AV is fundamentally human-centric, so it should not be a surprise that design and design-led engineering is central to the products being developed by the AV market. Well, surprise – it isn’t. Part of the challenge for traditional AV companies is they emerged from such a deep area of science and engineering that they haven’t been able to transform themselves from engineering houses to human-centered product companies. It’s part of the reason all of my readers have heard of Samsung and Apple, but only some are aware of Barco and AMX, which are both very big companies. To be fair, I’m having conversations with very large AV companies who are aware they need to change how they approach product development and some of them will be successful.
As software companies enter the AV market, a focus on the user experience is being brought to bear into a problem space that is usually driven first by standards, video codecs and hardware constraints, and last by design. Getting this mix correct is difficult for any company, and I’ll admit, we struggle with getting it right as well. That’s why I found yesterday’s article in Fast Company so interesting. The article was written by Hartmut Esslinger, the founder of Frog Design, Inc. and one of the leading designers in the world. He is recognized as the force that helped put a culture of “design first” at Apple.
I’m very familiar with Frog since my brother was a senior UX designer there for many years, and I got to see some of Frog from the inside during the overwhelming and exciting dot-com era (think SXSW parties that today are just not possible). I’d like to think being aware of the design community as a separate-but-equal partner of technology gave us a leg-up on entering the collaboration arena (not to mention hours of consulting time from my brother).
Esslinger makes some very good points. If you work in the AV space and are responsible for helping set direction for your company in any way, then read the article and ask yourself how your company envisions, designs, and builds products that people love. The point is quite simple. Design and user experience should drive products, not engineering. Esslinger further drives this point home in his new book, Design Forward.
As a technologist (not a designer), it took me several years to fully accept this approach, and encouraging others to embrace the methodology is an ongoing process. Esslinger points out the danger of allowing design considerations to fall or be placed at the mercy of engineering, and I think the rewards for adopting a design-first strategy are huge. In a market where we are focused on building products to be looked at, listened to, and now interacted with by our customers, the benefits are probably even greater.