Annie Hsu T’11 applied to Tuck after working for five years in product development at Google. During the application process, she thought back to her fondest memories of her undergraduate experience at the University of California at Berkeley, and realized she most enjoyed the courses she took in anthropology.
She loved the practice of understanding people and their needs and values. “And I thought, Wouldn’t it be great if I could help businesses understand their customers through some kind of variation of anthropological research?” she recalled.
When she arrived at Tuck and did a little more investigation about career opportunities, she discovered that her idea to connect anthropology to business wasn’t exactly new. “I realized there’s a whole industry of design firms that does exactly that,” she said. “That’s what led me to Frog Design.”
Frog Design, where Hsu is a strategy director in the San Francisco office, is a product and design consulting firm that works with Fortune 500 companies and startups to help them understand what new and fresh products and services they should be developing for the market. Companies come to Frog to determine what, given their assets and abilities, they should offer customers. Frog, in turn, not only gives them ideas but envisions how the products should physically look and what the services should be and feel like.
The anthropology comes in when Frog interviews individuals about their product preferences."
The anthropology comes in when Frog interviews individuals about their product preferences. Based on the client need and Frog’s experience across industries, they create bespoke research plans that are meant to inspire the designers, strategists, and technologists on the frog team to ideate around rich new user experiences. To elicit user values and beliefs, research sessions are typically conducted in the user's home and are a hybrid of open conversation and hands-on activities like card sorts or journey mapping.
“We don’t make any assumptions about what the user experience should be,” Hsu said, “we prompt strategic questions around the experience we're designing but also let our research participants take us into new avenues or areas of opportunity that we didn't realize were there before—they help us illuminate those unknown unknowns.” Frog then takes that information and designs potential products or services that serve those customer feelings or desires.
In a typical project, Hsu said she and her team interview 12-20 people. At that rate, the goal is not to get quantitative information; it’s to hear stories. The process is about finding inspiration for innovation. “Basically, what we recommend is you start something exploratory with qualitative research and then generate lots of ideas,” Hsu said. “And then you can validate those ideas through quantitative work.”
Hsu recalls her time at Tuck as important for developing many of the skills she uses on a daily basis. “I learned how to think out loud and on my feet, to consider the right direction based on the incomplete information I have,” she said. As the manager of her team of nine strategists, Hsu draws on her experience in her First-Year Project at Tuck, when she led a team of friends and acquaintances that usually got along but sometimes disagreed. “We definitely had some hiccups,” Hsu said, “but that experience was extremely helpful in teaching me how to facilitate open collaboration across a team of equals—ensuring that everyone has ownership, autonomy on execution, and acknowledgement that their contribution is critical and appreciated.”
At top, Annie Hsu addresses Tuck students at an event in April sponsored by the Glassmeyer/McNamee Center for Digital Strategies.