Notes and Scribbles from DesignUp Conference 2016

Jottings on my scribble-pad

My insatiable desire to learn more about the world of design landed me to a very exciting conference, centered around design and start-ups — DesignUp 2016. It was a typical pleasant Bangalore weekend weather and the event was right at the heart of the city. What more one could ask for?

The keynote set high expectations when Jamie Myrold from Adobe spoke about the importance of maintaining consistency and designing for scale in this emerging era of cross product, platforms, and device experiences. She highlighted how adobe eco-system has transitioned from a desktop-based product suite to a cloud based service. Further, smaller ship cycles pose a major challenge to scaling up the design and engineering efforts in the product lifecycle.

“Designers don’t happen at the end but at the beginning, so be nice to your designers.” — Jamie Myrold

Anshuman Bapna from Mygola (now acquired by MakeMyTrip), a travel-itinerary app, presented intriguing insights from their startup journey and how design came to the rescue each time they were faced with roadblocks. One such insight was what he referred to as “textbox paralysis”. Users often found it difficult to proactively start writing about the place they had visited. Therefore, a designer in the team had suggested to create a word cloud that could help the users form full sentences. He mentioned that each time they shipped their product their hypothesis on what could go wrong often backfired and forced them back to whiteboard every single time. For instance, users often struggle to abandon their old habits of making travel decisions on travel sites. Therefore, it was a challenge to bring them on-board for a complete product experience. He stressed on the fact that iterations and speed matter in today’s world and how we need to strike a balance between the global maxima and local maxima while designing.

What followed was an insightful talk on the data-driven design by Alok Goel from SAIF-Partners. He spoke about conducting time bound design experiments to arrive at better design decisions. He urged that these experiments would help us disrupt our thinking and push us to go back to the basics and take a different path altogether. He stressed on having a north star metric for your product to be able to channelize the energy while creating the product in one direction. He exemplified this thought in an interactive case session on RedBus — where everyone (men, women, kids, and older adults) should be able to reserve a seat to travel from point A to B in shortest possible time.

Aditi Kulkarni from Postman talked about creating design competency in SaaS products, where she highlighted the importance of design awareness among all the team members irrespective of their backgrounds. She insisted that designers should not “work in their little caves” but rather build democracy in the design process alongside forming a long term relationship with the team. She urged all the designers to be super obsessive about their work and evangelize the importance of design in their teams.

Srivatsan Chari’s talk on “Solving unsexy problems” discussed the significance of designers donning multiple hats from a designer to business developer and strategist. He said he used to take customer calls to get a sense of their real issues that are being faced at the customer side. He said one must design for the least tech savvy user (can my 80 year grandpa use it?). He further stressed on how important it is for designers to be copywriters in addition to their core responsibilities. Sometimes let the product do the heavy lifting for the user; in ClearTax’s example the user need not populate the entire form 16 again once it is loaded on the site.

“Ask your users about their problems, don’t ask them solutions.”-Srivatsan Chari

Next came a talk on how to hire designer by Vasudha Chandak. She started with an interesting question, Who is a good designer? Now “good” and a “designer” are largely subjective terms, but it becomes relatively easier to decide when you better understand your requirements and expectations from an ideal design resource. It starts with identifying the design challenges for your product and mapping them to the skill sets required to overcome them. This is followed by communication skills, speed of delivery, ability to take criticism, and whether or not the candidate is the right cultural fit. When creating a design team she emphasized that it makes sense to start with T-Shaped designers to begin with and then hire specialists for certain tasks. It is rare to find a unicorn designer, if found, expect to pay in kind.

Vishwanathan Sivakumar’s talk on drawing parallels between brands and religion was rather surreal. He started with talking about the brand as a belief system, which starts with a philosophy and primarily aims to answer the why, what and how for the organization. He then stitched together pillars of ethics and experience with the brands. Talking about adaptability, he said that a good brand must be adaptable say for example Indigo Airlines can customise the same set of travel experiences for an elderly or a child accordingly. He concluded by saying just like religion, a brand’s essence is captured by narratives it stitches and the rituals and symbolic objects it uses to tie the users in its aura.

Mekin Maheshwari’s talk on learning was inspired by his personal experience of shifting schools every 1–2 years while growing up. He said every time they changed base, there were new people, new rules, and a totally new environment. He calls this “schema distortion” in which maximum learning happens when the environment around you frequently changes. His current interest is in the field of learning and how the failures are great teachers and how designers must learn a great deal from this design-feedback loop.

“Teaching is ‘mithya’ . The act of active learning is the only truth.”-Mekin Maheshwari

Vandana Abraham from 24/7 design talked about how the design process is eternal and can take one through building anything. She said that your process remains the same and you can acquire the skills required for the domain. In brief, master the process as early as you can!

A day full of awesomeness and learnings ended with Mayukhi Pande who talked about her experience as a designer co-founder of Greenopia. She concluded that designers have a gift of thinking of a system as a whole, that is often the answer to the soul of them problem. She also urged designers to use business pragmatism to achieve design idealism. Further, She highlighted the importance of committing to a problem and taking a short at it rather than half hearted efforts in multiple directions. She also said that one should not try to build a version 5 of your product when a version 1 doesn’t exist.

It was indeed an event that I would have certainly regretted if I had missed it. Glad I didn’t.