An interview with Aza Raskin

About Aza Raskin

Named an interface guru by Wired and one of the top 50 Influential Designers by Fast Company, Aza is the co-founder of Massive Health, and was until recently Creative Lead for Firefox. Previously, he was a founding member of Mozilla Labs. Aza gave his first talk on user interface at age 10 and got hooked. At 17, he was talking and consulting internationally. Aza has founded and sold two companies, including Songza.com, a minimalist music search engine that had over a million song plays in its first week. He also creates modular cardboard furniture called Bloxes. In another life, Aza has done Dark Matter research at both Tokyo University and the University of Chicago, from where he graduated honors in physics and math. He is known to pun too much.

 

Main points

  • The hardest part of software design is influencing culture.
  • Academic researchers have a goal of publishing papers. Industry researchers are sometimes challenged by the right words to use to impact product decisions.
  • Data is not sexy, not “productized”.
  • For example, at Mozilla I always looked for designers who know how to code. The reason was that I wanted them to have the ability to demonstrate to decision makers how their designs work in the real world.
  • Researchers who wish to succeed should also find ways to show how their research applies in the real world.
  • It is the role of researchers and designers to cross the empathy bridge to stakeholders and present their findings in a way that is useful for others.
  • If you follow what your stakeholders currently do, you will never identify new user behaviors. You are optimizing.
  • Do the research that helps create better products, but also try hard to identify new opportunities. This is not an easy task.
  • Product managers don’t always know what they want, even if they say so. Listen to what they actually want. Use design thinking. Turn constraints into advantages.
  • It’s all about the soft skills. It’s more about convincing people, not about your research skills.
  • Separate the people who find issues from those who identify solutions. There are many great ways to do that.
  • If decisions are being made, then research is being listened to. That’s the clearest sign.