PRISM: How the Roots of California’s Bay Area Design Movement Still Shape Society with Barry Katz

California’s Bay Area is one of the world’s epicenters of design, but this is a fairly recent phenomenon. Prior to the 1980s, you had to travel to Paris, London, Milan, and New York to find good design. Suddenly, this region entered a golden design era marked by innovative collaborations, technology booms, and the emergence of a vernacular around design thinking. Now, nearly 40 years later, we have more design professionals in the Bay Area than anywhere else in the world.

In this episode, Dan Harden examines the rise of design in the Bay Area with Author and Design Professor Barry Katz, including how design thinking changed the landscape of the Bay. Looking ahead, Dan and Barry speculate on how Bay Area design can continue to set the tone for the rest of the world.



Barry Katz, professor of Industrial and Interaction Design, California College of the Arts, and adjunct professor, Design Group, Department of Mechanical Engineering, Stanford University


Episode Transcript

Dan Harden 0:07
Hello, and welcome to Prism. Prism is a design-oriented podcast hosted by me Dan Harden. Like a glass, Prism that reveals the color hidden inside white light, t his podcast will reveal the inside story behind innovation, especially the people that make it happen. My aim is to uncover each guest’s unique point of view, their insights, their methods, or their own secret motivator, perhaps that fuels their creative genius. Today, I have the pleasure of being with a good friend of mine, Barry Katz . Barry is the professor of Industrial Design and Interaction Design at the California College of the Arts, an adjunct professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering Design Group at Stanford University, Barry was also well, Barry has been working with the idea for the last 20 years as a fellow and general advisor, we’re going to hear a little bit about his experience there. He’s also the author of seven books, including most recently “Make It New, the History of Silicon Valley design” published in 2017, by MIT Press, and Barry’s also working on a great new book called “Structure and Symbol for the Age of Data” which is about architecture and the Silicon Valley. Barry, thanks so much for coming on Prism. Glad to be here. I always love talking to you. You are a gem of a human. Or the the you know, you pretty much blew me away when you were one of the keynote speakers at a conference that I chaired back in 2002, as you remember, well. So this is a really great experience. So you know, you wrote this book that I read, because, well, I’m living in Silicon Valley, I’ve been a designer in Silicon Valley since 1989, and had experience working here even prior to that. So I was really fascinated by your perspectives on the history of design in the Bay Area. Maybe we could start by you giving us a general context, because my first exposure to the Bay Area was when I was seeing this extraordinary work being done, I would say in the early 80s. And I actually interned at HP, which is my first exposure around that time. But what was happening before that, how did we get to that point of inflection where design started to become relevant to technology. If we can start unpacking a little bit of that, that kind of historical perspective, because it sets the framework so well for what actually happened and how design flourished.

Barry Katz 2:52
So let’s begin a little bit with what got me interested in taking a long historical look at how people like you ended up doing what people like you are now doing. In 2021, I was struck by a small gift sent to me by a mutual friend of ours I’m sure you know, Gerard Furbershaw are one of the cofounders of Lunar, one of the distinguished consultancies of the area. Gerard sent me a clipping from a 1979 Palo Alto telephone book, the Yellow Pages. And I apologize to readers, or viewers or listeners who have no idea what the yellow pages are business directory for these things that we used to call telephones. And this was a page from the business directory that listed every design consultancy in Northern California 1979. There were, if I remember correctly, nine of them and they were squeezed between detective agencies and diaper services. And of the nine, only one of them still exists, although not under the same name. In other words, design was absolutely not on the map as any significant part of what was important about this region. And the reason that that was interesting to me is today, I think I’d be prepared to argue that there are probably more design professionals working within 50 miles of where you and I are sitting right now than anywhere else in the world. So I got interested in the question, How did that happen? How did that happen in an extraordinarily, you know, basically in a generation. If you had asked almost anybody in that period, the late 70s, the early 80s. What are the important world centres of design? I think that there would have been a pretty easy consensus and you know, Dan, you could you could say a to Milan for furniture Paris for fashion. New York for graphics London probably for product design, you got to be Tokyo for electronics, LA for whatever they do down there, I have no idea. And if you would set the Bay Area, I think you would have been met with a blank stare, right? One of the older folks that I interviewed in my book who migrated out here for romantic reasons, I think he had to get away from a second wife or something like that, and tried to set up shop in San Francisco as an industrial designer in the late 60s, I think. And he said, anybody who would try to do that then should have his head examined. There was no client base, there were no colleagues, there was no system of suppliers and partners. It was an island, and now it’s it’s become the center. So I wanted to figure out how that happened. And I started scratching around the early 80s, when the big consultancies began to form, IDEO Lunar Frog where you, you and I first met, and I scratched a little bit further, and I found some activity in the decade prior to that, and I scratched a little bit further, and I found a few big companies that had an industrial designer on staff. And I kept scratching until I got back to I think it was August 7, 1951, when Hewlett Packard hired his first quote, unquote, industrial designer, and they gave him the assignment that I, I heard from any number of people that I spoke to, it was essentially “Can you stuff five pounds of shit into a 10 pound box,” that’s a phrase that kept coming up. Or maybe it was 10 pounds into forgotten. So there were, there was some early stirring of activity in the post World War Two period. This is the time when Silicon Valley was just beginning to emerge as an important Tech Center, in electronics, in aviation and in defense, and a few companies Hewlett Packard, Lockheed, interestingly enough. And a company that is now almost defunct Ampex, which was, at one time the pioneer in audio recording, they essentially invented magnetic tape recording. They had small design groups, and that was about it.

Their primary role of designers then was to package technology to put the work of engineers into a suitable enclosure that wouldn’t offend anybody. And that wouldn’t get into the in the way of having the things function. And then gradually, what I described is an expanding perimeter around the areas that designers could involve themselves in. And I think that I would say that the crucial moment in time, kind of metaphorically speaking, is when computing started to get small enough, cheap enough and fast enough, that it began to move from the back rooms of large organizations, onto the desktops of ordinary consumers. And that’s where design is really in a position to add major value.

Dan Harden 8:41
Because people were used to consuming well designed products and other parts of their life. And maybe they didn’t have an identity yet, right? I mean,

Barry Katz 8:52
No, I mean, the computer was this inscrutable refrigerator sized machine in the backroom of a bank or an airline or an insurance company or the Defense Department.

Dan Harden 9:04
There was one guy, you might remember Elliot Noise on the East Coast, as he designed those giant IBM computers. That was the first exposure that I saw to computers being designed. And then I was also seeing around that same timeframe, some amazing work done by Mario Bellini and Ettore Sottsass, as well as designing like, pre computers for all of it, you know, these were type machines and adding machines really cool stuff. I mean, they were giving true art and form to these devices that otherwise had no kind of functional bearing on anything we would understand unlike say, a mixer or a fan where there were required components, mechanical components, whereas these devices, even those early tech devices, they you know, they were early transistor based products, and you know, why should they look like what should they key look like? Given that you press a button on, you know, in a series of keys, should it look like a typewriter? Probably? Yeah, yeah. Those were an interesting transitional day.

Barry Katz 10:10
I’m really glad that you said that in that you put it in the way that you did, Dan, because everybody knows what a mixer does. Everybody knows what a hairdryer does. Everybody knows what a desk lamp does. Nobody in this period and again, you know, to the 1970s, nobody really knew what a computer was and what it was for. And as you look at the the proliferation of small companies that were exploring this terra incognita of personal computing, the big debate was, what is the machine? Is it a really, really fast typewriter? Is it a really, really powerful adding machine? Is it some kind of a communications device, and it was really uncertain. And, you know, now is familiar to practically everybody. And we use it for all of those things, and probably also has a hairdryer and a mixer and a desk lamp. But it was a technology in search of a definition of the category. So what I think is really crucial here is that when Elliott Noyes and some of the folks that you mentioned were designing, and I say designing sort of cautiously, they’re doing the industrial design of large scale Business Machines. I don’t want to put it too crudely. But engineers are not that concerned with the experience of the devices that you’re working on. Okay, I say this with no disrespect, you know, in a way they have higher aspirations. But when a technology moves from the business world into the consumer market, functionality tends to be displaced by experience. I know that’s a little bit of a cliche, but you’re less concerned with the inner workings and how the thing works. And more concerned, not simply with superficial aesthetics, but with the experience that you’re having in using the device, so the product or the software. And that is the points where design really comes into the picture is something more than what you’re so familiar with the Henry Dreyfus or the Elliot Noyes model, of form and function of using industrial design to make something more attractive and accessible.

Dan Harden 12:39
I think part of that is the consumers have an expectation that whatever purpose, this new product that has been proposed for them to purchase, whatever that purpose is, you want to deliver to you quickly, we have impatient minds, right? We want that designed to deliver and so it’s got to stimulate me in the way that it looks that has to communicate to me in an intuitive manner, and then it has to deliver on its functionality. Scientists or researchers that were using those giant computers back then they didn’t have that expectation. It was purely functional, although, remarkably, even companies like IBM realized, wait a minute, there’s, there’s a culture in this technology, we need to represent it not. I don’t think they were necessarily trying to sell more computers with design, you know, back then, I think they were proud of what they were doing. And they they were they wanted to kind of show off they’re like, “Hey, you know what, these are remarkable machines,” Let’s let’s do this, right? Let’s build some culture and maybe even a sense of art and what they were building.

Barry Katz 13:48
I’m also really glad that you, you mentioned some of the European companies that were kind of pioneering the sort of thinking you know, Olivetti created a machine called the Performa, which some people have argued, is really the first desktop computer and had a comprehensive corporate wide design strategy, as did Philips, a small number of other European companies. And if I am not mistaken, they had a tremendous influence on your generation of American designers. So at exactly the moment that we were trying to figure out what is this new thing that we’re dealing with, and we’re still trying to figure that out, you know, 40 years into the story of computing. People were, to a large extent taking their cues from some of the radical solutions being proposed in Europe and gradually incorporating them into their thinking. Apple’s the clear example, that’s how Apple really got started.

Dan Harden 15:00
Do you know but before we talk about Apple because um, you know, they’re the monolith here, right? So in, in the space of design and technology, when I was when I was in school, I remember it’s so well, like the very top,the paragon of like design for me was the work that was being done by Olivetti. There was something about those expressions. I felt that they were, they were beyond product to me, they weren’t they were something truly extraordinary. They touched the Abyss in some way that just made me think as a designer, “Wow, I can do anything as a designer” because there really, prior to the existence of this early technology. There was no reference, there was no vernacular for what technology should look like. Right. So unlike if you’re designing a chair, you know, how many 1000s of years that we need to go back to, to see the vernacular of a chair. So that compelled me to push myself and I was designing even in school, it’s hilarious. I was doing like Olivetti esque kind of things. I was just so influenced by that I really loved. Yeah, that technology. And that’s what led me to want to even work for HP back then. You’ll find this interesting because you teach at Stanford. I went to this Stanford design conference, and the speaker was this young man, that was the CEO and founder of this new computer company called Apple and they had just gone public. And there was Steve Jobs up on stage pontificating about technology, and he was using the word design. I was like, in the, you know, the back of the audience and designed did he just say design. You know, as I was super excited about that at lunchtime, I’ll never forget this. We all got our cafeteria trays. During this conference, Steve Jobs came out, we’re all sitting outside, he looked around the lawn, and I guess he selected the youngest group or something I was sitting among like, eight of my peers at HP. l came in he chose us to sit down next to he sat down, took his shoes off, of course, right. He was famous for being barefoot all the time in his younger days. And he just, I wish I could say we had a discussion, but no, he pretty much continue to talk at us about technology and design, the importance of design, I realized I had a sense, although I didn’t have the knowledge or the foresight necessarily to know where this was all gonna go. But I believed that he truly felt a sense about the importance of design especially and its incorporation into product. And yeah, it I think it catapulted me even further, in my own personal thinking about like, Man, I’ve got to, I have to do some killer work here at HP. And I’m really intrigued by this notion of technology and design. Years later, I worked with him. But that to me was kind of the turning point. You mentioned a turning point in the Bay Area. His emergence as Apple’s emergence as a force, especially when he hired Frog Design, during that time period in the early 80s, that, to me was the seminal moment. Let’s talk about that. Because everything you know, when you mentioned a few of the companies that were considering in hiring one or two designers in the Bay Area at that time. Here’s a company a new technology companies, young, exciting, brash company, Apple, that reaches out to design firms in the worlds he finds this company in Germany, and in the Black Forest. Althengstett right it was super cute little tiny village in the Black Forest. Now, how he actually found them. I’ve heard stories about it, you know, when I was there, but that is an extraordinary time period. I remember one other point and I wanted your perspective on this. Right after my internship, at HP, I ended up graduating and going to Europe with a portfolio on my back. And one of the companies that I went down to have an informational interview was Frog Design. And the founder of Frog Design, Hartmut Esslinger interviewed me and at the time, he said, this is like 1982 he said,

“Dan, we just met this crazy guy in the Silicon Valley named Steve Jobs. Do you heard about him? Do you know much about him?” Like oh, well, I just I just heard him at this this Standford design conference. So yeah, I know him you know, quote unquote, and I’ll never forget that moment because he said, we’re thinking about doing some work with him, and what what do you think? And you know, would you eventually like to come help on this we really like your portfolio. Could you come help us in California? I thought, wow, this is this firm in this in the Black Forest is willing to make this leap across continents to go design for this crazy guy named Steve Jobs.

Barry Katz 20:28
And I hope you told Hartmut to make sure that he got paid in advance.

Dan Harden 20:34
I don’t think you have a problem getting paid by Apple at that time, you know, that became legendary how much of a retainer they got, you know, to design these products at that time. But there were all kinds of things happening not only, you know, Apple with with frog, but another gentleman named Bill Moggridge comes over. Tell us about that, and your perspective on this the shift, the big shift was this, in my opinion, was kind of that this euro invasion into the Silicon Valley when a lot of industrial designers from Europe keyed on to the fact that there’s something interesting going on here in technology in the Silicon Valley. And they wanted to be a part of it.

Barry Katz 21:18
Yeah, I think it really has to be understood as a global phenomenon as part of a global wave, and we’re still in it. And the wave is now moving back and forth across the Pacific just as 40 years ago, it was moving back and forth across the Atlantic, mostly forth, I would say. Apple is a key player in the story. I don’t want to romanticize it. But I would never want to minimize it either. I mean, I will often say would you have bought a computer from a company founded on April Fool’s Day and named after a piece of fruit. And when I said, you know, make sure you should have told her to make sure we got paid in advance. I personally know and i think you know, a couple of these folks to Dan. But I personally know three people that were approached by Steve Jobs in the late 70s, and turned him down. Here’s another guy, another one of these guys, in jeans and barefoot or, you know, his Birkenstocks. With his vision of something, rather. And if I’ll just do the work on spec, the gold will come pouring into my checking account. And I’m not joking here or exaggerating, I literally know three people who throw them out. They are not happy

about that.

But Apple, I think has to be, I’ll get to Moggridge in a moment, but Apple has to be understood as being in the right place at the right time led by the right person, as difficult as that right person was. in other respects, I don’t think we can take anything away from him. To put that in a little bit of perspective, in that period, ’76 ’77 ’78, I can think of about a dozen companies that were competing to bring a personal computer to the market to the consumer market, you have never heard of 11 of those 12. And the 12th is now a trillion dollar company. And at any given week, the most valuable company in the world. So when a company has a profile of that stature, and defines itself as being designed driven, and every other company in the world is going to take notice at their or ignore it at their peril. So the importance of Apple, not just in creating, you know, new generations of innovative products and all of that, which is a cliche, the importance of Apple for giving priority to design at the executive level. That’s pretty new in American corporate history, not entirely unprecedented. But at that scale, it was just a new phenomenon. What I would say about Apple in terms of its importance for the story that you are trying to get down is once it became clear that a high quality experience was going to be essential to making this new generation of tech products successful. Steve began to explore design talent around the world. And there were plenty of American designers who are a bit miffed by this, but he conducted his search in the UK, in Germany as you said frog, the company that became frog, the star designers and Italy and in Paris. And he narrowed it down through a competition that became known as the Snow White competition to design a personal computer Snow White, and seven peripherals, the Seven Dwarfs. That competition was ultimately won by the small firm that you referred to. And that used to work for Esslinger design in the Federal Republic of Germany F-R-O-G. And the condition that jobs imposed upon it was that they moved to Silicon Valley, and at least establish an outpost here. So Hartmut Esslinger, moved Esslinger Design to Silicon Valley became frog Design. And the larger importance of that, I think, is that it was really Apple that began to engage this small community of tech oriented design professionals, who are starting to spill out of Stanford arriving from London and Germany and a few other places. And that would ultimately give rise, excuse me, to the major consultancies, which became the defining identity of Silicon Valley design. And they’re the ones that, you know, the company that became IDEO, the company that became frog, Lunar, and now less than a second and a third, and now a fourth generation of companies that are at this point, almost beyond counting.

Dan Harden 26:39
I, you know, I find this to be so fascinating, that whole the evolution of the whole design industry in the Bay Area, and in that regard, starting at that moment, that transcendent moment in the early 80s, where it just came alive Suddenly, I remember prior to joining frog, so you know, even though I talked to Hartmut about about him meeting jobs, and being a part of this Snow White program, I was aware of it. I had gone to Dreyfus in New York City in the meantime. And when I was there, I saw the first Snow White examples coming out, of course, and I saw on the back page of it magazine. Yeah, Apple to see it was that particular design that made me think something is going on here. I really should be a part of this. Yep. And that’s when I reached back out to Hartmut. And he basically said, “Hey, man, where have you been? Come on, let’s come out to California right away.”

Barry Katz 27:42
If I could, if I could jump in and just add one more gloss onto this whole thing. And that is there’s an old story of companies, hiring designers to improve their products. That’s sort of the the history of design and in this country, and it’s a great history. What happens very rarely is designers being the opportunity to keep being given the opportunity to design not just a new product, but a new product category, and to create a language for it, and to figure out what is this thing all about. So if you were asked to improve last year’s toaster, and you know, give us next year’s toaster, you look back at last year and the year before and the year before that there is a language of toasters, and you run with it. But if you are asked to design a mouse, the patent for the mouse was called the x y position indicator. So somebody walks in and asks you to design an X Y position indicator for him. Where do you start? You don’t look at last year’s model, because there was no last year’s model, or a modem or even like a digital answering machine or something like that. They are entirely new product categories. And the opportunity to do that does not come very often. And what really defined the design profession, I think, in Silicon Valley, argue with me, if you like, is this ongoing challenge to designers of giving form and language to entirely new product categories?

Dan Harden 29:22
Yes. In addition, giving an identity and a personality to something that otherwise is purely represented by the software that you might see on the screen.

Barry Katz 29:36
Yeah, yeah.

Dan Harden 29:37
So it’s really it’s true conception, if you will, you know, it’s like, Okay, well, it’s blue sky design, you have to you know, you’re you sit there sometime to scratch your head, like, well, how can I record and I do I do this now, you know, like, how can I represent this very unusual, abstract technology that you know, it takes even my design team, it might take months to figure out even how some of this stuff works. I mean, we’re doing like CRISPR technologies. And, yeah, human genome sequencing. And I think that that’s another thing about the Bay Area, you get exposed as a designer to some remarkable innovation. And you’re asked to give it a face, give it give it an identity and make that identity by the way, approachable, friendly, sometimes warm, almost always intuitive. And make it exciting enough that it makes an impact on demand for the product. at its best design does that. But yeah, you’re right. I mean, especially, you know, using Apple again, is that example, and even other companies picked up on that, you know, the car companies saw what Apple did with a line of products, whereby each individual product was making a suggestion about its values, and that other siblings in the product line also had those values, yes, which builds trust, because you will automatically assume if the quality is imbued in the product that I currently have in my hand, or sitting on the desk in front of me, I make the assumption that the company that is offering me that is also making other fine products. And that notion hadn’t really been expressed in a manner that was so clear, as far as like, especially sibling likenesses and languages, you know, car companies were making an individual, you’d see a Camaro. And then you’d see a Mustang, they were all very, very different. Even companies, you know, looking at, you know, Ford, all of their cars look very, very different. There was no such thing as a design language. So yeah, I would say that one of the roots of Bay Area design was just that giving a broader expression of what a complex system might look like and how it should work.

Barry Katz 32:11

Dan Harden 32:12
What else was it about what designers were doing, in your opinion, around that time, and even up into the 90s. And even now, that makes Silicon Valley special?

Barry Katz 32:30
I think the key thing, Dan is, in the kind of popular imagination, Silicon Valley is a whole lot of tech companies. So as you read about, you know, the war between Washington and Silicon Valley now, where Europe and Silicon Valley over issues of privacy and data, sequestering and all of that, the kind of unspoken assumptions that Silicon Valley is a vast agglomeration of high tech companies. In fact, I think it is much more accurate and meaningful to understand it as an extremely complex ecosystem. In some I know, that’s a sort of a cliche term, but it’s something like the biological sense, in which an ecosystem operates as a series of inter interdependent components, each of which influences the other. And the interest that I have. And I think you have here is how design became an integral part of that ecosystem. So when I think ecosystem, I think, sure, the tech companies Apple, Facebook, Hewlett, Packard, Lockheed, and video, and all of the others that are household names. But we also need to think about the venture capital industry that feeds money into it’s about half of the VC investment in the United States in any given quarter is invested in this little piece of real estate where we have the either good luck or misfortune to live with depending on whether you own your house or not. A legal infrastructure, so firms began to develop an expertise in an aspect of corporate law that had to do with funding and setting up startup companies. On the basis of you might have heard the phrase opium addicts, an addiction to other people’s money. So IP law protection, early stage corporate law, the universities, so we have Stanford, Berkeley, and then approved as the major research institutions, but then places like San Jose State, which is not sufficiently recognized as a factor but the mission of the state universities in California is to serve the local population, local companies and to provide educational opportunities for Local people, which is not what Berkeley or Stanford are about, right, by definition. So San Jose State and a few others, began to contribute talent into the tech community design talent as well as engineering talent. And then you know, places like CCA where I teach in art school, and half a dozen other specialized artists institutions in the region. So you’ve got the tech companies, academia, legal infrastructure, the financial infrastructure, and then the piece that was missing in all of that is design. And when Apple in particular, and then a growing number of other companies began to make serious investments into building design into their operations, hiring. This gaggle of Stanford graduates that became IDEO hiring, this agglomeration of European designers showing up at frog hiring these peculiar mix of engineers and designers at lunar, we begin to see the formation of a professional design consultancy world that became an integral piece of the silicon; and I would say, a defining piece of the Silicon Valley ecosystem. And that is, I think of inestimable importance in understanding how Silicon Valley worked. Because it’s not, it’s not simply about laboratory science or bench engineering. It’s about making products that are accessible, interesting, affordable, and exciting. And that, again, is where design has specific value to add.

Dan Harden 36:54
Why is it that the public doesn’t seem to really understand that? When you think about Silicon Valley, you think about technology, think about software, you think about invention, and innovation by companies like Facebook, Google, of course, apple, and many, many others, all these different startups. But it’s often design that is, is the vehicle, it’s carrying these messages forward, the values, the experience that is making this a wonderful, whether you’re looking at the UX of a Google product, or even products, you know, like, Oh, my gosh, almost any medical device, scientific equipment, fitness equipment, computing, you know, the list goes on and on.

Barry Katz 37:41
Yeah, we are more commonly aware of design when it fails, when it’s bad, when something doesn’t work the way you want it to, whether it’s the chair that you’re sitting on, or the microphone that you’re speaking into. But yeah, I mean, most people, including the person you’re talking to right now, as very little idea of how computer works. You know, I’ve read books about and we sort of don’t care. And I mean that in actually pretty serious way. People love to compare their phones, but more often, you know, they’re actually people will spend more time choosing the case of their mobile phone and then deciding between, you know, models. And I don’t mean that in a trivial sense, what I’m trying to get at is the idea that we are coming to understand that the technology is now pretty dependable. It’s extraordinary. I mean, I have a little Miata, okay, the Mazda sports car. The idea that, and I drove it for 18 years, and in 18 years, I repaired the I replace the radiator, that was the only significant repair I ever did on that car. And the idea some generation before that, that your sports car would not spend half of its adult life from the shop. I’m thinking so the technology, the point I’m making the technologies are very dependable now. And they’re also inscrutable. And we kind of don’t want to know what’s under the hood or behind the screen or beneath the keyboard. We want to know what it’s doing that is relevant to the task that I am now trying to perform.

Dan Harden 39:36
That’s one reason why design has become a household name is because maybe in the past, we talked about design, so much history of technology, the introduction of the technology, the absorption and the issues that we all had with technology as that became a little bit more resolved and design became more well revolutionary and revolutionary at the same time. It’s now something that we we can relate to. And therefore we talk about, because everything else is the technology is working.

Barry Katz 40:10
And it should be emphasized, no disrespect is intended toward engineers, hardware or software engineers. Quite to the contrary, if they hadn’t done such a damn good job of building reliable, efficient and ever faster, cheaper and smaller products, then we wouldn’t be focusing on this experiential level on the human level. So it’s their credit, to their credit that designers have moved into a position of increasing prominence. And this is pretty new, and it’s still happening, it is a work in progress. But, you know, when I started teaching, I would hear from my students from alumni of my courses, who went to work in tech companies, again, and again, and again, the engineers won’t listen to us, they won’t take us seriously, they won’t give us the time of day, they’ll hand us something, once all of the key decisions have been made. And you know, that phrase that you probably heard way back when make it pretty, put it in the box, and all that, yeah. And that’s just no longer really the case. There’s still a lot of uncertainty about what designers do and how they do it, and why they make the decisions they make. But I remember a conversation with Doreen Lorenzo, who was the CEO of frog after Hartmut Esslinger stepped down, in which she said, “a design strategy is now as important as a business plan.” And most companies, whether it’s because Apple hit the trillion dollar mark, or for whatever reason, most companies now recognize that designers need a seat at the table earlier on in the process, then, you know, at the end of the day, if I can use an image that really appeals to me, I had a conversation with the chief designer at Tesla, Franz von Holzhausen. And I asked him what was different about being a designer at Tesla, the chief designer, Chief Product officer, in fact, and in his previous jobs, he worked at Chrysler before that, and but what he said to me is that the typical pattern in the auto industry had been that design was a link in a chain and important link. And you know, a chain doesn’t work if one link is broken. But it was a link in a chain that connected r&d to engineering, to design style, to marketing figure out how to sell it. And what he told me was at Tesla, we are not a link and a chain, it’s more like the hub of a wheel. We are present at the beginning of any discussion about at the highest level of the product definition. And it’s really our job like the hub of a wheel, think of the spokes connecting the aeronautical engineers who are concerned about the airflow over the hood, the mechanical engineers who are working on drive train the electrical engineers that are working on the Panasonic battery pack, marketing, and it’s actually designed that is connecting all of those parts from the beginning of the the development process to the end of it. And that is something that is pretty new in the auto industry and has had an impact because of the extraordinary success of Tesla, throughout the industry. And it’s also a pattern that I think you can see in other industries as well.

Dan Harden 44:01
You know, I from as a consultant, I’ve seen this pattern evolving and taking shape over the last, especially the last 10 years, you know, where designers have are sitting right up there with, you know, the CEO, the operations, marketing, engineering, of course, I think because they realize that, because design is kind of the the binding element between all of these departments, you know, because design just infiltrates your marketing, your messaging, certainly the engineering and the production and all the way right down to supply chain management. We’re, I think the enlightened companies had figured this out. And part of that is because they realize that, that the consumer is actually making decisions based on what’s right for them. What they can identify with. How is addressing my particular problem and design has has just become, it’s the communication tool for the company to bring forth those messages to beliefs that they actually build into their products, hopefully, it’s good to hear that the car companies are coming around, they’ve been a little bit slower at this, partly because the timeframe to develop a car so it, you know, would typically go from r&d and safety concerns to engineering and then ultimately, the styling department and then tooling, it just takes a long time to

Barry Katz 45:33
five years minimum.

Dan Harden 45:34
Yeah, yeah. But when you’re designing and developing these consumer electronics, or computing products, or even scientific goods, like we do, it’s the consumption pattern. It’s very fast.

Barry Katz 45:49

Dan Harden 45:49
So design, really, I think it has to have a seat at the table early on for the whole process to work.

Barry Katz 45:59
Which raises an interesting question that will be very relevant to you, and your line of work. And that is the relation between the internal design groups within companies, which are having growing prominence, and external consultants, such as Whipsaw. And there has been some speculation in the pages of Fast Company and a few other magazines, that the consultancies may be a victim of their own success in making the case that design is important. So companies, healthcare, automotive, consumer, electronics, food and beverage, everything, have heard the message and are building their own internal design teams.

Dan Harden 46:45
You know, I keep hearing about this. And, you know, people have asked me, is this a threat? or something, you know, to the existence of, you know, it becomes like, an existential question. I think it’s all nonsense. You know, rising tide raises all the ships, and, you know, great corporations are hiring more designers, they’re also hiring more consultants. We are seeing a lot of consulting firms, especially in the Bay Area being bought out.

Barry Katz 47:11

Dan Harden 47:12
And yeah, and, you know, we’re one of the remaining private ones. Sometimes these firms lose their identity or their Verve, their passion. I’m not sure what it is. What happens when you get absorbed in a big corporation like that? No. But individuals that have a vision that that want to be independent, there’s still room for for those kinds of consultants to I mean, we were showing a increase in business, not a decrease.

Barry Katz 47:43

Dan Harden 47:44
I just love the fact that almost every company that even the startups, some of the first people that they hire are designers.

Barry Katz 47:52

Dan Harden 47:53
UX ID, graphic design, identity branding. It’s so essential. And it’s if you don’t, it’s just a huge missed opportunity. Like, why wouldn’t you if it if it will more likely make you successful? Why in the world, wouldn’t you?

Barry Katz 48:11
Yeah, when I started working on my book on “Silicon Valley Design, Make It New,” I began with an approach that any responsible author would take, okay, this is a book about Silicon Valley design, defined Silicon Valley and defined design. And I couldn’t do it. You know, Silicon Valley is a state of mind that extends from Lucas Ranch, north of the Golden Gate Bridge to the Santa Cruz Mountains, and design. I mean, there are designers that work on intricate internal mechanisms of surgical robots, and their designers that work on the aspirational lifestyle experience of preteens, yeah, and everything in between. So I made the decision in that work to stop trying to define it in advance and then fill in the pieces, but rather simply look at what people are doing. And allow a definition both of the region and of the professional practice to emerge out of that, that that is intended to endorse what you just said about the consultancies versus the internal corporate groups versus the one person studio when the boutique group. It’s an extraordinary range. And the other piece of that that I’m finding breathtakingly interesting is not just the proliferation of different ways of being a designer, you use the term existential there I like it, but also an expanding perimeter around the types of problems that designers are being called upon, or demanding or right to participate in the these the famous wicked problems Which are no longer?

Dan Harden 50:02
No, that brings me, sorry to interrupt, but it brings me to the whole trend of design thinking and the fact that so much of that started in the Silicon Valley, and that will most certainly be one of the legacies of our time. Right. And, you know, I think that I do really push that forward, even though I get I think most designers like myself would even say, Well, what do you mean design thinking that to me, when I started hearing about design thinking theory, I was like, Well, wait a minute. We’ve been doing this for a long time. Yeah. So what’s your perspective on that? And is that one of the legacies of the Silicon Valley design thinking?

Barry Katz 50:42
Yeah, I think it absolutely is. Another book that I worked on with Tim Brown, who is the former CEO of IDEO is called “Changed by Design.” And it, I have to say, it really introduced the idea of design thinking to the business community, in a big way about 10 or 12 years ago. We just did a 10th anniversary edition of it. Design Thinking is widely maligned, it is widely misunderstood. And it is the fault for that lies mostly with its own practitioners, I think more than with is slander from the outside, Do tell. So if you look up design thinking, I sometimes do this little exercise in workshops of asking people to do a google image search for design thinking. And what you’ll see is this blaze of little diagrams with hexagons, or circles or recursive loops or triangles, it’s much more complicated than any electrical engineering drawing of a circuit. And it’s very unfortunate, because they tend to try to reduce it to a methodology. As I say, it’s something like Alcoholics Anonymous, it’s an 11 step process. And at the end of it, you’re clean, you know, you turn the crank, you do some prototyping, some brainstorming, some user observations, and whatever, you turn the crank five times and-

Dan Harden 52:09
Our clients that asked for it, expect something to pop out on the other end, is somebody an extrusion process, and, and boom, there’s your solution. And it will be successful. Because we use this design thinking process.

Barry Katz 52:23
Somebody at IDEO told me that a client walked in and said, I want you to give me the iPod of meat. So the way I prefer to think about design thinking is not as a methodology, but as a philosophy as a way of thinking about problems. And I will often reduce it to two pretty simple formulations. The first is that there is no problem that cannot be thought about as a design problem. And I mean that quite seriously, you know, you’re having problems with your kids, how we could design or think about this problem, because at the end of it, or behind it. There are strategic decisions being made that you might not even be aware that you’re making. And perhaps you should revisit those in a way that a designer might revisit why your product is not successful in the market, or why it’s not functioning the way everybody expected to, or why people are using it in completely different ways than was intended. So my you know, when my 90 year old mother used to wrap a dish towel around the handle of her refrigerator, because it was a lot easier for her to pull the dish towel than to get her arthritic fingers behind this beautifully designed chromium plated to our handle that some jerk at, you know, wherever thought looked cool. That’s an unintended use. And it causes it will hopefully provoke a designer into rethinking why something is not used correctly. Whatever correct means. The other piece of it if piece number one is there’s no problem that cannot be approached as a design problem.

Dan Harden 54:11
By the way to interject, I think that design because it’s you know, at the fundamental level design is about solving a problem. Yeah, and one could even say that life is basically a string of problems that need to be solved. We go about this every single day, almost every move you make you’re trying to solve a little micro problem, you might not even consider it to be a problem. But if you step back and look at things quite openly the way you just described, yeah, almost anything can be can be solved. Well, you might not get to a solution, but you can use a process to help you get closer to a solution.

Barry Katz 54:46
And it’s a big mess because there is almost if it’s a serious problem, a problem really worth spending your time on. There is not going to be one right answer to it. There will be multiple possibilities and there will be unanticipated impacts. I often demand of my students that they learn to think in an anticipatory way to solve not just the problem that’s in front of you, but solve the problem that will be created by your solution. That’s so Henry Ford solve the problem of internal combustion. I think he also should have solved the problem of traffic jams and parking tickets. What would it have looked like if he had thought beyond the problem in front of him to the problems that would be created by his solution. And right now, the stakes of a mistake are so catastrophicly high, I mean, we are changing the climate of planet Earth, think about that. The stakes are simply too high not to be thinking that way.

Dan Harden 55:44

Barry Katz 55:45
And that leads me if I may, to the second piece of my reformulation of design thinking, if the first pieces of it is there’s no problem, we can’t be addressed as a design problem. The second is, you don’t have to be a designer to think like one. And that does not take one bit away from the mastery, that professional designers such as yourself, have acquired in the trenches. And with the battle scars to prove it. It’s simply means that well, not simply, but it means a number of things, one of which is you as a lawyer, as a physician, as a primary school teacher can learn to practice some of those skills and learn when to hire a professional, and to work with that professional in ways that might not previously have been possible or even imaginable. So that’s really what I think is at stake in design thinking,

Dan Harden 56:45
yeah, I liked it, it has really kind of opened up the minds of a lot of, especially like marketing teams, within corporations and clients of ours. Sometimes, that it’s almost like a little too much awareness that they have acquired, where they’re like, wait a minute, we can do what you do, too. Now, I’m hearing a lot of that, like, Oh, I took a design thinking course. So we want to come in and brainstorm with you and our ideas are as good as yours.

Barry Katz 57:11

Dan Harden 57:12
Rarely is that the case. But you know, we’re always open. It’s, it should be a process whereby there’s lots of collaboration and respect and all that. But there’s a massive lack of knowledge, you know, in most cases. So how can we reconcile that? How can we have these, these highly aware, thoughtful clients, but still giving them the type of advice and consulting and education that they so desperately need? Well, it’s

Barry Katz 57:43
a big question, obviously. I mean, look, I brush my teeth twice a day, and I still go to the dentist, when I need to go to the dentist. And I would not think of putting a crown on a wisdom tooth by myself, or a root canal, crazy. But that does not mean that I should not take some responsibility for my own dental hygiene. And if I were a corporate executive, take some responsibility for my design hygiene. That does not mean I have to be one, it means I have to know what they do. Designers how to work with them, how to smooth out tensions among various business units functional or geographical or whatever. So that designers are working effectively with marketing teams, with engineering teams, with product teams. And all of the rest of that is part of I never really thought of using the term design hygiene before but it popped into my mind.

Dan Harden 58:48
I think it works. The key is it puts the onus back on the designer to help guide that process.

Barry Katz 58:56
Yeah, I think that’s fair to say

Dan Harden 58:58
because with as this new awareness about design thinking, I can tell you once a week, I have to tell a client but the drill down, step away from the chair. We got this.

Barry Katz 59:13

Dan Harden 59:17
This is a new trend, or clients suddenly know how to design their own products. Of course, they usually don’t. And that’s okay. But I like the fact that they at least are trying these soon realize because they have an interest in it. And they’re they’re now attuned to it. That they can see that sometimes the pains that we have to go through to solve a problem. This is not easy. It’s designed as a difficult profession. What you have to go through to find your solution to test it to evaluate it to to be brave enough to say you know what all the assumptions that we made in the last two or three months are wrong You have to start over. It takes guts,

Barry Katz 1:00:03
yep. time, money and all of the rest. And the way to do it is, you know, it’s not, you know, take a three day design thinking workshop, learn the methodology, and then allocate a space full of whiteboards and Sharpies to your new crop of design educated employees. Because I have so often gone back to companies that have done this, and, you know, they’re sitting around in this allocated dedicated space and scratching their heads is like, Can somebody remind us what we’re supposed to be doing? We have,

Dan Harden 1:00:39
Right. I’m interested in in it is a slog. And, but I’m really interested in how we’re going to evolve this thing called design thinking. And I like the fact that we have opened it up, the whole process has become much more collaborative, your client feels like they are part of a process now. But I think we need to, we need to flesh it out more, we need to give it more body, we need to give it more means of expression. And to it needs to be jolted out of these stereotypes about what design thinking is. One technique that I’ve been using with clients is, I’ll say, let’s talk about design seeing, and that kind of stops them in their tracks right away. And I realized that seeing is so far beyond what looking at something, it’s about observation, it’s about perception, it’s about adopting a new way of thinking and feeling about something, I find that we’re able to get to the heart of the matter even a little faster when you again, introduce this a new concept about how to solve a problem. And whatever your method is, as a designer or a team. That’s really what the objective is, is to take some time to a new level, a new place, explore. And I mean, that to me was is a real definition of innovation, where you’re going somewhere new, it’s just, you know, a new frontier, it’s hard to get to it, there’s no secret methodology, we’re all a little bit different, I think, to be able to recognize it as a team, when you were on the cusp of something. That’s when the real joy of this whole design process to me becomes just yeah, so much more exposed.

Barry Katz 1:01:54
That’s really nice. George Nelson, who is one of as you know, one of the real pioneers of American design, and is at the helm of the Herman Miller company, one of the great design driven companies in the US.

Dan Harden 1:02:41
I know it well. I worked with George,

Barry Katz 1:02:43
yeah. He wrote a book, I forgotten the exact title, but design is seeing or design as a way of seeing or how to see like a designer or something like this. And he was very much interested as he was in that period decades ago. In the visual, you know, what a designer sees when he or she walks down the street or enters into a grocery store. And I think that what you’re getting at now is that it’s more than simply the optic nerve being stimulated. But seeing possibilities, and that’s just seeing forms, it’s seeing opportunities, seeing, really seeing beyond the present. And I would like to think that companies that hire designers are hiring. sure they’re hiring a set of skills, they’re hiring a body of experience, but they’re also hiring somebody who will think differently than than they do. I think beyond the the status quo in which they’re operating, and it involves a risk. I mean, it’s a money risk, it’s a time risk.

Dan Harden 1:03:52
It’s a personal risk that comes to the heart of what consulting is all about. To be able to go to an outside source to get a different perspective, a new way of seeing something. And that oftentimes just shakes one’s reality in a way that makes them think, okay, there is a different possibility. So, absolutely moving beyond design thinking and even introducing other forms of how you go through this very difficult process of taking something from nothing to something. Let’s talk about like, what, how have designers added value in this whole Silicon Valley story? I mean, in a way, I kind of feel like the Silicon Valley, we’re living in a Renaissance period, right technology, the birth of different technologies, and in giving technology, the expression, I think one could say that’s one of the legacies of designers, you know, in the Silicon Valley. But where do you see like, Where, where have we made these biggest contributions and Is it? Yeah? Is it humanizing the technology? Is it giving it the kind of warmth and the friendliness that everyone seems to crave.

Barry Katz 1:05:09
And I remember when our mutual friend the late Stephen Holt used to tell us it’s the Renaissance, and they’re handing up the marble. Get in line.

Dan Harden 1:05:22

Barry Katz 1:05:25
I think that what’s happening is, again, it’s part of the historical process. And I don’t want to get too deep into into history, which is more interesting to me that it is to most other humans. But what has been happening, of course, in the world of technology pioneered in Silicon Valley, let’s face it, it’s Moore’s law in action. Products have been getting smaller and smaller and smaller. Processing speeds have become faster and faster and faster. The idea that you could be sitting with a computer on your desktop was unimaginable in 1980, that you could be holding it in your hand or resting it on your lap, in 1990, that you could be wearing on your wrist in 2000, that you could be having computer processing power worn in the form factor of a wedding ring, or the next stage, I’m pretty sure it’s going to be implantable. As a consumer product. What does all this mean? You and I are both old enough to remember when email was introduced, right? So the first generation of email, it was horrible. And it was wonderful. It was wonderful because I could communicate with my friends in Israel or China or Brazil, at any hour of the day or night to leave them, you know, to respond whenever it was convenient to them, and so on and so forth. It was horrible. Because you dialed it up on a screeching modem. It crashed. And I mean, the experience was thoroughly unpleasant. But you know, we we didn’t care because it was so new and so exciting. But then as it became increasingly pervasive, oh, one other thing, how often do we check our email in that first generation, for me, it was twice a day, once in the morning, when I got up once in the evening, before I went to bed. And now you know, according to Google Analytics, I think it’s something like 50 times a day, unless you’re in China, in which case, it’s 24 hours seamless. And when an experience is, becomes closer and closer to your physical body, because it’s so small and light, and cheap, and it’s integrated into the rhythm of your day, not when you wake up and when you go to bed. But both of those and everything in between. and maybe as in the sense of my new Google Home monitor, even while I’m sleeping, that’s monitoring my sleep patterns to help me sleep better. When something is as close to the body and as, as deeply integrated into the rhythms of your everyday life, the designed experience becomes absolutely the key defining factor. And so with all the technology in the world, the Kindle, the home monitors that we’re seeing from Amazon and Apple will be autonomous vehicle, they would not have any future whatsoever. If we didn’t have the the experience of delight of confidence of security of all of those emotional states that design can bring to a product. And I think that that is the trajectory that we are seeing coming out of Silicon Valley. And I need to emphasize obviously, there are important design centers throughout the world. We are not alone. But I don’t think we’ve seen the cluster and the ecosystem that I described earlier, anywhere else.

Dan Harden 1:09:21
And I find on this particular matter that we are at being asked to design the end users emotional state, exactly what you were just talking about. And when you realize that you you have the capability of doing that if you’re able to manipulate software factors, manipulate form factors, presenting levels of functionality and performance at just the right time in the in the experience and the consumption of that experience. And that at the end of the day is what good design does. I think it makes you more empathic. more responsible, definitely more compassionate to the end users state of mind, you start to consider things like feelings. And it’s not it’s not the old definition of design anymore where was like, you know, form and function and give it making products beautiful. I mean, sure, beauty has a lot to do with invoking these, and provoking even emotions. But it’s so much more than that now. And I do think that that is probably the lasting legacy of this time period is Renaissance that we’re in in the Bay Area. And I think that’s what Silicon Valley designers not only here, you know, but you know, in a lot of parts of the world, especially in the areas where they’re, they’re incorporating software and hardware and and development smarts has lots of great work being done in Asia, in this in this area.

Barry Katz 1:10:56
The other thing that is a piece of what you’re saying, Dan, is that I think is is relatively new is you guys, by which I mean designers have begun to acquire a degree of humility, which is somewhat unfamiliar in what has been a very ego driven kind of a macho design world. And we we used to have the stars of design and you know, we can name them. And they are Henry Dreyfus and Raymond Loewy and Teague and Bell ganz. And those those heroes and then all the way forward. And I think we are increasingly recognizing that the designer is not the last word, the last stage in the story. It’s me as the user. So I think about, you know, the iconic example of your mobile phone is handed to me by Sir Johnny, I’ve, Barry, I’ve just designed this cool, cool thing. But I’m really the one that completes the design, because as soon as I get it, I begin to configure it. And within a day, within an hour, within a minute, my phone is unlike any other phone in the world. Because of the way I’ve organized, you know, apps on the screen and settings and you know, 1000 other a million other variables. So you are handing over to me not a finished product any longer, you are handing over to me, a world of possibilities that recombined to realize, and that’s can be a little bit of a shocker. I mean, I still often hear my design students responding in a crit by saying, No, that’s not what I intended. Well, I don’t want to say I don’t care what you intend. But that’s not the whole picture anymore. You have to learn to step back from your intention, and understand that it’s not for you,

Dan Harden 1:12:58
you know, stepping back from your intention, as a designer, I think, especially working with a lot of young designers that I hire, that’s something that they learned because I don’t know why they ended design school, I think, Well, you’d compose this thing. And then it’s going to be just manufactured like that, it’s going to turn out and be on the shelves just like that. But there are so many unforeseen things and other contributors and stakeholders that come in to, to add definition to it, and hopefully, goodness, throughout the building process. But that’s not always the case. And we have all learned humility as well. And if you are awake and listening and looking around in this world, you realize that, you know, designers are part of the problem, too.

Barry Katz 1:13:47
Oh, sure.

Dan Harden 1:13:49
You know, sustainability values have taken a long, long time in this profession to take hold. We often do not consider the long chain of events and ramifications of our decisions in regards to the consumption of energy that your product will require years from now even after it is consumed. And that humility hits you pretty hard when you like, see your products in the dump. Yeah, I have I have seen products that I have designed in a dump in a dumpster in a recycling center. I’ve seen this several times. Yeah. I saw an exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art down in San Jose. And they everyone brought in all of the products that they have discarded and found in their garage and made a giant pile. And I’m looking through this pile. And I was like, Oh my god, there’s a Sun Microsystems computer that I designed in 1994.

Barry Katz 1:14:50
You should march your employees through that. Exactly. Right behind you will be me and my students.

Dan Harden 1:14:57
Yeah, I found a Motorola phone. That I designed, I found a toaster that I designed for Sunbeam. And talk about humility. You know, it really does make you think. And I coming back to the Bay Area, I think that humility has exposed itself. And one very special way. And this is the this a newer understanding about what does it really take to offer you a product that is providing some kind of value to you? Doesn’t have to be some big clunky thing with all these different features. Sometimes No, oftentimes, Now give me one or two features. That’s all I need. So you’re starting to see well, you know, several years ago, minimalism is suddenly reemerging. You know, of course, this was done in the Bauhaus A long time ago. And young designers think, Oh, this is all new as minimalism, but this general belief that reductionism is good. Yeah, is is actually helping the sustainability cause, you know, less material, more performance from fewer functions. Yeah. And I think it’s kind of it seems to me, like a lot of those values have been born here in the Bay Area, not not exclusively, for sure. But it’s definitely a value.Do you see that?

Barry Katz 1:16:27
Yeah. And as I say, this new product categories emerge. Fitness monitors is a good example, which has a deeply rooted history in the Bay Area. I am, as you may know, a long distance runner, and I went crazy. Last time, I tried to buy a watch. Fitness watch, because I wanted to watch that would do four things. It would tell me what time it is of SM running, how far I’m running, and at what pace I’m running. And, but it gave you 40 4400. You know, it says, You know, I didn’t want a heart monitor. I didn’t need it. You know, if I have a heart attack, I will know I’m having a heart attack. Thank you. I didn’t want a garage door opener. I didn’t want something that would fend off my enemies with the shriek or amaze spray or something, I want for function, impossible to find something that you know, because of the magic of programmable chips that they wouldn’t do everything for me. And so most of us are now walking around with products. My watch is an example my camera’s an example, that do so much more than I will ever even know about, much less be able to deal with. Can I share a little story with you that your listeners may find them useless. years ago, close to the beginning of my teaching career, I was teaching a design seminar that was very much it was theory and history. So the students were from every design discipline in the college. And somehow it came up a student told the story in class, she was a graphic design student. And she said that she had the habit when she came home from the grocery store of taking everything out of the original packaging and putting it into its own canisters. Her own ceramic or her own, you know, decorated tin or whatever, because she hated opening her kitchen cabinet doors and seeing this blast of advertising coming at her. So she customized. And she really liked this until she started being a graphic design student and realized every time she did this, she was discarding the work of a fellow graphic designer. And it made her feel really sad. And she said, I’m starting to think maybe I should change my major to industrial design, because at least their products have a lasting power in which all of the industrial design students shrieked in or have you ever been to a landfill? Have you ever been to a recycling center? And one guy said and I’m sort of thinking I wish I had done the architecture program instead of ID because at least their products are permeable, and the students fell on the floor in agony. And you know, I talked about the beautiful office building that they had done that was repurposed as a spa and then regionally, and then the owners did this weird thing to it and one architecture student finally concluded, I’m sort of thinking about switching to graphic design because at least they have no retention at permanent in the circle was complete. Yeah, so I can’t solve this problem. Obviously, you’re closer to being able to I am and you can’t solve the problem.

Dan Harden 1:20:03
But I think we just have to keep being human. And that is to be human is to create.

Barry Katz 1:20:12
to take greater is to take a greater degree of responsibility for what we create.

Dan Harden 1:20:18
And that’s where I was going with that is just think about what you’re doing and realize you’re not going to solve everything right now, you’re not going to be able to put the whole picture together, it’s civilization is built, you know, one brick at a time and make a contribution, make it as you know, as thoughtful as you can be responsible, think about the impact it has, on so many of the other elements of the infrastructure, and just be smart about what you’re doing.

Barry Katz 1:20:46
And it’s really impossible to do that thoroughly. I mean, this whole concept of wicked problems that began to emerge in 1972, actually, when that famous essay was written, it’s all about how the easy problems have been pretty much taken care of, we can do a hinge on a laptop, and you know, somebody will do it better than somebody else. And it will be improved over time. That that’s a pretty simple problem to to solve. If you’ve got the mechanical chops, a piece of playground equipment is more complicated. The experience of flying cross country is way more complicated and how we’re addressing the problem of pediatric obesity in the United States or unwanted teen pregnancy in West Africa, those are not problems that have a correct answer and an incorrect answer, just choose one, they are open ended, multifaceted. And you know, in a certain sense, insoluble, you can do better, or you can do worse, but you’re never going to get it right. And you just have to be prepared to admit that and think as hard as you can about what could go wrong. You know, an example that I’m thinking a lot about now, partly because there’s a new book about it is juul, the the vaping phenomenon. So these two guys, graduate students at Stanford, I am willing to say that they started out with the best of intentions, they were smokers who were thinking about how to cut their smoking addiction, and delivering the addictive nicotine in a way that was not combustible, combustible tobacco. And this is very controversial, of course, and how what may or may not have been a well intentioned master’s thesis project turned into I think, a $21 billion empire for the tobacco industry, is a pretty sordid story of, at best how good intentions can go awry. And right, turn into this highly addictive product that is hooked to generation of middle schoolers, middle labor, vaping, and, and all of that. So could they have predicted it? Should they have predicted it? I actually don’t have an easy answer to that except to say that it’s the kind of an object lesson that I think we all need to be thinking about. What will the world look like in which cars don’t have drivers? What will the world look like? In which psychiatry is performed by an intelligent system by an AI? What will the world look like…? More and more what I would say down as designers have to be thinking not just of the consequences of failure. You know, what happens if you fail, that client doesn’t come back, maybe you’ll get sued. Okay, think about the consequences of success. That’s where the real problems come in.

Dan Harden 1:24:00
That is beautiful, beautiful advice. That’s why I invited you on this podcast, Barry. And I think if everyone took just that piece of advice from you, they would they would do well. Barry, I cannot thank you enough. I really enjoyed this discussion. And I can’t wait to see you and the pandemic is almost over. Although I keep hearing it’s not quite over. But I shall see you soon, my friend.

Well, Dan, thank you for adding that word, friend. And that’s, that’s at the heart of it all. I always enjoy talking to you. I am thoroughly vaccinated, decontaminated, purified, exercised and ready to sit down with you face to face anytime you want.

Barry Katz 1:24:44
Can’t wait. Thanks again, Barry. Thanks also to your whole staff for putting this together. You bet, see ya

Dan Harden 1:24:52
Thank you for listening to prism, follow us on or your favorite streaming platform. And we’ll be back with more thoughtful Welcome to Episode Seven.

Prism is hosted by Dan harden, Principal designer and CEO of whipsaw, produced by Gabrielle Whelan, Isabella Glenn, mix in sound design by Eric mu

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