Beth Altringer

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Unrivaled Authority on Design Thinking; Expert on Combining Design, Behavioral Science and Innovation to Create Better Products, Services & Experiences; Harvard University Professor and Desirability Lab Founder

Biography

Deliberately or not, we’re influenced by desires. It’s human nature to want things. But why is it that we desire some objects or products more than others? Beth Altringer has dedicated her life’s work to that question – examining what consumers like and why so that designers, marketers and companies can create better products, services, and experiences to improve lives and business. This is design thinking infused with advanced research at its core, and Altringer is its unrivaled authority.

Altringer, a design and innovation professor at Harvard University, was named to the 2018 Thinkers50 Radar list of management thinkers most likely to shape the future of how organizations are managed and led. Specializing in using psychology to design products that fulfill human desires, she integrates these psychological principles with the latest technology, including robotics and AI, to create products that tap into the consumer need to engage with brands, as well as learn through interactive challenges. Most recently, Altringer developed Chef League, an app that teaches people how to improve their cooking skills by competing against AI chefs with a wide range of palates and preferences. This AI-powered teaching tool can be applied more widely across functions and industries, and designers can similarly create stimulating, educational products.

Altringer, a faculty associate at Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet & Society, is also founder of its Desirability Lab – a think tank that combines psychological research and hands-on design. One stream of their research focuses on what makes some designs more desirable than others; another stream examines the management and decision-making factors that can reduce the risk of avoidable failure on design and innovation projects. Highly regarded for her cutting-edge teaching, research, consulting and speaking, Altringer’s expert insights and practice-based approach – which combines human-centered design, emotional design and motivation – are coveted by prestigious academic programs (MIT and Stanford d. school), powerhouse design firms (IDEO and J. Walter Thomson Intelligence [JWT]) and big global brands (Gucci Group, Puma and Swarovski).

Altringer, recognized by Harvard as one of its top 15 professors, exudes an infectious passion and talent for helping others understand and apply the principles of desirability to design. Her unique hands-on curricula – courses like The Innovators’ Practice: Finding, Building and Leading Good Ideas with Others and Design Survivor: Experiential Lessons in Designing for Desirability, which involves weekly team challenges to create a “holistic product experience” – are consistently popular. She also designs regular one-time classes in wearable technology, sustainable design, cultural entrepreneurship, sensory design and digital nomadism. Her immersive presentations and engaging keynotes are similarly in demand. The takeaways are steeped in best practices and are actionable across a multitude of organizations, product categories and industries.

Committed to furthering the future of design and innovation education, Altringer often works with industry to keep her design skills current and to discover underserved needs and opportunities. Most recently, she was engaged in the area of friendly human-robot interaction. In 2015, Altringer joined the founding team and senior leadership of Piaggio Fast Forward, leading design research and interaction design up to the launch of their Gita and Kilo robots in February 2017.

Altringer boasts a wunderkind academic resume: An architect by background with a master’s degree from University of Cape Town, she also holds a doctorate from Cambridge University in organizational behavior, a visiting scholarship at Stanford, degrees in psychology and economics, and she has completed postdoctoral work at MIT. She furthered her education by studying around the world, spending years honing what she believes are the qualities of an effective designer. Altringer has also worked on a number of global sustainability and innovation projects – mostly in consumer products, fashion and urban design and development – in Chile, Czech Republic, South Africa, Spain, France, Italy and the U.K., and the U.S.

Beth Altringer is available for paid speaking engagements, including keynote addresses, speeches, panels, and conference talks, and advisory/consulting services, through the exclusive representation of Stern Speakers, a division of Stern Strategy Group®.

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A-Z Name

Altringer, Beth

Biography

Deliberately or not, we’re influenced by desires. It’s human nature to want things. But why is it that we desire some objects or products more than others? Beth Altringer has dedicated her life’s work to that question – examining what consumers like and why so that designers, marketers and companies can create better products, services, and experiences to improve lives and business. This is design thinking infused with advanced research at its core, and Altringer is its unrivaled authority.

Altringer, a design and innovation professor at Harvard University, was named to the 2018 Thinkers50 Radar list of management thinkers most likely to shape the future of how organizations are managed and led. Specializing in using psychology to design products that fulfill human desires, she integrates these psychological principles with the latest technology, including robotics and AI, to create products that tap into the consumer need to engage with brands, as well as learn through interactive challenges. Most recently, Altringer developed Chef League, an app that teaches people how to improve their cooking skills by competing against AI chefs with a wide range of palates and preferences. This AI-powered teaching tool can be applied more widely across functions and industries, and designers can similarly create stimulating, educational products.

Altringer, a faculty associate at Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet & Society, is also founder of its Desirability Lab – a think tank that combines psychological research and hands-on design. One stream of their research focuses on what makes some designs more desirable than others; another stream examines the management and decision-making factors that can reduce the risk of avoidable failure on design and innovation projects. Highly regarded for her cutting-edge teaching, research, consulting and speaking, Altringer’s expert insights and practice-based approach – which combines human-centered design, emotional design and motivation – are coveted by prestigious academic programs (MIT and Stanford d. school), powerhouse design firms (IDEO and J. Walter Thomson Intelligence [JWT]) and big global brands (Gucci Group, Puma and Swarovski).

Altringer, recognized by Harvard as one of its top 15 professors, exudes an infectious passion and talent for helping others understand and apply the principles of desirability to design. Her unique hands-on curricula – courses like The Innovators’ Practice: Finding, Building and Leading Good Ideas with Others and Design Survivor: Experiential Lessons in Designing for Desirability, which involves weekly team challenges to create a “holistic product experience” – are consistently popular. She also designs regular one-time classes in wearable technology, sustainable design, cultural entrepreneurship, sensory design and digital nomadism. Her immersive presentations and engaging keynotes are similarly in demand. The takeaways are steeped in best practices and are actionable across a multitude of organizations, product categories and industries.

Committed to furthering the future of design and innovation education, Altringer often works with industry to keep her design skills current and to discover underserved needs and opportunities. Most recently, she was engaged in the area of friendly human-robot interaction. In 2015, Altringer joined the founding team and senior leadership of Piaggio Fast Forward, leading design research and interaction design up to the launch of their Gita and Kilo robots in February 2017.

Altringer boasts a wunderkind academic resume: An architect by background with a master’s degree from University of Cape Town, she also holds a doctorate from Cambridge University in organizational behavior, a visiting scholarship at Stanford, degrees in psychology and economics, and she has completed postdoctoral work at MIT. She furthered her education by studying around the world, spending years honing what she believes are the qualities of an effective designer. Altringer has also worked on a number of global sustainability and innovation projects – mostly in consumer products, fashion and urban design and development – in Chile, Czech Republic, South Africa, Spain, France, Italy and the U.K., and the U.S.

Beth Altringer is available for paid speaking engagements, including keynote addresses, speeches, panels, and conference talks, and advisory/consulting services, through the exclusive representation of Stern Speakers, a division of Stern Strategy Group®.

Speech Topics

Beyond Design Thinking: New Tools for Unlocking More Effective Innovation Decision-Making

Innovation projects in top companies have a success rate of approximately just 30%. Their failure often has little to do with flaws in technology or design. Professor Beth Altringer spent the past decade studying success and failure in high performing innovation teams at IDEO and Fortune 500 companies. Her data provides a rare view of the complex factors linked to success and failure in over 300 real-world innovation projects. This talk shares top takeaways and practical examples from the longitudinal study that separated the most from the least successful teams. Learn how you can apply the takeaways to improve your own odds of innovation success.

Designing Technology for Social Joy and Creative Confidence: Lessons from the History and Future of Kitchens and Cooking

Imagine your kids or grandkids in the kitchen of 2030. The experience is decision-less and effortless. They don’t have to think of a perfect recipe for dinner. They don’t have to prioritize some family members’ diet preferences over others. No one has to plan groceries or keep track of expiration dates. Dishes do themselves. Pans, ovens and microwaves “know” and “decide” how to cook everything perfectly. Meals are auto-selected and personalized to maintain optimal health and weight within each person’s genetic and cultural flavor preferences. As has long been the promise of most kitchen innovation, people have more time to enjoy eating with their loved ones. But Professor Beth Altringer wants to discuss this future. Is it too good to be true?

Data gathered since 2006 suggests that, while we have reduced time spent on drudgery, we are also somehow reducing the time spent enjoying food with friends and family. If that trend continues, in our relentless quest to build tech that increases convenience, we might accidentally eliminate the kitchen as a source of daily joys. The kitchen –whether at home or in restaurants – is the hearth of daily life and a vital source of accessible social joys and creative confidence. Let’s continue making tech that reduces drudgery. But let’s also build tech based on a richer set of values than convenience alone. This talk is a conversation starter told through a memorable story and ending with a set of practical tools for identifying the highest impact ways your business can target reducing drudgery and adding joy for your target market.

From a Traditional Organization to a Nimble One: Lessons from a Nine-Year Period of Radical Change at Harvard University

Moving from a traditional organization in which change is designed to move slowly to a nimble one with a thriving entrepreneurial culture is no easy feat. From 2011-2020, student demand for innovation, design and entrepreneurship opportunities has skyrocketed, and meeting this growing need raised many challenges for Harvard University, putting pressure on faculty, hiring, curriculum, space, funding, pedagogical conflicts, and more. Professor Beth Altringer joined the institution in 2011 and has been an integral part of these changes. This talk tells the story of how a group of faculty and supporters dramatically shifted the culture of innovation and entrepreneurship across all schools at Harvard, not just reserving these new opportunities for engineering and business schools. Experimentation started small and numerous. For example, in 2011, Professor Altringer taught a semester-long class in a hallway due to lack of space. In 2012, the Innovation Lab opened to all students, and has since incubated over 1000 student ventures, which have collectively raised $600 million. Notably, these ventures are 45-50% female, and 70% of them come from outside of the business school. In 2020, the engineering school moves into its new building across from the business school. This is the story of starting very small and steady and eventually achieving dramatic and ambitious change.

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Workshops

Designing experiences – whether physical or digital products, services, apps or live events – requires customization that takes both company strategy and the context of user experience into account. Beth Altringer, who leverages her background as a leading practitioner and educator, combines the fields of behavioral science and product design. Her hands-on workshops help companies likes yours learn hidden ways that consumer expectations are changing and demonstrate powerful new tools developed in her lab that can help them realize new and improved ventures. Over the past 10 years, she has created 100+ custom modules that extend the value of her presentations for clients and students. Her interactive workshops are designed to push entrepreneurs, experience designers and business leaders at ambitious startups and large organizations to realize new and improved experiences for their customers.

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