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Thursday, 1 May, 2008

Designing products for the Entrepreneur...

As part of a series of lectures, yesterday I got one of the start-up CEOs my design team works with, Anand Raj, to come and talk to us about an entrepreneur's needs for design. What he said was insightful in more ways than one:

Insight 1: Getting the "Connect" right
Anand's main insight was that, unless the designer is able to "connect" with the entrepreneur, they may not be able to move ahead with the actual design activity. This connect, Anand feels can be established by one-on-one conversation, or showcasing work that help visualize the entrepreneur's thoughts or the ability to guide the entrepreneur in moving ahead with design. There could be other ways as well. However, the "connect" itself is a soft-skill and comes probably with a keen curiosity, active listening and the ability to contribute at an instant in the context of a discussion.

Insight 2: Fighting the "Ego"
Most often, the designer and the entrepreneur have their own egos and a conflict can arise naturally. How these people fight their own egos out, determine if they can work as a team. It is important for the entrepreneur to understand and appreciate that the designer is the subject-matter expert and therefore opinions of the designer are of utmost importance. On the other hand, the designer needs to understand that s/he is the "facilitator" of a design, and not the "creator". The designer's task is to guide the entrepreneur and facilitate the design process.

Insight 3: Building "Trust"
If the "connect" happens and the "egos" are kept out, and the designer and entrepreneur are able to guide, challenge and take each other's ideas forward, "trust" will follow.

Insight 4: The influence of personality, power distance and hierarchy
Anand gives an example of how he was meeting with a famous CEO without knowing who he was and the candid conversation he had, while his response changed when he came to know who that person was. The designer and the entrepreneur need to both understand these dynamics and ensure that the team works well irrespective of such influences.

Anand went on to use these insights to elaborate how without the understanding of these insights and the ability to connect and build trust, the relationship might become difficult. Without mutual trust, even though the designer might work very hard on the design and come up with a great design, the entrepreneur might not be able to appreciate the work done. Soon the team dynamics may get into an ego-brawl leading to conflict of interests.

Design is a difficult activity. The acceptance criteria for a design cannot be made objective completely. In such a scenario, it is important to understand that doing design for an entrepreneur is not just about going away to a corner and attempting to get it done - it is as much about thought leadership, the conversations and guidance, the progress and the ability to work with the entrepreneur as a team.

Unlike designing products for today, and therefore knowing what society's needs are in the current context, the entrepreneur is most probably trying to create products for tomorrow and therefore project his ideas based on a vision for the future. This is a challenging task and the designer will need to bring to the table thought leadership, expertise and tools and enable that future vision.