AVCC: Dan Maccarone, Panel Discuss Usability and Experience in Digital Design

Following opening remarks from FIU College of Business Dean David Klock and mention of the Entrepreneur of the Year program created by Ernst & Young, the morning of the second day of the Americas Venture Capital Conference commenced with a focus on design.

Dan Maccarone: Design Today About Experiences

The session’s keynote speaker was Dan Maccarone, Co-Founder of Charming Robot and expert in online product strategy and design.

For years, Maccarone pointed out, design has been about aesthetics. Companies have focused on the look and feel of an advertisement, of packaging, of a physical product, etc. With digital products, however, the situation has changed: Design today is about experiences. And why does this matter? Simply put, Maccarone said, “If someone can’t do what they want to do with your product, they defect.”

He signaled the case of Hulu, with which he worked for quite some time. With the Hulu platform, it was important to put users in control and allow them to figure out the product and decide what to do with it. To that end, he and the Hulu team made a decision he described as what one would think of as being the “antithesis of building a product” – they devised a way to help users find content that wasn’t listed on their site elsewhere.

In his career as a designer, what other conclusions has he reached?

Design can be a differentiator. That said, it should match a business’ strategy and goals and remain in line with what the company wants to do. Two examples of businesses that are doing this well: Foursquare and Fab.

Be wary of chasing gimmicky trends. Maccarone highlighted the case of one of the year’s biggest takeoffs: Pinterest. The design of the platform may work for Pinterest, but it certainly won’t for everyone – including Mashable, which seems to be giving it a go with a Pinterest-inspired design.

Sometimes design should get out of the way. Maccarone compared two content sites, Hollywood Life and Gawker, and focused on the failure of the former and success of the latter in allowing content to take center stage. He also noted the importance of this mantra in fashion e-commerce sites, where the product must lead the way.

Bad design can succeed when a problem is solved. Design is important, but if what a company is doing meets a real need for consumers, it may not matter. Three examples: Kayak in travel booking, Craigslist in online classifieds, and YouTube in video sharing.

Discussion Panel: Design Strategy in NYC

Moving forward, Maccarone joined New York professionals Jason Baptiste (Onswipe) and Nora Abousteit (Kollabora) in a design panel moderated by Demian Bellumio. The four discussed several design-related topics and expressed various opinions on the theme.

Baptiste talked about the difficulties of designing for others and creating a platform for designers in his work at Onswipe. His cause is a worthy one, as he noted, The best things out there democratize something that’s only available to a select few.”

Both Baptiste and Maccarone warned against attempts to create a design that is completely device-agnostic. They agreed that companies must work to ensure that their viewpoints prevail and that people experience their brands in a specific and strategic way.

One sticky subject to that end? Advertising, a necessary evil but largely an afterthought in the creation of the web. The issue now poses a big challenge to designers in marketing successfully without disrupting user experience.

Bringing the panel to a close, Abousteit made a declaration that largely summed up the state of thinking on modern digital design: Design doesn’t just mean beauty. Design is about usability and experience, and that is where the main discrepancy lies.”