Six Questions: Andrew Milmoe

In honor of Device Design Day, we collaborated with our D3 2012 media sponsor Core77 to bring you Six Questions, featuring Andrew Milmoe.

Andrew Milmoe currently divides his time between large multi-channel customer experience projects and managing Make:SF, a Meetup group of 1200+ active members that he founded in 2007.

Andrew’s goal is to express thought leadership in using technology to enhance the customer experience with a brand across all touch points… from web to iPhones, iPads, video touch walls, kiosks, toys, and future emerging channels. His background includes rapid prototyping and testing, information architecture, art curation, interactive public art, and industrial design. He earned a B.F.A. from Carnegie Mellon and an M.P.S. from New York University’s ITP.

As a champion of interactive and public art he seeks to teach people with diverse backgrounds how to expand their vocabulary of expression by incorporating sensors, actuators and microcontroller based systems in to their artworks. He is still proud of making a LEGO car with front wheel drive when he was 11 years old.

1. What is your most cherished product, and why?

I consider our mid-century modern Eichler home is my most cherished product. A product as it was designed in the ‘60s as one of 11,000 tract homes mass produced in California. Ours being one of the later models, it is the result of iteration and testing that resulted in an efficient, affordable, and stylish home.

2. What’s the one product you wish you had creates/built/designed, and why?

The telegraph… perhaps it’s more of an invention than a product. It had a tremendous impact on people’s lives. It must have been magical to suddenly be able to nearly instantaneously transmit communication across great distances without moving physical atoms through space. It created the first “network of networks” and had a lasting global impact on nearly every aspect of life.

3. What excited you about today’s tools and technology?

Not only are tools becoming faster and cheaper, but they are getting in to the hands of younger and more culturally diverse people. (The future will not be designed by old white western males.) Products and services are being developed, vetted, crowd sourced, and shared, shipped, or 3D printed worldwide. Consumers will be able to chose between highly mediated experiences (Apple) and DIY/Crafted experiences (Etsy).

4. When do you first remember getting excited by the intersection of design and technology?

Growing up (after a lot of begging) I was given an IBM PC and no software. I wrote graphical algorithms that created visual designs that my father photographed and applied to an annual report. It became quite clear to me at that young age that computers would (obviously!) become tools of artists and designers.

5. What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned and who taught it to you?

“There are no museums for comfortable artists” – Herbert Olds… essentially, when you seek shortcuts while making art you are cheating yourself out of the discovery and individuality that comes of experience and struggle.

6. What are your five pearls of wisdom you can give to the product design community?

–Leverage existing behaviors rather than try to dump an entirely innovative and new artifact in to a culture. The iPod succeeded in part because people already knew what an MP3 player was, because they already knew about using a Walkman. Giving an iPod to someone in the ‘70s would have taken too many leaps of understanding to succeed… Great failed example… the Segway. Brilliant engineering that would require dramatic changes in behavior to fit in. It was too foreign of an object.

–The idea of a “product” is losing prominence… when designing a product, designers must consider the full cradle to cradle lifecycle of the relationship between the consumer and the product/service/place/brand… and how that can be reinforced across multiple digital and physical platforms.

–As “products” become smarter, experiential, and demand more attention, people will form stronger relationships with fewer “artifacts” and brands. For example, I do a lot more photography and video now that there is a camera in my phone.

–User-Centered design is an important tool for bringing an existing experience up to par. However, if the goal is innovation you may be expecting users to adopt new behaviors. That said it is helpful to leverage existing behaviors as mentioned above.

–As time becomes more and more of a commodity, focusing on a solution to a problem will be a key differentiator for designers. As a culture we are becoming so easily distracted that focused and concentrated effort will become rare and valuable. We’ll start outsourcing long periods of thought to people who can afford to stop and think. I’m sure it sounds silly, but if you compare the multi-hour speeches from Lincoln’s time to the fragmented sound bytes of today it’s clear that a units of undistorted thought are becoming shorter and shorter… creating opportunities for those with the discipline/luxury of being able to drop everything and focus on an idea.


Don’t miss Andrew Milmoe’s workshop “Prototyping Natural Interactions with Arduino and Immersion’s Neutrino”, at Device Design Day, August 3, 2012 in San Francisco. Registration is open, so reserve your spot and get ready for a day full of innovation and inspiration.