Aug 16, 2011

Catching Up With Jennifer Kilian

Jennifer Kilian is a busy lady these days, functioning as both Hot’s Creative Director and sharing responsibility with fellow Principal Phil Lam for helping build Hot’s New York office.

We caught up with Jennifer a few days ago (no easy task!) to hear a little more about what she’s up to.

So you’ve got a lot on your plate these days, as both a Principal at the New York office and Hot’s Creative Director. What interests you most about those roles? What are the things you’ve been thinking about?

I’ve been thinking about the New York studio growing in two different directions. I’d like to see us take on a lot more holistic, ecosystem-level work which examines user needs, behaviors, and desires across all touchpoints with our clients’ products and services. One key area of ecosystem design is the ability to deliver on embedded UI. The other is to bring our critical design thinking and business strategy to the table. So those are my two personal goals for this year: an embedded UI program, and a strategy program.

Can you explain embedded UI a bit more? Because I don’t necessarily understand what it is.

It’s embedding the power of computing in something other than a computer. It’s the idea of having a digital experience in any environment, product, or artifact that makes sense.

Here’s an example: There’s a program in Brooklyn, Social Bicycles, which kind of reminds me of Zipcar meets Amsterdam, where you can reserve a bike online, pay with your phone, and get an unlock code that unlocks the bike. There’s geolocation in the bike that tells you where it is and lets the next person know where you return it. That’s all a digital experience inside of physical devices and environments.

And where do you see Hot going in terms of embedded UI? Are you interested in working with particular industries, like transportation?

It doesn’t have to be industry-specific. In fact, often we find learnings from one industry can inform work in another industry. For instance, when I worked on medical design, we looked at cockpit design in terms of complexity of information that has to be absorbed in a critical or emergency setting.

There’s been this evolution of talent and focus at Hot through the years; first it was information architecture, then information architecture and visual design, and now design and business strategy. For our next step, I would like to see us move from just digital experiences—meaning Web, mobile, tablet, iPhone, that kind of stuff—to integrating digital experiences and interfaces with the different form factors clients need. So it could be medical devices that have touchscreens in emergency rooms, like a heart rate monitor. It could be embedding a digital experience in a car’s dashboard. It could be creating an in-store experience with touchscreens in a kiosk that integrates with mobile phones and merchandise. There are a lot of directions we could take it.

Are you working on any embedded UI projects right now?

We’ve been working with one of our clients to launch a new premium fashion site. The site will probably go live in September, followed by a mobile experience that we’re currently working on. And there’s been some discussion about ecosystem touchpoints (regarding in-store experiences, pop-up stores and the like) as well. So that’s like a baby step into it.

Now, as to your second goal of helping incorporate more strategic services, how do you see that manifesting itself at Hot?

One thing that’s helped is our early work with the iPad. Steve Jobs called Zinio to say he wanted them to be the eReader on the iPad at launch. Zinio in turn called Hot Studio. We designed the first magazine reader for the iPad with Zinio in about six weeks, and that was done before we ever saw an iPad. That’s helped us become seen as more design strategists, because when you’re designing for the iPad before it’s out there, obviously there’s a leap of faith that there’s design thinking and strategy going on behind the scenes. That’s just one example of how we’ve been accepted in the design thinking and design strategy space, and I would like to see that pushed further.

I’d like to see us become more holistic, having really big-picture design and business thinking conversations. This means we can have a seat at the table with our executive level clients and help them guide their businesses with design thinking. We engage best when we represent the user needs and understand or assist with the business strategy upfront. Then we can help our clients decide how to expand an existing offering, innovate in a new way at the product or service level, and even understand new markets to go after. Once we envision our clients’ future with them, then we can collaboratively shape the critical projects to make their overall vision a reality. Then, Hot can provide our experience strategy and design skill set and expand that relationship into the actual making and doing which brings the vision to life.

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