A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of moderating a stellar panel as part of an evening co-hosted by GlobalLogic and the Churchill Club, “Engineering Great Products and Customer Experience.”
Looking at the conservatively dressed, largely non-tattooed audience, I guessed that most of them were business people, not designers. Asking for a show of hands, about two thirds of the audience identified themselves as coming from outside the “hardcore software design” community. I’ve been in the software world for a long time, and it struck me that ten years ago, the audience for any event about building great products would have been radically tipped toward the design community, not the business community. Ten years ago, relatively few successful business people focused on “great”. Profitability and market penetration, yes. Product differentiation, yes. Time to market, yes. But until recently “great” was a philosophy, not a mainstream business strategy.
This shift, I think, can be attributed to a focus on “great” by two companies who have become wildly successful in a business sense: Apple and Google. Between 2004 and 2014, Apple’s Market Cap grew from $10 billion to $450 billion; Google’s grew from a 2004 post-IPO valuation of $23 billion to over fifteen times that value today. While no single factor is responsible for such success, I think most would agree that Apple’s focus on great design and Google’s on technology innovation were among the primary factors fueling their tremendous business growth.
So, with the help of an amazing panel–Catherine Courage (SVP Customer Experience at Citrix), Steve Johnson (VP of User Experience at LinkedIn), Frederik Pferdt (Head of Innovation & Creativity Programs at Google), Charles Warren (SVP of Product Design at Salesforce.com) and Larry Tesler (Chief Experience Officer at Mine, Inc.)—I and the audience tried to uncover what it takes to create great products consistently and repeatedly, and what trends they see ahead.
One challenge that must be overcome is the cultural difference between people who design and people who implement. Uncovering the secret sauce to making engineers and designers work successfully together can be the key to creating wonderful products. The panel brought up many great points to consider, including what makes a good designer–both practically and philosophically–and what makes a good design team leader. The discussion led to a related point that design teams shouldn’t just have a variety of people with different disciplines, but also multi-disciplinary individuals, and that finding employees that fit the company culture is just as important as finding people who have the right skills.
Throughout the evening, the discussion continued around strategies for creating great products, probing the panelists’ opinions on different issues including A/B testing and defining process. And, since the theme of the evening included trends, I enjoyed leading the panelists through a lightning round of questions that asked them about where they see upcoming trends and in which companies they find inspiration. It was interesting to hear the panel mention South Korean web designers as setting trends, along with companies like Audi and Tesla as the ones doing inspiring work.
The whole evening was a great reminder of the progress made in software in the past ten years, with designers now holding a full seat at the table together with engineering and marketing. I sincerely hope the audience (and the panel) left with new perspectives on creating “great” products and customer experience, and where we should look to see upcoming trends.