Andrea Picchi - Designer, Mentor, Evangelist
Andrea Picchi - Designer, Mentor, Evangelist

Andrea Picchi
Designer, Mentor, Evangelist

Designing for Big Brands – Just in Mind Interview

San Francisco, United States. Designing AI-Based Relationships. Originally posted on the Just in Mind Blog.

Experience Designer Andrea Picchi shares his thoughts on designing for big brands, how to approach a UX design problem and answers: do designers need to code?

Justinmind caught up with Andrea Picchi, Experience Design Lead at Sony Mobile. With over 20 years in the business, Andrea has designed experiences for some of the world’s largest brands. In our interview, we talk about the philosophy of design, how valuable prototyping tools and interactive wireframes are in creating meaningful experiences, as well as emerging trends within UX design.

Andrea! Hi! Before we start, could you explain briefly to our audience who you are and how you came to be an Experience Designer?

Absolutely. I’ve always been fascinated by the complexity of the human being, and I began my journey studying cognitive psychology. As a guy growing up in the Commodore 64 era, I had the desire to immerse myself in the beauty of technology. For that reason, after psychology, I started a new journey in computer science.

By the time I was at the end of this ten-year journey, I had started to connect the dots and understand that my real passion was something that included both of my passions: Human-Computer Interaction. I spent two years researching in the field of HCI in a joint venture project between my faculty in Italy and Stanford in the United States.

This part of my life happened before the mobile-first revolution. Then, as a designer, my primary goal was applying the concept of cognitive and social psychology to the practice of design with the goal of humanizing products and service experiences: something that today I would simply frame as experience design.

As I started to grow into more senior roles and expanding my definition of what design is beyond the walls of a design studio, I decided to study business, and I spent some time at MIT diving deep into business as a discipline and its intersection with Design Thinking.

Today, I believe that design is just a mindset and that can be used as a problem-solving tool to fulfill human-needs leveraging technologies with the goal of creating and nurturing a sustainable business relationship.

When you start to look at design as the practice of generating value through problem-solving it’s easy to see the difference between design and art or to understand why businesses may have failed.

As an Experience Design Lead, what are the specific challenges you face designing experiences for big brands?

Designing experiences for big brands is not different from solving problems inside a startup, but big brands offer some exciting additional challenges.

One of those is the need to understand the influence of social nuances when perceiving a given design solution. A given design solution can be perceived in diametrically different ways across different geographies with diverse cultures and lifestyles.

Another interesting challenge is the need to possess the social skills required to propel the design conversation horizontally and vertically, outside the design studio across many levels of management.

How would you describe your method when it comes to solving a UX problem?

As designers operating in the experience economy era, our ultimate goal is to shape relationships through compelling experiences; to do that we solve very peculiar, and often wicked, problems.

I advocate a human-centered method to solve every problem assigned to the team. This process is similar to the one fostered at the Stanford composed by five steps: empathize, define, ideate, prototype, test.

We use a holistic approach to dissect the pillars of a relationship with the purpose of fulfilling the five types of qualitative and quantitative type of value that a relationship may exchange: functional, financial, emotional, identity, and meaningful.

This approach is iteratively implemented using an atomic time unit of one week. It spans across the number of iterations required to develop the minimum degree of confidence necessary to activate the delivery phase.

We have a problem-driven roadmap and every multidisciplinary team receives the following: problem, goal, measure, budget, deadline. The goal is to establish a continuous learning cycle and align the entire company to this mindset.

You can read more about this approach browsing the slides of my presentation at UXStrat 2017.

What role does prototyping play in your design and development process?

Prototyping is paramount to the design practice! Having a prototype-first approach is an integral part of my approach to being human-centered in every relevant decision.

As I previously mentioned, design is problem-solving. At the foundation of a problem-solving process, there is always a hypothesis that has to be validated. The prototype embodies that hypothesis and makes the question behind that hypothesis tangible.

I like to say that a prototype is just a way to ask a question in a very tangible way.

Without a prototype, there is no problem-solving, and without problem-solving, there is no design. This is the reason why a good tool like Justinmind can play a significant role in the success of a team. Being able to quickly and easily prototype an idea without adding any mental overhead to the design team can make the difference between a successful and performing team, and an average one.

What do you think are the next big trends within UX?

I see a shift in the next years for the field of experience design. This shift will create a new wave of experiences propelled by the achievements in the AI field.

Now we have a lot of AI applications that are trying to disrupt different markets; FinTech and Healthcare are two examples. The next wave will expand beyond the boundaries of a single market reflecting the evolution of the digital intelligence from narrow AI to general AI.

We are lucky to live in this era because I have no doubt that it will become a milestone chapter in the future history of technology.

Do you have a set of principles that guide you when carrying out experience design and research projects?

For me design is about generating value through problem-solving; value for the humans first, and as a consequence, for the business. This detail is important because technology may change the environment, but it won’t change the underpinning biological, social and cognitive foundation of a human being.

Without going deeper into this part, which would merit a dedicated discussion, I can say that my approach is always the same regardless of the problem at hand.

My guiding principles, at the foundation of what I frame as being human-centered, are: connect with the user and frame the problem/opportunity domain, explore different hypotheses in a multidisciplinary environment, decide the design direction, prototype it and test it. I apply these principles to every problem regardless of its type, environment, or business goal.

What would you tell someone who wants to start a career in experience design?

This question is very current because, unfortunately, design education is not adequately preparing the new generation for what the world of design is expecting from them in the 21st century.

I always repeat to every young designer I meet that they have to see themselves as a problem-solver. The implications of this point of view are that a new designer has to possess strong problem-solving and emotional intelligence skills on top of a well-rounded education that underpin (at least) design, business, and technology. In this precise order of priority.

A common question attached to this debate is: do designers need to code? I bluntly love to say, forget about coding. Study business, understand technology and use a prototyping tool to make your hypotheses tangible.

This view is another reason why I believe that an excellent prototyping tool like Justinmind can make the difference in the long run for a team providing them the possibility to study business instead coding and acquire relevant and crucial skills that will increase the team’s (and company’s) chances of success.

Throughout your career, you must have seen your fair share of good and bad user design experiences; do you have any favorites that come to mind?

I’m a demanding mind when it comes to evaluating user design experiences. I believe this mindset is part of what fuel us in our jobs but somehow also curses us because we are rarely satisfied. Unfortunately, I always see experiences that may be improved, re-framed or completely redesigned.