Jonathan Sposato: ‘Everything I need to know about design I learned in a hotel’

Jonathan Sposato is a serial entrepreneur, the former CEO of photo editing site Picnik and the only person to have sold two startups to Google. And if you’ve ever worked with Jonathan, as we do in his role as GeekWire chairman, you know that he has deep insights into the world of design.

He talked about the key principles of design this weekend at Seattle 2.0 Startup Day, presented by GeekWire this past weekend. For anyone who missed the event, or wants to relive the highlights, we’re rolling out video and related content from talks by Startup Day speakers this week and next.

Jonathan Sposato speaks at Startup Day

Watch the full video of Jonathan’s talk above, and continue reading for a few of our favorite takeaways. You can also access the audio here as an MP3, for listening on your favorite device. A big thanks to the team at Bootstrapper Studios for their help on all of this content.

The inspiration for the talk: “When a company is acquired by Google you kind of have to pass a sniff test.  They want to know the CEO of this company is going to be a good Googler.  (Marissa Mayer) started interviewing me and asking me all types of questions, about what kinds of products are you into, and what do you derive design inspiration from? … What I said was, I draw design inspiration from the lobby of the Mondrian Hotel in L.A.”

The impact of design: “When traffic for Myspace was declining at the same time traffic for Facebook was on the increase, a lot of us who cared about user experience had this hypothesis, which was that perhaps in enforcing a certain kind of uniformity in people’s identities and providing a much more organized and less chaotic framework for how you expressed your persona, what was happening was that people felt more comfortable (on Facebook).”

Design as forgiveness: “If your product is attractive, people will give you a little bit more rope on stuff. They might withstand a little bit longer load times. They might withstand a little less polish or bugginess in other areas. Optimally you don’t want to have a lot of those other things, but they can withstand those.”

Design begets loyalty: “A beautiful product will engender greater user loyalty. … You’re really going for user delight, that wow factor of somebody saying, ‘Man this product has a lot of utility, but boy is it beautiful and fun and delightful.’ Beautiful things really do work better.”

Visceral design: “Don Norman says there are three tenets of ‘Emotional Design.’  Visceral, behavioral, and reflective. … Visceral design is the quickest thing that gets across.  This is all the tangible stuff — the physical stuff. … People make a lot of purchasing decisions off of visceral design and the rest are often afterthoughts.”

Design by contrast: “I believe also in creating some alchemy, if you design alchemy as the classic definition where you take two lesser things, or two things that aren’t really meant to be together, and you put them together, they create a contrast or a tension that’s interesting. … These things tend to be fairly controversial when they appear on the scene. Lot of naysayers, and then over time they sort of grow on you.”

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  • Omri

    I love the framework that Jonathan presents for decomposing design. It’s a great taxonomy for understanding why Google’s design philosophy (behavioral design) is functional but doesn’t connect emotionally with the user, unlike Apple’s design (which certainly integrates visceral and reflective design as well).