You know what your product does, but what's its value? How does it fit into peoples' lives?
Technical Director Rafi Ajl can help you find out. It’s literally his job: he helps teams with user research, works with them to lay out their product development timelines, and facilitates their engagements with design partners. “I’m there when the startups meet with their partners and act as a design advocate for them,” is how he puts it. “I help them decode the language and make sure they’re maximizing value. I’m a design whisperer, if you will, and it’s my favorite part of the job.”
Rafi has an MFA in design from California College of the Arts, where he maintains a teaching practice, but much of his experience is also hard-earned, having run his own custom steel bicycle fabrication and design business for three years. “I was at the Harvard Graduate School of Design’s landscape architecture program getting a masters, but after a year I still didn’t feel like I’d actually designed anything, and that seemed inappropriate for a master of design. So I taught myself how to build, engineer, fabricate, and design, and then I felt like I was ready to go back to school.”
All of that experience gets put to work every day. Most of Rafi’s days are spent in meetings: brainstorming, project planning, or just plain “assisting and facilitating the creative process. That’s the best part. I love to help people make products that genuinely create an impact in the world. A lot of teams come into the program having talked to users; they understand what they’re going to be making, but they don’t necessarily understand the core value that their product delivers. It’s like peeling an onion: they have the technology and kind of know what their users want, and we help them get to the Center. We’ll then pull that center, that core, out and make sure it reads through all of their touchpoints — brand, design, technology, and narrative.”
Rafi’s favorite team thus far? “Sensassure is basically doing saintly work. They’re really interested in an underserved population who could truly benefit from tech, and creating a meaningful impact on the world that’s very far away from anything really consumer-driven; I think that’s highly valuable.”