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Jason Mayden, formerly senior global design director for Jordan Brand, a division of Nike Inc., is currently vice president of design for the start-up, Mark One, maker of the Vessyl. Jason recently visited SAP and talked with us about design, business and his impressions of our company.

SAP USER EXPERIENCE COMMUNITY: Why is design important for success in business?

JASON MAYDEN: Design is important for business because it provides a point of distinction. We live in a sea of choices, and consumers are no longer loyal to a brand as they were, say, 20 years ago. So in order to be distinctive and differentiate yourself from the rest of the market, you have to offer a product or service that is very robust with a meaningful value proposition. And that’s what design allows you to do. It helps you discover new problems and provide new solutions. Design allows you to ask the right questions. A design-centric organization will allow companies to be competitive into the future and to offer brands of distinction. I think any business that wants to succeed has to think first about the problems to be solved – not the market opportunities out there, but the unique human problems. Those problems define what the market will be in the future as opposed to what it is today.

SAP: You have been at SAP’s headquarters in Walldorf, Germany for several days now and have talked to a many people here. What’s your impression so far?

JASON: I think SAP is doing a tremendous job of remaining entrepreneurial, curious and hungry, and deciding to invest in creativity internally. It’s a huge shift in the way people look at the way enterprise business is done.

What has impressed me the last few days about SAP is the vibrancy and the collaborative nature of the facilities here. The other thing is the humbleness. I don’t know who is senior leadership and who is an intern. Everyone seems to feel empowered to contribute. This is unique in my opinion. At a lot of companies there is a very clear hierarchy and you know exactly who is “important” and who isn’t. At SAP I feel like everyone feels equally valued. The other thing that has really impressed me is the entrepreneurial mindset here. People are constantly asking themselves “how can we get better?” Judging from the conversations I have had, employees here seem to have a great desire to improve and that to me is a great sign in a company. I see people with a tremendous desire to leave a legacy to provide success for many generations to come.

SAP: So to be even better, what would be your recommendation for us? What should software developers care about when it comes to design?

JASON: The first thing I would say is that they should focus on how they feel. Are they coming to work with open minds and with enthusiasm for what they are doing? I would also say that they should keep in mind that they are not separate from creative people. They are also creative. They may be creative in a different way than I am, but their contribution and their ideas are valuable. We are all creative, but just at different times and in different amounts. The point at which developers are involved in the creative process is different from designers, so it’s important to get involved at the right moment and keep in mind that their design partners are open and willing to include them. So, seek points of collaboration and, of course, always make it about the consumer.

SAP: After 13 years with Nike, you left to join a start-up in Silicon Valley. What was it like for you leaving a large enterprise and joining the start-up scene?

JASON: When I left Nike to go into the start-up world there was an immediate sense of humbleness because I didn’t have the power of the brand behind me to negotiate with vendors and with clients. I couldn’t just say, hey I work for this important company, take my call. So with a start-up you really have to earn respect.

Also, you have to be multidisciplinary. Often at a start-up there’s what’s on your business card and what you do day-to-day. So I would do everything from negotiating with vendors on raw materials to working with our legal team on intellectual property filings to working with developers on UPC code. So I am included in many of the touch points of the product. Whereas at Nike, and other large organizations, designers or creative people typically have a limited set of decisions they can make because of the nature of the business and its size. But in a start-up, you have to roll your sleeves up and participate in everything from taking out the garbage to negotiating with venture capitalists on funding terms. So it’s a humbling experience because 99% of the time you have no idea what you are doing, but because you’ve had success in the past, you have the confidence that you will figure it out. So I enjoy it because it comes down to who is willing to go into the uncomfortable areas and who is willing to fail and to learn.

SAP: Where do you get your inspiration?

JASON: I’m a big fan of history. One of my favorite writers of all time is Marcus Aurelius, the last of the Five Good Roman Emperors and a Stoic philosopher. He wrote a book of reflections called The Emperor’s Handbook. What I love about this book is that he writes extensively about the act of empathy. Despite the fact that his army was starting to turn on him, and his subjects wanted to remove him from power, he still found a way to remain inspired to lead and to serve. And I think that when you go into design with the mindset of service and leadership, you obsess about giving your athlete or your client or your consumer the best possible result that you can. That’s a form of service. And at the same time you have to provide inspiration to people who might want to follow in your footsteps. On the one hand you are serving the needs of the consumer and on the other you are feeding the interest of the next generation of creatives.

So instead of looking at a car, or an animal, or fashion for inspiration, I look to people because I am designing for them.

SAP: In closing, do you have a favorite quote or motto that guides you?

JASON: There is an African proverb that says, “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” Going fast is great, but if you want to go far, at some point you are going to run out of steam. And it’s the people you surround yourself with that are going to motivate you and keep you going. You can apply that to design, but you can also apply it to life.

Thank you, Jason, for coming to SAP and for taking the time for this interview.

Thank you! It’s been a pleasure.

This article was originally published on the SAP User Experience Community, a public community dedicated to the exchange of ideas and knowledge about design and user experience. Visitors to the site can also keep up to date on what SAP is doing to improve the user experience of its software.