A New Path: InVision and the Design Education Team

Product design has been the foundation of my career for the past 17 years, and although I have followed more of a winding, overgrown trail than a neat, linear path, design is the thread that runs through each step of my journey. I’m very excited to announce that this journey has led me to a new branch in the path: I have joined the company InVision as their Director of Design Education, where I will be supporting their mission of empowering the future of product design.

It is a good time to be a product designer. Whether you are designing physical or digital products, the technologies available for sketching, designing, prototyping, collaborating on, manufacturing, and distributing products offer a staggering range of options. Software is eating the world, and as designers we have a powerful role in the form and direction that software products take.

At the same time, this wealth of opportunity, and the ease with which we can get a product out in the world, can create its own set of problems: is the product I’m designing addressing a real human need? Does it provide unique value? Am I truly “making the world a better place?

As my career arc led me from designing physical products to digital ones, I’ve always believed that my training in the Product Design program at Stanford, with David Kelley, the founder of IDEO and the d.school as my advisor, would help me get closer to these goals. But it wasn’t until I started teaching in the program three years ago that I started to really understand the power of design thinking in action.

Product Design and the Design Thinking Process

design_thinking_framework

The design thinking framework, as taught at Stanford’s d.school

Implementation is the capstone class for undergraduate Product Designers at Stanford. I teach this class, along with Bill Burnett (director of the program) and Kathy Davies. Over the course of two quarters, students investigate a focus area, interview and observe potential users in context, prototype product ideas, get feedback, and iterate this cycle until they have a product that they can bring to market. In doing this, they are using the design thinking skills that they have accrued over their years in the program.

The projects that are the most successful use the design thinking process extensively: getting prototypes in front of real users, observing the prototypes in use, and iterating based on this information all help the students reframe the problem and improve the product in ways that never would have happened if they started at a whiteboard. A great recent example is Me, Myself & You, a game for young adults with autism: without the extensive user interviews and prototyping that the team did, they would not have been able to come up with the appropriate language and accommodations for sensory sensitivities, that made the game a success.

After observing the power of teaching students this methodology, I wanted a way to connect my teaching experience with the work I’ve done designing and building products for startups and larger companies. As much attention as design and design thinking have received recently, there are still many unexploited opportunities to help companies that don’t have design in their DNA to create innovative products that address real human needs. When I learned that InVision had created a Design Education team, with the goal of helping companies put design best practices at the center of their strategy, I was intrigued.

InVision and Design Education

I have been a fan of InVision, the prototyping and collaboration platform, for many years; I have used it extensively in my own work, and at Stanford we highlight it as a resource in Implementation for the Prototype phase of the process. In my experience, it is rare that you can demo a product in front of class for 5 minutes and get such an enthusiastic reaction from students.

Aarron Walter, VP of Design Education at InVision, shares my background in design and education. Prior to joining the company, Aarron was the founder of the UX practice at MailChimp, another well-designed product that I love. During his work scaling design at MailChimp, and studying design in other companies, Aarron has identified the foundations of good design, best practices that companies which do design well embrace and are adept at.

Aarron likes to say that design thinking is the mortar that holds the bricks of good design practice together. My mission as Director of Design Education is to bring the foundational practices of design thinking to our team, to InVision, and to the companies that we serve. We’ll do this in part by creating educational content that teaches the techniques of design thinking, and by highlighting case studies of companies that have used it to create innovative new products, or revolutionize existing ones.

I’m very excited to have joined InVision, and with my role supporting the Design Education team I’ve already had the opportunity to interview designers who are out in the wild using both the “bricks” of good design practice, and the “mortar” of the design thinking process, to create great products. Of course, using this process is never as linear as it might be in a classroom setting. We hope that by sharing the stories of designers who do the hard work of user research, prototyping, and testing, and the impact that this work has on their products, we can help companies that are struggling to establish good design practices within their organization.

If we are successful in our mission, my hope is that our team will help InVision enable the creation of products in diverse industries that embrace human-centered design, and address deep human needs. If software is truly eating the world, then as designers we have a responsibility to make products that have that kind of impact.

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