Welcome Dane Howard, our new global head of design & product experience
We’re pleased to announce today that user experience leader Dane Howard has joined Samsung NEXT as our new global head of design & product experience. He’ll be working with a fast-growing product team on a variety of new projects. You can view open roles on our product and engineering team here.
Q: Hi Dane, it’s great to have you here at Samsung NEXT. For those who don’t know you, can you share a little bit about your background and where you’ve worked in the past?
Dane Howard: First off, I’m super honored (and humbled) to be starting with Samsung NEXT. I’m a 26-year student of Design, Brand, and Communications. Having the opportunity to work for a top 10 brand in the world is an extraordinary opportunity. I’m thrilled to join the leadership team for the new product group at Samsung NEXT!
My background is diverse in several dimensions. I’ve worked at three big companies and six startups. The variety of design problems and scale have allowed me to grow creatively and professionally. It’s been nice to be described as a “player/coach” design leader, having had the privilege to work on everything from interior displays at BMW to the Summer Olympics Event Coverage to online Mobile Commerce at eBay. Most recently I was the Chief Experience Officer at Trov, a company that’s built a platform for on-demand insurance. At Trov I was responsible for product design, brand, marketing, and communications.
Q: You’ve worked at some really big companies, and you’ve also been at a few startups. How are they different in the way you develop the first version of a product within a startup, vs. trying to coordinate an existing design team to refresh an existing product?
DH: I’ll start with what first makes them the same. Design (and software progress in general) should always be in service of the customer. No matter how small (or large) your business is, the most important thing I’ve learned is to create a cross-disciplinary team of makers that are in service of a well-defined customer.
At a big company like eBay or Microsoft, your product evolutions are shaped through data, analytics, and flavored through customer voices. Every product design needs a conviction, and the customer voice should fuel and reinforce the data the team is seeing. This should become the team’s conviction.
The product is then designed and iterated on in the context of the existing business and revenue landscape. If the business is successful, you try to reduce the “high stakes” product decisions that would cost the business a lot of time and resources. That said, sparks of excitement come from doing new experiments that allow a successful product or service to be used in a new way.
For smaller teams and startups, it’s all about playing offense. Getting the team(s) in a “proactive” posture is job #1. Creating a sense of urgency and finding a way that smaller teams can be empowered to design > build > test > and repeat is pure magic. An empowered team finding their product/market fit is an extraordinary thing to enable and be a part of.
For both big companies and small startups, momentum-making is critical. Software is messy, because it is a collective act of will to make the progress possible. In both cases, design and product teams should create artifacts to help make better decisions on how to make product progress while exposing abilities to measure that progress in both measurable and emotional terms.
Q: What are some examples of products or projects that you found particularly challenging, or fulfilling? What are some key lessons you’ve learned along the way?
DH: Just about every new product or experience I’ve faced has something big and challenging about it. Usually this is always something brand new that my team and I have to uncover, learn or soon become an expert in. This steep learning curve is where growth happens.
I’ve heard this described as the “chasm of pain,” where you have to cross it in order to personally grow your knowledge, skills or expertise. This mindset allows me to take a “beginners” approach to many of the challenges I face. For example:
- Deadlines: I never fully appreciated a true deadline until I worked on the Olympics. The Olympics are NOT slipping their date! Appreciating good planning, preparation, and process was critical in designing for such a large, global event.
- Mobile + Commerce: I embarked on designing the eBay mobile app at a time when mobility and commerce were just emerging. I had NO mobile or commerce experience! It made us look at problems from a fresh perspective.
- On-demand Insurance: At Trov, we had no prior insurance knowledge or experience, and so we could ask questions like “Why does it have to be done this way?” in order to innovate and design a different kind of protection. What emerged allowed anyone to protect what they want, when they want, for whatever duration desired.
- Culture + transformation: In 2014, I was thrown into the center of something rare and extraordinary. I was asked by our executive leadership to help #activatedesign across all of eBay’s companies. It was a new type of challenge that required design thinking pointed towards culture transformation. It was so fulfilling to see and feel the progress in the culture. I wrote about it here, and was happy to see the Stanford Graduate School of Business adopt it as a case study in cultural transformation.
Q: Based on your experience, what excites you about working at Samsung NEXT as part of our product organization?
DH: Samsung NEXT represents the best of a startup culture with the support and resources of a big company. I’m joining a team that has a startup mindset and DNA, leveraging their deep relationships with startup communities and veteran product leaders. It’s a rare and amazing opportunity. Startups with great ideas and execution often reach scale and distribution challenges. Similarly, smaller products with great potential wither on the vine without proper resources and time to innovate. Samsung NEXT represents an environment and culture to design, grow, and foster these kinds of projects into impactful global solutions.
What excites me is the charter within this premise, and Samsung’s leadership is committed to innovation and software excellence. Great narratives exist on the delta between “what is” and “what can be.” I believe Samsung NEXT can be known for extraordinary software products and services.
Q: Samsung NEXT’s product team is relatively new, but we have folks working on a few different projects across different offices and geographies. Can you speak to how you see yourself working with them as they define and start releasing new products out into the wild?
DH: I’ve worked with distributed and global teams before and there are several benefits. First, the global perspective you get allows for a more culturally diverse and considered set of solutions. A more inclusive perspective comes from a global footprint of smart people working all around the world.
Secondly, you can take advantage of the 24-hour work cycle. The collaboration and communication tools are becoming better, and yet the world keeps turning on a 24-hour axis. When you wake up and see software progress, it builds momentum and allows iterations to happen faster, which means you get customer feedback faster. Speed-to-insights and speed-to-iterations are important for velocity.
In the first 90 days I hope to listen to the global needs of the projects and provide the talent and support needed to allow UX design to thrive. I hope to enable a strong product narrative that empowers the projects with clarity of purpose and understanding of their customer needs.
Q: I’ve seen the work you’ve done with “previz.” Can you explain what that is, and how have you seen that change the way a team approaches product development?
DH: A secret weapon of product and design groups is to previsualize their future. It should be a responsible future, one that is achievable, with just enough aspiration. There is a unique quality of the artifacts of visual design and storytelling that have the ability to inspire and move people emotionally. I learned this several years ago at eBay, and have written and presented on it widely.
If a design group is proactively helping the business visualize and rehearse its future, it becomes a great narrative and instigator of momentum for the product group and the business narrative. I’ve used previz as an organizational team and process at both eBay and Trov with great effectiveness.
If a picture is worth a thousand words… then previz helps accelerate conversations, bring clarity to features and sprint planning, sets tone of design, etc.
I’m excited to extend these learnings to Samsung NEXT.