We're all designers. When you choose your outfit, that’s a design decision, says Lucas Pettinati, director of user experience at Google. Lucas, who looks after the user experience of Google’s consumer and business products, works closely with designers, engineers and product managers to truly understand what users want and need. Here, Lucas shares his vision of the future of work and tips for designing products that people love.
Q: What inspired you to pursue user experience?
A: Before I started college, I learned to make HyperCard applications, so my sisters and I could count the money we made doing chores and apply it to buying Nintendo games. Designing the interface was my favorite part of that project. Creating meaningful experiences and seeing how they impact people’s lives is the first thing that inspires me. The second thing is typography. Fonts have a very rich history, starting as metal forms pressed into paper, moving to little dots on screens, and then fluid bezier curves. I like to understand the relationship between one letter and another and the space between them. The last thing that continues to inspire me is my kids, who are four and six years old. It’s amazing to see the way they learn and think about problems. They don’t think “if I don’t do it this way, I’m going to fail.” They use their imagination and look at things in a fresh light. My oldest daughter asked why the refrigerator needed her to push a button to dispense water, and I couldn’t be more proud. That was design thinking in practice by a six year old!
Q: How do you create great products?
A: In my years working with Larry Tesler [a user experience expert who’s worked at Apple, Yahoo! and Amazon], I learned that people experience things in three phases: wow, delight and love. The way something looks and makes you feel impacts how much attention you’ll give it. It’s like physical attraction and first impressions when dating. That’s the wow. Delight is what people feel when they realize a product improves their productivity and adds value to their life. Love is when someone doesn’t want to give up a product because it’s an integral part of their lives and they’ll feel a loss. You can’t have love without wow and delight. To achieve wow and delight, ask yourself how the product fits in people’s lives. You know you’ve created a great product when people couldn’t imagine life without it.
Virtual collaboration will simply become part of how we work.
A: More and more people are checking their emails on the go from smartphones and tablets, so we’ve focused our design efforts to create our new Inbox with a great mobile experience. For example, we know that typing on a mobile device is still a pain point for most people. We recently introduced a new feature called SmartReply that generates suggested email responses to simplify and save you time. Using machine learning technology, SmartReply gets better and better at crafting responses over time, based on how you tend to answer emails and which replies you choose.
Q: What’s your favorite day of the work week?
A: Wednesdays are by far my favorite. I visit different teams and see what they’re working on. I get to see design as it happens, spot patterns and identify areas of overlap where teams can collaborate. I provide feedback to teams and critique what works and what doesn’t so they can create a better product. Design reviews and critiques are one of the most interesting, and hardest, things my team does.
Q: What will coming to work look like in 2030?
A: I’d love to see the hoverboard from Back to the Future—but won’t hold my breath. I do think, that we’ll see a huge evolution from using analog to digital tools. I imagine the workplace of the future will have a lot more digital surfaces with whiteboards and windows that are used for video conferences and as interactive surfaces. When you want to have a Hangout with your colleague from Denmark, you can simply project him onto your window.
Virtual collaboration will simply become part of how we work. Innovative companies are already putting this idea into action. For example, glass panels turn into LCD screens and create a virtual presence that bring together remote employees in various offices. Your colleague in Zurich could be sitting to the left of you, by being projected on a panel, and another colleague in Sydney could be on the other side.
Having to stop a party to have everyone pose for a picture would be a thing of the past. I imagine that homes could be built with video capture devices that let you frame the perfect shot from any angle after the party is over.
Q: What advice do you have for people looking to design for the
A: Think big and don’t be afraid to fail. The best way to know if you’re on to something that will touch people’s lives is to create a prototype, test it and learn from it. Go out and talk to people and have your assumptions challenged. You’ll be amazed how much you’ll improve your initial idea, learn about yourself, and the world around you.