“Design is like Switzerland, It’s Neutral” | A Conversation with Paul Pugh

Paul Pugh,Vice President of Connected Fitness Products at Under Armour who previously worked at Frog Design and Amazon is one of the important design professionals who has strong design experience in tech. In our conversation, he shared his insights on the value of design, how to get best out of design and technology, and how startups can utilize design for the best strategic advantage.

For Pugh, the real value of design is its neutrality.

“To some degree, design is like Switzerland, it’s neutral. It comes in and without bias it can often get the best ideas out of each of those individual groups. I think that’s the value of design.”

He describes design thinking as a tool to pave the way for the other disciplines:

“I think design thinking is actually more about applying design techniques into other parts and other disciplines in order to root out what the requirements are, who the users are, what are the usage scenarios, what are the inspirations or limitations that need to be applied to the design and what does it aspire to. I think designers are really good at taking that and coming up with something that’s real.”

He thinks prioritizing features or technology over experience is a very common pitfall for entrepreneurs.

“I think what happens too much is that there is a heavy emphasis on the technology and the product management, but not enough emphasis on attracting customers in and making them love the software.”

To Pugh, features are the “wrong measurement of good software.” He claims:

“Customers are much more forgiving for missing features if they see that the product is being improved, than they are if it has lots of features but it’s very hard to use. Then it’s very hard to get them to come back.”

He argues that design must be very to-the-point in order to achieve a type of experience that’ll capture customers from the beginning:

“When I’m working with anything that’s new, I’m trying to get down to the essence of the idea: What is the right amount of technology and the right amount of design that customers will immediately see and understand.”

He then goes on to illustrate:

“You know, it’s really common. The product management will say ‘it has to do this, it has to do this, it has to do this.’ I never really believe any of those things. Maybe that the competitors have those features in their products. But if you give customers invites them in and they immediately see the value even if it has less features, they are very willing to give up features in exchange for ease of use.”

As he objects to that feature-focused product management mindset, Pugh underlines how important experience is for startups:

“It’s either going to be good technology or great user experience that are going to be much harder for somebody else to duplicate. It’s very difficult to come in later and add great user experience. It’s so much better when you start there.”

This implies a unique strategic contribution of design for startups:

“I think where the design comes in, especially in the startup world, is determining what is going to be an attractive product to customers, and then, as importantly, what’s going to be sticky and the customers love it.”

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