Legendary Swiss technology designer and entrepreneur Yves Behar has a mantra – "good design really accelerates the adoption of new ideas." You might think that applies only to consumer tech, but enterprise technology is also increasingly affected by design.
Not everyone in the world of business technology wants to recognize it, but if the rise of the smartphone, apps, and the consumerization of IT has taught us anything, it should be that technology doesn't exist in a vacuum, that design and usability—not just functionality—now play a huge role in determining which enterprise products and technologies achieve success.
That's why I was so interested in hearing Behar speak last week at Innovation by Design, a series of presentations by noted designers and companies in a variety of fields at the super-cool AutoDesk Gallery in San Francisco. From Paul Elio of electric car innovator Elio Motors to John Maeda from leading venture capitalists Kleiner Perkins, the entire roster was impressive. But it's hard to top Behar's resume – in addition to being co-founder and of smart lock maker August and founder and principal designer of industrial design and brand development firm Fuseproject, he's also chief creative officer for Jawbone, where he was responsible for such stylish successes as the Jawbone Bluetooth headset, Jambox Bluetooth speaker, and Up fitness tracker.
Technology isn't enough
According to Behar, great technology alone isn't enough to ensure adoption. He told interviewer Jeff Greenwald that every time a new technology has been successfully adopted, there's "a great product, a great experience, and great company" behind it. "As a designer," he said, "the most important part is the experience."
Of course, because Behar is working on the August smartlock, his comments focused on in-home technology, but I couldn't miss the striking comparisons to enterprise technology.
Today's in-home technology is typically loved by the person who brings it into the home, Behar said, while "the rest of the family hates it." But to be successful, the technology has to delight everyone or it's not going to make it. That's a very different problem than typical technology designed for the early adopter, he said.
Home tech = enterprise tech?
Sounds a lot like how many corporate end users feel about most of the technology IT shoves down their throats, doesn't it? While a given solution may solve IT's needs, the rise of shadow IT means that end users now have options and will reject IT's choices unless they serve the users' needs as well.
One solution, Behar said, was to leverage existing infrastructure—in his case, doors and keys—and that logic makes sense for enterprise technology, too. It's less of a shock to workers if new solutions use legacy systems and procedures already in use.
Solving a technology problem today is not purely a digital, physical, or branding problem. "You can't solve a problem without all of these things," Behar said. Just as important, he laughed, when we're solving engineering problems today, "we create a few as well."
Timing is everything
For Behar, one key to creating a successful product is to come out at just the right time. You need to be early enough so that 80% of the potential market wants it, he said, but not so early that the technology is too expensive and there are significant barriers to entry. "You have to see that you'll be able to push through the initial resistance."
That too, sounds like a good axiom for enterprise technology.