The founder of industrial design firm Fuseproject has revolutionized design at companies large and small. His high-tech secret: Keep it simple.
-- As told to Jeff Bercovici
How has design thinking changed since 1993, when you started working in Silicon Valley?
Design was not seen as integral to business then. It was something you brought in at the end of a project to prettify it--pick the colors, maybe change a few superficial aspects. But really, design works on the fundamental experience of a product. Apps can be very similar. Software and hardware are easier than ever to develop; so what makes the difference between a great experience and one that requires a lot of work on the part of a consumer? That's design.
As product cycles accelerate, how important is design in winning over consumers quickly?
They're not just accelerating--they're joining into each other. Some elements of a product, like the brand or digital appearance, will be permanent no matter what part of the cycle you're in. You're owning a certain way to engage with your customers, and you need to continue to own that.
What has working for big companies like Apple taught you about running your own?
When I worked for Apple, in the mid-'90s, it was one of those companies that, as a creative, you really wanted to see succeed. There was a commitment there to getting it right, and to finding its own solutions rather than looking at what other people were doing and emulating that. That's something I'm starting to find in more companies: People are looking for what makes them unique.
Some of the highest-profile recent tech designs--Google Glass, the Apple Watch--have flopped. What makes for bad design?
There are no bad technologies, only bad ways to conceive them. Many great technologies are designed in ways that are just too complex or not socially acceptable. For example, robots that seem too human are intimidating. They don't need arms and legs. They can be more discreet. Our August Smart Lock is essentially a robot that can sense that you are approaching and unlocks the door, but we're not making it look like a creepy hand on the door handle. A big part of a designer's job is to step outside of clichés.