November 26, 2019

Episode 12: Is Design An Art Or Science? (Recorded in August 2019)

Episode 12: Is Design An Art Or Science? (Recorded in August 2019)

Intro: Welcome to Go Figure. My name is Nadiem Makarim, CEO and founder of Gojek. Southeast Asia's first super app. Gojek does ride hailing food delivery, payments, even on demand massages, you name it. We do it. Go Figure is a podcast dedicated to expose the inner workings of ambitious tech companies in the emerging world. We like to talk about things we like and talk about things we don't like. There are a lot of myths out there that we wanted to dispel. So keeping it real is kind of our mantra.

Nadiem Makarim : Hey guys, welcome to Go Figure.

Sudhansu Raheja: Hello.

Abhinit Tiwari: Hey

Nadiem Makarim: Hey, thanks for being here. I'm accompanied today by Sudhanshu, our Head of Product for GoFood. Um, and Abhinit, our Head of Design in Gojek and today very special topic of discussion. Something I feel personally very strong about as a topic that I think a lot of people misunderstand is design. What is design? There's so many books on design. There's so many buzzwords related to design thinking. Um, I think that the very definition of what is a designer is grey at best. So one of my biggest fundamental questions is what is design and is it a science or is it an art?

Abhinit Tiwari: Oh, you can add another question to that. Is it engineering?

Nadiem Makarim: Is it engineering?

Abhinit Tiwari: Software design that also comes up.

Nadiem Makarim: Interesting. Okay.

Abhinit Tiwari: Yeah. Where do we start? Um, short answer. It's none of the above. Basically none of the above. Yes. Design is designed, it's existed for a long time now. A lot of people confuse design; designers in general with artists. So, it's kind of a pet peeve of mine as well. A lot of people would come to you, for example, somebody came the other day and they were showing the work of some illustrator and they were saying, this guy like these illustrations, amazing. This guy can be a designer in your team. Right. And that really, really annoys me.

Nadiem Makarim: Why is that guys, why did that annoy you?

Abhinit Tiwari: because then design really very different, like the day they have absolutely different purpose. And at some level it's unfair to the artists as well.

Nadiem Makarim: Hold on a second. I think a lot of people will be offended by that comment. A lot of artists slash designers would be offended at that comment.

Abhinit Tiwari: Sure.

Nadiem Makarim: Because for a lot of artists, you know, their purpose, uh, they have a strong purpose as well. They're not just, you know, creating impressionist art in their garage. So, I mean, how do you say that? Why do you say it's different? What is the difference of the purpose of an artist and a designer?

Abhinit Tiwari: So, uh, the biggest difference between art and design are artists or designers or designer needs a brief. So art exists for, people have argued about this for a long time. I think some philosophers said that art is a reflection of real life, but even like that's also controversial today, does it need to be, so basically art doesn't need to be anything. Art's value is just in terms of either its beauty or its emotional effect on people.

Nadiem Makarim: Right.

Abhinit Tiwari: So for example this guy Piero Manzoni or something, I'm getting the name wrong for sure. The guy who basically put, took, you know, 90 cans of Campbell soup, shat in it and put it in an exhibition. He decided the value of it by pegging it to gold, then. That's art. Or there's this documentary called 'The Artist Is Present'. Like Maria Abramovich. She basically stood in MoMA (Museum of Modern Art, NY), uh, and shared a moment of silence with people and it profoundly affected the people that were there. Where is design, like art is really different. Design is not like that. Like I was watching this documentary by Hayao Miyazaki right. That guy's an artist, right? So in the documentary, he's like, you know, he was really worried that his opening for his new movie is catching things and throwing them away. Did the opening for his movie would be really conventional. You don't want your designer saying that, right? He's like, I don't have the details, but I want to make a movie, which is happy and fun. You don't want your designer saying that like designers exist to let whoever's, if you design an object, if you're designing a product or a service, uh, the person at the other end of it should be able to accomplish that task. Nothing more, nothing less.

Nadiem Makarim: Is it the right word then? Functional design. So by default, if someone is designing something or they are a designer, there needs to be a function that is being used by an end user within that.

Abhinit Tiwari: Yes, there needs to be a brief that exists. Right? So, and again, like it's difficult to separate these two because there are a lot of artists as well, famous artists who would hate getting commissions because then you have to figure in the needs of the person who's commissioning the art and your self expression becomes secondary. Then there's another problem off there is art in everything. So there's art in engineering as well and there's art in science. Art is everywhere. So I would say a good designer takes care of the function. You can't always have zeros, you know, self-expression in the product. I think some of the products that I've designed, we've designed and there's a part of us that's there

Nadiem Makarim: of course,

Abhinit Tiwari: But at no point should it get in the way of, you know, meeting what the brief requires you to meet.

Nadiem Makarim: So self expression is only okay if it does not conflict with the brief, the objective of the function that you are serving. Seems less sexy of a job than an artist.

Abhinit Tiwari: Yes, exactly. Like it's not as sexy as art is. And in fact like, yeah, unless you look at designer's salaries then probably otherwise it's not sexy.

Nadiem Makarim: Do you have a different definition Sudhanshu? I mean you're, you are you're a pseudo designer, you know, in some ways because you've run design companies before, but you've moved on to the much more vague world of product management and you are, you know, you are a one of the most, if not the most senior product guy, you know, in the organisation running a massive food business. So do you agree with Abhinit's definition of design and designer?

Sudhansu Raheja: So I think I agree to quite an extent by when we say design, I think what we specifically mean is user experience design. There are lot of different types of design which focus at very different types of, you know, final results. What we talk about as design is usually user experience. Now what do you need for a good user experience? You want someone who understands the medium very well. If you make apps, you need to know what does Ios do? What does android do? If you make websites, you need to know what do browsers do, what can be done, what can't be done? And you need to keep the end user in mind, which means whoever, if it's a B2B product, you figure out who's like when they made Slack, they figured out who the end user is, what do they want to do? Which is why Slack's designed for so, uh, at home when it came out compared to other products at that time. Uh, if it's a B2C product then you're thinking of that user and you want to make sure that your users, we've sort of talked about this before, can be as lazy as they can while they use their product. Because assumption is no one will really want to spend any time on it until it takes the least amount of time.

Nadiem Makarim: So you have to make sure great design assumes the user is incredibly lazy and may not want to use your service if they don't have to.

Sudhansu Raheja: Yes.

Nadiem Makarim: If they don't have to. And that should be the fundamental hypothesis where design begins.

Sudhansu Raheja: Yes.

Nadiem Makarim: Especially in UX and apps. I just want to go back a little bit. You mentioned something pretty interesting. You mentioned that one of the first important criteria of being a good designer, especially a UX designer or user experience designer is, especially for mobile apps are for any software is they have to understand the domain knowledge of software engineering itself. Right. They don't need to be an engineer. So is the good analogy is like if you have an, imagine interior designer that knows nothing about architecture, right? You got an interior designer that just knows things that are beautiful but doesn't understand how the durability of the materials go. The user flows within the house. Indoor, outdoor, uh, tear and wear and user flows.

Sudhansu Raheja: Exactly. For example, if you are an interior designer, uh, how, so for example, if I'm making this office, one of the things you would consider is, uh, will there be a lot of echo, right? The medium of whatever you are doing is very critical to understand because the doubted the solutions that you come out with might be non-optimal. Again, you don't have to know it as well as an engineer on the team. Sure. But you need to understand your constraints. And I think dealing and making sure that you can solve for those constraints is what makes really good designers.

Abhinit Tiwari: And yeah, this is a controversial topic. Again, there's a, should designers code meme on the internet that's going around for at least a decade.

Nadiem Makarim: Should designers code?

Abhinit Tiwari: And it annoys a lot of designers and for the right reason. Um, and yeah, designers shouldn't code, but what he said is right, you should understand the medium. If I'm going to a designer, let's say a furniture designer and I want a beautiful table, that guy should know his, you know, what, what to use, what is the structural strength capacity for work to be able to make a structure this big, it doesn't need four supports or three. So understanding the medium is really important. Probably not as well as the carpenter. You don't know how to...

Nadiem Makarim: But if he doesn't know, so if that interior designer's focused on furniture and doesn't understand the basic principles of carpentry, then the cost could be way too high. That is outside of the budget of the owner. And then the, the weight and the fitting, the structural integrity of it might just break. Like a chair. Yes. It's a beautiful chair. But it breaks. Is that what you're, what you're saying about that?

Abhinit Tiwari: Yes or, he or she might not be able to deliver as good. The designers say some other designer who really does understand the medium really well. Right. So it's really important to understand the medium. If you're in it's industrial designer, you better understand metals. And other materials and their properties and their manufacturing processes and costs. Uh, if you're a software designer or UX designer, you better understand the medium. Another thing is like the definition design keeps expanding. It's a really new profession. Almost every time I see a discussion and say it, Twitter or somewhere else about design, it basically devolves to somebody trying to define and design again. So as the meaning expands, more and more designers can get away in tech companies, uh, without knowing too much about software because now services are expanding. We need to take care of the customer service side. We need to take care of the operations side so you can get away. There are roles in tech companies where you can get away with knowing less about software as a media. But the closer you get to the machines, you need to understand it to be able to design great solutions.

Sudhansu Raheja: I mean, for example, we've been talking about this for awhile to start off at service design. Service design is different. Uh, so I'll give an example. We have seals teams who reach out to merchants and onboard them and merchants can do three, four different things on our platform. They can figure out how to grow.

Nadiem Makarim: Just for the listeners. Merchants means restaurants that are trying to sell their food online. Yes. Through the GoFood platform.

Sudhansu Raheja: Yes. Now, when someone in the sales team reaches out to a restaurant and says, come on board our platform, from the time that they agree or rather from the time that they reach out to the first time, to the point that they show up on the platform for the first time, it can be a software experience. It can be an outer software experience as well. However you meet someone to solve for, how has that experience the smoothest that is what we call service design. And we've been trying to figure out how do you start off, I mean, how do you start off at solving this area of it? Because if you don't, uh, we have a tremendous number of people, our restaurants on our platform. They come in because they see the need. However, I also feel that sometimes we just assume that they will jump through whatever hoops required for them to get there. That does not need to be the case, which means we need to figure out how do we that express or I mean that process really simple for them. Which goes outside of software. And again, like this is the industry that we are in specifically. The biggest problem with our products is always outside of the software. I can make sure that our app shines really, really well, but if you can't find the driver, it's a waste of the user's time. So...

Nadiem Makarim: Or or have a very crappy in ride experience.

Abhinit Tiwari: Exactly.

Nadiem Makarim: Either in a bike car or your food comes cold. The stuff that is not part of that experience. So, so what are you saying? Are you saying that user experience designers need to take a holistic approach to the end to end experience? By default it means experience, right? And if it's part of your experience is not, interacting with the app, for example, through your smartphone or through online, through desktop, then it's still within your scope of responsibility. And the best designers will design in a totality of that experience. Isn't that too much to ask them.

Abhinit Tiwari: So not really. It's been happening for a lot of years.

Sudhansu Raheja: Which is why we talk about service design in the sense that, when we set the definition of a UX designer, if you work on the app, you want to stay in the constraints of that medium. If you're doing service design, there are different constraints that you need to understand. And without it you will not be able to do a good job. So, uh, it's different mediums. However, the end result is the same. You want to make sure that your user has a really good experience.

Nadiem Makarim: Can we go back to the, uh, the reason why I keep going back to the architecture and house analogy is because it's such a good analogy to describe this for a lot of people. It's such a good analogy. And going to your point, the total service, um, experience instead of just, UX define by me tapping around in an app. Right. But the whole experience from when I, when it pops up in my head, I need food. Yes. All the way to the food is in front of my face and I'm eating it. That is the totality of the experience.

Abhinit Tiwari: Somebody, sorry to cut you off.

Nadiem Makarim: Can I just finish my house analogy? Hold on. Let me finish my house. So the equivalent would be is if a table designer, an interior designer again drew out a gorgeous, you know, dining table that was made of all this expensive and beautiful, but then forgot to ask the user whether or not they actually have dinner at home. Do they have friends over a lot? Where do you work? You travel a lot, right? Do you have a culture or a habit of having breakfast with your kids? What's the average number of people you eat with at home? Do you even eat at home? Like if you're going in, sitting down, do you work in your dining table? These experiences that are beyond the using of that table, but the flow of that human and their habit and behavior, that's somewhat of an analogy. You have to see it holistically.

Sudhansu Raheja: These are, these are industry standard term for when you will make something look good but it does not really work. It's called lipstick on a pig.

Abhinit Tiwari: So yeah, and what I was saying was like, just to make it clear for people like the difference between product and a service. There's this saying that the user does not want a nine inch drill but the user wants a nine inch hole in their wall. So that's kind of what design does. And what you were asking earlier was is it too much to ask designers to do that? And designers, I've been doing this for a really long time, maybe not in software but before that he brought up service design. Service design is coined by some guy, some banker, somewhere before that he wanted to improve the efficacy of the service that they provide to their customers. I'm assuming it would be time for waiting in the lounge and things like that. This used to be the domain of marketing or management and then it came out on its own and became service design and people had been designing services for example, automobile. Service centers, they have to design the service they experience, where would the customers come, how long would it take, how do you communicate to them that your vehicle is ready for pickup? So we've been doing complicated service design. And if you look at ....

Nadiem Makarim: That's right. Back in the day those were called ops managers by the way, operations managers. Which today is such a, it seems like such a different thing. You know, you just have to deal with real world stuff. But actually before the online world took over, operations managers were designers. They were the ones designing every part of that. Like the bank experience when you go to a bank, what's the next flow, et cetera like that. Right. And they're just doing this. It's just that now so many more interactions are being taken online.To the software space and therefore we've created this, the new species of designers. You were going to say about the rise of designers? Tell, tell your story about how no one wanted to talk to you because you were a designer. I think that was you. That's really good.

Abhinit Tiwari: Yeah. So I think, I was lucky to be around the 2007 I started working around that time. That was when the iPhone launched as well. Right. So yeah, before that, like me and Sudhan used to go to meetings with clients and if you introduce me as; he's the CTO, you get to ask why the, why questions. You need to build this for this, if you're a bank. You need this app...

Nadiem Makarim: So he lied and told people you were the CTO?

Abhinit Tiwari: I actually was.

Nadiem Makarim: Okay. Yeah, but, but you had to be introduced as the CTO or else no one would listen then.

Abhinit Tiwari: Then we started doing design more seriously. Then we will go to meetings and he would introduce me as a designer and yeah, people wouldn't expect me to. It never. In fact, some people who said like, why do we need the designer here in the meeting? Cause I am just short stock. We haven't even decided what to build. I was like that's exactly when you should talk to a designer. So it took us some time to understand...

Nadiem Makarim: This is how long ago?

Abhinit Tiwari: This is, 2007, 2008?

Nadiem Makarim: And how has this changed now? You mentioned the rise of designers. So what happened was the Johnny Ives that just made design so sexy and high value?

Abhinit Tiwari: I think it really, so again you have to go far back like starting from Ergonomics, to 1940s, 50s when the industrial age came in. Toyota. I remember reading the Toyota way and these guys had the human centered production where they were the first ones to optimize, not for just you know, the output of the assembly line. But for the happiness and wellbeing of the workers themselves, the workers there could actually stop the assembly line as well if they had a structural or process improvement. So that's where it started. Then GUI (Graphical User Interface) happened in 70s, 80s. Uh, that's when Don Norman coined the word UX, parallel in non industrial or software things people were doing architecture. And other things were coming up with philosophies and processes as well. But I think it all came around to 1990s or something. Uh, when Facebook launched, that was the first thing that changed was I think Moore's law stopped giving. So technology became more accessible and when computing power was same, I think the user experience became the differentiator with all these websites by 2000s, I think we had web products. Uh, we remember 37 signals. They came around 2006, 2007, I think? Websites happen, web apps happened. Uh, you remember web masters there were roles called webmasters, people who they would be the CIS admins, but they would also design the website. Uh, then they were web designers, uh, sort of like engineers as well as developers, engineers as well as designers. And from there I think OS has improved, design kept improving and became a thing. But eventually when the mobile phone came out, that's when I think iPhone. The smart phone came out. That's when it exploded. I think iPhones it couldn't copy paste. Right. It had a software keyboard. Uh, you couldn't install apps on it until I think 2009 right. So people.

Nadiem Makarim: Really?

Abhinit Tiwari: Yeah. The app store came two years or three years later.

Nadiem Makarim: What do we do? What do we have before?

Abhinit Tiwari: I remember you have six apps calculator. You could calculate stuff.

Nadiem Makarim: You couldn't download an app?

Abhinit Tiwari: No.

Nadiem Makarim: But you could jailbreak..

Nadiem Makarim: It was just like a call. I don't remember that one. I think I have the next version of that.

Abhinit Tiwari: iPhone 2G didn't have that for about a year. Two years. So this is the, tell me if my hypothesis is wrong on this. My theory is that the reason why design and what we know today is user experience design. Some people call it and as many, for some people you need a material designer or app design. Some people call it a human design. We have a whole thing. So this came out from this constraint. Of a space. This big, this small.

Abhinit Tiwari: Yes. Well, human centered design, etc. Ideo or adaptive part. These companies had done work. A lot of work to bring these terms to the fore. Even design thinking came from Ideo. So there was some work there,

Nadiem Makarim: But now the sheer number of users that were using the same product, I don't care if it's online or offline because of smart phones, the number of people using let's say, like how many people use like the same exact mug. Like yes, probably none, right. It's very small, but everyone started using the same product when the mobile, the rise of the mobile apps. And so every little incremental improvement you did to it faced vast impact and consequences for people. And so design, like all great design comes from a constraint. A need, and the constraint was space. And when space became a constraint, you suddenly saw the, the rise of, I wouldn't say minimalist design, but deeply, um, I don't know. I don't know how to even describe it. It was less is more. And, and because of that, the science behind it and uh, the amount of knowledge that had to be applied and research and experimentation exploded. Yeah. Because you can't put everything in the same screen.

Abhinit Tiwari: Also remember, like, I remember the first two years, three years of the app store, almost every app that we worked on had a price to it, these one apps which were giving, you know, uh, companies that are giving you apps for free and giving you services. Most of the early apps were paid apps, right? So when you put a $5 amount on your app, then it has to be better than every other $5. So design did become a big differentiator. Plus iPhone 2G was on EDGE, so the internet was yet to come.

Nadiem Makarim: Wouldn't that be even more acute if the APPS were free?

Abhinit Tiwari: Ah, probably.

Nadiem Makarim: Basically it's you're only choosing based on user experience, right? If there isn't, if this is a free app, it's even worse.

Abhinit Tiwari: Yeah. That's, that's kind of true.

Sudhansu Raheja: That's actually what happened on the app store. As apps kept getting, so initially most of the apps are free because it was mostly indie developers making apps as more and more companies onboarded themselves. It became hard to charge money for apps and I think there've been large debates around 2010, 2012 on how that is becoming really hard for people to make money only via selling apps. Uh, now most of the stuff is free. I mean, uh, I know a lot of people who never even link up a credit card and can get by for a really long time. Um, so yeah, user experience defines that in very critical ways, right. On what gets downloaded, what doesn't.

Abhinit Tiwari: Also in Apple's case, like in iPhone this case, one good thing was apple cares about form and function. I think almost equally, uh, form still follows function, but they do really good on form too. So that also raise the bar. Like just in terms of the fit and polish that app should have. This was the first time somebody was reviewing apps, literally putting people there and checking your app if it was good enough for the platform or not.

Nadiem Makarim: Why does form matter, why does aesthetics matter? I mean some people call it form, some people call aesthetic, some people call it delight. We call it delight internally and Gojek why does it matter?

Abhinit Tiwari: It matters because people are drawn to it.

Nadiem Makarim: Why?

Abhinit Tiwari: Having an object around you. So I think Dieter Rams said it that good design is aesthetic, right? And he said aesthetics are important because any object, its appearance, you know, it influences the wellbeing of the person who's around it. Right? But he also added that no object, which is not well executed can be beautiful. Right? So yeah, but form is important because we have brown drawn to it. There's something called aesthetic usability effect as well. Um, which is a UX lobby. You have very few, um, which basically says that things that are more aesthetic, they're perceived as more innovative or they're perceived to have more value than something that is not aesthetically pleasing. I mean, let it be, they're both the same in function.

Nadiem Makarim: The entire fashion industry rests upon that premise. Right?

Abhinit Tiwari: Yes.

Nadiem Makarim: I'm pretty sure like the ergonomic value of an additional $8,000 to buy a bag is hard to justify. So, so, you know, yeah, we are, are you saying that we as humans we are fundamentally irrational beings?

Abhinit Tiwari: Yes. And again, we were talking about, uh, we haven't talked about other kinds of design. You brought a fashion design and we should talk about graphic design. So we have graphic designers here, guys who pulled off our rebrand so that our graphic designers whose primary obsession is form, right? But they also approach it from the point of, you know, cognitive science. Uh, they can guide your eyes. Uh, they can really make a message stick in people's head. That is a lot of science and theory behind it. Uh, at the same time, again, a good poster, for a movie or something else, it is sometimes a work of art as well. Like this is masters what they may, uh, that, that's a great form, but it always performs the function. It is supposed to very, very as well. The reason that you remember, say, I remember movie posters of Hitchcock's movies, right. They did a really good job. Like it's so sticky that it, it's still remembered by people. But at the same time it was true to brief of what the movie poster wanted to communicate and the kind of audience it want to get the form is like we just can't get over form.

Nadiem Makarim: No, I think we're fundamentally, you know, wired yet to, to like certain things based on visual things and we don't all like the same things. And that's part of the biggest challenge of being a designer. Um, but I think there are the science behind it and this is where the science starts getting in. There are definitely, um, you cannot the differences why and when we're doing reviews on app designs or product designs or feature level designs, um, I hate it when people argue and say, you know, it's all subjective. And, and some people may like it, some people would not yet. It's kind of true, but there is definitely a right and wrong way to do things. Um, and that's the part which is it's partially art. A lot of it is science. The role of research and iteration and data is extremely important to validate whether you made the right move or wrong move.

Sudhansu Raheja: So just to, just to catch onto one of the points that you talked about, right. It's impossible to talk about user experience design without research. Uh, there are, uh, there are hundreds of ways that you can do something and I'm sure that at least 99 in which you can go wrong and research plays a very critical part in making sure you're making the right thing. Um, we have had very long debates on, Abhi you say that, yes, data is important to look at, but it's not a replacement for talking to your customers. You need to go and talk to them, see if the effect that you want to have is the effect that they are having. Short, you should basically look at all the data that you have used that to the best of your distinct to make the right decisions. But sometimes you can't get away from, in fact, most of the times you can't get away from actually talking to your people. So, and this happens across I mean for example, most in when you talk about design, most of the time people just talk about the consumer side of things. Even when you talk about the merchant side of things, sorry, restaurants. I mean that's more easily understood. I think, uh, like when we, there was a time when we started planning for figuring out what else do we build on a platform to help merchants grow, we came up with some ideas, things that we could support, something went live. Uh, the next thing that we started off was, uh, if you conducted you know, probably the most extensive research in terms of what is it that they want. That list had about 50 different solutions. We picked only the biggest one and then we dropped everything else for the next whole year. And you build that out. Uh, and the results were phenomenal. I mean, everything that happen,

Nadiem Makarim: We surveyed the merchants what they wanted, right? We actually asked them, they want it. Yeah.

Sudhansu Raheja: It was a massive exercise and I think when we were starting it seemed like, why would you just spend two months trying to do this? Right. But the results have been fantastic. We did not touch any of the other 49 things on that sheet. In fact, it's been a year and now we're looking at it again to figure out can we pick up the second thing or should we just ignore it for now? But we found the one thing that's going to take us home completely. I mean specifically if you're talking about product, if you want to make sure that that product hits product market fit, you have to make sure design research is all aligned in terms of what to do and what to make. And you want to make sure you're talking to users before it hits entering for the first time.

Nadiem Makarim: So tell me then, if the role of design is so important and we're seeing the rise of the status of the designer and, and you know, I think within Gojek, you know, for example, Abhinit has direct access to me and to be able to say all kinds of recommendations and, and like the Toyota production system, right? Yeah. Um, I've, I'm able to call me and say, this is just unacceptable. And I will make that call. Uh, sometimes Abhinit will make that call, but a lot of the times when it requires other functions, then I will make that call. So, and Gojek design is slowly becoming a very important and listened to function. Maybe still not as much as as we should. Um, but then why, why aren't designers, product managers, um, and like why aren't they the lead? Um, so why, why isn't Abhinit the de facto head of product? Um, but instead the head of design?

Sudhansu Raheja: I mean, I, I know you think that, that he's not, but you should look at how scared the product managers are when they're like, Abhinit is going to just say no to this man. We can't go with this.

Abhinit Tiwari: That's not true.

Sudhansu Raheja: But yeah, you evaded the question, man. So I think, I don't know, I've worked with some great product managers. I think , there's certain things that product manager is the ultimate balancer. Like they keep everybody aligned and they have to know about, so this is funny. Like if you Google product manager Venn Diagram, you'll find business technology and design. If you Google product designer Venn Diagram, you'll find business technology and design, right? So there is a very strong overlap. But I think on the table we represent the user, right? And.

Nadiem Makarim: Really? I thought product managers are supposed to represent the user and that's why it's a product.

Abhinit Tiwari: Product managers are supposed to recommend everyone. I saw that podcast, I disagree.

Nadiem Makarim: So who's outside who, who else is their business? You mean like, okay,

Abhinit Tiwari: Businesses is there, engineering is there. So I, I'm conflicted about it. If designers should take the call there because bias in any direction is not good. You need somebody who's, who can manage biases.

Nadiem Makarim: But wait a minute because like a product success and I fundamentally believe this, a product success is it's proximity to addressing the needs of the user. However you define the needs, you can find the needs in a functional way. You can define the needs in a, um, emotional way or even in an aesthetic way. Right? So, but, uh, the closer to the user, the more accurate your understanding of the user. But better. So why wouldn't a designer be the best product managers?

Abhinit Tiwari: Because, uh, again, I'm trying to think right now of, you know, what can be the drawbacks of excessive user bias, right? But we are trying to build sustainable businesses well, right? If you only optimize for user in the business as sacrificed or you don't put that much thought into it, then you do great stuff for five years in the you shut down, right? Take some social media companies for example, uh, their service for the users is free, right? So users have to pay nothing, but they get their money from advertisement based off engagement, right? So I think it's designers and product managers and business leaders, engineering leaders, everybody should come together to find the right balance. I think if you put, you make designers a captain, excessive user bias might blindside them and you might not get a very sustainable business at the end of the day. Right? So prioritization, I think, yeah, it needs a certain balance. And again, um, yeah, I haven't, I mean, product management is not confused as designers.

Sudhansu Raheja: Not to say that designers can't be really good product managers. I mean we have a few and who do an amazingly good job at it as well.

Nadiem Makarim: Yeah, I feel like if I had to pick, if I had to force rank the hierarchy in most technology companies, large technology companies, my sense is that product managers are still the top of the, of the hierarchy funnel. I know it doesn't work like this. They're all functional departments. But if I had to force rank it, so product managers and then engineers, then designers, then research, then analysts, I mean this is just the hypothesis on what I feel are I felt, but I feel like sure. You know, it could also be a function of the natural extroversion or introversion tendencies of each of these fields. It could also be that, but why, why is, why does it isn't design like, like taking the lead here, you know, um, or better yet, why isn't research taking the lead? Cause they know the customer more. I mean,

Sudhansu Raheja: so, okay. I think a venue, think about internal products as well. Products are so, um, customers only see very certain number of products from Gojek. There are a lot of internal products which help us do what we do. So for example, I look at food, do I look at everything from the time that customer makes an order to the time that his food gets delivered? No. There are a lot of internal products which helped me achieve that. Depending on who the customers are for whichever product you're looking at, will defined who will take a bigger lead in it. So if you're looking at a marketplace product, you would have data teams have a much bigger handle off what needs to be done or how does it need to be done because you don't have a visual competent of it at all. Then you're looking at say food, um, or a direct consumer facing product. You would have a very significant involvement of both research as well as design teams. Uh, if you look at say growth, some of their pods would need a lot of design help, some of them would not. Right. So it depends and varies by that essentially.

Abhinit Tiwari: And I think a good product manager knows when there's a feature, which is let's say primarily about improving the usability of a certain thing. A good product manager, the ones I've worked with, at least they put you in charge, they let their designer lead in those streams. But when it's something, let's say, which is more ops related than they'd put the researcher in charge or when it's something that's about him, you know, improving the usability of an engineering system for rest of the engineers in the company, they should put a tech lead in charge. So I think that's the role that product manager plays, knowing who to let lead at what moment started orchestra conductor for these different functions. And I think that is where they're supposed to know a little bit about, about everything. Design's role. Um, again it's about, the only thing important about design is how it relates to the user, right? So design's role is just to bring user in every conversation, uh, bring wise and bring nos, especially in, you know, things like ethical considerations, which are now as AI and ML are rising. That is also responsibility that kind of comes on the designer to ask how can this be used in a bad way? Ask that before you design everything because yeah.

Sudhansu Raheja: I mean you, uh, so prob, I don't know if you interact with most of the designers that frequently, but, uh, I think, uh, most of the.

Nadiem Makarim: Just him.

Sudhansu Raheja: Yes just him. You get a lot of very strong opinions

Nadiem Makarim: Actually no. I mean, I'm your one down. During we used to have those big powwow sessions. And I would like act like, you know, I knew everything about design pretty convincingly.

Abhinit Tiwari: We have a thing, at Gojek everyone designs.

Nadiem Makarim: Whatever that means, man. Yeah. Sorry, I cut you off.

Sudhansu Raheja: Oh, so yeah, I mean, nothing, nothing major. Like I'm saying, you get the most significant pushback from the consumer side, from designers. I mean, we have a via Prateek who's very popular for saying, go, so did you ask him, can we do this? He's like, yes, you can do it, but over my dead body.

Nadiem Makarim: And, but, but you have to empower designers to have the audacity and courage to say these kinds of things in your organization.

Sudhansu Raheja: I think it's for everyone on the team, I mean they're more skilled at us, you know, at the skillset. I mean the problem with product is you are not the most skilled at anything in your team. Uh, so you to make sure that if an engineer is really strong opinion or something, I'm sure there is a, there's a reason for it. If a designer has very strong opinions, something that is a very big reason for it. And, uh, and I mean they're the ones who need to take the calls at the end of it.

Nadiem Makarim: So do you think that companies or organizations that are very customer obsessed will always prioritize design in the consideration of building products? Yes. Is that generally a correlation? You would agree with?

Sudhansu Raheja: Okay. For example, uh, Amazon started this thing of cons. Customer obsessed, right. Of talking about it a lot. Right. Their website looks like shit. Okay. Is the experience amazing? Oh hell, it is amazing. You ordered? I mean, when I moved to Jakarta, the one thing that I most missed incredibly was being able to order on Amazon.

Nadiem Makarim: Ah, that's interesting. So you don't feel this theoretic is nice, but the user experience overall.

Sudhansu Raheja: That's amazing. It's Amazing. Interesting speed of getting something to your house, the speed of returning something. All of those were so amazing that the moment I came here, I mean my wife and I, this was the one thing that we incredibly missed. And given that like the culture that we have, I go to Bangalore for a week a month at least for the last, I don't know, 10 years now. I Dunno. How long has it been, so I still end up doing this, that whenever you want to buy something, you order on Amazon, delivery it to the Bangalore office, go there that month and pick it up.

Nadiem Makarim: Okay. Wow. Okay.

Abhinit Tiwari: So yeah. Uh, or in those companies who are doing really good customer focus, stuff like that. I did, maybe there are great designers. They're just not called designers, but they will value design for sure. Whether they value designers or not. I think that depends on the designers as well. You've got to speak up. And as I said, uh, design is quite new. So these, and there's so many terms that we still keep arguing amongst ourselves about what is design, what is not design them.

Nadiem Makarim: So let's go into the characteristics of what really makes a good designer or what makes a good design leader. Right. It's cause different things. So I'm, I'm by no means a designer whatsoever, but I focus on design and user experience a fair amount. It's probably the most of the time that's what I get emotional about. Right. I'm rarely emotional about other things outside of like an unacceptable flow that creates unnecessary work for the user or, um, something that just obviously makes life just more difficult and more painful, uh, for the user. Do you think there is something intrinsically, um, built in, into, into each human and whether, is there a natural talent for design or is this fully learned?

Abhinit Tiwari: Well, uh, well..

Nadiem Makarim: Let me ask you an easier question. Is there a natural talent for aesthetic?

Abhinit Tiwari: Uh, no, I don't believe so. Uh, there might be. Um, but I think like your taste, what we call it, it's built by everything that you've consumed probably to sum of all your experiences. So it varies. Um, that's the thing, like you wouldn't be a very good violin player if you've never heard great violin. You wouldn't be a great writer, writer if you haven't read well, you wouldn't be a great cook if you haven't eaten great food. So I don't believe there's a natural angle to it.

Nadiem Makarim: It's exposure.

Abhinit Tiwari: Yeah. It's exposure. And I'm an engineer, right? Uh, I think I, I'm very bad at drawing or designing that some other medium than software. Um, and that's because me as an engineer, I'm gravitated towards good software. I read about it. Um, I bought the first iPod touch that came out, I jailbroke it and I installed every single app that was there. And I've been installing every single app for a really long time. Like whatever apple and Google feature, I install it. So that builds my database of what good software is. And I think that's what we call taste. So it just requires exposure. I don't think there's an innate skill that somebody has that makes them a good designer or for that matter, anything. Like maybe there are some, but I think it's a skill it can be taught to, can be learned.

Nadiem Makarim: I mean but the challenge to that statement is, I mean you, we've sparred a lot. On many things. And the only reason why you are willing to spar with me is because you will only spar with people you respect in terms of, uh, their, both their tastes and also their design mindset. Right. So, so you respect me. Yes. But I don't like using too many apps. In fact, I don't even like using apps, period. I only use apps that I absolutely need to use. Yeah. It's just not one of my joys about using apps. I do it to get something done. I have a function and then I'm out of it when I don't need it anymore. Uh, outside of like chat. Right. Which is excessive amount of, a huge amount of my time is spent on there. So I'm not someone who is exposed to too many apps. But I have a massive amount of laziness. That means that my pain tolerance is very, very low for using an app. Cause I want to get the hell outta there. Um, as quickly as possible. So how do you, how do you reconcile that?

Abhinit Tiwari: So design like there's this thing called 'The Principles of UX' I think Jesse James Garret, that guy from Adaptive Path. Design has a lot of layers. There's the surface layer, the skeleton layer, there's scope, structure and strategy. Right at the bottom, most level it's really about why are we doing what we're doing, what does the user get out from it? And then there's a surface layer. So taste is more important in surface skeleton and you know, scope that part. So I wouldn't ask you to design UI like we don't spar about, you know, how the navigation is laid out.

Nadiem Makarim: That's correct.

Abhinit Tiwari: We don't spar about is this icon right? Or colors right or whatever.

Nadiem Makarim: There's a fair amount, fair amount, so, okay. But not as much. You're right.

Abhinit Tiwari: Let's just say on those matters. I ignore you. Like when it comes to the strategy or the scope of things when, why we doing what we're doing. Yeah. You in that sense, like yeah, it's very helpful to spar with you, um, for surface I would find some designers that I would argue with. With someone who know a lot about it than I do. People who really studied graphic design and really studied, you know, interaction design, interface design. Um, but the most important thing is the strategy. The most important thing is asking why. Right. And not shying away from it. Um, I started very young, uh, so we would lined up in these big boardrooms with very senior people. And you, I think when you ask what is the most important thing to, you know, lead design somewhere, this is the most important thing. You can't back off. You have to figure out why are these people making what they're making. What is their motivation A; for themselves, for their business and B; for the users. Right. And that's what you do. You synthesise that into the best solution. But that's step one. You just have to keep asking why. And if, uh, there've been some times when we found people reluctant to ask why or the why turns out to be, you know, we just need to increase the conversions here. Uh, we've said no as well. Right. Because that's, that's not gonna do anything for the users. Right. So.

Nadiem Makarim: Can you share an example of how you said no? I mean.

Abhinit Tiwari: Yeah, you'd probably have better examples of saying no. Yeah.

Sudhansu Raheja: Um, so I think this is a... So we just talked about this business tech and design, right? Um, most of the discussions with business teams would be in terms of figuring out how do you get more visibility for something specific in that, um, the first point that we have to go back and discuss a lot on is; what is the exact value proposition for the customer? I understand the value prop for the restaurant. I understand the value prop for the business. What is it that we are pitching to the customer? And unless you can put that down on paper and explain to me that this is why this is the value to the customer, it does not go in there.

Abhinit Tiwari: And I give you an example of an education app that we did right. And we were designing something for, you know, kids to learn from. And when we discussed with the business team there, uh, the why they wanted to do it was all business reasons. Like, we want more subscriptions, we want more engagement, we want more sales. But I as a designer failed to convince them that all the people learning, are they really retaining what they read. Is this actually better than in class education that they get. You should have some notes around that, then we fail the project kind of tapered off. Right. So that's a kind of an answer. That's, that's the most important thing in designing good. Otherwise you won't be able to design something impactful. Right.

Nadiem Makarim: Finally on talking about hiring great designers. Hiring and firing great designers. So let's, let's start with the negative first. Like, what are your red flags, um, and your designer, both in the interview process or maybe while you're interacting with them? What are some of the things where you're like, okay, this guy's got to go?

Abhinit Tiwari: Well, again, in, in leadership roles, uh, you know, has it tend towards again, the same thing that I said, ah, towards asking counter questions. Uh, hesitance towards challenging somebody that's in leadership positions that's a district, no. Um, other than that, again, uh, I dunno.

Sudhansu Raheja: I think, oh, inability to explain their work seems like a big red flag to me because, uh, for designers, like you said,

Nadiem Makarim: Explain to non-designers?

Sudhansu Raheja: I mean, no to even, for example, if some, if you talk to someone, they should be able to explain why that, why they're doing what they're doing,

Abhinit Tiwari: articulate their designs.

Sudhansu Raheja: Articulating their designs. So for example, uh, a lot of times you would, you would see a final design and your question would be, you know, why are we doing this? Why are we doing that? And everyone is a designer in the sense everyone on the team always thinks they've seen enough. You have to be able to comment on design. Uh, like for example, most people don't comment on engineering architectures, right?

Nadiem Makarim: Because you can't see it, yeah.

Sudhansu Raheja: So yeah. So, uh, it's very important for a designer to be able to communicate their thought process of why they think this is the right solution. Uh, someone who's really good at creating amazing UI, which are very simple but are unable to explain why this makes sense,

Nadiem Makarim: Will always lose out.

Sudhansu Raheja: Yes, yes.

Nadiem Makarim: And they won't, they won't be able to assert the customer priority there. Okay.

Abhinit Tiwari: Like one thing is like design because design is a discipline about making things simple. Um, we, I think designers in generally use the plainest language. We have very little jargon that also makes it hard for us to communicate, you know, very effectively. Like we have to explain a lot of things. Um, so yeah, articulating your design decisions, not being able to articulate it would be a big red flag. Um, then yeah, again, I'm not generating a lot of solutions like falling in love with their designs. That would be a red flag as well.

Nadiem Makarim: Falling in love with your designs. Yes. Why is that bad?

Abhinit Tiwari: Again, the same reason that we discussed earlier, this is not self-expression. You're allowed some, in fact, heaps of it, as long as you don't get in the way of accomplishing what is it, you know, what the user wants to accomplish. So that's one mistake like designers. But how can you tell if someone is in love with their design? What do they usually do?

Abhinit Tiwari: They like, again, it's a very, so you do a design review and start asking why it come across as very defensive. It's very easy to challenge your brief, what if this happened? What if this happen? Uh, and people would generally give reasons which are not user reasons. All right? So putting, you know, there, this is the best solution. They've spent a lot of time there and they've, sometimes it happens at other apps have also done this. So that becomes an argument, which is basically a non argument. It doesn't matter what somebody else has done because you don't have that data. Right? So that, those are generally the signs of designer being defensive. Um, and again, did you just generally the lack of any other option? Uh, so in design, like there are phases like we discover when we go out, we seek to understand the problem and then we define the problems, set the goals, agree on why are we making what we're making, then we diverge. Right. So that's the creative part of design where you use low fidelity means like just pencil, paper, low-fidelity wire frames. You design a lot. We make low cost prototypes that we test with people. So in the diverge phase when you don't see a lot of divergence. Right. That's a great flag as well.

Nadiem Makarim: It's fascinating. I think that in the same way that people assume a tech company is innovative because they have brilliant thinkers, uh, inside of the company. Yeah. Which is completely wrong. Uh, innovation is a process. And in the same way that great design is considered to be, oh, it's cause they have a bunch of brilliant artists in the organization, which is also completely wrong. It's a process. Yes. Uh, by people collaborating and influencing each other based on one North Star focal point, which is the customer and nobody else. Yes. And that is where great design ultimately comes from.

Abhinit Tiwari: Yes. And you might not make something, uh, there are designers in teams, uh, whose sole job is to facilitate discussions, uh, that focus around the customer. And I think that's the ultimate responsibility of a designer to help build an environment that is customer focused, right. Having them in the team, a good designer would almost always make sure that nobody's having a conversation, which is engineering for engineering sake or building product for just product market sake.

Nadiem Makarim: So for the listeners out there, if you're running a startup and you do not have a head of design. You know, and it's a mobile app, which most of them are today. Um, you better get one. Real quick. Um, most founders think they are a great designer. I thought I was until Abhinit came and told me how crap my stuff was and that's when I realized that you need designers. All right guys, thanks for coming to the podcast. Hope to have you again.

Abhinit Tiwari: Thanks for having us.

Sudhansu Raheja: Sure. Cool. All right. Thanks a lot.

Nadiem Makarim: Bye.

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