Tatyana Mamut on How Technology Has Changed the Way We Conduct Design Research
For this year's Core77 Design Awards, we're conducting in-depth interviews with each of our jury captains to get in a glimpse into their creative minds and hear more about what they'll be looking for in this year's awards submissions.
2018 Strategy & Research Jury Captain Tatyana Mamut is currently the Director of Product Management, Design & Engineering at Amazon Web Services—undoubtedly a crucial role at one of the most important companies in the world. In a way, Mamut's fascination with strategy and research is precisely what got her to where she is today. A trained economic anthropologist with past experience leading product design at Salesforce and notably the founder of "Design for Change" at IDEO, Mamut's experiences have equipped her with a wealth of knowledge on the proper ways to conduct research not only to gather accurate information about who you're designing for, but also how to use that knowledge to find success in your own life. We spoke with Mamut recently about her story as well as how the realm of strategy & research is changing with culture and technology.
I've read that your background is originally in economic anthropology, so you clearly have a unique perspective within the design field—I'd love to hear a little about your background and what drew you to the world of design.
My first love is actually neoclassical economics—I was a bit of a hard-core economist in college, running mathematical regressions to model economic behavior. I interned at the Russian Conversion Information Center in New York, writing economic reports for the United Nations about the progress of conversion in Russia from a military to civilian economy. I worked under a student of Jeffrey Sachs and fully bought into neoclassical economic theory. Then in 1998, the Russian economic collapse happened and it shattered my world because I realized that all my economic theory was wrong and culture really, really matters. With this realization that culture is critical for economic outcomes, I decided to go into global advertising and—and then, to get a PhD in cultural anthropology.
In grad school, I focused on how culture influences economic outcomes, both for businesses and for whole societies. As I was finishing the PhD, I decided I didn't just want to analyze economic change, I wanted to do something about it. Something tangible, something that would let me have a real impact on the world with my knowledge of economics and culture. It was then a seamless transition to IDEO, a company that was looking for someone with a global perspective and who had done deep ethnographic work—and was ready to roll up their sleeves and build big things with these tools. I learned Design on the job at IDEO, authoring the Human-Centered Design Toolkit which got me really deep into the design process, and then founding an leading the Organizational Design Practice at IDEO. After seven-and-a-half years at IDEO, I decided to do product strategy and design in-house in tech, which took me to Salesforce and then to Amazon.
Can you explain a little bit about what you do now? How are you employing your skills at an online force like Amazon?
In my last 2 roles as a tech executive, I've been managing UX designers, Product Managers, and Engineers. People are often surprised by this because people assume that tech execs need to have degrees in computer science or engineering. But as you get deeper into the tech field, you realize that technology will not be the thing that differentiates a good product from a bad one. The really hard part of technology product development is the people part. And great technology leadership is just knowing how to organize people to build things for other people, that they will love. That's it.