When Amazon released its new smartphone last week, CEO Jeff Bezos talked at length on stage about all of the laborious testing that went into creating the Fire phone’s motion sensors and 3D effects. He said that the team started working on the tech for those effects four years ago.
Lowell Goss, former director of user experience in Amazon’s hardware division, Lab 126,told Bloomberg Businessweek that the reason that the team spent so much time on a technology that has been called interesting but not necessarily game-changing is because Bezos had become obsessed with the idea of having 3D features.
Goss says that’s how it works at Amazon: Bezos gets fixated on a potential hardware feature and his obsessions determine the direction of a project. Even though Bezos isn’t a design guy, he’s the only Amazon product manager that matters.
“He has a tendency to latch onto a fringe feature and get very excited about that,” Goss told Businessweek’s Joshua Brustein. “Adding 3D to that phone delayed it by years. The question I would have is, is it a core part of the user experience?”
Goss says that Amazon’s team strictly adheres to the “Jeff filter,” which can make its designers feel like they can’t take risks in making things that don’t align with what Bezos wants. Goss says his team met with Bezos every week or two when he was working on designing Amazon’s video streaming device, the FireTV. Even though designers presented some very ambitious designs for the FireTV, including ones that had some 3D features similar to those in the phone, Bezos rejected them. With that device, Bezos had locked his sights on voice controls.
Although the idea that a tech executive drives his company’s design makes sense, Goss says that Amazon is a challenging place to work as a designer. Decisions seem to be based on Bezos whims, instead of on concrete data or over-arching aesthetic vision, like Steve Jobs had.
Disclosure: Jeff Bezos is an investor in Business Insider through his personal investment company Bezos Expeditions.