Interaction designer and author Dan Saffer is one of the smartest people I know working in technology. His résumé includes stints at Adaptive Path, Smart Design and Jawbone, among others, but I took notice when he recently joined Mayfield Robotics as vice-president of product. The early stage startup is focused on “making an adorable home robot”—a mission statement that manages to be both remarkably simple and impressively ambitious at once. Dan reached out to me recently for help hiring a Visual Product Designer for his small design team, a position that sounds easier to fill than it has been in practice. I invited him to talk about the open position here.
Your site says your want to “bring robot joy to people’s homes.” How?
Our goal as a company is to make awesome home robots. Robots you want to be around, who are fun, useful, and adorable. If you’ve ever seen R2-D2, Wall-e, or BB-8 and wondered when you could have one of your own, we’re trying to make that future happen.
Does the visual product designer you hire have to be handy with robotics?
No, although an interest in robots certainly helps, as will having some kind of background working with hardware. We have roboticists with Ph.D.s to handle all the hard robotics stuff. Our job is to advise them on what to make, help them make decisions that would affect the user experience of the product, and to fix what can’t be fixed in hardware with software and design. We’re designing the services and ecosystem around the robot.
How hard has it been to find this mix of visual design and hardware skills in a product designer?
Very challenging, because it’s not only an interest in robots; the person should have skills that span from print to mobile to web as well. We really need a generalist who’s comfortable in several mediums. And we’re looking for someone with a real sensibility and style they could bring to the table. Since it’s, well, robots, there’s an opportunity to do some things differently. For example, the mobile apps that help control and manage the robot could be more game-like than, say, a more functional app. (Although not too game-like, as you know there is valuable information in there.)
How about the rest of the team, what are their backgrounds and do they have similarly eclectic skillsets, or are there specialists as well?
We’re a startup, so the team is small and scrappy and we all do a bit of everything. There’s myself; Ellen Francik, our UX Lead; and Tisho Georgiev, who is a product designer and engineer.
Like all teams, we each have our strengths, but because we’re a startup, we all wear a lot of hats. Our team is responsible for not only design, but also product management, marketing, and brand. All three of us move between those disciplines to come up with how the robot works and to solve the issues that arise with the hardware.
There’s also deeply puzzling, although philosophical puzzles we as a team have to solve, my current favorite being: If a robot falls and there’s no one around to hear it, should it make a sound? We spend a lot of time thinking about things like that, because it has real implications for how people think about the robot.
What does the next year or so look like for this group—and the visual product designer you hope to hire, specifically?
It’s an intense and busy year ahead of us as we prepare to introduce and launch the robot. The first thing we’re finishing up is product definition: what does the robot do and how does it do it, and the visual designer is definitely part of that discussion. Parts of the robot need to be visually designed, so they will help determine that, as well as designing the accompanying apps (iOS and Android), the getting started (print) manual, and new web site announcing the robot.
There’s whole new brand to help define and work with there. Our corporate web site will need adjusting as well as we get ready to take pre-orders. The fall has us preparing marketing materials while we do in-home user trials (and, yes, the visual designer will be involved in user research as well). There will be movies to make and demos to prep and posters/stickers/brochures etc. to design. It’s a lot of work across multiple platforms/mediums, but it’ll be fun and exciting.
For the right person, it’s a terrific opportunity to help create a new brand for a new product in a new category, all while having a significant impact on the overall product design. It’s perfect if you’re a visual designer who has great visual design skills, but also a generalist at heart—and you love robots!
If you’re interested in this opportunity, read more at Authentic Jobs.
Recently I realized that some people are under the impression that these spotlights are sponsored content—that the companies I’m highlighting are paying for the interviews to be published. That’s not the case. While I do draw exclusively from Authentic Jobs (I’m a member and get proceeds from that site’s performance), I don’t get any direct income from the interviews. Additionally, I choose the subject of each interview independently.