Bridging People and Technology with Design

Posted by at 8:00AM


Image Credits (all images): Rainmakers Live Photographers Ray Quek and Gareth Yeo

Rainmakers LIVE! are a team of Stanford University students passionate about entrepreneurship and technology. This last tuesday, they held their second live event at AOL headquarters in Palo Alto called “Bridging People and Technology with Design“. It was an event that comprised of a live panel of speakers with various backgrounds specializing in different areas relating to design, discussing everything from user interface to user experience, to how design influences their businesses and what they think of when they think of design.

The panel of speakers were:

  • Garry Tan – Formerly cofounder of Posterous and currently an Entrepreneur in Residence (EiR) at Y-Combinator (a startup accelerator)
  • Kevin Fox – Formerly of Google, FriendFeed, Facebook, and Mozilla
  • Luke Wroblewski – Formerly of eBay and Yahoo! and currently is the cofounder of Bagcheck
  • Jason Putorti – Formerly Lead Designer of Mint.com and currently co-founder of Votizen
  • Jessica Mah – Cofounder of Indinero

The topic of discussion focused heavily on design as a whole. The event kicked off with asking all the panelists what design meant to them. Answers varied greatly from anything that bridges the flow of the site and connecting the users to the business to design being different things to different people and ultimately can vary greatly depending on who your audience was. The one clear sentiment that was echoed by all the panelists directly or indirectly was that design was not just merely visual, or what you can see. It was everything and unique for every business, site, mobile app, or audience it was designed for.

Design is meant to solve key problems in how a site or mobile app operates and draws in users for a given business. For those looking to jump in, it was recommended that you take baby steps learning like you do everything else and solve one small problem at a time. The key thing to do for success as echoed by many of the panelists was to focus on a niche group of audience initially if you can, for your given business, and taylor your design around a specific demographic (if possible) and expand later. Design could be focused on the structure of the site, reducing friction or obstacles of a user getting to what they are looking for, and improving copywriting. Ultimately the message was put your product out there to take feedback as often as you can and improve as much as possible base on feedback, and try to minimize what you do initially going off gut instinct on what you think helps aid users in using your site or app.

While the above advice is not generally limited to design, I think there is a strong sentiment that needs to be repeated here because often times, people overly design principles as a whole beyond the visual look of their site or app and iterate the actual product and features leaving design as an after thought. This was not discussed during the panel and are often of my own observations, but it does illustrate a strong point that design should be a core principle of your web and mobile business as it is one of the key factors in determining the usefulness and easiness of using your site or app. It an interesting side discussion that was brought up was to focus on design principles that works for your particular business. Kevin talked about how at Google, their design principles were focused heavily on getting users in and out fast. That they wanted to design things minimally to remove any friction of having a user stay as search is designed to get people out of Google and onto other destinations. Luke chimed in saying Zynga has the opposite design principle, trying to keep users in their games as long as possible. And depending on which type of business you are in, design must carefully reflect that in both function and visual appeal.

Overall, it would seem there is no finite rule to design but the rule of thumb would be to focus on making everything easier for your user. Anytime any element of design impedes on this, it can ultimately lead to bad design.

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