The Miscellany of Stewart McCoy

#startups

“Meanwhile, we don’t need to wait until a hypercapitalist techno-utopia emerges to do right by our struggling neighbors. We could make the choice to pay for universal health care, higher education, and a basic income tomorrow. Instead, you’re kicking the can down the road and hoping the can will turn into a robot with a market solution.”

– Alex Payne

“Hopefully we can agree that there are many more meaningful quality of life improvements technology has yet to deliver on before we can start brainstorming the “luxury goods markets” of the future.”

– Alex Payne in a brilliant commentary on technological advancement, free market capitalism, and inequality. This sentiment resonates with me because since I’ve arrived in the Bay, I’ve felt there aren’t enough of the smart, wealthy people working on problems worth solving (aka in utilitarian nature). 

“Product market fit is a funny term, but here’s a concrete way to think about it. When people understand and use your product enough to recognize it’s value that’s a huge win. But when they begin to share their positive experience with others, when you can replicate the experience with every new user who your existing users tell, then you have product market fit on your hands. And when this occurs something magical happens. All of a sudden your customers become your salespeople.”

Principles of Product Design

Designer Duds: Losing Our Seat at the Table »

Yes, yes, and yes.

9-bits:

Mills Baker presents an interesting essay on design’s role within startups, how it has evolved over the past few years, and whether “pretty” is enough of a differentiating feature to create success. While I don’t agree with all of the conclusions made—eg. citing Medium or Square as any sort of failure seems somewhat premature—I do agree with the general basic sentiment: Design goes far beyond UI and UX (even with all those lovely animations).

To me, though, this is not a problem “designers” face as much as it is a company culture problem. Yes, designers have been given a seat at the table, but which table and how many other seats are around it? In most early stage startups I consult for, there is no “executive” team member responsible for design. This means that all high-level strategic planning, even product planning, is done by a combination of CEOs, CTOs, CFOs, and investors. Many of these startups have a “creative director,” who will ensure a company’s brand resonates with its advertising, product, and communications—but is, at the same time, not consulted for actual strategic input. As these startups mature and grow in size, they will sometimes bring in a VP Design, often when their creative director’s daily responsibilities become too much to balance against interfacing with the executive team. Now, truly, design has a seat at the table; but so do a whole new batch of board members, COOs, and VPs. It’s already too late.

Designing, to a great degree, is an act of empathy. It requires an understanding of psychology, emotion, and relationships. It is of great mystery to me why this role is not considered fundamental when discussing strategy. Questions around pricing/licensing models, partnership opportunities, and even enterprise sales approach would all be better answered with a knowledgable, experienced designer in the room.

To this end, I’d love to see more startups embrace the role of CCO (Chief Creative Officer) from the beginning. The name itself implies an equality with CEOs and CTOs (both of which are common positions in 2-5 person startups), which I believe helps ensure their ideas are valued on strategic matters. Adding this role at the beginning signals to future employees (and customers) that the company not only values design, but a creative, human approach to doing business. This is the real “design” that unfortunately, in most cases, is still stuck in the high chair.

Why diversity actually matters…

Well, leaving the system unchecked actively harms marginalized people. Inaction does all kinds of damage:

From a fantastic post by Allison House, Why diversity actually matters (examining women and people of color in the Net Awards).