For this year's Core77 Design Awards, we're conducting in-depth interviews with each of our jury captains to get in a glimpse into their creative minds and hear more about what they'll be looking for in this year's awards submissions.
2018 Strategy & Research Jury Captain Tatyana Mamut is currently the Director of Product Management, Design & Engineering at Amazon Web Services—undoubtedly a crucial role at one of the most important companies in the world. In a way, Mamut's fascination with strategy and research is precisely what got her to where she is today. A trained economic anthropologist with past experience leading product design at Salesforce and notably the founder of "Design for Change" at IDEO, Mamut's experiences have equipped her with a wealth of knowledge on the proper ways to conduct research not only to gather accurate information about who you're designing for, but also how to use that knowledge to find success in your own life. We spoke with Mamut recently about her story as well as how the realm of strategy & research is changing with culture and technology.
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I've read that your background is originally in economic anthropology, so you clearly have a unique perspective within the design field—I'd love to hear a little about your background and what drew you to the world of design.
My first love is actually neoclassical economics—I was a bit of a hard-core economist in college, running mathematical regressions to model economic behavior. I interned at the Russian Conversion Information Center in New York, writing economic reports for the United Nations about the progress of conversion in Russia from a military to civilian economy. I worked under a student of Jeffrey Sachs and fully bought into neoclassical economic theory. Then in 1998, the Russian economic collapse happened and it shattered my world because I realized that all my economic theory was wrong and culture really, really matters. With this realization that culture is critical for economic outcomes, I decided to go into global advertising and—and then, to get a PhD in cultural anthropology.
In grad school, I focused on how culture influences economic outcomes, both for businesses and for whole societies. As I was finishing the PhD, I decided I didn't just want to analyze economic change, I wanted to do something about it. Something tangible, something that would let me have a real impact on the world with my knowledge of economics and culture. It was then a seamless transition to IDEO, a company that was looking for someone with a global perspective and who had done deep ethnographic work—and was ready to roll up their sleeves and build big things with these tools. I learned Design on the job at IDEO, authoring the Human-Centered Design Toolkit which got me really deep into the design process, and then founding an leading the Organizational Design Practice at IDEO. After seven-and-a-half years at IDEO, I decided to do product strategy and design in-house in tech, which took me to Salesforce and then to Amazon.
Can you explain a little bit about what you do now? How are you employing your skills at an online force like Amazon?
In my last 2 roles as a tech executive, I've been managing UX designers, Product Managers, and Engineers. People are often surprised by this because people assume that tech execs need to have degrees in computer science or engineering. But as you get deeper into the tech field, you realize that technology will not be the thing that differentiates a good product from a bad one. The really hard part of technology product development is the people part. And great technology leadership is just knowing how to organize people to build things for other people, that they will love. That's it.
You're serving this year as the Jury Captain for the 2018 Core77 Design Awards Strategy & Research category. What's the difference to you between good and outstanding design research?
Outstanding design research isn't really about the research, it's about the insight and decisions that can be derived from the research. Yes, the research method must be rigorous and the researcher must understand how their claims and generalizations are being generated. Those solid insights need to ladder up into ways of seeing the world that is both so creative and so believable that it's obvious how those insights leads to better decision making.
How has the impact of research and strategy on design development changed in recent years?
I think design is less about UI and more about user experience, which means a deeper focus on people's mental models and expectations. "Research" in tech used to be primarily about usability and eye-tracking studies. That type of research can only happen once a design is developed. Now, more and more tech companies realize that research needs to happen before the first concept is ever generated. Research and Strategy are happening earlier and more upstream, as opposed to being used to validate the usability of designs.
Analytic research has inevitably crept into the realm of design research; do you believe this addition to the process is a benefit, hindrance, or capable of both? What are some mainstays of design strategy & research that should remain despite tech advents?
Product analytics are a great complement to traditional forms of research (in-context interviews, surveys, diary studies, etc) and make our insights so much more interesting and robust. With good product analytics, you can discover gaps in user behaviors that can generate great ethnographic research questions. And with good product analytics you can understand much better how people actually use your product. For example, if you develop a customer journey, product analytics can help you understand if people are actually using your product in a way that is aligned with the customer journey. The usage numbers and click-path analyses will help you hone your customer journey maps and help you see the holes and blind spots in them.
In your opinion, what is the most pressing topic in need of design research today?
Two topics are in dire need of good design research:
One— Russian meddling in the US Elections via social media and how social media and social media audiences can be designed to combat it.
Two— Bias in organizations, especially in hiring and promotions. What are the true dynamics and causes of systemic bias in business, government, and academia and what organizational levers can be designed to really combat bias?
Finally, what are hoping to see in design awards submissions? Considering the presentation of Strategy & Research projects involves plenty of complex information, do you have tips to pass on to people thinking about submitting?
This category is appropriately titled "Strategy & Research" not "Research & Strategy." In other words, the strategy and great decisions that have resulted from the research are more important than geeking out on the research methods themselves. The research should be methodologically sound, but submitters should explain the connection to the strategy and design in depth.
Our jury is looking forward to seeing everyone's submissions and continuing to see our community raise the bar on Design Strategy & Research. Good luck everyone!
The Core77 Design Awards Strategy & Research Jury
2018 Strategy & Research Jury Captain Tatyana Mamut will be joined by these designers for the awards selection process:
Lionel Mohri, VP of Design, Intuit Innovation Practices
Nalini Kotamraju, Vice President of User Research & Analytics, Salesforce
Susan O'Malley, Head of Strategy, Office of the CEO at IDEO