Lessons Learned at UX Camp

And links to stuff I talked about

I’m writing from a train on the way back up to New York after speaking at the Annual UXCamp Conference in Washington DC.

I wanted to take a moment to reflect on the lessons learned, so I did a quick write up on:

  • What I talked about + what we learned
  • What I will improve next time
  • Resources that informed my talk

What I talked about + what we learned

A little background on UX Camp, it is a self organized conference where the audience signs up to talk about all things UX.

I chose to speak about my thesis work and hastily made a presentation, focusing on points that I thought would be interesting for UX designers and development teams to discuss.

To kick off the talk, we all stood up and did a quick improv exercise. While standing in a circle, each participant pointed toward another, confidently declaring the name of a food. We continue this until everyone had pointed at another person. From there, we repeated the process to buld a stronger rhythm. The goal was to get people in a better mood before I start talking at them. And being an improviser, I know the value of getting comfortable before performing (presenting in this case).

Thanks Siobhan Fisher for the sketch notes. Follow her @AsEnglishAsPie.

The three themes below were my focus points of the talk— followed by what we learned during the discussion. I could only capture the audio (to come) for this one.

Design thinking, agile, etc is not enough: There are countless cases of design teams creating products and services that are harmful to our health and psychology. It is my assumption that most design and business teams do not want to this for their users, but it happens anyway. My current hypothesis is that fostering psychological safety will help us (design teams) realize more unintended consequences of our decisions before they occur. I am currently in the process of testing this hypothesis for my thesis project.

What we learned: Without key team leaders behind organizational change, goals of psychological safety will remain aspirational. When gnarly design challenges arise, an EightShapes designer explained a problem solving process where the entire company spends 15 minutes sketching potential soultions for a specific team undergoing a challenge. I was fortunate enough to speak with Dan Brown before my talk– he mentioned I read his book Designing Together, which features techniques on collaboration, conflict management techniques, and more.

It is true, this is no new topic. Non-violent communication was one of the first methods used to help mitigate organizational challenges. But the problem is that this language – this type of vocabulary is perceived as intangible, mushy, and generally kumbaya.

How I feel talking about safe space in organizations.

The problem with that is change is difficult for teams – if it does not seeminly equal profit, it is not feasible. Luckily, there is much research that proves striving toward positive work environmetns leads to profit, productivity, and much more — most of which can be measured. There are aspects that cannot be measured, but similar to SEO initiatives, it is difficult to gauge success from a day to day timeframes. It takes team reflection — setting aspirational goals and making a daily effort to meet them.

Values are defined seperately by organizations and people: We know that defining the shared values is essential to team growth. For instants, a company mentioned was undergoing a new organizational structure change that was proving to be difficult for communication and efficiency. It was interesting to hear that this particular organizational structure actually was a great fit for others in the audience, even though HBR does not seem to agree. We landed at Amy Edmondson’s quote from her research on Psychological Safety and Learning Behavior in Work Teams:

“…creating conditions of psychological safety is essential to laying a foundation for effective learning in organizations.”

Again, this is easy in theory. But that didn’t stop Google from taking five years to say practially the same thing.

Play expidites Psychological Safety, moves teams closer to efficiency, and helps build toward trust: This is where my research is. Does play help us feel more psychologically safe? And if so, how do we go about incorporating play into our busy work lives? What is the incentive each day?

To moreless streamline this incentive, I am running workshops with teams to uncover their shared values, organizational challenges, and aspirational goals. From there, I am synthesizing the insights and sending SMS messages back out to the participants over a given period of time. Each message is an insight or related idea that spans across a story arc of everything that was learned during the workshop. The focus of the workshops can range everywhere from strategic to tactical matters.

Still learning…

What I will improve next time

I was able to speak with a few folks at the end and asked for candid feedback. Here’s what I will remember moving forward:

  • Better facilitation for the discussion period: There was a balance of wanting to hear what everyone had to say, but making sure that everyones high-level questions were addressed. Perhaps I could have done a quick sprint of gathering responses, catergorizing them, and spending the discussion time on themes organized by the group.
  • More case studies: Many liked the BP Oil Invisibilia reference, which arose through the Q&A. In retrospect it could have been helpful to interject more research on how positive work environments can lead to increased productivity and profits
  • Better reflection after discussion: We ran out of time toward the end. I believe it would have been helpful to synthesize actionable tactics that can be taken back into the organization on the next day.

Resources that informed my talk

This is a thought piece relating to organizational behavior and design ethics. For my SVA IxD thesis, I am facilitating workshops with organizations to make design ethics more conversational. Feel free to comment with any thoughts or reach me directly at vanie.james@gmail.com to chat.

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