I think we all like to talk a big game when it comes to being informed on contemporary tech issues, especially with regards to personal data privacy and the longstanding fight against digital misinformation campaigns.
And sure, we’ve all done our best to stay on top of the constant stream of news coverage in these areas, but generally speaking, it’s just too much to keep track of.
But LNGFRM is here for you, and we’ve brought help, this time in the form of a gentleman who is quite seriously our man on the inside.
Kaushik Macharla currently works with Facebook, holding the title of Senior UX Designer. His work focuses on designing financial analytical tools that aim to inform more intelligent business decisions and ultimately save some dosh in the process.
So yeah, he’s working in the heart of one of the most powerful and influential tech companies in the world. No big deal. But his impressive credentials don’t stop there.
Macharla has also worked with Google, creating fact-checking tools to help users sniff out fake news and other tidbits of misinformation. He’s also worked with Microsoft, which helps round off his extremely enticing resume.
He’s also the founder of his own startup, called Ghaav, which creates tools to help businesses plan, hire, and work more effectively. Unfortunately, our discussion followed so many different topics that we didn’t have time to talk much about the startup.
Suffice it to say that Ghaav is currently in development and that you’ll likely be hearing about it in the wild soon enough.
TL;DR — Macharla knows what he’s talking about. And he brought his well-dressed self over to the LNGFRM offices one day to talk to us about how users and companies alike can use successful Product Design to solve more than a few of our current technological predicaments.
The Importance of Product Design
With two feet in the startup world himself, Macharla explained that solid design is crucial for just about any company you could think of, whether they make client-facing products or B2B (business to business) products.
In particular, he wanted to mention that startups stand to gain a lot by paying more attention to design, especially in a time when many users have come to associate pleasing design with credibility and ease of use.
“Early-stage startups suffer in building their brand and a great design which can solve problems and easily increase trust with users. Product Designers play a very crucial role today and they should be given opportunities to make key decisions within organizations.”
The idea is simple enough, but often very small companies focus instead on the functionality of their product and let design fall by the wayside.
Don’t get us wrong, functionality is super important, but if the product isn’t appealing and easy to use, then people are less likely to try it in the first place.
Designers are Storytellers
So how is good design actually accomplished? What are the goals that have to stay at the core of an interface?
For Macharla, maintaining simplicity, on multiple levels, keeps the lanes of communication with the user wide open.
“Designers should always keep their ideas simple and concentrate on storytelling. Most first-time users just give a quick glance and make a quick decision. It is very important for a design to explain to users how it is going to help them.”
For examples, just take a look at any app on your phone, right now. Go ahead, we’ll wait.
The most successful ones put the important information right up front, giving you little to no time to wonder what you’re supposed to do next.
Effective design offers a narrow path, making it easy to accomplish a goal, one simple step at a time.
From an Idea to Reality
Getting to that point, however, takes a lot of work, to put it mildly.
Macharla highlighted the importance of listening to many different perspectives in order to settle on the most elegant solution to any given problem.
“Every member in a team has a different understanding when it comes to solving a problem. All of the ideas are put together into a final version of a product. Once the project is finally completed, everyone takes a deep breath. But my favorite part is understanding what users think about the project, this project that all started from just an idea.”
And in this way, the result is always bigger than the people who put it together. With skill, hard work, and patience, the final product just might be a success.
Damage Control at the Biggest Companies Around
Of course, there are times when things just go wrong, not by the fault of design, but simply due to the impact of external forces. After all, when a service is as big as Google or Facebook, they can attract individuals with nefarious ends.
And that’s largely the situation behind the rise of fake news and purposeful misinformation. Objectively immoral groups of people set out to manipulate users by camouflaging lies and misleading info as legitimate.
There was no anticipating this kind of activity. But Google and Facebook’s response to the situation speaks to another important aspect of good Product Design: its ability to adapt and evolve.
Macharla was on the front lines at Google, fighting the spread of false information.
“Misinformation and fake news are the biggest problems today. Users easily believe what they see and don’t verify the facts, especially when the information is convincing. Fact checks and topic cards for news publishers designed by Google and Facebook help users to get context on different publishers, to help verify their legitimacy.”
And while fake news is still trying to make headway with uninformed users, the tools that Macharla helped to design and implement are a huge step in assisting users to make their own judgments of falsified information.
A Campaign for User Education
This leads to a broader topic of the need for user education, not just with regards to fake news but their personal rights when it comes to using many different tech-based services.
Don’t believe me? How many user agreements have you read (in full!) in the past month? I can tell you that my number is zero.
And this isn’t to say that tech companies are specifically trying to be extra sneaky and take advantage of users by hiding unfair clauses in these agreements. Not at all. But it does serve as an example of the extent to which we take our digital well-being for granted.
And while Macharla does encourage users to be aware of what they’re agreeing to, he also thinks the user agreement process should be a lot more user-friendly.
“Most users start using a product for a definite purpose and they quickly sign these product agreements without reading the listed policies and information. I believe the design experience for the signup process should be improved and give users the ability to monitor and change the access they’ve granted to the company.”
Putting Design First is Just Good Business
And it’s not just for the users’ benefit that companies offer good design with their products. It’s also a surefire way to earn repeat business from a given user base.
It just makes good, logical sense. When your product makes life a little bit easier, people will want to keep using it, especially if the competition is offering a product that’s relatively confusing and frustrating to interact with.
“I’d like to see more tech companies invest in design and create ‘happy paths’ for users. This early investment will make them stand out in the market for a long time.”
And indeed, good design has been the hallmark of many successful tech companies, from Google to Instagram to Apple.
Well designed digital spaces can feel like a room in your house, one that’s calming and minimalist. And most of all, they feel like rooms you want to spend a lot of time in.
Try, Try Again
We ended our discussion with Macharla by taking a look at the big picture. Specifically, we talked about how design is not entirely separate from function. The two are tied together in a symbiotic relationship.
Truly effective design is the result of taking notes on what users really want, testing many different designs to find what works best, and what users like the most. Product Design is about fixing problems as they arise.
“For the outside world and many early-stage companies, design is just visuals. But without great Product Design, I’ve seen great ideas fail. Product Design is all about coming up with a solution after understanding various user scenarios and use cases.”
And in this way, Product Design can bridge the gaps between users and the incredible problem-solving capabilities tech has to offer.