Smart entrepreneurs realize that great design isn't just a beautiful object or something walled behind glass at the MoMA. Design can lead to whimsical customer experience, breakthrough innovation, and new markets. Hear how the creators of Slack, Drybar, LittleBits, and Plum Organics think about design.
The Insight in Curiosity
Ayah Bdeir--Founder of LittleBits
LittleBits is a New York City-based maker of DIY electronics kits.
I majored in electrical engineering and really believe that design thinking and the scientific method are essentially one and the same--a process for solving problems and making discoveries. Entrepreneurs who dismiss design as some aesthetic cult are doing their customers and their bottom line a disservice. When I was first starting the company, I would take my early prototypes and show them off at maker fairs and watch how parents, educators, and, most important, kids played with them. I'd take notes, take pictures, ask questions. Kids could submit ideas, and most of the things we eventually made--a temperature sensor, a sequencer--were informed by that user feedback. We were never designing in a bubble. If you want to make something new, you can't just hire people to add colors and logos at the end. Design thinking needs to be integrated, and you need to hire designers who will drive your products--and your business. --As told to Kate Rockwood
The Function in the Form
Neil Grimmer--Co-founder of Plum Organics and founder and CEO of Habit
Habit is an Oakland, California-based personalized nutrition startup.
I was an artist showing in galleries and came to design by accident. Someone at Stanford saw one of my pieces--a "wireless hug" made from two connected vests that could transmit pressure--and invited me to give a talk. I went to their product design group to speak, and it was this aha! moment. I realized the Stanford designers were asking the same questions about technology and emotions, but were solving problems in people's lives. I wanted in on that, so I jumped out of the art world almost immediately. We tend to see these very finite roles--designer, artist, entrepreneur. But at the foundation, they're all the same thing: creative problem solving. Design isn't really about aesthetic. It's about innovation. Companies that want to raise eyebrows need to ask: How can we bring design thinking into the highest and lowest levels of the organization? How can designers help shape every aspect of our business? That's the next frontier. --As told to K.R.
The Surprise in Experience
Alli Webb--Co-founder of Drybar
Drybar is an Irvine, California-based nationwide retail chain of 74 blowout salons.
I don't have any pedigree in design, but I realized even before I launched my business that design is more about experience than aesthetic. When I was still a stay-at-home mom, I started a mobile blow-dry business, traveling to people's homes. I'd usually set up in the kitchen or living room, which meant the women weren't seated in front of a mirror. There was always this moment at the end when they'd go running to see their hair and let out this big squeal. When I opened a physical location, I knew I wanted to re-create that moment and the excitement of the reveal. It's dangerous for business owners to assume design is only about how something looks. It's really about emotions: How do you want customers to feel? How do you want the whole experience to unfold? I think without that early attention to design, we wouldn't have started so strong right out of the gate. --As told to K.R.
The Opportunity in Pain
Stewart Butterfield--Co-founder and CEO of Slack Technologies
Slack Technologies is a San Francisco-based business-collaboration software company.
One day, a few of us at Slack were going for a walk in a neighborhood with narrow sidewalks and a lot of sandwich boards, so it was really crowded. It started to rain, and two-thirds of the people pulled out umbrellas. The spikes are basically at the height of other people's eyes, and it was interesting to watch: Some people don't realize they're nearly gouging another pedestrian's eye out, and others realize it but have this panicked moment of not knowing what to do to avoid it. So much of life is like that, with people either not realizing the problems or not knowing what to do--and there are huge opportunities for businesses that can come up with solutions. Financial services now have these design groups: Capital One has put massive effort into the design of everything from its online payment portals to its mailers. I think it's likely that design will increasingly have a seat in the C-suite. Anything where design can make a difference and other entrepreneurs aren't yet thinking about it--that's where the opportunity lies. --As told to K.R.
Correction: An earlier version of this article misspelled Stewart Butterfield's name as Stuart Butterfield.