How might we digital designers — who are often in the room at the time of ideation — be more thoughtful in evaluating products to see if they are ethical?

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Library of Congress

Right now, digital designers work at the intersection of ethics, privacy and digital convenience. Our jobs are to solve problems and ship products, but are we asking enough questions about how the products will be used by individuals — and how much the products will know and share about them?

In our effort to smooth access to digital content and streamline user experiences, we designers may forget to ask how the things we design might go wrong, or might be used in unintended ways.

As the Manager of Design Research & Strategy at NPR, I work with a team who talks with and learns from our human users. Our design and digital media teams want to understand our users’ needs, and how our product choices affect those users now and in the future. We want to respect the trust that users have put into us — they expect public media to do the right thing, more so than a commercial company or a social network. …

Whether creating something new or iterating on an existing feature, digital designers and product teams can collaborate on design discovery and research methods to guide user-centered solutions.

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Photo by Andrej Lišakov

As the lead designer working on our website, I’m working with the web team to find ways we can “refresh” the site over time, rather than launch a soup-to-nuts redesign. I’d like to share a few design discovery and research methods we used to jump-start a new project: How do users listen to audio on our website?

Design discovery and research methods can inform a team at the beginning of the project. While user testing is more commonly known as a valuable step in shipping a product, it is just one method of design research. Teams would do better to front-load their workflow by learning about their users earlier in the process, before a solution is chosen and prototyped. …

We in digital design and user experience should retire words that no longer describe our products’ goals or their service to our users.

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Library of Congress, Music Division

The Problem With Delight

Why do we have an affinity for the word delight? This may be one of the most frequently used words that we in product design and development use to describe digital experiences — present company included. When asked for a show of hands for who has used delight on a résumé, blog post or project description, does your hand go up? Mine certainly does.

While delight may be appropriate for some digital experiences, such as videos, games and social media, it seems to have become a goal for all digital products. What does delight have to do with websites, mobile apps and connected devices? Is it important for digital tools to delight our users, or is that simply a catchier way to describe the user experience? As we try to describe the value of the products we create, I’d make the case that we’re doing it wrong. …

When users want stories tailored to their interests, what is public media’s role?

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NPR recently relaunched the NPR app. The app’s features, in a nutshell, allow users to catch up on the news by reading stories and by listening to live radio streams, newscasts, radio programs and podcasts.

As our team looks forward to what’s next for the app, we’re also looking back at a recent user test where we heard two words over and over: customize and personalize. Participants in the user test wanted to customize how stories and programs were presented, according to what they read about and listen to the most.

It’s not surprising that users want to customize their audio content according to what they seek most often or want to discover. Think of all the listening apps out there, then consider the ubiquity of playlists, libraries and various ways to explore or sort audio content. Taking a cue from listening apps, our team is considering ways for listeners to “favorite” multiple station streams, programs and podcasts for quick access. …

Upon releasing the first in a series of public betas of the new NPR News app, we’re sharing what worked — and what didn’t — for our home screen redesign.

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The NPR News app’s original 2009 design (left) is still in use today. The new app in beta (right) streamlines the experience. Note: both designs offer more stories than are shown here.

As NPR’s Digital Media mobile team gears up for a series of beta releases of the revamped NPR News app for iOS, we decided to look back at the dozens of home screen designs we created and tested along the way, and share what we learned from our users.

Our goals for the redesign

NPR’s mission is to create a more informed public. In a nutshell, we hope the redesigned NPR News app will catch people up on the news more quickly, with a simplified user experience that aims…

A quick guide for introverts and steamrollers

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Illustration by John Cameron for Currier & Ives, circa 1873 (Library of Congress)

The beauty of working with smart people is that smart conversations are easy to come by. As a designer in NPR Digital Media, I’m part of a department that values cross-collaborative brainstorming, design-thinking exercises, and all the other digital buzzwords that, in a nutshell, mean a great conversation. Yet, sometimes we talk through our issues so rapidly that we don’t leave enough room in the conversation for everyone to be heard.

Learning conversations are at their most inclusive when we hear a variety of perceptions and perspectives. However, those who have outgoing personalities may inadvertently steamroll less assertive voices. And those of us who fall into that “less assertive” category? …

What happens when designers partner with kids to create experiences? Cue the robots and jetpacks.

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A seven-year-old’s drawing for a mobile game. Does it even make sense — and does it need to? Designing with kids, instead of for them, can be revelatory.

When Greg Walsh, Ph.D., was a kid, he loved visiting Epcot. In fact, he wanted to create those experiences for kids at home who couldn’t go to Disney World in person. Now as an adult, Walsh is intensely interested in not only bringing fantastic experiences to kids, but also encouraging kids to design their own experiences.

“My research has been around including kids in the design process of things for them.”

But where did that research start? Entering the University of Maryland’s Ph.D. program, Walsh remembers thinking, “I’m going to create e-learning materials for kids that are as exciting as Pokémon. …

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Women creatives from the DC area gathered for a panel discussion about leading at work and managing family at home. From left to right: moderator Jill Spaeth, Kim Holt, Angie Chan, Amanda Markmann, Erin Orr and Katie Parker. Photo by Bahar Etemadian.

The irony didn’t escape me when I realized I’d be late to AIGA DC’s event about managing careers and family. For weeks I had planned to attend, but realized too late I’d botched the family calendar, and my husband was uncharacteristically delayed. Instead of sipping pre-event drinks with friends, I made ravioli for my six-year-old and fed the dog.

The snafu couldn’t have been a better setup for the evening’s discussion at The Washington Post. Moderator Jill Spaeth guided a conversation with five DC-area women creatives who shared their experiences about leading teams at work while managing families at home.

I managed to make it just in time to catch the introduction to “Having It All: How to Keep the Job You Love and Start the Family You Want,” which featured insights and advice from Angie Chan, Kim Holt, Amanda Markmann, Erin Orr and Katie Parker. …

When we design audio interfaces, we can optimize the listening experience by carefully considering use cases and stress cases where visuals might fall short.

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Sound waves from “The Principles Underlying Radio Communication” (1922) via Internet Archive.

NPR’s mission as a news organization is to create a more informed public. Yet we know that — depending on the events of the day, or the user’s particular perspective — consuming the news might be a fraught experience.

Our digital media design team continues to evaluate how we can create news products with empathy. We previously looked at our platforms where a user might read the news, then we brainstormed 50 stress cases to consider when designing for those experiences. …

Teams can try agile methods that improve collaboration and provide a jumping-off point to a larger organizational change.

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Agile workshop participants checked their sprint progress against the first iteration of their Lego™ structure.

On a recent evening in Arlington, Va., around forty designers, project managers and consultants chatted over tacos, wondering when they might crack open the big yellow bins of Legos™ on nearby tables. They had gathered for a hands-on workshop to learn the foundations of scrum, a particular flavor of agile development.

“I’m curious about scrum,” said Lilia LaGesse, director of print and digital publications at the Council of Independent Colleges. “As I talk with designers within the design community, more and more of their teams are adopting it — whether agencies or in-house design teams. …


Libby Bawcombe

Manager, Design Research & Strategy @NPR. Formerly @aigadc, @TheAtlantic, @newseum

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