Born to two architects, Gadi Amit was already playing with design before he could form full sentences. But at 23, he decided to make it his vocation, so he went to design school.
Today, Amit is the founder and principal designer of San Francisco-based firm NewDealDesign. As the creator of some of today's most iconic products, including the Fitbit, the Lytro camera, and Google's new modular Ara phone, he has a keen interest in how entrepreneurs preceive the world of design. Mostly, he says, it's ignored, but it shouldn't be. Good design is an investment that entrepreneurs from all realms should be making to compete successfully.
To hammer this home, he sat down with Inc. to discuss design's future and share why good design is essential for growing businesses. Here is an edited version of the conversation:
What is your definition of good design?
Good design is something that causes delight, kind of a positive functional surprise, embedded within an emotional uplifting feeling. Something that makes you feel respects you as a human, as a person who uses it, and brightens your day. It should do it time and again without taking too much attention. Sometimes good design is very utilitarian, sometimes its more flamboyant and artistic, but all in all its about causing an emotional reaction that is either on the more cerebral side, kind of this feeling of delight or surprise over an object's function and beauty, or sometimes just the beauty. Beauty is a need; it's something we need and crave and gravitate toward.
How can people make technology more relatable to real people?
A lot of the discussion within the technology world is limited to geeks and nerds. Making technology simple enough for a variety of people to enjoy is something very important. I think technology should be more in the background with only the right amount of interaction. We tend to forget that technology is also a huge source of entertainment. I think there is some level of critique of technology that is coming from a very strong, unaddressed social phenomenon of Luddites who refuse to accept it and refuse to accept the wisdom or magic of it.
What's the best design product you've seen in recent years?
There is actually no wearable today that is not well designed. When we started working with Fitbit eight years ago, there were pedometers that were horribly designed, and now wearables is a category that is growing because of design. The overall quality of cars has been phenomenally higher compared with, let's say, 15 to 20 years ago. Korean car companies have done phenomenal work on design, and it's improving performance and reliability and brand cachet.
Fitbit now has several competitors, including Apple watch. Could you compare different wearables and explain their significance?
An interesting thing is that I don't think this is a category where we will see a winner take all. Like jackets, people will have multiple, and they'll pick one for today and another for tomorrow. Wearables should be very nicely fitted to your body. They're a symbol of your personality, and they need to deliver utility, which is data. The category of fitness is based on a very simple paradigm--if you walk more or run more, you'll have a better, healthier cardiovascular system. But as we move to other types of health-based wearables, we'll have more and more devices dealing with other functions, and then the advice is gonna be a lot more complicated.
So speaking of wearables, why was Google Glass a failure?
What is the big difference between having something like a small display hovering in your line of sight versus just picking at your phone? Also, these glasses came right smack in the center of human connection. To that effect, I think the device was correct from a technical perspective, but the core cultural challenge is extremely difficult to win. One particular feature, the camera, became a lightning rod. If you're in a bar, which is a place people come to be intimate, you cannot walk around with a camera.
How do you break it to a client when their idea has significant drawbacks?
I think designers are moving from being tacticians to being more like strategic advisers. They have a broad view of emotional and functional aspects. They are aware of social issues. They are aware of intimacy and how devices can elicit or create social issues.
What are some products or product categories in need of good design?
I think consumer products, commodities that are sold by the millions in retail channels in the U.S., are relatively low quality. There is a huge pressure to cut costs, and there is huge brand stagnation. I think we need to look sideways to these categories that are not getting a lot of attention. I haven't seen huge innovation in food packaging for a long time.
What's your best advice for those interested in design?
The right messaging, the right words, the right graphic design, the right packaging, the right industrial design, the right experience design--all these are typically unknown for entrepreneurs. Design is right up there, if not above many basics that people learn. The second thing is to really be advised correctly by a professional. And the third element, which is very important to me, is find in your heart what you really care for. That's a great grounding force regardless of what the designer will say. Listen, but try to really articulate how you feel about this.