The cookie experience

I currently work at a large corporation. And while my experience is subjective, I’ve talked to enough people in large corporations, government, and education to know that most—if not all—of my experiences are not uncommon.

I could say that in large corporations we water down experiences by trying to be everything to everyone and doing them half-assed in the first place. And if you work for a large corporation, you can probably stop reading here because you get it.

There are exceptions. Apple is a large corporation, and my new MacBook Pro 16” with an Apple-engineered processor is a marvel of modern product development. So, just because you work for a large corporation doesn’t mean you are in the same boat. But a lot of you are.

My wife makes really good cookies, so I’m going to use the cookie as a metaphor.

Stakeholder 1:

Let’s make a chocolate chip cookie, the best chocolate chip cookie in all the world. For every chocolate chip cookie ordered, we’ll send $1 to developing nations to help educate kids and provide for basic infrastructure. This is about making good cookies, but it’s also about helping other people—in fact, it’s primarily about helping other people.


I can do that, I can’t wait to get started.

Time goes by and version 1 is demo’ed.

Stakeholder 1:

I love this, but I just talked to my boss, we can’t do the donation thing yet. That’ll be the next version. We’ll still get there, but for now, let’s just do the cookie.

The designer goes back to work.

Stakeholder 2:

This is great, the best cookie I’ve ever had, but my customers are gluten free. Can you make this gluten free?

Stakeholder 3:

This is great, the best cookie I’ve had, don’t change a thing. But my customers are vegan and sugar free, can we tweak the recipe just a hair?

Designer 2 (another designer):

I was passing by your kitchen and saw you were making cookies, did you check the company policy for baked goods, electronic equipment, and farm tools? I want to make sure you’re adhering to all our company guidelines?

Designer 3:

I made a different cookie, let’s use mine instead.

And by this time, our hapless designer had given up making the world’s best cookie, or contributing to the world around them, or doing anything radical or special, they’re just trying to make something that doesn’t inspire the gag reflex.

Stakeholder 4:

This is good, but it needs to be consistent with the rest of our baked goods. You can only use the ingredients that we use because our customers expect a consistent experience.


But you make pineapple cheesecake?

Stakeholder 4:

Right. Best of luck.


We can’t bake that cookie; it’s too complicated. There are lots of ingredients, and it calls for an oven that’s in Celsius, but we use an oven in Fahrenheit. And we’ve never used chocolate before, so you can’t use chocolate.


This is great, good work. I can’t actually taste anything, but my advisors say they like it. Before we scale this to production, we need to start small. For now, let’s start with just one ingredient (but not chocolate), and when that proves successful, we’ll add more ingredients. Also, this needs to scale, so we’re going to have seven billion cookies shipped out next year and we expect to be making trillions.


Stop, slow down, we’re just making cookies, home bakers do this all the time in their kitchen in an evening.

Everyone else:

That’s oversimplified, we’re a big corporation, this is complex.

It's not that hard

Design is solving problems. Just find a problem and an audience, and do your best. Fine tune the recipe, improve as you go, and have fun along the way. Share what you know—definitely be sure to share the cookie dough, and feed the mistakes to the dog.

I know that many of us are working on solving complex problems and they require complex thinking to provide a solution, I'm not saying that our work doesn't require thinking or experience—but let's be honest, we're not building rocket ships. A good rule of thumb is that if a startup with five dedicated people can do it in a few months, a huge corporation with far more resources, time, and money should be able to do the same.