Hear from Ivy Ross, Vice President, Design for Hardware Products at Google

Five inspiring speakers from across the design spectrum gave talks at the August Future of the Future event, hosted by Spark Lab. They spoke of their experiences across the breadth of the design world and drew on common themes. These included designing sustainably, relying on your intuition, inclusivity and the need for ethical oversight.

Ivy Ross was first up. As Vice President, Design for Hardware Products at Google, her ethos is all about humanistic design - design that feels part of a lifestyle, woven into nature.

With Google's expansion from web services to products, Ivy was an artist-turned-industrial designer, brought in to bring products like Google Home Mini to life. Ivy’s idea was to make it feel ‘like a riverstone’, with the interface hidden until people interact with it. The device is also covered in a tactile fabric that is pleasing to handle.

Her insights on design offered quotable wisdom for the many designers in the audience to take away.

“The contrast or tension of the opposites is where some of the magic is.”

“Design for what people need, rather than what they say they want.”

“We need to find ways as designers to ignite all of the senses.”

Ivy places great trust in intuition’s role in the design process, believing humans can intrinsically enjoy something without knowing why.

“Intuition may be the highest form of intelligence. It's like a muscle, the more we use it, the stronger it becomes.”

Not that convincing colleagues at Google with a more data-orientated mindset to back intuition was a given.

“We had chosen the colour coral for some of our products and I was asked where is the data for that? And I pointed to our heads and I said, it comes from experience. Luckily they trusted us, and sure enough it became the Pantone colour of the year next year. And everyone came back and said, how did you know? I said, it's called intuition. After that we were never questioned.”

She also spoke of the importance of collaboration, seeing herself as an orchestra conductor who plays to individual strengths within her team, knowing when to weave them in.

Great design, Ivy believes, does not come from individual achievement:

“Forget yourself, connect with others and unimaginable success happens. Magic happens when people's gifts are amplified in harmony with one another.”

This led onto considering other senses when creating designs.

Sound is of particular fascination, leading Ivy to create her own sound bath at home - a room with soft, pleasing soundscapes to relax or invoke feeling.

The saying ‘being on the same wavelength’ took on new meaning when Ivy incorporated sound into a team brainstorming session.

She had 12 people listen to the same frequency of binaural beats on headphones every morning and likened the experience to ‘upgrading the human OS system’. The team had significantly better creative outcomes as a result of these sessions.

Ivy concluded with the importance of humanising design - primarily how we should integrate it with nature. A timely message in light of the current global situation:

“Let's start designing how we want the future to both look and feel. By 2022 100% of products will need to have recycled materials in them. Shame on us if we don't solve the biggest problem of our time.

“Humans need to work with nature, not against it.”