Earlier this month in Seattle, Michael Gough, Chief Design Officer at Microsoft, was one of the keynote speakers at ConveyUX—the UX conference for the Pacific Northwest region. It was refreshing to hear him talk in broad and fundamental terms about our practice. He shared a few thoughts on what makes great products. Here are some notes.
Crafting a nice object is easy; creating all the conditions to make that great object exists in the world is much more elusive. What is it that allows some circumstances to deliver great things? Love. Patterns. Inclusiveness. Creativity.
Love: What you have to invest to create great product. It’s easy to forget this most essential element in our data-bias digital-product environment. Gough, after years at Adobe, moved to Microsoft to take on the Office Suite team. To make sure he saw Office in the right light, he sought out passionate Office users, listening to them, seeing through their eyes.
Beware of being dispassionate to a fault. You get out of a product what put in it. You want love: give it love.
Patterns: Very human. The importance of patterns, underpinning every endeavour. Watch for patterns. Act on them, with them.
Problems are what comes to the fore, look for the patterns underlying them and act on these to solve the problems.
When tackling an issue, when the patterns at play are not acknowledged, a solution may lead to a deeper problem. Look for the root causes. Look at your users.
Inclusiveness. He started with Microsoft’s audacious mission statement that every person and every organization on this planet should be empowered to achieve more. With this lofty user group in mind, he contrasted what he sees as a key design principle to serve all these people: start at the edges, look at people with issues; not just the top use-cases, but the unusual cases. The benefits? It helps cover a whole lot more. He related the Vint Cerf story of how, trying to solve the problem of communicating with his deaf wife, he foresaw the Internet. Cerf came up with the TCP/IP protocol. Inclusive design: start from the edges.
Creativity. Creatives imagine futures.He talked about deductive and inductive reasoning. The dominant way logic is taught. But creatives use abduction: state a hypothesis and check it out. Abductive reasoning is a powerful way to understand patterns and fall in love with a compelling vision.
And don’t fool yourself: all ideas are emergent. It’s not your idea. It’s out there already, you just happen to snatch it.
Gough displayed the true spirit of design, it’s openness, it’s irrational love and playfulness, it’s connection to the people it serves. Whether he talks about abductive reasoning, seeking patterns or listening to deaf people, he speaks of all that constitutes design thinking.