For the third installment in our Six Questions series, Kicker interviews San Francisco-based designer Gretchen Anderson.
As Director of User Interface Design at LUNAR, Gretchen designs products that are as pleasurable to use as they are powerful in expression. She knows how to get at customer needs and desires, as well as how to create tools and toys that meet them. Her design philosophy is rooted in the belief that a user interface should be as seamless and invisible as possible. From medical devices, to casino entertainment, to business productivity tools, her varied clients, technologies, and customers form a solid foundation from which she approaches new problems eagerly and fearlessly.
Gretchen graduated with honors from Harvard University. Prior to joining Lunar, she worked for several Bay Area design consultancies and clients including: Johnson & Johnson, TurboChef, Microsoft, Virgin Records, and Starbucks. She has also taught design and research methodologies to designers and clients.
1. What’s the most cherished product in your life? why?
It’s tough to choose a most cherished product, but as a new mom, I’m pretty psyched about my Summer Infant video monitor. It has a camera that does in the baby’s room and the receiver has a tiny little night vision peek of my son while he’s sleeping. Invaluable when he was learning to sleep and a nice way to get warm fuzzies now that he’s older.
The video monitor is classic case of “disruptive” technology changing the way in which people relate to products. Having a postage-sized view of my sleeping son is more than just a gimmick. Hearing him sleep, or try to, is like being on the other side of his door. But having a postage stamp-sized view of him means I get to see his funny thrashing movements, and I can tell when he really needs me and when he can figure things out on his own.
2. What’s the one product you wish you’d designed, and why?
I wish I’d designed the Burton split snowboard. It’s a great concept, and works pretty well, but I’d love to perfect it. Basically, Burton developed a snowboard that splits apart to become fat skis for ascending mountains.
At the top you just put it back together to go down. Pretty great hardware, and a cool Transformers mechanism makes it acceptably easy to get up mountains in deep snow. Small parts are finicky, and cold fingers make for some lost parts at the top of the hike. Plus, it needs to go on a diet to really perform well on the way down.
3. What excites you about being a designer?
I love being a designer because I get to use my brain daily, am rewarded for being brave, and have to take responsibility for my decisions and recommendations.
4. When do you first remember thinking of yourself as a designer?
I first realized I was a designer when I received an RFP for a website that would “deliver the future.” This was in 2000, when nuclear winter was descending on the dotcom world. Someone had the bright idea to write “news” about things that hadn’t yet happened, sell products that hadn’t yet been made. A concept that to the uninitiated might seem like say, fraud, or maybe just a big waste of time.
I raised some concerns about the idea: what kind of fulfillment process would you need to deliver things that didn’t exist? And, how do you do product photography? The Onion already had the market cornered on fake news. Everyone else was like, “Dude, I bet it has a fat budget.” I decided from then on I would focus on the actual product design instead of budgets and development. No budget is worth having to design something you can’t believe in.
5. What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned, and who taught it to you?
When I was at Cooper I learned that design requires patience and confidence. The beginning of a project is always scary: you don’t know enough, pressure is building, the client is already hungry for the answer. But Kim Goodwin and Wayne Greenwood really helped me take a deep breath and have faith in the process. Not that the process gives me the design, but it gives me the ability to keep my eyes open, keep my knees bent and stay on the lookout for good ideas and take advantage of serendipitous moments to really succeed.
6. What are 5 things all designers should know?
1) People don’t accurately self-report what they do. This is useful when studying customers during research, and managing clients during the whole darn life of a project.
2) Design isn’t an analytical process. Creativity requires taking leaps and risks, success requires managing those risks perfectly.
3) Have a mantra. Have a few words you can say to yourself over and over that captures what yu want to accomplish in a design. Then make it a point to stop every few days and ask yourself, “does the design live up to the mantra?”
4) Always look at least one layer out from the design problem. When you’re drawing your designs, always put them in context. What room is the person in? What else is there? It might just force you to be a better sketcher, but it will often give you insight into issues and opportunities you’d otherwise miss.
5) Fidelity matters: don’t try to be too polished or too rough, be where you are in the process. If you don’t have a good sense of what’s right, find a mentor who can review your work from that perspective. Otherwise, no matter how great your idea is, it’ll get lost in the silly stuff.