In this latest episode of the Thanks for Making It podcast, we interview another faculty member from Brown and RISD's Master of Arts in Design Engineering, Hal Wuertz, Design Principal, AI Experience and Research at IBM. Hal shares her perspective on how design intersects with engineering, what differentiates great design from good design, why having a low ego is critical in the design space, her professional journey, and what made her interested in art and design.
[00:00:00] Beth Altringer Eagle: Hal Wuertz, I am so excited to have you join us this afternoon. I'm excited to learn a lot more about your work outside of the classroom. And, and about just how you think about design, how you think about the difference between good and great design and kind of wherever the conversation takes us.
[00:00:22] Beth Altringer Eagle: And so, you are joining us, where are you right now? Where are you coming from?
[00:00:27] Hal Wuertz: Austin, Texas.
[00:00:27] Beth Altringer Eagle: Austin, Texas. Yay. You're our first guest from Austin. And, and for those listening, who don't know, Hal Wuertz is one of the instructors in the MADE program. And maybe you could just tell us a little bit, you know, the show isn't specifically about MADE, but it's more about, you know, design engineering and, and conversations about that intersection.
[00:00:51] But, Hal, you've been working with the program from the beginning. So, I'd love to just hear a little bit from you about that experience. You know, why you decided to get involved and, you know, kind of your enthusiasm for this growing space.
[00:01:09] Hal Wuertz: Yeah, sure. Well, yeah, I've been involved in the construction of the MADE program for about, I think it's three, three years now.
[00:01:18] Beth Altringer Eagle: Yeah. It started a while ago.
[00:01:20] Hal Wuertz: Yeah. And I was really excited when I heard about it, initially because I went to Brown.
[00:01:26] And I was a Brown student that, like, that had a passion for art and design and didn't really have a venue for it and, and the amazing thing was like, Brown is an amazing university.
[00:01:37] RISD is an amazing arts university and they're right next to each other. And it's just like begging for collaboration. It was just so hard when I was an undergrad. Like, it was just impossible. It was just like oil and water. Like, it was so difficult to make these two things mesh. And so, when I heard that there was an initiative to try and get it to mesh more, to figure out a way of
[00:02:01] collaborating. I was really excited about it.
[00:02:04] For those who don't know, these campuses are, they are so adjacent to each other that as you walk from one to the other, you can easily feel like you're on one continuous campus. So, I just wanted to highlight that for anyone who hasn't been to Providence, who's listening.
[00:02:23] Hal Wuertz: Yeah. And so, it's, it's, it's a literal or a, a manifestation, literal manifestation of, like, how you can have such brilliance in these two disciplines or the two ways of thinking, and they can be sitting so intertwined physically and, like, still have so much trouble, like, out ways of working together and, like, creating things together.
[00:02:46] So, it's just so much potential there. And so, I was really excited to be part of it and to help, um, a group of people who were thinking about problems in similar, but distinct ways, like, figuring it out together. And so, early on, I, I have a background in design facilitation and organizational design. And so, I was helping the org, the two organizations, the two universities work together in sort of that, that respect.
[00:03:13] Hal Wuertz: And then, over time, um, by, when we actually started the program, I was like, "I would love to be part of this and to continue thinking about how we get these different ways of thinking to, to show up in a program and to show up in people's work for through the program."
[00:03:31] Beth Altringer Eagle: Absolutely. And so, I'd love to hear a little bit more about your background. So, you, where are you from, originally?
[00:03:40] That's a, I might take the podcast, but I, my, my family, my dad's, uh, a diplomat. So, I grew up overseas.
[00:03:47] Hal Wuertz: So, I don't, I'm not exactly from anywhere, but I've been in Austin for eight years. So, it's coming up on the place I've lived in the longest. So.
[00:03:54] Beth Altringer Eagle: Okay, great.
[00:03:56] Hal Wuertz: Texas.
[00:03:57] Beth Altringer Eagle: And, and you, of course, went to Brown University. And so, has it been since that time that you have kept being sort of close and in the loop at Brown? Or have there been some other things in between that have, that have kept you in the, in the Brown family?
[00:04:15] Hal Wuertz: Oh, yeah, lots of other things.
[00:04:16] Beth Altringer Eagle: All right. Tell us a little bit about those.
[00:04:17] Hal Wuertz: I wasn't, no, I wasn't that involved, um, really, until this program. Also, I'll, I'll throw out there that IBM's really interested in this, in, in helping to bring design into engineering programs. And so, there's an initiative at IBM where they support people going out and helping in different ways.
[00:04:38] And so, I also helped at Harvard.
[00:04:40] Beth Altringer Eagle: Mm-hmm.
[00:04:41] Hal Wuertz: We, like, did a, 'cause I also, I went to Harvard for grad school. We did an HBS, HBS case study over about the, about the design and business and something like that. Anyway, so.
[00:04:55] Beth Altringer Eagle: Great.
[00:04:56] But no, I, I guess so, I mean, would it be help, like, just talk a little bit about, like, what I did after Brown and how I got here.
[00:05:04] Beth Altringer Eagle: Yeah, I think it'd be helpful to do that. And then, you know, lead us into your current role at IBM, and then we'll come back to Brown and RISD.
[00:05:13] Hal Wuertz: Okay. Yeah. So, after Brown, I, I started in design and architecture, actually.
[00:05:19] So, I have a degree in architecture. I went to Harvard for
[00:05:23] architecture. Yay. I love architecture. I, even when I was like, but I graduated from architecture school and I was like, "Nobody wants a 25-year-old to build their buildings."
[00:05:33] Like, "You want a 60-year-old." Like, "This isn't gonna work." Like, "What am I gonna do? I'm gonna come out. I have to wait, like, 40 years to, like, do something interesting."
[00:05:40] Beth Altringer Eagle: Doing like bathroom vanity, you know?
[00:05:43] Hal Wuertz: Yeah, that's what you'll let a 25-year-old do, so.
[00:05:46] Beth Altringer Eagle: I know.
[00:05:47] Hal Wuertz: I was like...
[00:05:47] Beth Altringer Eagle: I studied architecture too. And...
[00:05:49] Hal Wuertz: Oh, you did?
[00:05:50] Beth Altringer Eagle: Yeah, I had kind of some similar realizations. Basically, after architecture school, I was like, well, when was the realization you're talking about, which was like, "Oh, man." Like, "I'm not gonna get to do the things that you dream about in school until I'm 60." And then, and even, then that's if you're doing really well.
[00:06:12] Right? And then, um, and then, also, like the time scale of buildings is, you know, often kind of, you know, a 10-year cycle. And if you're interested in sustainable development of the kind of surrounding area, it's more like a 20-year cycle. And I was like, "I don't think I have the stamina or the, you know, attention span for that kind of product cycle.
[00:06:39] And then, if you think of buildings as products, then like, "Oh, there's all kinds of other products you could build that have a much shorter attention-span cycle." But I don't, I don't wanna interrupt what you're saying, but I identify with what you're saying.
[00:06:54] Hal Wuertz: Yes. Well said. No, I, I, now I don't have to say that. So, um, yes, what Beth said. And anyway, so, I, I graduated in architecture and I, I got my dream job at my dream architecture firm and I also had a job at, in, in the technology world, in at Frog and at IBM. And in the end, I decided to go to IBM. And I think a major reason for that yes is what you're talking about, in terms of time scale.
[00:07:24] And like, I wanted to be in, like, the thick of things. I wanted to feel, like, the energy of now. But, also, I was really interested in design research and human-centered design. And the truth is that architecture is one of the only design professions that's not really in, hasn't really embraced that. And I was so interested in it and I just had no formal education in it.
[00:07:46] And so, I was like, "I've got to, I've gotta go and, and learn about this." 'Cause I was so interested in it and honestly was, like, doing a, not a great job, but a, an amateur job, like pulling that thinking into architecture and I needed more, more meat around it. So, I went into technology and joined IBM and...
[00:08:08] Beth Altringer Eagle: Can, can you walk us through? Like, it feels like there's a step in between, right? So, how do you even become interested in, in technology from architecture?
[00:08:21] Hal Wuertz: Yeah, when I was in, absolutely, and because I had basically, I had, like, two portfolios, I had, like, an architecture portfolio and I had this other portfolio where I was, like, pitching myself as a technologist. And I had built that up during architecture school, for about, you know, two or three years of essentially working in digital-physical environments.
[00:08:43] I worked with a project, I did a project with the MIT Media Lab. I did a project with the Harvard MetaLab.
[00:08:51] Beth Altringer Eagle: Mm-hmm yeah.
[00:08:52] Hal Wuertz: Um, so, I had, like, I had done these side projects or done studios that had digital components to them. So, I was essentially, I was building a, a portfolio around digital, digital-physical environments.
[00:09:07] And when I got to IBM, I had expected to work in the IoT space. 'Cause IBM was doing a lot of things around smart cities. And that was my plan, that I would go to IBM and still kind of work in physical environments, but the digital side of them.
[00:09:23] Beth Altringer Eagle: Great. And what unit is the IBM that you started in, and then kind of where, where are you now? You stayed there?
[00:09:31] Hal Wuertz: Yeah. So, what happened when I got to IBM was the, they were, I was like, "Where's the IoT, digital-physical environment section?" And they were like, "It's upstairs. It's, like, to the right. Take this left." And then, like, finally got there. And it was this, like, dismal corner with two designers in it. And I was like, "Okay, this is not going to work."
[00:09:52] So, you know, there's, there, and then, meanwhile, like, in the cloud space, there were like a hundred, you know, like, there's other places with a lot of energy.
[00:10:01] Beth Altringer Eagle: Mm-hmm.
[00:10:02] Hal Wuertz: So, I didn't actually go into IoT when I got to IBM, but it was okay because I really got fascinated with the design program at IBM organizational change.
[00:10:13] And so, I essentially spent the first half of my career at IBM working in Organizational Design and Organizational Change for the Design Program Office. So, um, I did that. Yeah.
[00:10:25] Beth Altringer Eagle: What is an example of, so, I'm assuming you work with clients on that type of thing, is that right?
[00:10:33] Hal Wuertz: Yes. Yes. And, um, the design program, the Design Program Office is focused primarily on IBM's design transformation. So, getting the 400,000 people inside of IBM to adopt design to gain design practices or to better integrate with designers.
[00:10:53] Beth Altringer Eagle: Mm-hmm.
[00:10:54] Hal Wuertz: But, also, I was on, for part of that time, I was on a client experience team that worked with clients.
[00:11:00] And so, I have, like, two years of experience. Essentially, there's a lot of enterprise clients that are very interested in how IBM did their transformation. And so, we help, we help banks and manufacturers and shipping companies, et cetera think about how to do a design transformation or integrate better design into their experiences.
[00:11:23] So, also that, yes, I've done works with clients to help them think about their organizational change.
[00:11:30] Beth Altringer Eagle: Mm-hmm. Cool. So, can you give us an example of a project, you know, without any kind of secret details, but just an example of kind of a, day-to-day projects, for people to visualize what your everyday work is like.
[00:11:45] Hal Wuertz: Sure. And so, now my work is different.
[00:11:49] Beth Altringer Eagle: Well, take us. Yeah, take us through to that.
[00:11:51] Hal Wuertz: I can give examples of both, but, basically, three years ago, a spot opened up in the IoT section and, and there were more, there are more designers there now, there's a hundred. So, I, uh, so, I moved over into IoT and AI.
[00:12:04] Um, and so, that's what I've been doing for the last three years.
[00:12:08] Beth Altringer Eagle: All right. So, I mean, because some of our listeners are interested in figuring out, like, you know, they're either recent grads, figuring out what they wanna do or maybe they're career changers, trying to figure out, you know, how they could move into this intersection. So, maybe an example from the, the sort of more strategic or organizational change unit, just what is that kind of day-to-day?
[00:12:32] And then, also, an example from your current IoT/AI unit.
[00:12:36] Hal Wuertz: Yeah. Okay. So, from the organizational change stuff, which I absolutely loved, I was a design researcher in that. And so, one of the things that I did, during that time was, we had, so, there's like, the big context to this is like, just imagine IBM over seven years hires 2,500 designers, hires, you know, like, educates 250,000 people in, like, an online course on design thinking, like changes teams, builds up zero studios to a hundred studios worldwide, like really builds out a program.
[00:13:19] And so, as a Design Researcher on that team, I had projects where my job was to figure out, like, "What's working, what's not working and how can we make it better?" So, for example, one of the things I did was I did a design research project where I went to five studios around the world and studied how they were doing their client experiences.
[00:13:40] And then, created a, a packet, presentation, set of recommendations around, like, what's working, what's not working and what we should do better. And, for example, one of the things that came from that is, you know, the places where this is working is when there's a sales team that's educated. And so, from that we launched a, a huge initiative around educating sellers so that they knew what design was and what role it could play in the process.
[00:14:06] Beth Altringer Eagle: That's smart.
[00:14:07] Hal Wuertz: that.
[00:14:08] Beth Altringer Eagle: Cool. That's great. Thank you.
[00:14:09] Hal Wuertz: Yeah. And then, in my current role, so, I currently have a, a, a rather unique role in that I'm, I'm Design Principal. So, I've managed before, but right now, I'm more of, like, an expert, something that helps teams do, do better work. Um, and so, for example, one of the things I'm doing right now is, or I was doing before, I, I'm on maternity leave right now, but I was doing before I left for maternity leave, was creating and administering the set of heuristics that are specific for machine learning experiences.
[00:14:47] So, at IBM, we run user experience reviews before every release. And we wanted to think about if, like for experiences that our machine learning base, like, "How can we help the reviewers do a better job of figuring out what's good and what's bad and how to make things better?" And so, before I left, I was working with teams to create a set of guidelines and heuristics so that people could do better at that, that, that review process.
[00:15:18] Beth Altringer Eagle: Cool. Great. Well, thank you for, you know, kind of adding some color to just your day-to-day. And, I wonder if, I, I guess I have a, a few related questions about this. Like, a lot of the people I've talked to so far, you know, there's, they fell in love with, you know, whether it's architecture or some design field or engineering, like, like pretty early.
[00:15:43] So, I wonder, I wonder, like, when did you know that you were interested in one or the other of these disciplines?
[00:15:53] Hal Wuertz: I have a current belief, and I don't know if in the next 20 or 30 years it'll change. So, my wisdom is very specific to like a 30, someone in their thirties. But my, my, someone in their thirties wisdom is that I feel like, I feel like people know really early what their passion is or, like, it's really or, and that you lose that.
[00:16:15] You know, you know, like, when you're ten or five and then you lose that, like, over the next, you know, you, you think about it too much, or you get, you get educated in different ways, and then you basically figure out, you basically spend your whole life reconnecting with your five-year-old self.
[00:16:32] And if you're lucky, you, you do it.
[00:16:36] So, uh, so, I think I, I think, I mean, I've, like, from the time I was, like, five years old, I was
[00:16:44] drawing constantly, and I was just doing that. And then, I spent a lot of time thinking that art or design wasn't intellectually stimulating enough or respectful enough and that there's all these other things I could do.
[00:16:57] And it took, it's, it's taken me, and it continues to take me time to just, like, settle into the fact that like, I love design. I love art. That's what I like to do. And I have to keep on reminding myself that there's something, like, very natural to me about that and that I need to listen to it.
[00:17:17] Beth Altringer Eagle: Yeah. Did you have, like, was there someone early on in your life who encouraged that, in a notable way or, or that, it's just you started drawing and loved that?
[00:17:30] Hal Wuertz: I'm, I, I'm fortunate to have awesome parents who just let me do my thing, but, but, yeah, it was just, you know, it was just from the very beginning. Like, I would just, I, in the beginning I draw hands constantly. Like, I had, like, a three-year period where I would just
[00:17:44] draw my hands. I know, I would just, like, draw my hands over and over again. I had a horse's phase.
[00:17:50] I just drew horses over and over again. Like, I was just, like, always, uh, visualizing things and that continued into
[00:18:01] Beth Altringer Eagle: Yeah.
[00:18:01] Hal Wuertz: middle school and high school and yeah.
[00:18:05] Beth Altringer Eagle: And your major at Brown, initially. I know Brown is kind of, that's not, you don't pick your major for a while, but how did you think about it then, was the plan to do art, in some way?
[00:18:16] Hal Wuertz: That's a lot, in the same vein of that same story. I have a philosophy degree, um, which also came very naturally to me. Like, it wasn't something I had to think about, but I actually had enough credits to have an art degree, and I didn't, and I didn't get it because I was like, "I don't know if that's sending the right signal."
[00:18:34] Beth Altringer Eagle: What? Oh, my Gosh.
[00:18:35] Hal Wuertz: That's what I thought at, that's what I thought at the time is, I was like, "I don't know if I want people to think that, like, I have an art degree." And, as I said, like, I, then it took, it took me time. It took me to, like, get in to my, my thirties to really sit into the fact that it was like, "Hal, like, let's be honest here."
[00:18:52] Beth Altringer Eagle: Totally. And how badass is that, to have both? Um, that's funny but also a little bit sad. But I kind of, I think at that age I felt that way a little bit too. Like, I got, so many people would say, would sort of caution you about going forward with the arts, that it felt, like, negative somehow. But it feels like it's maybe changed.
[00:19:16] It feels like that narrative is a little different for people at the same age these days, you think so?
[00:19:24] Hal Wuertz: I don't know, I'm not sure.
[00:19:26] And I'm not sure how much of that is just like my, I don't know how common, what, if that, if that is common, it wasn't like my parents were sitting there like, "You have to be an engineer." But I just thought there was something, a lot of people with philosophy degrees go into law.
[00:19:41] And I just thought there was something a bit more respectful about that, but the truth was I
[00:19:46] didn't wanna be a lawyer. I wanted to be a designer. So, uh, it was just like fighting a, a natural impulse that took time for me to accept in myself.
[00:19:56] Beth Altringer Eagle: Yeah. Well, that makes sense. Well, the next question that I have for you is, actually, a little bit philosophical, but applied to design, and that's, you know, how do you think of the difference between good and great design?
[00:20:13] Hal Wuertz: I love this question, so fun. Should we start in philosophy? Should we start with...?
[00:20:18] Beth Altringer Eagle: Sure. I mean, wherever, I mean, we are very clear on the show that there's, you know, no right answer, but it is an interesting discussion.
[00:20:29] Hal Wuertz: Yeah, I mean, I thought about this, and I did think it was helpful to think about it through examples, but I think, I'll just think about, let's talk about it
[00:20:36] through examples. I think it's easier for people to visualize. So, the first thing that came to mind for me when I thought about this question was, I just had a baby in March
[00:20:46] and I, so, when you have a baby, you, like, go through this, like, whole new buying cycle and you, like, you have to, like, re, you have to evaluate all these new products.
[00:20:56] Like, there's all these new things, and you have to think about all of them and, like, why you'd want one over the other. And so, all these new things came into my life. And so, when I thought about design, most recently, that's a lot of, I was like, "Oh, this thing, this thing, this thing." And so, my favorite thing that we bought over the last few months is the Stokke Tripp Trapp chair.
[00:21:18] Do you know it?
[00:21:18] Beth Altringer Eagle: Ooh, I don't, no. Tell me more. Mm-hmm
[00:21:21] Hal Wuertz: It's good. And I think it's a good example of, I think it captures a lot of what I think is great design. So, for, for people who are just listening, the Stokke Tripp Trapp chair, it's, it's made of wood. It's very simple. It's just like a, an L and in the L there's, there's a couple pieces of wood that you can move up and down so that it's a chair, and it fits a six-month-old all the way into an adult.
[00:21:49] And then there's attachments.
[00:21:50] Beth Altringer Eagle: Wow.
[00:21:51] Hal Wuertz: Yeah. And there's attachments that you can, it's amazing. And there's attachments that you can add so that, you, someone can use, a baby can use it from, like, the moment they come home from the hospital.
[00:22:02] Beth Altringer Eagle: Huh? Mm-hmm
[00:22:03] Hal Wuertz: And it's really beautiful and simple. And I've always, I've wanted one for a while because I have friends who have them, and I've seen their five-year-olds sit in them.
[00:22:12] And right now, my three-month-old is sitting in it. And when I thought about like, I think that might be one of the only products that I bought for my baby that I would put in the great design category. And I think it captures a few things.
[00:22:27] Beth Altringer Eagle: Mm-hmm
[00:22:29] Hal Wuertz: I think, overall, like, the number, overall there's a quality of, like, time, like, it's lasting that I think is really important.
[00:22:38] And I think there's, there's, like, so many, there's so many facets to this idea of, like, it lasting. Like, I expect to have this chair for, like, potentially 18 years. Like, it's possible, it's beautifully made. I plan to buy another one. Like, they fit well. Like, they bring the child into the, into the dinner table setting in a really seamless way.
[00:23:00] Um, so, this idea of lasting, like great design is something that lasts, I think is a good metric. And it's in terms of the multidimensionality of the thing, right? Like, this is something that's flexible to human needs. And so, it's so flexible that it doesn't have to be thrown away. It can, like, fit in different scenarios.
[00:23:19] It lasts in terms of, it's well made.
[00:23:23] Hal Wuertz: It's, it's hardy, it's not gonna go away. It's like it was designed to be used for 18-plus years. And so, it's made in a way that has that structure. And then, also, it was designed in the seventies and it's the same chair, you know, it's like 50 years later, and it's the same chair.
[00:23:41] And so, there's just all these different ways in which, like it's something that lasts a long time. Like, and I think that something that, I think that's true that good, good or great design is revealed with time.
[00:23:58] That if you, you can buy something or have something and that it will be time that really tells whether or not this is something that is well designed.
[00:24:06] Um, anyway, I think that shows up in a lot of different, we can talk about other things that are really well designed, but I like the way that that is such a graphic representation of, like, meeting human needs over time and being flexible and, and lasting with someone.
[00:24:23] Beth Altringer Eagle: Yeah. I love that example, and I absolutely, I love the way that you think about this question. So, I, I totally am gonna wanna hear more examples. This particular example I love for a couple of reasons. One, because I don't know this chair and I know a lot of chairs, and so I'm kind of like, I, I feel like I have a pretty good visual just from your description and it's gonna be so fun to go then see it.
[00:24:49] But it's, yeah, well, and we'll be able to put an image of it on here for the video. But the other thing I love about it is, like, when I was first interested in design, a long, long time ago, I was really interested in sustainable design. And, and, and that is a goal that today is still, you know, pretty elusive.
[00:25:12] Beth Altringer Eagle: And often we're talking about user-centered design these days. And, like, if it depends on how many, you know, points in time you measure that. Right? And so, this chair example, you know, there's the user-centered design of the searching experience, of the buying experience, of the first-use experience, of the, you know, three-month experience of the 10-years experience, of the, you know, 50-years experience.
[00:25:39] So, so, this product can allow you to kind of, I'm just giving some extra language to what you put so eloquently. You know, it would pass that test, whereas, like, another product, I mean, I don't know, these eyeglasses or whatever, you know, it's gone from my life by a few years. Right? And so, it would, it would fail kind of all of those extra tests from now until 50 or whatever.
[00:26:12] And it's just sort of interesting that you could measure that in a way of like, if we measured user-centered design in a kind of 50-year arc, most of our products would fail.
[00:26:25] Hal Wuertz: Mm-hmm I, it did make me think about sustainability and just like the human relationship, human's relationship with the environment, with physical things outside of ourselves. And if there is something, if there's something built-in or natural about, like, about our relationship with the things around us and us wanting them to last.
[00:26:51] And I think that there is because I think that, like, when I thought of all different examples of great design, it, it comes up over and over again,
[00:26:59] this, this good feeling that you have when something is made well or made to last or made to be part of your life and isn't disposable.
[00:27:09] And I think, as a result of it not being disposable, you form a relationship with it.
[00:27:14] That it's something of meaning to you.
[00:27:16] It's something that you can care about.
[00:27:18] And whether or not we're, like, completely tapped into that, as individuals, in our daily buying cycle is a different matter. Like, whether we understand that deep enough.
[00:27:29] Beth Altringer Eagle: Yeah.
[00:27:30] Hal Wuertz: So that we surround ourselves with that things that have that good feeling is another matter.
[00:27:34] But I do think, right, like, even though there's something aesthetically pleasing about a lot of things at Ikea, I don't think I will, I don't think I could put those things at the level of great design simply because they're not made to form that long-lasting relationship with someone or, like, be something that's in someone's life for a long period of time.
[00:27:57] Beth Altringer Eagle: Yeah.
[00:27:57] Hal Wuertz: I think there's something interesting there or that, like, maybe there's something that is natural to us about having things in our life that are good for the environment or, like, not disposable or persistent.
[00:28:12] Beth Altringer Eagle: Or, I, I mean, I guess if we think of objects as extensions of ourselves, in some way, you know, in the things we surround ourselves with, probably are, you know, we can make a good argument for that, anyway, that some of them, you know, reflect back a kind of longevity that we hope for, for ourselves.
[00:28:34] I mean, maybe that's a little going on. It's going on. It's a little too deep, probably for product, but I don't know, it's interesting.
[00:28:43] Hal Wuertz: I think that there's, I agree with you, it's, like, maybe going too far. But, like, I think that there's, it reminds me of, I wish I could remember, I'm so sorry if this person's listening to this talk right now, but I don't remember who, who showed this, but it was talk I watched when, who showed, like, like a Nalgene bottle and how people, like, put stickers all over their Nalgene just like or, like, their computer screens and like, people just stickering the whole thing.
[00:29:10] Because of that exact point around, like how the things around, the things that we own, like, we want them to become ours and that they represent their identity and that people just have this impulse to, like, cover things in their own stickers make it theirs beyond just like, "Oh, I need to know that this math book is mine and that's not mine."
[00:29:28] Hal Wuertz: Um, so, I think there's something, I do think there's something real there around, like, the objects that we surround ourselves with and them contributing to our identity and, um, they do, right? You're you're the sum of the five objects you spend the most time with or something.
[00:29:45] Beth Altringer Eagle: Yeah. And even, uh, yeah, I feel like we could talk about this for a long time, but, yeah. I mean, you can feel it, when you're surrounded by crappy stuff. You can feel the difference between, you know, a really cluttered room of junk, which can be inspiring if, if you're just looking for inspiration for how things are made, but it's not relaxing in a kind of
[00:30:13] calming way that being kind of surrounded by symbols of your identity, in a way that feel cohesive with who you wanna be, I think can be calming. But I don't know. Yeah. I think I'm going too far. But I did have a question, in there, about, I think it was about sustainability, but we can move to a different, um, a different product if you want.
[00:30:40] I mean, I'll just, one of the things that, I mean, to build on that conversation and, like, another thing that I thought about in terms of great design or, like, the things
[00:30:52] Hal Wuertz: around me that, I mean, it's all, it's in, there's something in the same vein, which are like, I don't actually have a pair of these yet because I've only been in Texas for seven or eight years, but I'm married to a Texan, and he has two pairs of Lucchese boots.
[00:31:07] And I've been, like, searching for mine. I haven't found, like, my exact, my exact fit
[00:31:11] yet, but I think, right, there's something in there in terms of, like, being well-made, definitely the flexibility.
[00:31:18] Like, you can dress these things up, you can dress them down, you can be on the ranch, you can go surfing, all sorts of things. But, also, I think, like, this idea of maintenance, um, with them, like there's something that there's built into, like, Lucchese boot, or a Le Creuset pot that they're meant to be used and at the same time, like, it makes you wanna take care of this
[00:31:40] thing because they're supposed to last a long time. And it's just another couple examples along that idea of, like, sustainability or, like, things that are well made and therefore they inspire care.
[00:31:51] Beth Altringer Eagle: Mm-hmm. And a relationship, as you were saying.
[00:31:55] Hal Wuertz: Yeah. And as, and a relationship, right?
[00:31:57] Like, that, 'cause as soon as you start putting yourself into something, right, like you've invested time in this thing, like you've patched those pants so many times or, like, you've, like, gotten these boats resold so many times.
[00:32:09] That, in that process is where a relationship comes from.
[00:32:14] And I think great design can inspire that, it can inspire care. And from that it can inspire, know, someone to yeah, have a, have a long-term meaning associated with this thing. And it's gotta be something in there that separates, like, a good versus great design.
[00:32:31] Beth Altringer Eagle: Yeah. Well, it's, it would be interesting to think about what types of products you kind of want that depth of a relationship, with versus, you know, some like a toothbrush. I'm not sure. But maybe, I mean, maybe if you just, you know, swapped the part that needs to be disposable. But, another thing that I'm hearing, as you're giving these examples is, you know, that the relationship and the care, there are also these kind of rituals of care, that, you know, rituals are part of relationships and communities, presumably, of these products, right?
[00:33:15] Like, even the way that you introduce the boot is kind of like there's this identity and rite of passage that a Texan will eventually go through, right, uh, right. Love that. I do remember the thing I was thinking about before, and that was, that this, the things we're talking about, we're talking about products that we admire, in some ways, when we say like a great product and you know, there may be this gap sometimes between what we admire, in terms of great design and what we make, you know, in terms of the day-to-day convenience and constraints of the design process.
[00:33:59] So, just kind of thinking about that, you know, I would love to live in this world where all, everything is these types of products and also where product search was possible by these types of kind of, you know, less tangible things. So, we could search maybe not by color but by relationship.
[00:34:24] Hal Wuertz: Oh, my Gosh. That would be amazing.
[00:34:28] Beth Altringer Eagle: Um, do you have other examples?
[00:34:31] Hal Wuertz: Yeah. I mean, I would, just like a, I think, a product that, I think, when I think about great design and I'm like, "Don't have, like, baby on the mind." I gotta throw out there. Like, I do. Like, the first things that come to mind, which I think are important to recognize 'cause they're the first things that come to mind are like, I think, Dina R. Universal Design System or lounge chair.
[00:34:53] And like, so, I mean, I'm a designer, so, like, those things come to mind. But I do think, like, Dina R. Universal Design System, like, it does match the same qualities, in terms of, like, flexibility of use, not having to be redesigned a million times, being well-made that you can still use old versions of them.
[00:35:14] And so, I just wanna throw that out there as, like, uh, maybe, like, for some people, like, that does evoke, like, the design word. And it, and I, I think it's just interesting to, like, test a hypothesis over and over again until like, see, "Oh yeah, that works." But I think when I think about that, and I think when I, when I think about that one, one, what comes to mind is that,
[00:35:42] while there is this, like, deep functionality in that, being able to last quality that, I think, one thing that I disagree with that is very often said about, like, what good design which is a lot of quotes around taking things away and that, like, good design fades into the background and all of those things.
[00:36:02] And I think that is not true at all. I think.
[00:36:05] Beth Altringer Eagle: And that, it's like, as little design as possible or something,
[00:36:09] Hal Wuertz: Yes. There's a million quotes about, like, that's what good design is. And I think that, I think that great design has a feeling that it makes, it has a feeling to it. Those are positive feelings, whether it's, like, joy or comfort or whatever it is.
[00:36:25] But, like, when those things are around you, they're, they're pleasurable in, maybe subtle, I don't even wanna call it subtle, but, like, persistent in light ways. And so, anyway, in addition to, like, this thing where you can put it through a filter of, like, "Does it last a long time?" There's the question of like, "Does it spark joy?" Or something like that. And I think the great design does spark joy. It's not something that you're like, you forget about it, or you don't know that it's there. Like, it makes a presence for itself.
[00:36:59] Beth Altringer Eagle: I agree with you on, on, like, criticism of that one, like where that takes you is a particularly minimalistic design aesthetic, which is great. It, it is wonderful, but it's not the only great one. And, like, I think a good example is maybe hotel rooms, you know, people, many people have experienced a lot of different hotel rooms, and the minimalist ones are very nice, but sometimes like really rich fabrics of many different types that have this, like, kind of unbelievable harmony because of the design mind that put them together.
[00:37:36] That's also an extraordinary experience, and it's, it's definitely not as little design as possible. So, I don't know. Uh, fun, any other examples or, if not, we can continue on.
[00:37:53] Hal Wuertz: I have a couple more examples.
[00:37:54] Beth Altringer Eagle: All right, let's go. Mm-hmm
[00:37:55] Hal Wuertz: Okay. I just, I wanted to throw, 'cause I think the thing that you brought up around, the question of like, whether you want everything, like, whether everything has a, a great feeling to it or whether it's a great design. Like, I, that does bring up something that I'm, I'm not sure, in terms of categorization, where to put this, but I think it's an interesting thing to think about, 'cause I would also try to think about like, "What's, like, the most basic simple thing that brings me joy?"
[00:38:21] And the Seventh Generation laundry detergent, liquid. Do you use that?
[00:38:27] Beth Altringer Eagle: Is this the Whole Foods brand one?
[00:38:29] Hal Wuertz: It's, I think it might be the Whole Foods brand, and the top of it, like, when you squeeze it, it automatically dispenses the right amount of, um, detergent,
[00:38:39] Beth Altringer Eagle: Awesome. Yeah.
[00:38:41] Hal Wuertz: the things that you don't have, you don't have to pour anything. It just squeezes it and the caps design so that the right amount comes out, and it's amazing. It's amazing. And the first time I saw it, I was like, "This is brilliant." And it's been like, I've been using it for two years, and every single time I use that thing, I'm like, "Oh, my God. This is fantastic." Yeah. So, and I think about that, I think about like, you know, bottom-loaded freezers. And so, I think there is a category of things that is really well-made.
[00:39:10] What, like thoughtful, is very good design. But, like, if I had to, like, be pedantic or, like, separate great design from good design, like it's got to get to that level of, like, producing a, producing some kind of joyful feeling with you consistently and, like, lasting a really long time. So, anyway, those.
[00:39:33] Beth Altringer Eagle: I love that. That's, that's a beautiful picture. Are there any more examples that you want to share?
[00:39:38] Hal Wuertz: Okay. I'll just give one more example. 'Cause I would be remiss to, like, not put this out there, um, which is just, I like, 'cause I think, like, the, honestly, some of the things that I think about the most, in terms of great design or in terms of, like, social dynamics and I wouldn't want anyone to think that, like, you know, I, I think the tendency is to, like, think about objects in our life.
[00:40:00] And so, some of my favorite pieces of design that I think about constantly are, like, the hike and bike trail that I saw made by my house. This, like, workout that I go to every Thursday, that's supposed to be a community workout where they, like, have, like, figured out ways of making us friends with one another.
[00:40:19] Beth Altringer Eagle: Oh, awesome.
[00:40:20] Hal Wuertz: And then, like, Gund Hall at Harvard, which is the design school there, which is a building that creates social interactions out of nothing. And so, I think there's this whole category of things that is really powerful about, like, how you can get people to act in different ways and have social interactions that they didn't plan on having or wouldn't choose for themselves, but, like, makes their lives better.
[00:40:49] That is, it's, I think it's harder for us to say that's great design because it's so much harder to, like, put your finger on what it means to, like, form a friendship or to have a, a happenstance, like, interaction with someone that you weren't, that you wouldn't have otherwise. So, it's harder for us to say, "Okay, that's really great design."
[00:41:07] But, um, it's such a complicated space and it's so interesting to design.
[00:41:12] Beth Altringer Eagle: Well, and it's also feels unlikely that that's what we would attribute it to, right? Like, if you are a, you know, student in Gund Hall, like, you could just as easily say, "It's because I came to Harvard." Or, "It's because I am doing this degree that I made all of these great friends." And, and not fully see the role of the, you know, building in shaping those interactions.
[00:41:37] So, there's probably some storytelling to do, to, to, to make those design decisions better, maybe appreciated by the people who experience the effects of. It's, also feels like, this comes back to philosophy in some ways because, you know, at the end of the day, we're all, we come into this world alone and die alone.
[00:42:01] Right? And the idea that products would be able to kind of lift that, for us, in some way, by facilitating more experiences of togetherness and, and friendship and love is like a, a very deep contribution. But one that often wouldn't get recognized as such.
[00:42:28] Hal Wuertz: Yeah. And I, I think that as designers, like I put all of those things, I mean, I've spent time as an organizational designer. Right? And like, it's so hard. Like, "What is, even is that?" But, like, it's true, like, in terms of like a lot of things around service designer in this realm, we're designing the construction of human interactions, and it's, and that is the foundation of, you know, all the things that we make in the world are all like a lot of, I don't know, I might put all meaning is, like, about our relationships with one another. And so, anyway, yeah, I think, I think that design has the power to work and sit in that space and that people who are doing design engineering, that's 100% part of what it means to think about making things, is not just the physical
[00:43:16] things, but our engagement society and our engagement with one another.
[00:43:21] Beth Altringer Eagle: Yeah. And to recognize that, you know, even if a designer fails to recognize that, that they're doing it anyway, right? Like, when you're designing, you are sort of setting terms of engagement, especially in digital spaces, and to not realize kind of the power of what you're doing and take responsibility for creating positive relationships rather than, you know, kind of stewing more negative relationship impulses is really important.
[00:43:57] And I don't think it's been a big part of design curriculum. And probably should be more than it is today.
[00:44:05] Hal Wuertz: We can, we can bring it, well, we can wrap it up by bringing it back to the, the Tripp Trapp chair.
[00:44:12] Beth Altringer Eagle: Oh yeah. Yeah. Let's go.
[00:44:14] Hal Wuertz: Which is just like, I mean, part of designing it in that way is so that a child has a seat at the table, from the time they're two years old and that they're treated like an adult and that they have a place for themselves.
[00:44:25] And there's all sorts of Montessori thinking around the security of that and the way that a child develops in order to, like, have responsibility and take care of themselves and take care of others. Um, so, anyway, yeah, like, there's, like, an object right there that has the potential to create an environment for a child that like defines the way they think and defines the way they go into the world.
[00:44:52] Beth Altringer Eagle: You've totally sold me on this chair. It will be, it's like a new object member of our household.
[00:45:00] Uh, probably by the next time I talk to you.
[00:45:03] Hal Wuertz: Got that sponsorship lined up.
[00:45:05] Beth Altringer Eagle: I know, collect those, you know, just so people know there's no sponsorship for this show. Uh, but yes. There's maybe just like joyful feelings. Uh, let's see.
[00:45:18] So, I wanna talk to you a little bit. You have this, you have this great experience, not only with the institutions, you know, that that are, that I work in, that the MADE program is set in, but also your experience at IBM internally and with other organizations. And so, one of the hypotheses you could say that, you know, is behind the entire MADE program is that the field of design, which of course is not one field, but the fields of design and the fields of engineering in many ways are kind of bleeding together as the technological tools to make things change.
[00:45:56] And so, I wonder, just from your point of view, you know, are you, how, what do you think about that? And, and like, do you see evidence for that? Do you see evidence kind of contrary to that?
[00:46:12] Hal Wuertz: I think that, I think that what is changing, um, I think that what is changing is about how we make things, in general. Regardless of, like, industry, right? Like, how we make things in healthcare, how we make things in government. I think how we make things is changing. And I think that's driven by, like, increased potential for collaboration with the internet, like speed of technology.
[00:46:34] Um, and I think that because of that there's these perf, two professions, engineering, the construction of things and design, like, why we're making things and like, that are, that are having to respond and really step up to the responsibility
[00:46:53] Beth Altringer Eagle: Mm-hmm.
[00:46:54] Hal Wuertz: ...of those, of that change of how we make things, in general.
[00:46:59] Beth Altringer Eagle: Yeah. And at speed, right?.
[00:47:00] Hal Wuertz: Yeah. And so, I think that's the transformation that I'm, that I've seen, that I'm seeing, that I've seen in industry, working with clients. And also, if you just look at, like, universities around the United States and, like, all the design centers that are popping up, that are essentially these, like, hubs for collaboration, where people are saying, "Ah, we're all in silos, how do we work together?
[00:47:21] How do we, how do we build things that are all going in the same direction?" And so, I think that design and engineering are, it's not that they're changing, it's that everything is changing and they're like, they have the opportunity to step up and respond to that.
[00:47:37] And to be beacons or representations of what's possible, in terms of how we make things.
[00:47:43] Um, yeah. And I think a lot of, I think just, like, that's all about. And, like, the thing that design brings to the table is, like, thinking about the human and making that a North Star and that when you do that and when you bring a lot of thought to that, that, you know, whether talking about healthcare or anything, right,
[00:48:02] that you are making things with that intention in mind and then organizing your creation around that, that experience and those needs.
[00:48:11] Beth Altringer Eagle: Mm-hmm, I love that. That's so eloquently stated. It, I feel like it answers, like, multiple questions of mine all in one. It's great.
[00:48:23] Um, let's see. What, what else? I wonder if there's a, and there doesn't need to be, but if there is there a, is there a product or example that kind of illustrates this for you?
[00:48:38] Illustrates the?
[00:48:40] Beth Altringer Eagle: Just kind of these changes and the speed and the kind of everything changing all at once. And it's okay if there isn't one, but I'd love to hear one if there is.
[00:48:52] Hal Wuertz: I mean, I think, the stuff, I, I mean, the stuff that I'm working on right now, I think is arguably representative of this, right? Like,
[00:49:07] I think the, I mean, I mean, stop me if this is still too vague, but, I mean, like when you're thinking about there's, when you're thinking about bringing in, like, AI into a piece of technology and you're starting to and what that means is, like, you're literally bringing in a new collaborator, which is data science, like a whole profession of people who, for a long time, because this is so new, have been, like, sitting by themselves, like, just trying to make it work, just trying to make it work, for so long. And then, like, all of a sudden it's like, "It's working." And now, now we're trying to say, "Okay, it's working, but we're doing this,
[00:49:42] we've been making products this other way." And so, you're trying to, like, stuff them in from the left and the right and, like, really, they need to be, like, just woven throughout the process. And so, that's a classic, like that's, that's the thing that I deal with in my job every day. And that we're trying to figure out is like how to make machine learning processes, where we're able to gather data and provide more insightful information to people, just part of our product development.
[00:50:10] And that has to do with, like, the speed of technology. Everything's changing so fast, we're able to do more and more and more every six months. Um, so, we have to integrate while we're learning. It's definitely building the plane while you're flying.
[00:50:24] Um, collaboration. There's this whole group of people that hasn't worked with this other group of people before, like, we have to create new processes for it.
[00:50:32] Um, and all at the same time, like, just making sure that what we're really doing is solving a user need, like a human problem and organizing the, the team around that.
[00:50:44] Beth Altringer Eagle: Yeah, I wonder.
[00:50:45] Hal Wuertz: Yeah.
[00:50:46] Beth Altringer Eagle: No, no, go ahead. Go ahead. I, finish your thought.
[00:50:49] Hal Wuertz: Well, just if you want, I can't, I mean, and so, specific examples of that might be like, like, the things that we're using machine learning for are, we have a, like a, a visual intelligence product
[00:51:05] that's about identifying cracks that, like working on identifying cracks and bridges so that you know that they, one there might fail another time.
[00:51:15] Right? And so, there's a bunch of peop. And there's, there's a bunch of user experience around that. Like, "Do I trust this thing? Should I give feedback to this thing?
[00:51:23] How can I improve this thing?" All sorts of stuff. Right? And so, that's just like a specific example of like, "We're trying to create something for this use case to make someone's job easier and more comforting around." Like,
[00:51:36] "I feel comfortable that this bridge is intacted and that like I'm taking good care of it for people."
[00:51:42] And behind the scenes, there's all this speed and collaboration and trying to figure out what the right problem is to solve.
[00:51:49] That's going into answering that problem in the best way possible.
[00:51:54] Beth Altringer Eagle: Yeah. I love that example. I'm glad that you shared an example 'cause it does, it, it, it raises some new questions, as well. You know, you have these themes of like trust and technology, of course, as a, as a full collaborator and as a competent collaborator, but probably a different collaborator. And then, you also have, you know, issues to design around for, like respect of the human in the loop, you know, as for, for their expertise and, and, and role in, in helping keep, you know, bridges strong.
[00:52:30] So, I love that. There's so much there. We could have a whole episode on that. But I love that it, it, you know, it kind of, it really brings to life, like, how many things are coming together, to solve new problems or to solve old problems, often in, in new ways. I wonder if you might share a little bit more about collaboration.
[00:52:53] So, when we think about, you know, all of these things sort of speeding up and coming together, there is a lot of opportunity for role overlap and confusion and a lot of things that actually will increase conflict in teams, you know, without having a bad actor of any kind of. Just will increase the confusion and, and need for collaborative processes.
[00:53:18] So, I wonder how you think about that. And maybe even how you think about the difference between kind of like a, a good team and a great team and how they handle that.
[00:53:32] Yeah, it's definitely hard in this situation because of, like, those, like, because of all those forces that I just described. And it's, I think in, like right now in my job, it's like one of the main things I have to overcome is, like, basically getting people to speak the same language and to have the same project and to understand themselves as a team that's not discipline specific. I think we're pretty good at that in terms of, like, engineering and design or product management and design and data science is, like, inviting a new person to the table and figuring out where their seat is. You know, I like the, some of the most basic things are just, and I, are just, like, creating similar meetings, like, sharing, like, what your timelines are and, like, how they overlap with one another and, like, making sure that people know what their role is.
[00:54:29] Hal Wuertz: I think that's one of the main things that, um, as a designer on a team that you, that, that I have to help people understand is. Like, new roles that they take on, in that world. So, that, like, you now have a role in the machine learning development process that involves, like, identifying needs and goals early and reviewing things throughout the process because it can take months to des, to just design the technology behind it.
[00:54:58] And if you're not involved during that process, then, at the end, you are gonna design an experience around a piece of technology that is not the right piece of technology. So, there's a lot of stuff around, like, basically with a new collaborator or a new set of collaborators that your role changes and you have to understand more fully, like, what, what new components of your role exists and how you can step up to the table with those, step up to the plate, sit at the table.
[00:55:27] Then, yeah, it is, it's a complex, it's complex and, but I think those are really good takeaways. I wonder if you have any other takeaways for either people who are looking to make a career step toward this intersection or leaders who are looking to, you know, improve their creations in terms of this intersection of design and engineering.
[00:55:55] Hal Wuertz: I mean for people who were trying to get into this space, I, the most important thing is like, we always look for designers who are low ego. Like, this isn't a world where, this isn't a world of, like, the, I don't know, small glasses, starchitect. Yeah. Like, this isn't, like, design, design of right now is not about that.
[00:56:19] It's not the Johnny Ives designer. It's a low-ego designer. Who's really interested in, like, what it's, what it's possible to make as a team, what's possible to make as a team. And so, we really look for that. And I think that you'll find that all over in terms of, like, anything that you're making that is powerful and is going to change the world is gonna be the result of a lot of people's work, not one person's work.
[00:56:45] So, being low-ego, staying low-ego, and, um, bringing that, that mindset to your work and letting it sing in your work is important.
[00:56:56] Beth Altringer Eagle: Yeah, and probably in the past, you know, of course, the starchitects were not working alone either.
[00:57:02] Hal Wuertz: No, they weren't.
[00:57:03] Beth Altringer Eagle: But the, you know, the, the responsibility of the narrative to be inclusive, I think it's really, really changed. And what was the next takeaway you've got?
[00:57:16] Hal Wuertz: Oh, I was just thinking about for the leader.
[00:57:18] Beth Altringer Eagle: Mm-hmm.
[00:57:20] Hal Wuertz: Which, I guess I, which is hard, but I guess I can only say that. I think that people are, I think that, like, people on teams are interested in, in, they're interested in this problem and, like, they're interested in getting involved in new spaces. And so, I think any success I've had is about empowering people to, like, figure it, figure it out.
[00:57:44] And so, like saying to the people on your team, like, "Hey." Like, in this case, I'm just so in this machine learning world right now.
[00:57:50] Like, "Hey, data scientists and designers, like, come back to me next week and tell me, like, five ways where you can improve your collaboration." And, like, letting them own that in order to build, in order to build the relationship.
[00:58:02] Or just, like, enabling people to, like, know, letting people know that this is new and they have to figure it out is, yeah, just an empowering and exciting way of telling people that like, "Nobody knows the answer right now." And like, "It's your job to, to, to spearhead how this is gonna work and to experiment with it."
[00:58:21] Beth Altringer Eagle: Yeah. I love that. It's, give them this kind of innovation mandate, to some degree. And the excitement of discovering the solution, you know? Well, that's, thank you so much for spending, spending some time with us and sharing how you think about design. I always love these conversations and I, and I'm very grateful to each of our guests.
[00:58:44] So, I, I wanna thank you for your time and, and I'm sure, we'll see you around on campus.
[00:58:50] Hal Wuertz: For sure. Thanks, Beth.
[00:58:52] Beth Altringer Eagle: Of course. Yay.