The Neutrino Donut is a long time friend and collaborator with Matt Genovese. We share a recent interview with him.
Semiwiki CEO Interview: Matt Genovese of Planorama Design
by Daniel Nenni on 01-13-2023 at 6:00 am
Categories: CEO Interviews, Planorama Design, Semiconductor Services
Matt Genovese is the founder and CEO of Planorama Design, bringing over 25 years of career experience in high-tech, spanning semiconductors, hardware, IoT, IT, and software product development. He has a strong track record of planning, launching, and shipping products that work. Matt’s company, Planorama Design, is a software user experience design professional services company, designing complex, technical software that is simple and intuitive to use. Staffed with seasoned engineers and user experience (UX) designers, the company is headquartered in Austin, Texas, USA.
Matt earned a B.S. in Computer Engineering from the Rochester Institute of Technology and an M.S. in Electrical Engineering from The University of Texas at Austin. He began his career at Motorola-Freescale Semiconductor in product & test engineering and moved into design verification of RISC processors and SoCs. Matt has also held product leadership roles for complex and technical software development. As a result of his deep professional experience, Matt strives to “get it right the first time” starting with the software application’s user experience design, down to the hardware at the bottom of the stack. Planorama helps drive product development processes that create products that work out of the gate.
WHAT IS THE BACKSTORY OF PLANORAMA DESIGN?
A quote from Susan Dray are words to live by in the world of product design. She said: “If the user can’t use it, it doesn’t work.”
I’ve spent my entire career making sure products work, both in the semiconductor industry and in pure software productization. During the first half of my career, as a product & test engineer, then as a functional verification engineer, I had to ensure products worked out of the gate. After all, when mask sets cost millions, verifying functionality pre-silicon is a business imperative.
That “get it right the first time” mentality carried into the second half of my career in pure software companies – always focused on complex, technical software and SaaS products. Even though software is cheaper to deploy than hardware, executing any kind of redo, especially “down to the chassis”, is still very costly. My experience showed that upfront planning and deep thinking through key requirements and features with an eye for future saved money that would otherwise be spent later on costly redos.
I also noticed how modern software is developed very differently from hardware. Software Agile development processes, user experience (UX) design, and detailed requirements documentation enable rapid, iterative, and efficient software development. These software development concepts have been traditionally absent in the semiconductor industry, which is accustomed to longer, non-iterative hardware design cycles.
Semiconductor companies are increasingly creating and delivering both chips and software as part of their overall solution. To remain competitive, customer-facing software should meet the same high standards as state-of-the-art semiconductors. Disciplined UX design gives us world-class software that is easy to use for semiconductor customers. Again, ultimately, “if the user can’t use it, it doesn’t work.”
Today I see some in the semiconductor industry are catching on. Intel’s own CTO Greg Lavender recently echoed this same sentiment: “You’re great engineers. You put together this great piece of whatever. Now show me how it’s going to be used from the end-user perspective. Because if we can’t do that, no one’s going to buy the stuff anyway.” His words resonate! They speak to Planorama’s backstory and the overarching mission of my career – it’s what we do here at Planorama Design.
WHAT PROBLEMS ARE YOU SOLVING?
We tackle the three critical challenges encountered when deploying software products: quality of the user experience, time-to-market, and budget. These problems are just as relevant to semiconductor and hardware companies as they are in pure software businesses.
What does a “user experience quality” problem look like? Like functional bugs in your silicon, a confusing user interface prevents your customers from achieving their objectives, impacting the perceived quality of your products. UX designers may call it a “usability” problem, but at the end of the day, it’s another quality problem that can degrade the value of your entire solution at best or kill your ability to capture design-ins at worst. Your chips and edge hardware may be superior, but if customers cannot easily build their solution, their time-to-ramp to production delays and the overall success of you and your customer is diminished. You built great hardware; now, design the software that will unlock the value of your technical excellence.
Secondly, we tackle the “time-to-market” problem by ensuring your software developers have all they need to code quickly and accurately. Software development teams are handed the baton last, before the product goes out the door. Stakes (and attention) are high and as I’ve witnessed, often they have not received the requirements needed to execute efficiently. We’re talking about high-fidelity visual specifications and the business rules, written in well-organized, thorough, “dev-ready” internal product documentation. When developers can develop and not have to design screens or wait for requirements, products simply get out the door faster.
Third, but not least, deploying software is not an inexpensive proposition. Development teams are large and costly, so the longer a project takes and the more cycles it has to go through, the more likely a budget will be blown. Excellent user experience design avoids the inefficiencies that will balloon your dev costs by minimizing the duration of the software project. Finally, since usable software is intrinsically intuitive, there’s less need for customer support and training, which again reduces long-term costs. UX design is more of a way to reduce costs than spend money!
WHAT MAKES PLANORAMA’S SERVICES UNIQUE?
For one thing, it’s the sheer span and the depth of our capabilities. Our team has worked across many verticals to solve all types of problems for our clients. It turns out the solutions to a vast number of problems have already been solved in other spaces, and we have designed them. Now combine that with our deep in-house engineering expertise, and we’re able to talk shop with anyone to get the design problem addressed the right way. Planorama not only has senior user experience designers, but also engineers with computer, electrical, and chemical academic backgrounds. You won’t need to explain transistors, logic synthesis, edge networking, or AI to us, so we develop domain knowledge very quickly.
Finally, I would paint ourselves as “no-nonsense.” It’s not our first rodeo, and we’re not trying to win art contests. We have a mentality of rolling up our sleeves and delivering what our clients need to ship. Users need interfaces that make sense, developers need solid and complete designs with requirements documentation to code efficiently, and QA needs to validate functionality against a well-organized spec. That’s what we do so our clients can accelerate to market with a product that delights their customers.
I’ll summarize what I have observed in the pure software space which I believe is relevant to semiconductor companies today:
Vertical Integration: Hardware companies are building both the components and the integrated solution, which now includes customer-facing software. For their customers to be successful, the complete solution must be best-in-class quality, including the software that ties it all together. Just look at what NVIDIA is doing with their enterprise software suite that supports cloud customers who create AI applications, leveraging off the shelf pre-trained AI libraries to support quick build, then deployment, and finally end-to-end management. Their software ties together the entire solution into an extremely compelling cloud and edge offering. I’d want to use it!
Digital Transformation: Existing legacy software needs to meet the expectations of changing customer requirements. For instance, migration from on-premises solutions to the cloud can launch a company ahead of its competition, but the effort also requires new expectations, know-how, and skill sets in both software design and development.
Customer-enablement: Businesses that purchase and integrate hardware to build solutions require upfront time to do so. It’s to the advantage of any hardware vendor to enable their customers’ acceleration to market. Enabling your customers with easy-to-use software to build their own solutions more easily and quickly means they ramp to production and generate revenue sooner.
Purpose-built Products: We’re seeing specialized solutions that meet business requirements for specific types of customers. In contrast to general-purpose products, these require a solid understanding of the target customers, their users, and use cases. The entire solution – including the critical software that ties it all together, must be a complete match for their needs.
“New EDA”: A new wave of EDA tooling is emerging. These new EDA solutions largely aim to address the traditional barriers that made custom ASIC design infeasible for many enterprises. Companies who cannot afford large IC design departments and budgets can now have another option beyond expensive FPGA implementations. With intuitive user interfaces crafted to reduce the need for training and support, they are much simpler than traditional EDA solutions while effective for the companies who aren’t pushing the bleeding edge of performance.
I expect to see more semiconductor and hardware companies taking a serious look at integrating user experience design into their software processes. UX design is already a critical part of pure software productization, not only to create usable products, but getting them to market faster while spending less. As customers increasingly expect the same world-class user experience from their integrated hardware solutions as they do from their software solutions, companies must recognize the importance of strategically investing in user experience design. Companies that do will be the winners in the long run, chosen by customers who prefer complete solutions that “work”.