Kleiner Perkins’ Michael Abbott: It takes two (teams) to build a successful app

Structure Data 2013 Michael Abbott Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers

When it comes to creating a successful app, human interface designers and lead engineers have to work closely together from the beginning, Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers partner Michael Abbott said at the Structure Data conference Wednesday. That can mean thinking about apps in a new way.

“More and more products are being built by having great pairings of those two players,” Abbott, the former VP of engineering at Twitter, told GigaOM founder Om Malik. Engineers need to understand a user’s experience with the app, Abbott said, but designers also have to “understand the limitations of the environment they’re building. It shouldn’t just be a great experience in one small segment,” but an app should work “whether you’re offline or have a bad connection.”

Abbott often sees a “lack of real empathy” between designers and engineers. “The tension on the design side is that it’s never good enough,” he said, “and on the engineering side he or she wants to ship…How do you get that balance? Because you still need to ship.”

Malik raised other issues about apps and empathy: “Uber managed to piss off people every single time they did something interesting — surge pricing, or charging more at the time of Hurricane Sandy…I keep saying, if we are going to build this future driven by data, how do we bring this empathy and humanity into the data?”

“We might be forced into it by some of the reactions we’re seeing to Uber,” Abbott answered. But he pointed out that, when it comes to services like Uber, the way that a user rates a driver is also unique to that user — and that brings up empathy on the user’s end. For example, Uber could infer from data on what a driver’s rating should be, based perhaps on the start and end times of a trip. “Your rating of that driver,” he said, “also ends up building an implicit rating on you, and your ability to rate.”

Check out the rest of our Structure:Data 2013 coverage here, and a video embed of the entire session follows below:

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vDAkxY2ilps&w=560&h=315]
A transcription of the video follows on the next page

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