If your shipment matters, design matters
No one truly understands what "time-critical shipping" means when they first hear it, but after six months with Airspace Technologies, I know the term well. Time-critical shipping means that if our software doesn't truly serve our users, if it misleads them or slows them down at an inopportune time, someone's life might be on the line.
It means a family might be kept wondering and worrying in a hospital waiting room because their dad has been in surgery for three hours for a procedure that was supposed to take 45 minutes. It means if we release buggy software, an airline may have to flush $100,000 an hour down the drain because it can't get a plane off the ground when a critical part fails to arrive. It means that if we don't design and build the right product, someone could literally be left without a kidney.
For the first part of my career as a user experience designer, the stakes weren't so high. In the accreditation, advertising, and home-automation industries, I learned the ins-and-outs, the best practices, the processes, and the techniques needed to take a product concept and turn it into real, working software.
However, there was one major thing I didn't agree with in my past roles. We seldom got the chance to learn from the people using our products. Project constraints often forced us to make our best guesses about what to build, then hope it worked out. It was something I could live with when I was working on marketing websites and heater interfaces.
I don't have the same luxury at Airspace. At Airspace, we have to design right.
What does it mean to do design right?
Ask someone off the street and they'll likely tell you design is about creating beautiful things, and to an extent that's true. But beauty is just one of the byproducts of a constant design process of getting to know the user through discovery, analysis, creation, testing, and refinement. Design is about using every tool at your disposal to understand the user and their problem from every angle, then creating a feasible, efficient, delightful, and yes, beautiful solution to that problem.
Doing design right means setting aside your biases – all beliefs and gut reactions – when deciding what features to put into a product and how to make those features work. It means putting your best ideas in front of customers whenever you have the opportunity, and be willing to throw away those ideas if they're not meeting the customer's needs. It means not just making one-off efforts to learn about your users, but learning the normal day-to-day within the company. It's not what you have to do sometimes; it's what you do.
For some, proper design can be scary
Good design, by definition, means admitting you don't know everything. Sometimes it means admitting you know nothing. Fortunately, at Airspace, there's no confusion about what it means to do design right because it's been in the company's DNA from the start. One of our co-founders, Ryan Rusnak, our now CTO, knows the technology from the inside out. He's one of the primary reasons great design is in our DNA.
When Ryan started talking concepts four years along with co-founder (and present CEO) Nick Bulcao, they both knew the company had to offer great technology and great service. At the time, Ryan knew nothing about time-critical shipping. But as a Carnegie Mellon graduate with a degree in Human-Computer Interaction, he had an unusually strong design base. He understood that creating a successful technology product is not just about filling it with the coolest technology. It's also about ensuring that technology presents itself in useful in easy-to-understand ways.
From the start, Ryan put iterative design practices in place, cranking out mockups of what the eventual Airspace platform might be – not just to have a map of what to build, but to study what would help customers.
Over the course of a few months Ryan used his design process, and a whole lot of feedback, to whittle all the big ideas that might be part of the Airspace platform to a core, usable offering. That offering included instant quotes, automatic flight routing, driver dispatch within minutes, and automatic notifications of all the key things that happen to shipments.
Design at Airspace Technologies today
Now, thanks to the design process, our customers compare the Airspace service to a Tesla or an Aston Martin. Every day our platform helps ship hundreds of critical packages. It also helps employ more than 100 people full-time and helps hundreds of independent contractors around the country earn a living. The service literally helps save lives.
Airspace's success is already proof that design matters, but it's just the beginning of the story. With founders that know the true value of design, and a team empowered to learn from our customers constantly, we have the opportunity to make Airspace into something even better. With design we'll take a service our customers like, and turn it something they love.