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Want Great Design? Design Your Company Culture First

Want Great Design? Design Your Company Culture First

Sandeep Akkaraju is the Co-Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Exo, a health information and devices company.

Society shapes tools and tools shape society.

The history of humanity can, in some ways, be told through the lens of tools. The wheel led to carts and chariots, which led to bicycles and cars. Then we moved beyond the reliance on wheels as we built rocket ships for space travel. The Stone Age, the Bronze Age, the Industrial Age, the Space Age and the Information Age are all defined by tools and products that we have crafted to propel the human race. With an eye toward invention, humanity has the power to shape tools that will, in turn, reshape humankind.

When we think about designing products, we must remember how cultural perspective shapes the product, which in turn, shapes reality for the users. Think about the products you enjoy most and what defines a great product. While utility, design and ease are important for adoption, great products often carry the personality of their creators. It is that personality that frequently serves as the X factor for success.

While companies spend large resources on understanding consumer behavior, ease, utility and novelty, not enough thought goes into the development of product personality. To encompass the design of product personality, companies must pay attention to the people behind a product.

Building The People Behind Products

Hiring great individuals is easier than building great teams. Product teams need to be designed and built as much as they’re hired. The people in an organization underpin the culture, which is at the core of product personality. Great product culture is built upon a diversity of ideas, experiences, expertise and perspectives.

Innovation starts with curiosity and understanding. Fostering innovation is at the core of a strong culture—it allows ideas that are often born fragile and ill-formed to develop and blossom. It requires collaboration to allow people to build and test, to fail and iterate. It must be an environment that is supportive of experimentation and failure, both emotionally and structurally. It’s a business leader’s job to create an environment that is safe for experimentation and, yes, even failure.

To build a culture that drives great design forward, start at the top with a focus on talent, motivation and an appreciation for ways of being, ways of doing and ways of relating to each other.

The term “State of the Art” to describe excellent product design implies that the product is itself an art form—and art needs artistry. Art must be relevant to the present generation, but it should also speak to the future in some way. Much like how the director, crew and actors in a film depend upon each other’s talents to realize a vision, business leaders and product teams must trust in each other to invent great products that shape society.

The Importance Of Fueling Your Journey

The products we use today have shaped our reality. The evolving products of tomorrow will shape our future reality—influencing our perceptions and wellbeing. While we will probably not be using the same products tomorrow as we do today, we will inevitably see glimmers of our past, present and future aspirations in the products we will use.

Companies often talk about moonshots and spend significant resources on technology and products. Yes, these are space vehicles for your moonshot. Not enough focus goes into the rocket fuel—which is the company culture and the people in it needed to reach your destination.


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