Getting Under The Hood With…Steve Horner, Chief Product Officer at RUSH.
Steve is a designer, leader and product thinker with 15 years of experience in digital across NZ, Europe and North America. We talked about mantras, inspiration and keeping small humans entertained
He believes eating plants and dancing to house music may not be enough to save the world, but it’s a great place to start. Get to know him better here.
Can you tell us a little bit about who you are, what your background is, and how you first got started in the industry?
When I finished high school in Tauranga, I thought I could make a career designing album covers and band posters. So I left the sunny surf beaches behind and moved to Wellington to study graphic design and freeze in student flats.
After I graduated, I learned pretty quickly that bands don’t pay very well, but I managed to combine my passion for coding and design to get my first job as a digital designer at AIM Proximity.
That set me off on a digital product design career that I’ve been fortunate enough to travel with working in studios in Frankfurt, London and Auckland. Since 2018 I’ve been building the digital product design capability at RUSH where we help bold clients solve wicked problems with technology.
What insights into your methodological approach or philosophy can you give us?
Design for people, design for answers, and design for impact is a mantra that’s served me well over the years. I had my awakening to human-centred design in 2016, and it really took my design practice to the next level.
It starts with getting clear on who we’re designing for, empathising deeply with their needs, and identifying how we’ll measure success. Having discovered all we can about the problem, we can define what qualities a successful solution needs to have. With this clarity, we can generate many possible solutions to address the need, and converge on the optimal solution with iteration, customer feedback and intuition.
What project will you be presenting in Under the Hood?
I’m looking forward to presenting a project sponsored by ASB; Starship Animal Check Ups & Magical Forest. It’s a very special project to me because it’s one of the first I contributed to at RUSH. It really manifests our studio’s purpose to design technology to better serve humankind, and proves that wonderful things happen when you have open collaboration between users, designers, technologists and subject matter experts. We were honoured to receive a Purple Pin for it at the Best Awards in 2018.
What was the most challenging part of the project and what lessons did you draw from it?
Hardware is hard! In software development we’re used to iterating a lot after launch, and it was a lot harder to do so for this project with the physical aspects of it. The hospital has very strict security policies so the entire installation runs offline. To debug issues and make updates the team had to visit the site. It really validated the value of the iterative approach we took to refine the experience over the process.
If we could do the project again I think we would have put more energy into working with our fabrication partner on material selection and assembly design to ensure it’s durability. Kids can play rough! 🙂
What advice do you have to others embarking on a project similar to this?
Think of the dimensions that will matter to the success of the project, and be real about your capabilities to do a great job on them. Where you identify gaps, find great collaborators to work with. Special mention to Watermark for their beautiful visuals on this project, it really was a joint effort.
Now that the project has finished, what are you working on?
It was three years ago, so we’ve been busy scaling our company and navigating the pandemic. Our design team has grown a lot since then so less of my time is spent in the work and more in setting them up for success.
Do you have a favourite artist, designer, project or paper stock? If so, why?
I think I owe a debt of gratitude to Professor John E. Arnold who first proposed the idea that engineering design should be human-centered in 1958, and IDEO for spreading the approach by open sourcing their methodologies. I’ve always loved this quote from Sir Isaac Newton:
“If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.”
From Ada Lovelace to Steve Jobs, our history of innovation is an effort that spans many creative thinkers across many generations.
Outside of work hours what creative projects and/or hobbies are you involved with?
I read a lot of non-fiction, I’m at my happiest when I’m learning. I’m also an amateur road cyclist, which is great to clear the head and recharge, a lover of deep house and techno music (which I try to DJ badly on occasion), a husband to my beautiful wife Zoe, and a father to two busy little girls. Coming up with games to occupy our 2 year-old in lockdown is a full-time creative brief!
And finally, where to next for you? What areas of your work or personal development are you hoping to explore further?
I’ve recently moved into the role of Chief Product Officer at RUSH. This increases the scope of what I’ve always seen my role as – building our capability to guide our bold clients in determining what the right thing to build is. Being responsible for product as well as design, I’m learning a lot about how to maximise the value of what we design to the business, and how to translate those priorities into agile delivery.
I’m also learning a little every day about how to be more effective as a people leader to support, challenge, inspire and grow our team and clients to realize their full potential.
Get your tickets below, and thanks to our amazing speakers and DA partners for helping to make this possible.