5 Things My Startup Taught Me About Design

5 Things My Startup Taught Me About Design

What I learned from developing my own product
Javier Soto Morras
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When I learned that I would have to wait for a visa before starting my job as an interaction designer at IDEO, it felt like the perfect moment to do something I’d always wanted to do: develop a product from initial concept to final production and delivery. I went after an idea I’d had for a long time: A smart compass for bikes that points you to your destination, without giving you full-on directions. I named it Haize.

I came up with the concept years ago, when I realized that I had grown up so dependent on Google maps in London that I could barely recognize a street two blocks from my house. I’ve always liked to do mental exercises, pinpointing different places in the world I wanted to visit, or figuring out which direction I would need to go to get home.

IDEO projects rely on a brief and constraints. But I decided this project would be boundless. I wasn't going to rely on it financially, so I could take risks and experiment without worrying about money. It would also put me in the shoes of the very people for whom I often design. We work with startups a lot, so building my own to learn the struggles and nuances of a project like this would give me insight into what founders go through.

Over the last couple of years, our team has had many failures and successes. We’ve learned that it’s tough to keep a team motivated to work on a side project. We managed to build the prototype and the campaign in a very short time, but when the harder, darker part of the development began, momentum slowed and problems took longer to solve, causing delays.

Today, we are four weeks away from shipping the first units, and have around 2,000 people waiting for Haize to arrive, so I answer a ton of questions by email every day. No matter how good your intentions, there will be both positive and negative feedback.

Here’s what I have learned—and relearned—from this startup phase:

  1. It is all about the team, and users are part of that team. Make sure to consider them as you make decisions for your company and your product.
  2. Coming up with an idea is fun, but actually figuring out how to make it work is longer, harder, and darker. Get ready for it.
  3. Show your face. Revealing the people behind the work gives the project and services a deeper dimension.
  4. Storytelling can be as important as the product itself. It keeps the team excited, leading to better and more efficient work. It also helps users feel more personally involved in the process and the product.
  5. Mike Tyson said, "Everyone has a strategy until they get punched in the nose." Many of your strategies will probably fail. It’s a very humbling experience. But it helps you grow and learn.

Above all, though, this project has let me do something that is really important to me as an interaction designer: empower people with technology without substituting their own skills. Haize doesn’t tell people where to go—it just helps them find their way. To me, it’s a great metaphor for the work designers do everyday.

What have you learned from your side project or startup? Reach out to IDEO on Twitter.

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Javier Soto Morras
Javier is an interaction designer who struggles to stay still. He is particularly interested in finding ways that technology can encourage people to interact with each other and the world, rather than screens.
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