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Episode 136 September 25, 2018 | 30min

Design Matters: A Conversation on Digital Transformation

If you were building a skyscraper, you wouldn’t skip the architect

Show Notes

Design is Not an Add-On: Why did it take so long for design to come back into the conversation? This week, Paul Ford and Rich Ziade talk about digital transformation and the marriage between design and engineering. What are companies risking when they don’t take it seriously?

Paul Ford You know how you can tell a real doctor, by the way, as opposed to someone who’s faked their degree?

Rich Ziade Mm.

PF Two things: they tell you, “Doctors don’t make as much money as they used to,” that’s the first one [Rich laughs] cuz every freakin’ doctor does that now.

RZ They do. They do.

PF They love it. And two is they complain about the information system.

RZ Yeah.

PF Like if you wanna identify—

RZ Oh! Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.

PF If you wanna identify a fake doctor—

RZ “Can you believe this thing?”

PF Yeah, a fake doctor will tell you, “I’m very happy with where I am and I like managing [Rich laughs] data.” Like if they went to like some non-medical school, if they’re like lying and their doctorate in like economics.

RZ Yeah.

PF That’s—that’s how you can tell. Every doctor—

RZ You know what they love doing? Every doctor loves bringing up how their kids are better at computers than they are.

PF Oh yeah! That’s a good one.

RZ It’s like, “You should see my daughter on a—on a—on a phone. It’s crazy. And this is what I’m using here.”

PF Every doctor for 15 years, “Yeah, you know doctors don’t make the kinda money that they used to.” [Rich laughs] And I’m just—I’m sorry, you know, it’s—

RZ A lot of people don’t do that.

PF “A lot of people associate being a doctor, you know, it used to be really quite a career but now, [Rich laughing] woo! [Whistles for emphasis]” [Music plays alone for 18 seconds, ramps down].

[1:14]

RZ Alright, so Paul?

PF Yes, Rich.

RZ I’ve been really interested in of late this term that swirls around consulting and frankly swirls around big companies. The term is digital transformation.

PF DT.

RZ DT for short. And what [music fades out] it represents and here’s—I’m gonna try a plain English definition of it is that the days of just getting a—a technology project up and running [mm hmm] isn’t enough, that you have to think about your whole business in terms of the world has changed, technology is part of everything, and it needs to be a part of how your business works. Ok?

PF K.

RZ One of the things that is a key pillar of digital transformation and this has been also fascinating to see is that part of it is that people . . . consumers are probably gonna interact with your company . . . not just by going to a storefront or picking something up off a supermarket shelf or just getting a prescription from your doctor. That people are fully digitized in terms of how they interact with the world and that’s how they need to interact with your business.

PF Right. So I mean I think you gotta break that down a little bit, right? Because large organizations have been digital for decades now.

RZ Yes.

PF Like, I’ll—I’ll give you an example: trucking and logistics, right like [yeah] there’s—there’s software that helps you manage the loading dock. Trucks come in, you fill them with stuff, trucks go out.

RZ Correct.

PF Ok? So there’s software—I mean remember The Wire? When they’re—when they’re on the docks, there’s like dock software.

RZ Yeah.

[2:50]

PF Software all over the place!

RZ Yeah.

PF So if you asked ten years ago have you digitally transformed your business? People are gonna go, “Oh yeah, yeah, no oh my God in the early nineties we were still using like we were barely using spreadsheets, it was all pieces of paper moving around and now we’re fully digital.” This is something different.

RZ It is something different. It’s about literally dismantling process as it exists today. I wanna give you an example cuz this is—this shit is hard to define.

PF That’s right.

RZ I once uh—we had a problem with our—our ticket. Uh I was on a flight. And there was an issue—oh I didn’t have my seat [ok]. They somehow either overbooked me or something [yeah] and the woman at the check-in where you give ‘em your bag needed to do a bunch of ma—she was typing away. I don’t know what she could’ve been possible typing.

PF They got those big keyboards that feel like they’re from the eighties.

RZ And they’re very clanky.

PF Yeah it’s like tuh kuh bah bah bam bam buh bam buh bam.

RZ And I don’t know what she moved around or fixed up or found or if there were locked seats for certain cust—whatever it was, she unlocked it for me; issued me a brand new ticket. So the boarding pass that I printed at home was no good.

PF That’s right.

RZ She’s like, “I took care of this for you.”

PF Ok.

RZ Ok? Thumbs up, right? So now I go through security.

PF Ok.

RZ I hang out for a little bit at Chili’s To Go.

PF Ok.

[4:05]

RZ Which is a wonderful, sort of miniaturized version of Chili’s that’s in the airport.

PF No, it’s really—and you get like a plastic knife instead of a metal knife.

RZ Yeah and the burrito tastes a little plasticy too.

PF Yeah, no, that’s good. Right before you get on a plane to like Lebanon.

RZ Yeah.

PF Yeah.

RZ So I get to the gate, we’re boarding. [Yeah] It’s time to board. I’m zone B or whatever. I give ‘em my ticket that she’d printed for me, the new one, and it didn’t work.

PF It didn’t work.

RZ It didn’t work.

PF It just didn’t [sings] BAM, BEHHH.

RZ Yeah, so what had essentially happened was this: the systems that fixed the ticket on her end hadn’t updated the systems to board the plane.

PF Sure. A didn’t talk to B yet.

RZ A didn’t talk to B yet.

PF Cuz it was like—it probably did it like every five minutes.

RZ Or whatever [yeah]. It was longer than [chuckles] [ok] but the way they fixed it was a phone call [yeah]. Another example, real fast. Aetna has an online presence where you can go on and check your coverage and print your card and do all kinds of things.

PF Yeah, sure it does [laughs].

RZ They also have prescription services.

[5:04]

PF Aetna has a crime at masquerading as a website.

RZ It’s an unbelievable experience. My Chrome comes to a grinding halt, I have to close all other tabs.

PF I think that it might be the work—I would say that an aggregate—the aggregate of all of the restaurant websites in the world is probably the worst expression of how you’re supposed to do digital.

RZ Yeah.

PF Cuz website—

RZ The PDF menu.

PF [Laughing] The PDF menu. You know what I love too? You just can’t get the address.

RZ Yeah, yeah.

PF You get a picture—there’s a picture of a mason jar with a cocktail in it on a distressed wood table [Rich laughs] and you cannot figure it out. Where the hell you’re going.

RZ No idea. Yeah.

PF And half the time you’re in a cab. [Yeah] And it’s like, “Well, which street, sir?” And you’re like, “I can’t —all I know is that the lighting is track.” [Yeah] So I would say restaurant websites are the worse but health insurance websites.

RZ It’s kind of incredible.

PF Because they got to—you know what? It’s captive. It’s—

RZ It’s captive.

PF You’re already in Aetna, so it’s not like—the only one that’s different, I think, really, I mean there’s a couple but Oscar is different. Oscar is like, “K, we’re gonna like bring you—”

RZ Round up. Brand new. No legacy.

PF That’s a digitally transformed—

RZ Look, man, there was a day where millions of people were dealing with Aetna through stuff in the mail. And through phone calls and service centers.

[6:13]

PF Ugh! Do you remember those phone calls?

RZ All of it! It was just that’s how you interacted and customer experience now, digital and design [yeah], the—the term and right up to the big consulting firms, they love to use the term user journeys.

PF Yeah.

RZ And these are things that I remember. I’m old enough, man, to remember when it was really hard to sell user experience—

PF Oh yeah.

RZ—services to big companies. They just didn’t get it [no], they didn’t wanna get it and [no] it was too bizarre, right?

PF It—it—it got lumped in with the building and there wasn’t even a product. They were buying engineering services and, of course, we did a little design on top.

RZ That’s right.

PF And so this is part of it, right? Like we’re looking at Aetna—like it used to be you called Aetna and that was kind of as efficient as it got anywhere.

RZ Yeah. Yeah.

PF And Aetna went, “How can we take that phone experience and get onto this freaking internet that everybody’s complaining about?” And there’s a—there’s a thing before—cuz I can see where you’re going with this. They actually what they do is they—they would take like the old terminal applications, like they would run on giant [oh yeah!] IBMs and it would be like this green screen.

RZ Oh yeah. I’ve been on projects where it’s essentially the frontend, the web experience, is just tapping like Perl.

PF It’s secretly filling out [yeah] a terminal in the background [yeah] like it’s not quite as a bad as like a robot that types [chuckles] but—

RZ But it’s close.

[7:35]

PF It’s all but. It’s like a virtual [yeah] robot that types into the old green boxes on the old terminal with [yeah] web frontend. That’s still how organizations—and that’s like your logistics companies and so on. The ones that got digitized early [yeah], they came to the web with that mindset [yup], and that’s who is actually currently now the furthest behind.

RZ People think everyone’s done it. Nobody’s done it. Apparently there are studies out there that it’s like trillions in costs and—and spending will happen to get people there. I had surgery recently.

PF Right.

RZ And you have to check into a hospital.

PF Oh! Hospital information systems.

RZ Dude, I wasn’t—like there’s check-in which has nothing to do with medicine. There’s no nurses yet [no, no no]. You’re like at the ground floor and you have to be admitted. Now there’s no nurses, there’s nobody telling me to change into a robe or whatever. It’s just purely administrative.

PF It’s just—it’s like a—I—I—I did—I remember last time we did that, we were about to go have twins. It’s like going to a bank.

RZ It’s like going to a bank. It’s just purely administrative.

PF They’re behind the table.

RZ There’s probably legal stuff associated with it [mm hmm] in the process. This woman opens up what looked like an old style—do you remember when in WordPerfect when you go into like menu items in WordPerfect?

PF Oh yeah. Yeah, yeah.

RZ So what you have has, God bless them, these—these developers were creating what they saw as how people wanted to fill out forms—and when I’m talking about forms, I’m not talking about web forms. I’m talking about like driver’s licence forms.

PF Yeah, yeah.

[9:06]

RZ They simulated it on the screen and [mm hmm] this woman is tapping through, at breakneck speed [sure], zipping through these brackets, and filling stuff in as she’s asking me questions.

PF Her success is getting more of those done a day.

RZ Oh for sure! There’s people waiting, right? I was waiting and there were people behind me. And . . . you could ask that question like why would a modern—

PF But c’mon, c’mon—this is just—

RZ Why can’t—

PF This is Occam’s Razor like everyone’s like, “Ah, why aren’t they more modernized?” Because, first of all, hospital information systems show up in like the 1950s, right? So they’re locked in. There’s a way to do it. It aligns with government and legal regulations. And the costs—

RZ Security paranoia.

PF That’s right.

RZ Another big one.

PF The cost to bring this stuff along. Like once you’re in deep . . . it’s very hard cuz you really have two choices: you can stay at the level you’re at and just start to try to layer on top and just maybe you’ll get there one day; or you can rip the whole damn thing out and you can [yeah] start over. The only way to rip the whole thing—the whole damn thing out happens is if a new leader comes in and the—the big boss of the hospital system says, “We’re done. Get ‘er done.”

RZ “We’re doing it.”

PF “Here’s 300 million dollars.”

RZ Yeah, the biggest challenge with ripping that whole thing out is it takes time. It takes a year to figure out what you’re gonna do, once you decide to commit the money and do it.

PF It’s ten years.

RZ It’s—it’s years.

[10:30]

PF Like I mean you might get results in two years. You might be able to solve something critical but to really get like a full hospital system—

RZ It takes years.

PF It’s years.

RZ It’s years and—and—

PF Cuz you gotta train everybody. Like it’s just—it’s endless.

RZ It isn’t just that. It’s that the stomach—what people don’t realize is you don’t hit pause on a business and then go do this. It would be done [no you—] eight times faster.

PF No, you still have to continue to maintain and upda—

RZ You’re still running a business.

PF You have to update the old system. Otherwise you spend, you know, let’s say five years, it’s the super accelerated program.

RZ So why modernize? Why bother? We’re running; the hospital’s working; why do it? Devil’s advocate here, for a second.

PF You know, first of all, I would say that without strong, c-level leadership, don’t do it.

RZ Ok, so—

PF Like I feel that people—

RZ Right from the top advocacy to do it.

PF Yeah. You have to have a CEO who is willing to say, “This is two weeks of this year. I’m gonna spend, you know, 80 hours this year delegating and taking responsibility for the digital transformation project that’s gonna happen throughout my organization.”

RZ Yup.

PF And that’s really hard for them to do. Like that’s an enormous amount of time for a CEO to spend on any one specific—

[11:41]

RZ Oftentimes they hire that executive to be the one to do it.

PF But it’s still gotta come from the top because it’s not—if you’re talking about real digital transformation here, it’s clearly not just like the CTO and CIO.

RZ No.

PF It’s your finance organization, it’s your human resources, it’s like—

RZ I mean the business case here, I mean you hear it in different ways. One is: the bank across the street’s, their app?

PF Yeah.

RZ They’re depositing checks on that app. You’ve got four months. Somebody has given that mandate and whatever money they need to let me deposit checks on that app.

PF Again—

RZ You have to do it. You have no choice. So competitive pressure is one reason.

PF It’s ok but how many times have you seen that mandate fail?

RZ No, true. True.

PF It almost always fails.

RZ It’s probably one of the biggest public failures of a massive technology mandate is the Obama Care debacle—

PF That was all due to the uh and it was a regulatory framework. They just they overbuilt that thing and it was hundreds of millions of dollars.

RZ Crashed. It went live. People are trying to get insurance, and it crashed [that’s right] again, and again, and they couldn’t keep it up, and it was a real investment.

PF It was a vast, monstrous, legacy system.

RZ Yeah.

PF They had to change the way that the government acquired and implemented technology services. Like it was [right] so screwed up [yes] and then a crack team came in and basically kind of built it ground up using a modern framework [yup] that was known to scale.

[13:00]

RZ Correct.

PF And—and could support millions of simultaneous users.

RZ And they got it done. I mean but enormous pain.

PF That, to me, was an amazing example and again this is a different world, right? But like that’s where open source is really good. That should’ve been—why are we building things for the government in secret? There could’ve been a collaborative, public presence there driven by a small team [right] where that code was going right into the commons.

RZ That just wasn’t in the agenda, right? Like—

PF It’s one framework. One solution.

RZ There are a lot of pieces to this.

PF Uh huh!

RZ There are a lot of pieces—I mean the truth is if you’re not able to transact on the web or on your phone, you’re kinda screwed, you have to get there.

PF We haven’t even gotten to the part that people touched and—and deal with as consumers, right?

RZ That’s right.

PF So it’s like the—

RZ Sometimes you’ve got the wiring. It’s all there. It’s just the experience is shit. And—

PF It’s like there’s a failure stack. Like there’s the technical failure; there’s the cultural failure—

RZ Yeah.

PF And then there’s design failure.

[13:54]

RZ There’s design failure. And you could make the case that it’s taken the longest to come around on the design stack—layer of the stack.

PF Well this drives me crazy, right? Because, first of all, the whole world loves to consume products that are well designed. Loves it. Everybody likes their—

RZ And Apple’s proven, right? I mean—

PF—their water bottle. Yeah but it’s not just that, it’s people like their shoes [oh, oh, oh, yeah, yeah, yeah], and their hats. Everybody loves design. Design drives—

RZ A speaker. A Bluetooth speaker.

PF Yeah.

RZ That’s just beautiful and minimalist.

PF But curtains! A chair! It’s driven consumer behavior for hundreds of years but then you—you get in there and you’re like, “Hey, you know, if we think a little bit about the design of this app, we could probably make all the users more productive and happy,” and they’re like, “Yeah . . .”

RZ It’s cuz I mean engineers have terrible taste. I mean that’s been the case—I mean it’s the famous Steve Jobs quote [yeah] about how Microsoft has no taste. It’s—

PF Here’s what happens: engineers have engineering taste. And engineering culture is like, “I need to give the user all the options because I myself like all the options.”

RZ It’s so thick.

PF That’s right.

RZ It’s just so thick.

PF That’s right. So a good engineering interface is a configuration file that has all [exactly] the different variables and you fill it out [yeah] in a text editor, save it, and then the application runs, and oh my God that is great.

RZ Have you ever seen the menu of options when you log into AWS?

PF Oh yeah.

[15:16]

RZ It is something—

PF Yeah, so Amazon Web Services, you login and it’s like 60 or 70 little, meaningless icons.

RZ It’s tiny, little links.

PF [Laughing] And they all have names that aren’t really helpful.

RZ It’s—it’s remarkable.

PF Like S—S3 is a great example. S3 is a storage uh framework that you can use to host files [yeah] all over Amazon’s clouds.

RZ Yeah.

PF And what the hell does S3 mean?

RZ No, yeah. Rather than say like file storage or [Amazon File Store] data storage or whatever.

PF Object Place. Or just anything.

RZ No, it is unbelievable.

PF And it’s like an operating system. You’re in a whole world there.

RZ Yeah, yeah. What is amazing is that—

PF The amount of money that is required to be invested into design compared to overall engineering and long-term support.

RZ Is way smaller.

PF Much smaller!

RZ Yeah.

PF Do you know how many wasted freaking cycles exist around AWS? . . . Like 20 percent of the brain power of modern coding [yeah] and development is just thrown down a hole but it’s—it’s engineers who are like, [in dorky (nasal) voice] “Well I guess I’ll learn it.”

RZ Yeah.

[16:18]

PF And—and they get in there and they do it and, look, I’m—that’s my mindset too, like I get it. But oh my God what if there had been a simple document for me to read [yeah] and some helpful—not some crappy YouTube tutorial but something good.

RZ Well I—I think what this is coming down to, this isn’t about oh design’s important, I think what it’s coming down to is that . . . we’re finally starting to think about design enmeshed inside of the product building experience, right? And you’re starting to see it, by the way. You’re starting to like—if you visit like a, you know, a behemoth like Mackenzie [yeah] like design and user journeys and all that stuff is in their language now. Their customers are realizing that it is part of the value proposition.

PF You know who has a really loud voice here? Or a really—they’re not loud, actually, people don’t talk about them as much as you’d think. IBM has some really interesting assets. There’s a—a whole framework from IBM you can download to build apps. They use it for their own apps and so on. It’s very good, very well thought through design framework.

RZ Right.

PF That is a commitment to a very kind of high-level design as a key part of overall digital transformation: we’re gonna make things available through common platforms; we’re gonna give people tools that they need to access them; and it’s not gonna be puzzling as to what button A does or if a thing is a button or a link or whatever. Like we’re gonna—we’re gonna resolve these issues before we get to the consumer.

RZ I think the way they’re thinking about it is that design isn’t a phase or a discipline but actually it’s like it’s no different than an arch saying, “I’m gonna go ahead and build this skyscraper but I’m gonna skip the architect and the designer.”

PF But let’s be clear here, right? This is common sense to us.

RZ It’s just taken an unbelievably long time to come around.

PF Why isn’t this common sense? . . .

RZ Probably because it’s born I think for many, many years it—it was born out branding and marketing. I don’t think they saw it as utility.

PF That’s something that goes with, “Oh, you know, if we’re doing a consumer app, and this’ll—if we need it to line up with our marketing—”

[18:19]

RZ What’s design? I mean 1975. What—when you say design what does that mean? It means interior design—

PF Or magazines.

RZ It means magazines. It means marketing.

PF That used to be the graphic designer pull position.

RZ Graphic design—

PF You did—you redesigned a magazine.

RZ Illustration.

PF Yup.

RZ And the like. And—and then you have, you know, this other continent that—that took over the world; this empire that arose out of engineering; and engineering thinking and how you’re going to um you’re gonna—that Xerox machine and those IBM computers are gonna make you much more efficient. I mean did you really want Xerox to lead the way here?

PF Here’s the thing with these companies: and I wanna be mindful of this because there’s one straightforward narrative that we all shine onto which is like, “Oh! You should be the next Apple.” IBM’s very successful. They’re huge. Everyone’s like, “IBM’s failing.” I don’t know they’ve—they’ve been failing since I was born. And [Rich chuckles] they’re enormous. Uh Microsoft is another one. Everybody just like rang the death bells for Microsoft [right] and they’re making more money off of like SQL [pronounced sequel] server than we will ever see in our life—you could fill our office with gold bars and it would mean nothing.

RZ Oh it’s still huge.

PF Right? So I mean it’s just like there’s a scale; and a scope; and so on; and they’re no longer cool; and they’re no longer centered to the narrative; and they’re really like, you know, Microsoft is like 30 divisions kinda like coming along and they’re never gonna—they’re never gonna have the force they did in the—in, you know, when they released—

RZ They still make ungodly amounts of money.

[19:48]

PF No, I mean, but you know when they released Windows 95, the Rolling Stones sang “Start Me Up” and every paper in the world put it on the front news print page, right? [Yeah] Right? Like that’s just never coming back for Microsoft.

RZ No, no. And—and—you know, back to why it took so long for design to come into the conversation. I think that’s what it is. I think culturally it’s just, it’s grounded in engineering, it’s grounded in the technical, it’s grounded in . . . in the thing that functionally worked in a magical way and design was just not viewed as high value yet and I think the—the—the professions that were understood—

PF [Crosstalk] It’s hard. Design done well around digital is hard.

RZ Design is hard.

PF Apple’s—Apple’s willing to throw money at it. It took Microsoft decades to get really good. Like Windows 31 was bright and shiny and it looked like a candy box, and you could open it up and you could use it, and it was, you know, 95 had the start—Like they were always good at something. The problem with Windows was that they’d get one or two good core ideas and then they would just allow garbage to take over. Cuz AOL would show up and be like, “How about we put our, you know, our icon on the homepage or on your start screen? [Yeah] And we make it sticky so it’s really hard to erase?” [Yup] And Microsoft would—Or Dell, the reseller would go like, “Yeah.”

RZ Yeah, exactly. No I mean that’s—that’s—

PF So it’s not just a good idea, you then have to protect it forever.

RZ Right, exactly.

PF That’s what makes it hard.

RZ Yeah. And—and to this day they probably have a huge, huge design team at Microsoft.

PF Alright, but wait, we sell design into large services—large companies.

RZ I think it’s worth noting: we don’t call them designers at Postlight, Paul.

PF What do we call them, Rich?

RZ We call them Product Designers.

PF That’s right. In the same way that we call ourselves a product studio as opposed to an agency.

[21:34]

RZ It’s—the spirit behind it is that the designer is not peripheral. That they’re key to the quality of the product; to the definition of the product; how the product’s gonna be differentiated.

PF This—this is key, right? It’s not some add-on. Like it’s very—I think this is where we’re kinda—we’re wrestling with this in this conversation that like people see design as this thing that you add on to technology. And it’s not. The engagement will fail if design doesn’t lead.

RZ I—I think that’s right.

PF Like we will not be able to deliver to you the services that you—when you come to us and you say, “Hey, I want you to build a new thing and it should be cool and it should be good.” And we’re like, “Great. A designer’s gonna lock in and get going on that.” That is because that cuts risk that the whole freakin’ thing [yeah] is gonna fall apart.

RZ Right.

PF If we don’t have that designer in there at the outset, the risk goes up hugely.

RZ Absolutely!

PF So I think like when people are like, “Ah, you know—” It’s not—it’s not separate. It’s only separate because it’s like slightly different people and there’s different legacies and different schools that people go to and—

RZ They’re key. I mean [yeah] in many ways the—the drivers uh to a large extent around the engagements we do.

PF This to me too is like whenever—

RZ We rarely do, worth noting: zero design work like you know build a . . . batch processing thing. There’s always—there are always interfaces associated with our work.

PF When we say we’re not a body shop, which people are like, “What? What’s that even mean?” It’s because if you just throw like engineers at a problem, it rarely solves anything.

RZ Correct. Again, unless it’s like—

[23:09]

PF Well if there’s like a set of discrete tickets and tasks in order to get something to completion. Like that—that makes perfect sense.

RZ Right. Non visual.

PF At which stage design is done.

RZ Correct.

PF You’ve made—you’ve made a call. But if you need to solve a problem, a product that does not yet exist and you think that you can do design later, you’re just kinda wrong. Like it won’t happen.

RZ Yeah.

PF You can do it. You can go ahead and build something. There are ways like, and this is tricky, right? Because there’s also kinda prototyping and messing with things and then kind of like seeing where you get with a pure technology solution and then going to designers and saying, “What do you think of this?” [Right] That—that’s a different story too but like the real—if you’re gonna do anything, you’re gonna talk to design, and you’re gonna say, “What are we building here?” And then engineering’s gonna come in and have a conversation as well. It’s not—

RZ It’s a dialogue.

PF It’s all part of one big thing.

RZ Absolutely. Absolutely. So, to organically pitch Postlight in the middle of this, Paul.

PF Hah!

RZ Um we’re an amazing team of designers, engineers, and product leaders that build everything [yeah], design and build everything to large scale for mobile, web, everywhere, [email protected] How’s that?

PF That’s good.

RZ Was that smooth?

PF Look it’s not—it’s not like some uh it’s not an assembly line. There’s not—

RZ No.

PF It—it doesn’t—

[24:24]

RZ To do really good work it’s not. I mean worth noting: we were finalists in the Fast Company Innovation and Design Awards this year.

PF It feels good. Two years in, we’re starting to get in there.

RZ Beautiful.

PF Alright, I’m coming to you, Rich, and I’m gonna say this to you, I’m gonna say something. I’m gonna be the client. Ready?

RZ Yeah.

PF “Um, yeah, ok, so we need it but also we need our brand to really show up in this product like it’s important. We—we have a really well-known brand and identity. I got the logo file over here. Uh and this will have like 30,000 options and it’ll deliver news and allow you to track your heart rate. So, but anyway the brand.” Um so what do you do now?

RZ Well let’s assume a branding firm came up with uh a brand document.

PF “Yeah, I’m not gonna send you like a JPEG and a Word Document. I’ve got this thing over here that says here’s how the brand works.”

RZ Yeah, I mean at the very least it’s more treated like a skin.

PF Uh huh. So colors, typography?

RZ Yes.

PF The logo. Things like that.

RZ But the definition of that user—those user profiles that you’re targeting like is this for kids? Is it for, you know, shoppers? Is it for—

PF That’s right. If my brand is Gee Whiz Kids and my color is yellow, as opposed to if my brand is like Finance Professionals International or something like that.

RZ Sure, sure. And—and that not only influences the coding, the skin, of the thing, but also how the interactions work, right? I mean—

[25:45]

PF “Well, you’ve been talking a big game about design, Mr. —Mr. Guy.”

RZ Yeah.

PF “So like I mean I know—I know I need to get this thing built. I mean it doesn’t take that much work to build an app, right? And I got my brand here, so why are you trying to like tell me I need all these designers working on it?”

RZ Because the designers need to think about how that user’s going to interact with the thing. Not just what they look at. This isn’t a billboard, it’s an actu—it’s actually a piece of software that people are going to interact with; and live with; and touch. Literally, touch these days. There was a day when you used to say touch metaphorically but now they’re touching it and that experience is often the make or break. Design can attract people. I’ve seen so many email clients that tell you about how they’re going to put you on a beach. [Yeah] Cuz they took all the buttons away. Have you seen—like it’s a trend now.

PF I’m gonna say if you go and product hunt and you look through the—there are probably seven million applications, six million nine hundred of them are to-do lists or email clients.

RZ Yeah, to-do list apps—

PF We just can’t help ourselves.

RZ—are going to like—you know Brighter Day or something and it’s—

PF You know why? [Whispering] You know why? Because have a fantasy that if they make it a little bit different, they’re gonna be happy. And then they aren’t.

RZ Yeah!

PF Ok so this is the argument, right? Like I’m gonna show up with my brand and I need you build something and you’re like, “I gotta fill the space in between.” . . .

RZ And I have to think about the interactions [yeah], how people are going to interact with this thing.

PF Who is going to be using this?

RZ Who and how and when? Is this a thing you pick up before you go to bed? Is this a [that’s right] thing you’re living with all day long? Is it—

[27:23]

PF And it’s not as simple—like sure the kids’ app has a talking squirrel that tells you how to use it and the engineering app—or the—the spreadsheet like app has like pop ups that say do this.

RZ Correct.

PF But it’s actually the same thing. It’s the same software development.

RZ Yeah.

PF It’s just one has a squirrel, right? And that’s the work of the designer. It’s actually this—and like one is no easier to program than the other.

RZ No. And oftentimes kids’ software is hard.

PF It really is. It really—[yeah] you gotta—cuz you can’t—you can’t assume that they know.

RZ No, and the design puzzles are even more interesting. Testing is hugely valuable there.

PF Ok, so I mean that’s—that’s the thing people show up in this world and they say, “I got a platform that I need to build and I have this brand,” and that’s—bringing those two worlds together is the job of design.

RZ I think—and I think the world is finally starting to get it and I mean I just read those headlines off of IBM.

PF Yeah.

RZ Which means that big business and people are getting it.

PF Well you just don’t have a choice.

RZ But, man, there’s a lot that’s out there that’s behind.

PF If you—if you just pick a framework and build the app for kids, you failed.

RZ Yeah.

PF And if you just sort of—and it’s the same is actually true like what is different about your product? There’s eight million things that look exactly like everything else [yeah]. Right? You gotta try.

RZ Yeah.

[28:30]

PF So that’s—that’s what it’s about like design is about making that least possible effort, my God, [right] just don’t, you know, throw a bunch of candy corn on the floor and call that dinner. You know? Don’t do that. [Rich laughs] Alright. So that gives us some—that gives us an understanding.

RZ Absolutely.

PF Ok.

RZ Design matters.

PF [Chuckles] Design matters. Yes, it sure does.

RZ That’s—that’s—I mean—

PF Ugh. Alright, alright [exhales].

RZ Design is a first-class citizen sitting next to uh engineering, nowadays. And to do great product work, they really have to dance together.

PF It breaks my heart how expensive it is to get anything done. I hate being the bearer of that news to people. It’s hard cuz it’s just like—

RZ It is hard.

PF Because you’re like—

RZ Good work is expensive.

PF Ahhh! And it’s just—and it actually—to do this right it has to all fit together and it’s painful. Cuz what I wanna say—I often say to our clients, “There’s a zero dollar solution for you: just you can’t but there’s no design. Like you just sort glue some stuff together and cross your fingers.” [Music fades in.]

RZ Right.

PF And then it just goes up from there.

RZ Yup.

PF But the reality is, especially given how much of the sort of larger world is defined by big platforms like—like Apple and Microsoft and like design is your key differentiator.

RZ Yeah.

PF It’s what you need if you want to succeed. Ok! Well, design! [email protected] if you need uh design and you need something built, that’s who you talk to. It’s me and Rich who get those emails [Rich chuckles] and we’d love to hear [chuckles] from you.

RZ [Laughs] Take care.

PF Bye [music ramps up, plays alone for five seconds, fades out to end].