Admiring the Obvious with Luke Wroblewski
Luke Wroblewski is a product director at Google and the author of three popular and influential web design books—Mobile First, Web Form Design, and Site-Seeing: A Visual Approach to Web Usability–plus many articles about digital product design and strategy. He has been an Entrepreneur in Residence at Benchmark Capital, the chief design architect (VP) at Yahoo!, the founder of multiple successful start-ups, and a senior interface designer at NCSA: the birthplace of the first popular graphical web browser, NCSA Mosaic. We caught up with the insanely busy web and product designer for a quick chat about life at Google, the next big thing after mobile, and the value of mountains to the creative process.
How’s life at Google, and what’s keeping you busy there?
I think it’s an understatement to say there are many interesting things happening here. From the apps billions of people use every day, to hardware and software research at the bleeding edge of technology. It’s certainly a very fun playground for someone like me, who loves to keep learning new things.
It’s been a while since we saw you last on our stage, but you’re back with a talk called “Obvious Always Wins.” What’s it all about, and what will attendees take away from it?
Too often, people make product design decisions by copying what already exists. But how do they know that what a different group of people shipped works well? And more to the point, how do they know if it will solve their specific problems? In this talk, I’ll pull back the curtain on what goes into design decisions—what kinds of research, thinking, and considerations impact a seemingly trivial change like the navigation system of a mobile app. Without giving too much away, the answer is much more than most people think…obviously.
What are some tools, tricks, and/or techniques you can’t work without?
I have every Wednesday morning carved out in my schedule to go mountain biking deep in the Santa Cruz Mountains. It’s where I clear my head and allow all the information floating around to coalesce into coherent product designs, plans, to-do lists, and more. There’s something about mustering a long climb and flying downhill that allows the day-to-day part of my brain to shut off, and turn on big-picture thinking and synthesis instead. Given all the information I have to take in on a daily basis, I’d probably go crazy without this weekly routine. Plus, it’s beautiful in the redwoods.
What has you most excited these days?
Over the past several years, people have asked me “what’s next after mobile?” And for many years I didn’t feel I had an answer. Will it be virtual reality, wearables, voice interfaces, or something else? After being at Google for the past two years, I’m now quite confident it’s machine learning. So many parts of the software we’ve been making have gotten dramatically better as we’ve applied more machine learning models to them. From image recognition in Google Photos to our recent use of ML to save up to 75% of image bandwidth, there’s just step-function improvements to be had all around. It’s been awesome to be involved and there’s lots more to come.