Beth Altringer

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

Biography

Deliberate 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 designers and companies can create better products, services and experiences that will improve lives and business. This is design thinking at its core, and Dr. Altringer is its unrivaled authority.

Professor at Harvard University’s Graduate School of Design, lecturer on innovation and design, and faculty associate for the school’s Berkman Center for Internet & Society, Altringer 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.

“If you just create your product and don’t engage with the complexity of interpersonal challenges, then your product doesn’t go anywhere. To be a really good designer at the global level, you can’t separate these two things,” she explains.

Highly regarded for her cutting-edge teaching, research, consulting and speaking and recently named to the 2018 Thinkers50 Radar list of management thinkers most likely to shape the future of how organizations are managed and led, Altringer’s expert insights and practice-based approach – which combines human-centered design, emotional design and motivation – are coveted by prestigious academic programs (e.g., MIT, Stanford d. school), powerhouse design firms (e.g., IDEO, J. Walter Thomson Intelligence [JWT]) and big global brands (e.g., Gucci Group, Puma, 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. She’s currently 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 Capetown, she also holds a doctorate from Cambridge University in organizational behavior, a visiting scholarship at Stanford, degrees in psychology and economics, and has performed 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.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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Altringer, Beth

Biography

Deliberate 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 designers and companies can create better products, services and experiences that will improve lives and business. This is design thinking at its core, and Dr. Altringer is its unrivaled authority.

Professor at Harvard University’s Graduate School of Design, lecturer on innovation and design, and faculty associate for the school’s Berkman Center for Internet & Society, Altringer 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.

“If you just create your product and don’t engage with the complexity of interpersonal challenges, then your product doesn’t go anywhere. To be a really good designer at the global level, you can’t separate these two things,” she explains.

Highly regarded for her cutting-edge teaching, research, consulting and speaking and recently named to the 2018 Thinkers50 Radar list of management thinkers most likely to shape the future of how organizations are managed and led, Altringer’s expert insights and practice-based approach – which combines human-centered design, emotional design and motivation – are coveted by prestigious academic programs (e.g., MIT, Stanford d. school), powerhouse design firms (e.g., IDEO, J. Walter Thomson Intelligence [JWT]) and big global brands (e.g., Gucci Group, Puma, 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. She’s currently 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 Capetown, she also holds a doctorate from Cambridge University in organizational behavior, a visiting scholarship at Stanford, degrees in psychology and economics, and has performed 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.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

Designing for Desirability: Using Psychology to Create Products Consumers Really Want

Successful products are both functional and appealing to human desires. Purchasing decisions are rooted in feelings far more complex than that of logical problem-solving, including internal self-fulfillment, external status, and attitude projection. By designing with a psychological perspective, desirability expert Beth Altringer says companies can build products that are less likely to fail due to foreseeable setbacks. Based on her seminal Harvard course now in its sixth year, “Designing for Desirability,” (also the subject of her forthcoming book) and customized for different industries and types of designers, Altringer elaborates on three to four out of more than a dozen possible examples of psychological phenomena that designers can build their concepts – and successful products – around. These include extended ability and mobility, creative expression, simplicity and ease of use, and trust. The goal is to be able to better tailor product designs to consumers, and to create the impression of product benefits that extend far beyond functionality to the realm of personal meaning and emotional connection.

How to Design (and Innovate) for Trust

Innovation projects in top companies only have a success rate of approximately 30%, and failure often has little to do with flaws in either technology or design. Having studied such projects for over a decade, Beth Altringer concluded that failure typically results from a breakdown of trust – either within a design team or with the external market once the product is launched. Trust affects whether and how consumers engage with other people, products, and services. Designing for trust is seldom top of mind at the start of projects, but when we look at research on why innovative most projects fail, it’s clear that trust should be a primary design consideration from the start. In this presentation, Altringer gives the audience new perspectives to think about and manage trust-related risks of their current design projects, as well as frameworks to make “designing for trust” a top consideration from the outset of future product innovation.

Beyond Design Thinking: Pioneering Strategies for Product Innovation

We live in an age of big data, but firms that have access to huge amounts of information about what kinds of products and services are liked and used – and which ones are not – often have no idea how to interpret that information. Instead, they gamble on the idea that certain demographics like or dislike a product rather than understanding the fundamental reason. In this presentation, desirability expert Beth Altringer helps audiences move beyond traditional methods of designing products and services to introduce more advanced innovation and design methods. These include understanding behavioral psychology and its influence on consumer decision-making. In doing so, Altringer gives designers a cutting-edge framework – a four-step process that challenges assumptions and incorporates experiments – for pursuing a winning product innovation strategy in an increasingly demanding and crowded market.

Humanizing Apps: What the Competition Doesn’t Know About Making Algorithms Personal

Algorithms increasingly govern our daily lives, from where we spend the night in an unfamiliar city to whom we should date. But few people realize precisely how these algorithms work, and their designers often lack a human touch when it comes to accommodating personal preferences, goals, and desires. In this presentation, Beth Altringer discusses the impersonal science behind algorithms like Tinder, which presumes to rate your desirability and that of your potential mate without regard to what will truly make you happy; or Airbnb, which decides what part of a city is best for you without seeking to understand what surroundings or accessibility you would actually prefer. Altringer, a foremost expert on employing the psychology of desirability in product design, not only explains to a non-technical audience how such algorithms imperfectly work, but addresses how their engineers can design these marvels of technology to have a more human, personal side, and in the process, gain an edge over competitors.

Strengthening an Organization’s Innovation Decision-Making Process

An organization can be filled with the best people available, and still fail to innovate and grow. Why? Because its structure and culture go a long way in determining success or failure. Companies need to design their decision-making systems to create and maintain high participant motivation. Otherwise employees and other key stakeholders risk feeling stifled, wasting precious time and motivation troubleshooting unnecessary situations, with less drive leftover to focus on the actual work. Beth Altringer draws on her knowledge of the psychology of design to go beyond product development to system design. A healthy corporate system is one in which people reinforce one another rather than get in the way, allowing a flourishing of innovative ideas and breeding a constructive competitive culture. In this presentation which can be reconstituted as an interactive workshop, Altringer helps organizations properly map their existing and ideal decision-making structure, identify weaknesses and examples of decisions that have a negative impact on morale and engagement, and design new structures that maximize motivation and remove barriers to innovative performance.

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