Four years after sitting through my last undergraduate class, I’m back in the classroom again for my first professional conference. This year has brought a lot of exciting “firsts” for me, so I was stoked to experience another, this time in San Fransisco with three of my teammates. Back in high school, I was heading into a retreat with my youth group when one of our leaders told us to “have no expectations and bring a teachable spirit.” As corny as that may sound, I have carried the idea with me throughout the years. As far as this conference goes, I had heard some mixed reviews; however, it ended up being an incredible experience, and I’m leaving after four days inspired and challenged. So, if you’re looking to go to a well-established conference in and amazing city, then book your tickets for the next UX Week!
When we arrived, the hotel was abuzz with professionals, and it was hard to tell who was going to the conference and who wasn’t. I found my way to the lobby for registration while trying to ignore the jitters that brought me back to that “first day of school” feeling. One of my goals for the week was to branch out, so after saying good morning to my peers I left them and began networking. I immediately felt at ease as people began sharing where they were coming from, and what they did for a job. It was pretty special to see so many designers congregate in the same place from all different paths, since I am used to only see a few of the same great people everyday. I think my design network on LinkedIn grew by 100% almost immediately.
Shortly after breakfast, the keynotes began and I immediately realized that this was going to be a week unlike any I have experienced before. I thought it would be simple lectures, kind of like school, but this was way better. Each presenter was a unique storyteller, and they all did something completely different from me; however, it was all related to design, which got me thinking more creatively about how to apply my own skill set and process more broadly.
Hannah Beachler (Production Designer)
Designing Diverse Fictional Landscapes by Using the Past and Present to Inform Futuristic Desgin
Her story was absolute 🔥🔥🔥! Hannah worked on designing the sets for Black Panther, Creed, and Moonlight, all of which are amazing films. It was so compelling to hear the depth she goes into to create these relatable worlds. She wants to use technology as a platform for accessibility and inspiration, and it comes through in her work. She studied cultures and environments, and built worlds that expand beyond the screen by mixing style with realism. By breaking down perceptual norms, she is making an impact and revealing a different viewpoint that most never experience.
Key Takeaway: It does not matter if you are a $200 million film, or a $100 thousand project; take pride in your work and spend time with the people that it represents. You are the bridge to end-users.
“We are called to be architects of the future, not its victims.”
— R. Buckminster Fuller
Jorge Arango (Design Consultant & Author)
Living in Information
He shared how our transactional load on Information Environments is rapidly consuming our daily life. These environments have methods for transactions that foster or inhibit experiences. As designers, we have a responsibility to to design for structure, systems, and sustainability. Architects wants things that will endure for years, and designers should strive for the same. The applications we design have an impact on the communities around us economically, socially, and ecologically. This impact needs to be recognized and accounted for in our choices.
Key Takeaway: Design less aesthetic, and more function. We are architects of technology, and build upon the shoulder of giants that came before us.
“Making wholeness heals the maker”
— Christopher Alexander
Liz Jackson (Fonder of The Disabled List)
Designing with Disabled People
She spoke with true candor that cut right to the heart, and made me reconsider how I view my design choices. Disability only became recognized as something charitable after the industrial revolution, when people were expected to perform mechanized tasks that not everyone could do. This differentiation created a market of people that needed their problems solved for — which there in lies the problem. Design Thinking separated who will design and who will use. Designers need to work WITH, not for their end-users. Disabled people are the true OG life hackers, and deserve the credit for innovative ideas instead of being resold them. I know I am guilty of reselling my users ideas as my own…
Key Takeaway: Give credit to your community where you draw inspiration from! This was novel to me, but I plan on incorporating a broad set of people and sharing how they impact a product I design.
Google’s Project: Morse Code. This is how you design WITH, and not for.
Laura E. Hall (Puzzle & Narrative Designer)
Caring for Players in Real World Spaces and Beyond
People are geared to seek out immersive experiences, but creating an environment that is stimulating and creative is incredibly challenging. Understanding basics of human psychology provides opportunities for creating something immersive. Our minds can only handle so much, and we expend tons of energy focusing on a specific problem especially if it is time-boxed.
Key Takeaway: Don’t put in unnecessary stuff, especially when it comes to text. Let the design of an environment do the heavy lifting, and capitalize on focused energy.
Claudio Guglieri (Creative Director, Ex-Microsoft)
Our Everyday Relationships with Digital Interfaces
We spend most of our days interfacing with technology. Between smartphones, and computers it can be easy for this numbers to live between 8–12 hours a day. Understanding how to tailor an experience within this context requires a high level of craftsmanship. Designers should strive to account for repetition, evolution, and ownership. Building a lasting relationship between products and users should rely mostly on function and somewhat on aesthetic.
Key Takeaway: Avoid trying to change behaviors, and think more like a service. Nothing comes for free, so test assumptions and plan for the long term with frictionless design choices.
Julie Carpenter (Researcher)
Dark Patterns and the Ethics of Robot Design
Technology has become a dependency for our society, and when it fails us it can be rather disruptive. As we move into a world that is even more ingrained with smart technology, designers have a great responsibility to push against dark patterns which deceive users into unintended behavior choices. Consider how humans view robots and AI when designing patterns for engagement. Cognitive Sciences are critical for ensuring that technology becomes an enabler and not an inhibitor.
Key Takeaway: Think about how we view AI and Robots becoming a normal part of our society. This impact is more personal than technology has been in the past.
Kat Lo (Research and Moderator)
Understanding the Work that Communities Work
The platforms we use everyday are not designed to inhibit people from abusing their capabilities. Cyber bullying and harassment plagues the internet, and the tools given to administrators and moderators are not sufficient enough for stoping this type of behavior. Most people do not even bother reporting others because they feel it will not have an impact. Creative solutions are going to be necessary to make these spaces safer and inviting, but this has not been the driver for revenue. Companies still benefit from just high levels of engagement, whether good or bad.
Key Takeaway: People need to work as a collective community to help identify and report malicious behavior on the internet, and platform designers need to make an effort to improve these capabilities.
Vahid Jahangiri (Director)
Her Name is Betty
He told us how Lifeline is impacting the country of Uganda by making cooking more safe and accessible to rural communities. Doing this requires a precise understanding of the environment, and who the end-users are. Making a critical mistake in the manufacturing process is not something that is easily corrected. They went through months of prototyping and testing, before committing to a model because of the high cost of failure. If he did not have this intimate understand, then his product would not have had the same impact on the community.
Key Takeaway: It is crucial to spend time understanding who you are trying to solve a problem for and not impose your own idea, but adapt to their world and behaviors.
Let the workshops begin! One of the best parts about this conference was the ability to create your own path. I hand selected the workshops that were the most interesting to me, so out of six I down selected to two — Human Centered Content Design & Animation for your Design System.
Pro Tip: We used Adaptive Path’s app that let’s you connect with other participants at the conference, and I got a notification that three guys from Target started following me. Flattered, I decided to seek them out in the morning. Turns out they discovered that got a lot of people to seek them out. Kinda a dark pattern, but clever nonetheless.
Human-Centered Content Design
I work primarily on internal applications heavily focused on improving the user experience, and expediting actions. Working as the sole product designer on a team means I have total control (with stakeholder buy-in, of course) over the content and typewriting that goes into an application. I was seeking an opportunity to learn from other designers on how they incorporate a content strategiest, or design content specific elements when they don’t have control.
During the workshop, we worked in small groups through a series of typical design deliverables, but but focused on discovering how to cater the content of pages to user’s needs.
- Stakeholder and user interviews
- Journey Maping
- Content Sotires
- Workflow Analysis
- Content Mapping
Coming out of this workshop I have a better understanding of how to build in content-thinking into research, design, and development. A key component is incorporating the various stakeholders into the process. It is important that everyone have their voice heard and valued to establish trust. This enables the progression towards testing the riskiest assumptions around what the content should be, especially for fringe cases. Think about the tone, and elements being incorporated and tailor them to fit user’s expectations. Business requirements are crucial to fund a products future, but they have to balance with what users are trying to achieve. If a key persona is focused on data entry and form submission, then don’t slap a giant informational hero on the page that intends to direct them somewhere else. Seems obvious, but this stuff happens.
Animation for Your Design System
I 😍 animations and micro-interactions, probably a little too much but I have a difficult time incorporating it into the products I design. I don’t have a graphic design background, or experience with motion so the Bézier curve is an enigma to me. I went in with the hopes of learning how to advocate for the value of animation, and how to adjust feeling to express a variety of tones.
During the workshop we covered a variety of topics including:
- Defining your brand in motion
- How to identify the foundational building blocks of motion for creating a brand
- How to make animation part of your design process
- Where and how to represent motion as part of your design system efforts
It started out by picking a brand to design for, and of course I picked something close to me. We used an ad-lib to pick adjectives that represented our brand, for which I wrote down Heavy, Mechanical , Direct.
If this brand was a real person serving our customer, it would be (Primary Role). Professionals and customers would describe us as the most (Adjective, Adjective, and Adjective) of any in that role.
Next we rated our adjectives on horizontal scales.
Nothing Move — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — Everything Moves
Super Serious — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — Very Playful
Then, after getting a run down of the basics around Bézier curves, we played with a handful of animation tools to tweak ease-in, ease-out, and ease-in-out curves. (cubic-bezier.com, codepen, Green Sock)
I configured mine to feel heavy and mechanical to match the brand I was going for, and then manipulated the code pen example to bring it to life. I had a look and feel for animations that I could easily incorporate into future applications, and method for communicating it to developers.
- Perform a motion audit of the codebase, and minimize variations and deviations from the design system.
- Use s-l-o-w motion to share animations with others. People love it.
- Keep the overall brand in mind, even for internal applications.
- Establish these four things in your design system: duration, properties, easing values, and names.
- Use transitions for animations, don’t touch margin and padding.
As designers, we have to balance intention with execution, so map out how relative motion is and it’s positive impact on an action. Drawing out animations is a great way to get people onboard with it. There are three things to capture:
- Trigger — what starts it
- Action — what takes place
- Quality — how does it happen
The workshop closed with a Q+A, and I asked what the value of animation has in applications that haven’t been updated since the early 2000’s when the web was primarily static. I didn’t get the feedback I thought I would, since it became a discussion about applying creative thinking to design something minimal and simplistic. All that to say, animation can have place but it will be harder to find ways to make it valuable and possible, when compared to something more modern.
Looking for a Design System? Adele has a whole repository of publicly available design systems and pattern libraries.
The first couple of workshops were geared to make me more knowledgeable in areas I felt I had gaps in, but the next two were selected to make me get out of my comfort zone to try things I otherwise avoid. Conferences serve as an opportunity to try new things, because they are totally separate from the normal working environment with primarily new faces. I would be remiss if I had not seized these opportunities.
The Creative Power of Storytelling
Boy was I worried about this one. I absolutely hated creative writing exercises as a student. Especially when I had to share my stories, and revise them several times over. I hate feeling exposed, and don’t like seeing my own failure. I liked to just turn in my paper, receive a grade and ignore the feedback. I wanted to just be perfect the first time.
As a designer, now I understand how important it is to be vulnerable, iterate quickly, and abandon pride.
“You can’t take anyone farther than you’ve already taken yourself”
— Maria Montejo
We started out sharing a quick introduction about ourselves. I found myself defaulting to my 30 seconds elevator pitch, because I thought that was what people would be interested in. I quickly learned how boring it was, and how bad I was at telling my own story. Great start right? I then had to write about a personal story of my own. So picked a story from my childhood, and then had to share it with the person next to me. Yikes. Then I was given a new genre to rewrite my story in, which was Steampunk Urban Fantasy. LOL. This was a fun exercise, because I stopped focusing on telling it from my own insecure perspective and opened my mind to trying something creative. After rewriting it, I had to share my story again, which began to feel more natural. Lastly, we had to then take our “shitty first draft” and mark it up with changes.
I walked away with a couple strategies that I plan on incorporating in my life and work. My story is my own, and I am the author. I can write it from whatever perspective I want and dictate my own path — others do not get to have that power over me. Additionally, the products I design have a narrative to them. Articulating that narrative back to my team is critical for creating products that are useful, desirable, and valuable. Lastly, storytelling takes practice and revision. I need to write and create more, and be less afraid of the voices I create in my head of what others might think.
ImprovUX: Empathy, Understanding and Creative Collaboration Through Improvisation
This workshop was prescribed as “a series of and INTERACTIVE talks”, to which I was skeptical of. I knew a little bit about improv, enough to know that I am garbage at it but what did I have to lose. If it could help me better understand how to connect with stakeholders, developers, product managers, and end-users then I was game.
As designers, we have to be aware of all the nuances that are occurring during a user interview or group activity that we are leading. This requires us to put our own desires and perceptions on the back burner to be present in the moment. This is especially true when working with other designers that pose ideas that seem so terrible on the surface. Surrendering personal bias and desires to make others successful in their endeavors will lead to better results and more creativity.
Each activity was involved, and built upon each other. We simply started out by shaking out stage fright through a number of confidence building exercises. Everyone has these fear, unless they have the mythical ImprovGene of course. They got everyone laughing and vulnerable, and willing to try new things that clearly made us all uncomfortable, but so what? We were learning how to listen and be observant, while putting ourselves out there. This all built up to doing a short 1 minute improv scene in the from of the room. I was paired with someone else, and we had to play off of one another given a prompt — ours was RadioShack. The conversation was so random, and we even got a few belly laughs. It felt more natural than I expected, and I had a ton of fun cracking up with the rest of the goofballs in my group. Definitely do an intro improv class if you get the chance!
Through this workshop, I learned techniques for identifying verbal and non-verbal queues which will lead to a deeper understanding of how people communicate.
Ah the last day. It was hard to believe how much had been crammed into only 3 days so far. Heck, this blog is starting to get pretty long so thanks for hanging in there if you have read this far! More golden nuggets to come.
Sarah Wachter-Boettcher (Principal Researcher, Author)
Designing Inclusive Products
As a culture in tech we have become obsessed with failing fast, and obsessing over engagement and conversion rates. We make tiny choices everyday, that lead to larger consequences. Teams make assumptions of the goals that users want, which can lead to backlash when segments of users do not share the same desires. Several well known companies keep pushing broad features because of #engagement, even though it might come at the cost of someone’s well being. These failures do not start out with malicious intent, but we as designers we have more responsibility than ever to consider what the implications of our products will be.
Key Takeaway: We can be better by examining on our day-to-day practices and building in principles that show compassion for others.
“We talked about getting rid of it, but it performs kinda great…”
— Tumblr Lead
Catt Small (Sr. Product Designer, Etsy)
We’re All Designers
We work with a variety of practitioners, and collaborative design fosters greater collaboration and ownership. Our design process is not always inclusive of other roles, which creates gaps in understanding and buy-in. The true struggle is we get stuck in loops of wasting time, effort, and money. Often people want to deflect all the design work to the designer, but it is critical for everyone to provide input to ensure success. Find ways to create design assets that demonstrate its value, and communicates it contribution for future inclusion.
Key Takeaway: Use collaborative design to get the best ideas on the table by engaging a wide variety of stakeholders, regardless of their position or title. Use a kickoff to develop an objective, bake in a research & design sprint,
“Good products are built by good product teams… good product teams communicate”
— Catt Small
Lining Yao (Assistant Professor — Carnegie Mellon Univesity)
UX Design with Morphing Matter
User Experiences are moving out of the screen and into the physical world with morphing matter. Her lab is researching how the application of adaptive paper contributes to making environments responsive and immersive through simple technology advancements. These look like basic paper prototypes, but they come to life when stimulated. The tangibility of physical matter is being tied to behavioral interaction through energy stimulation. Stimulation is everywhere in the world which provides endless possibilities for application. Just wait for flat pasta that will morph while cooking to hit the shelves of stores — its mind blowing.
Key Takeaway: Researchers are paving the way for the next wave of the digital transformation in our physical space.
Peter Merholz (Author)
Design at Scale is People!
Growing the quality, speed, and coherence of design practices in growing organizations are a challenge. Too much focus on processes and systems can bog down impact and creativity — such as Design Systems. Design at scale is not quite embracing that everything is becoming a service. It is becoming increasingly harder to realize a greater level of efficiency, but design’s value is bringing humanism into the equation. The question then becomes how do you scale soul? Don’t look to institutionalize the process, but instead look to the content.
Systems and processes may raise the floor, but they can lower the ceiling of potential. There needs to be a focus on people and culture first. Appoint an autonomous head of design that leads the charge and is close to the top. Choices need to be customer driven, teams must share a sense of purpose + value, and work together collaboratively.
Key Takeaway: Keep an eye on what it is that you are building and why you are building it. Teams begin to fail when they lose sight of the value they are creating, and focus on building a process. Inject a great team lead to be a coach, diplomat, and champion.
“All design is service design. Products and features are simply components of a service experience.”
— Peter Merholz
Lisa Gelobter (CEO of tEQuitable)
Harnessing Tech to Power Social Impact
The world is filled with toxicity, and technology is at the center of a lot of it but it also can be transformative. We get to be a part of creating and design impactful things in our world. The US Digital Service came in an rescued Healthcare.gov, and their service resulted in saving thousands of lives by expediting processes and increasingly reliability. The college scorecard enabled parents and students to identify what path would best ensure their success beyond high school. A similar opportunity for societal impact has presented itself for addressing biasses and harassment. tEQuitable is the only platform implementing solutions to proactively stop harassment, not just reactively catch harassers.
Key Takeaways: Be inspired by the power of technology, and make a concerted effort to have an impact on the world whether it is big or small. Although it might feel like technology is darkening our lives, there are people working diligently to make it wonderful.
“Design is the fundamental soul of a man-made creation that end up expressing itself in successive outer layers of the product or service.”
— Steve Jobs
User Experience is Human Experience
There is no prescriptive future, only possibilities. Designing artifacts for SciFi worlds has an impact on society in the way with think about and experience technology. The user experience is the future of everything, but its nothing if it doesn’t fulfill a purpose. We are all contributors to the future that is unfolding, whether we realize it or not.
Key Takeaway: Find inspiration in your day-to-day routine, and make a difference. Design is setting up the future for technology.
Bryan Lee Jr. (Design Director)
Design Justice: Building Power
For every injustice in the world, there is an architecture designed to facilitate and perpetuate it. Design is a powerful tool that enables storytelling to reach people across space. There is a rich past that is informing the future of our society, and paying homage that ensures those stories are going to be heard for generations to come.
Key Takeaway: Design will empower architecture and sustainability are prepared for the demands of the future.
99% Invisible: Design is in the Details
So much thought goes into the things that we don’t even think about.
Why is the U.S. Dollar the way that it is? Why is it so different from other currencies. Why is its design so terrible, subjectively speaking? Other countries have put so much thought into the colors, font, style, composition, and material of their notes. They have been treated like a living piece of technology, where as U.S. currency has been more of an artifact. However it hasn’t been changed to maintain the strength and stability view of the United States. Nothing is recalled, only revisions are introduced amongst the legacy notes.
Basketball took a decade before the bottom of the next was opened, and if it hadn’t happened then it would never be the sport it is today. It keeps us on the edge of our seats until the very end, and that is only because of the invention of the shot clock. Prior to that, teams would just hold onto the ball till the game ended, making spectators reallllllly upset. The 24 second clock came off of a calculation for what was desired to be the outcome for the number of shots, which appealed to both owners and players.
Key Takeaway: There is a reason why things were designed the way they were, and there is an impact when things change — positive and negative.
UX Week 2018 brought together a diverse group people together from all across the broad industry of design. Each speaker shared how they incorporated the user experience in their field of speciality, and every workshop focused on refine skill sets and providing tools to apply back at work. The attendees had an enthusiasm that was infectious, and I loved getting to meet about a hundred designers and make new friends across the world. Even though I was so intentional about meeting new people, there was no way I could meet them all. The Adaptive Path app let me discover who was there, connect with specific individuals, preview events, and have an opportunity to reflect on what I had learned.
I walk away feeling inspired to create, but what makes this different for me is that I discovered that I am not alone. I am so used to seeing the same amazing designers everyday, but commiserating with peers outside of my company give me a fresh perspective. We are all facing the same challenges in different ways, even the most admirable companies like Apple and Google. Additionally, telling my own story made me realize how important my mission is to help reshape and transform the culture of my workplace. I look forward to sharing what I have learned here in more blog post and practice talks.
Bravo UX Week for having such a diverse set of speakers 👏👏👏