3 inspiring people and thoughts from BusinessWeek’s Design conference

Last week I attended BusinessWeek’s first conference dedicated to design. I got more out of it than I thought I would. Many had eye- and mind-opening things to say. I thought I would share a few.

Brian Chesky, CEO of AirBNB

Among my favorite presenters was Brian Chesky, CEO of AirBNB. He has a degree from the Rhode Island School of Design, and is very design-forward in thinking about how to run AirBNB. Some of his thoughts/beliefs:

  • Designers have the opportunity to remake the world around them. If there’s something we don’t like, we can fix it.
  • Early on AirBNB followed Paul Graham’s advice of being loved by 100s rather than kinda liked by millions. They felt that passion was important, and they were very explicit in designing the service to stoke that passion in their customers.
  • At one point he said, “You’re not going to A/B test your way to Shakespeare”. Too often companies defer decisions to A/B testing.
  • “Take a method acting approach to design”… Develop deep empathy for your customers so that you can then really understand what it’s like to be them. This will allow you to develop magical experiences, and you can help your customers elevate their expectations of what a great service can and should be. I LOVE THIS.
  • When asked about what flaws designers have, Brian said, “They can lose touch of who they are designing for. Particularly when they silo themselves. Designers have to watch their ego. And collaborate with every function throughout the company.”
  • Brian also stressed the importance of physical space. He remarked on how most offices interiors are awful, and most home interiors are delightful. They’ve designed their conference rooms as re-creations of spaces available in people’s homes on AirBNB.
  • AirBNB doesn’t offer a desk for every person. Some people need permanent desks, yes. Many don’t, because they’re always collaborating, or rarely at them. So AirBNB favored creating spaces to promote collaboration rather than making sure everyone has a dedicated desk. I ALSO LOVE THIS.

Paul Bennett, Chief Creative Officer at IDEO

Paul used a metaphor of flying flocks of wild geese to talk about designers and design teams:

  • the lead goose creates uplift for followers
  • when the lead gets tired, it moves to the back of pack
  • the followers honk as a way to motivate the leader

Tony Fadell, CEO of Nest

Tony Fadell, lead designer of the iPod and iPhone at Apple, and now CEO of Nest, the dynamic thermostat folks, stressed that any design/product team needs to have a “point of view, a vision.” The reality is that not every decision can be fact-based, that many will be opinion-based, and with a shared point-of-view, teams can arrive at a shared opinion.

For me, this tied into Brian Chesky’s comment about A/B testing. If you simply let A/B testing decide your future, you’ll have a product that might perform well in the moment, but that could miss out on a much more impactful gestalt. You need that point of view, that shared perspective, to ensure coherence and the best experience over all. I think you should then use A/B testing to optimize those parts of the experience.

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