A few years ago, I came across a piece on Medium explaining that too many designers only want to work on the shiny products. Essentially, this meant that designers in technology are only looking for glamorous companies with a certain consumer appeal. The author quickly went on to point out that most of the world is far from shiny and the companies that are making any kind of substantive difference are solving difficult problems that go well beyond photo filters.
This line of thinking stayed with me. Throughout my life I have wanted to be involved with people and companies that have a clear mission and a drive to achieve it. That is why I can still remember where I was when I first came across Farmers Business Network. In the middle of my ferry ride home over the San Francisco Bay, I watched a video explaining what the FBN network is working so hard to achieve for farmers. I was only 20 seconds in when I realized this was the place I wanted to be. I was unable to put my finger on any one thing as I watched the rest of the video that was drawing me in. It was all of it. I clearly saw the sincerity of the employees. I understood the scale of what was being undertaken. I was drawn to the goal of making profound improvements to the agricultural industry that would benefit the hardest working entrepreneurs in America. I wanted to put “Farmers First℠.”
In my first week on the job, I designed a report explaining how farmers could save six figures on their inputs for the upcoming season. At a time when so many farms across the country are struggling to get out of the red, this was an incredibly impactful project to tackle in my very first week. The distribution and impact of what I worked on was profound.
The highlight of my second month was traveling to Northeastern Montana to conduct usability testing with a prototype that would allow farmers to better organize their data in a way that would have a direct impact on their strategies and allow them to better plan for the full growing season. Farmers invited me into their homes and we tried out the prototypes on their dining room tables. I dined with their families and learned so much about life on the farm.
By the end of the calendar year, my work was being highlighted in the keynote presentation at Farmer2Farmer, the FBN network's annual event in the midwest that brings thousands of people together to discuss a new vision for the future of the farming industry. The things that I designed were allowing farmers to make more informed decisions about what was happening on their farms and would have an impact on a more productive allocation of millions of dollars.
Then, the ultimate achievement was going from conceptualizing a new product to shipping it in about 10 weeks. This wasn’t an enhancement or revamping of an existing product either. We wanted to help farmers get higher returns when selling their crops on the market. This was an entirely new business venture for the company. In other words, it was a startup within a startup. Only with excellent collaboration across the business, data science, and engineering teams were we able to achieve such a lofty goal. We iterated and tested extremely quickly and we were able to design and execute on a concept that immediately allowed some of our FBN members to make huge sales with their crops that exceeded all of their expectations.
What I’m working on right now is certainly not shiny. It is, however, revolutionizing the ag industry and empowering hardworking farmers. We have been creating a truly unique e-commerce experience for our members. We have been designing a crop marketing system in such a way that it encourages farmers to change the way they have been looking at their sales strategies. We have been utilizing the data that farmers have been collecting for a decade to provide them with local, regional, and national benchmarking that they have never had access to.
I design at Farmers Business Network because I want to know that the passion behind my craft is being put to good use. I want the satisfaction of knowing that a job well done means that hard-working farmers will be able to better provide for their families, their communities, and the world.
And if you're interested in reading the "Shiny Products" Medium post, it can be found here.