The Science Behind Design


Design isn’t just an abstract sketch anymore; it’s a concrete method.

According to Eric Ries, author of The Lean Startup, “A startup is a human institution designed to create something new under conditions of extreme uncertainty.” This sentiment pinpoints the most exhilarating—and most terrifying—element of entrepreneurship: so much about the future of an idea is unknown.

During these moments of uncertainty, especially at the fledgling stages of an idea, it’s easy to become intimidated by intangible problem solving theories. One can easily lose sight of concrete, scientific methodologies that have practical benefits. In a video panel produced by Google Entrepreneurs entitled “Lean Startup Meets Design Thinking,” Kaili Emmrich moderates a discussion between three professionals who want to demystify the abstract world of product design. Panelists include Eric Ries, author of The Lean Startup; Tim Brown, CEO of IDEO; and Jake Knapp, Google Ventures Design Partner.

So, what is a “lean startup” anyway? It’s actually a business methodology in which entrepreneurs put their ideas to the test as soon as possible. Since there is so much uncertainty in the startup world, entrepreneurs must go through a disciplined, scientific process of testing their hypotheses in order to discover the actual needs of the consumer instead of relying on untested, predicted needs.

Adopting this ideology can help entrepreneurs devise more quantitative business plans to guide their understanding of the consumer. According to Ries, the quantitative spreadsheet is actually the most important part of a business plan because it provides a testable hypothesis for how a consumer is predicted to behave. Removing the vagueness of a verbal forecast and replacing it with a numerical quantity is not only beneficial when presenting a business plan to capital-oriented investors; it also helps entrepreneurs understand that learning about consumer behaviors can lead to measurable success.

Design thinking has a similar focus to the lean startup methodology. By designing with consumer needs at the forefront, products and services will be more accurately tailored and crafted to meet the consumer. A designer must constantly learn about his consumers, always hungry to discover their changing needs as ideas develop.

Maintaining a consumer focus while designing is also more efficient. Often times, when a product doesn’t work, designers are tempted to reinvent the product’s core—a process that takes time and money. But paying attention to the consumer may reveal that the product itself isn’t the problem, but rather, the way in which the consumer is taught to relate to it. To that end, designers will reconsider the messaging, the front end, the marketing, and how the product is discovered in order to better teach the consumer that the product meets his or her needs.

According to Knapp, these methods and ideologies are put into play frequently at Google Ventures. Google Ventures aims to quickly educate startups on running design-driven organizations; those that understand consumer problems and then quickly draft and test solutions for those problems. To bring this idea into reality, the company will hold weeklong sessions for startups to engage in drafting and testing prototype solutions to their consumer and business problems.

Everyone from CEOs to engineers to actual designers is involved in these Google sessions. Not only does this foster teamwork within the startups, but it also shows employees that creative specialists aren’t the only ones who can devise testable hypotheses. This is important in demystifying the abstract elements of design because entrepreneurs see how the process is concrete and applicable.

When designing a product, the most important message to maintain is to always keep learning by testing and retesting your theories.

About the author: Makena Owens

Makena Owens is an English Literature major at Yeshiva University. Her mission is to somehow combine her interests in history, tech, literature and design into one jam-packed career, but for now she’s satisfied with their exclusivity. Hailing from the not-so-rainy city of Seattle, Washington, Makena has a love-hate relationship with New York City, but right now it’s verging more towards love.

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