorite book that you like to give out or give us a gift or just recommend in general?
Tim [00:36:29] When I talk to my students or people who are interested in interaction design, I’m a big fan of the fourth edition of About Face by Alan Cooper. I’m always pointing my students to that book because I think it really kind of represents my philosophy when it comes to interaction design. I was a really big fan of the third edition which is very representative my approach, the fourth edition kind of changes things up a little bit and is more reflective of kind of contemporary design practice, so I embrace that too. But I think that’s one of my favorite books to point to people. Now it’s not necessarily a book for mainstream consumption, but if you’re a designer or a design student, it’s a really powerful book and gets into all the details and ways to address interaction design; when it comes to software product design, it’s a really excellent book.
Joe [00:37:18] Awesome thank you.
Sean [00:37:19] That’s one we haven’t heard yet.
Joe [00:37:20] Yeah.
Sean [00:37:21] Good one to add.
Tim [00:37:23] I mean Alan Cooper sort of invented the whole idea of interaction design so it’s kind of like one of the big bibles out there.
Sean [00:37:29] Yeah, that’s good.
Joe [00:37:31] Cool. Well thanks so much Tim. Is there anything you’d like to plug before we wrap up?
Tim [00:37:37] Um…
Sean [00:37:37] Maybe the ITX Product Conference that’s coming up on the 21st?
Tim [00:37:40] Oh, ITX Product Conference…
Sean [00:37:40] Just kidding.
Tim [00:37:41] You have to be there. I will definitely be there. Highly recommended, right. But only thing that I can say is, you know, just keep buying those Gorilla Glass phones, right.
Joe [00:37:51] That’s right. Yeah, so for anyone who doesn’t know, Corning makes Gorilla Glass and that’s pretty much on every iPhone.
Tim [00:37:56] It’s in iPhones, Corning’s doing glass for your car interiors, your televisions, your laptops, you know, the materials are everywhere.
Joe [00:38:05] There’s a great video on YouTube from Corning, what’s it called, like The Future with Glass? And it had like 14 million views last time I looked at it but it’s really interesting if you’re interested where just glass in general is going in the future, but Corning does a lot more than that.
Joe [00:38:20] Cool. Well Tim, again, thank you so much. I mean Sean and I were going back and forth during the interview with just, like, “oh my God this is amazing, this sounds so great, a lot of great tidbits we’re getting out of here, so thank you.