The UX Week ‘17 Recap You’ve Been Waiting For!

Anyone else missing UX Week already? Cuz I am. And how could I not? I loved every minute of sitting at the bookstore and hearing about your weird and interesting challenges/lives, watching monks creating (and destroying) a beautiful mandala, seeing the organic development of the UX Week 5K-ish, and challenging you to pinball and sometimes winning…Ok, I won once, but victory is so sweet. I’m Dorothy Levin, and this is a recap of my first(!) UX Week.

Let’s talk the talks.

Kelly McGonigal kicked us off with people geeking out on Twitter over her twin-ness to Jane McGonigal (they are a bad-ass set of twins). Anyway, Kelly put us in a mindset of compassion. Did you know that some studies prove that thinking compassionately for just 5 minutes can boost your immune system for up to 5 hours later? For any self-aware jerks out there, there’s your reason to be nicer. Give it a try by saying “just like me [a person’s name] wants [to be free from suffering, to be recognized for their work, to be loved…].” She also highlighted pseudoinefficacy—people often won’t help if they fear they can’t make a difference in large-scale problems. Excuse us on the events team while we make some quick adjustments to do our small part in hurricane relief efforts.

Roman Mars is one of those people that you grew up with that was subtly super cool his whole life, but you didn’t realize it until later, and then you were like “man, now he’s gonna think I’m trying to get on his show. I just want to listen to him talk!” Luckily, you can, on 99% Invisible, and here in the UX Week 17 closing keynote video!

Andy Budd takeaways for leaders: “be a shit umbrella, not a shit funnel,” and “hire people with a calling, not a great-looking resume.” See his deck for the quotables, and get the full Andy experience in the video.

So! Who actually likes their job?* Alla Zollers believes that loving work is a human right, not a privilege of the lucky few. Feeling safe, feeling like you belong at an organization, feeling like you matter… it all stems from culture, which includes a collective identity of shared beliefs. (*ME!!! Creepy, but welcoming, cult voice JOIN US!)

“I actually hate painting with a passion,” is a strange way for someone to open their talk when they’re Tim Jenison and have devoted several years to painting Johannes Vermeer’s work. There’s no way I can say half of what Tim did with any of his charm — Talking Heads references, the phrase “art wank”, maybe a fart joke — so I’ll just stop right here and check if the documentary is on Netflix (it’s DVD-only, but it’s streaming on Amazon Prime).

TRIGGER WARNING: Don’t watch Elizabeth Sampat’s talk if you don’t want Santana stuck in your head. How the heck is that earworm relevant, you might ask? She compared the hit to recognizing the value of your work. Santana said, “when you make it memorable, you hang around with eternity.” I absolutely LOATHE that song, but I will probably be able to sing every. Damn. Word. Until the day I die. And I just shuddered at the thought of the lyrics being someone’s last words. Elizabeth works at SYBO Games making Subway Surfers. At SYBO, she realized “you don’t decide if your work is meaningful, your users do.” With 24 million downloads of Subway Surfers, we might think “well, DUH, you feel good cuz you’re practically the Santana of mobile app games.” She says, “If there’s one person that experiences what you’ve made, there’s at least one person who that work matters to.” Put that shit on a post-it.

Anna Pickard told us she “does words.” She does them so well, in fact, that there was an outpouring of “be my friend” comments in the app. (So Anna, I’d really like it if you would, like, come to my BBQ this weekend…?) I think what makes her so relatable is the vulnerability in work we care about, and also the reality of just going ahead and saying what we mean, even in business contexts. Just watch this one, and be prepared to join all of us in her fan club.

“Conflict in the workplace is an epidemic,” says Whitney Hess. At first, I was like, “whoa lady, you’re being a bit dramatic.” But for real! She says 25% of us have seen conflict result in absence or sickness (yup), and 50% of departures from the workplace are due to personality clashes and warring egos (ok, she has a point). So, what do we do? Recognize that when we’re employing our strategies to get what we think we need, we’re sometimes taking actions that get in the way of other people’s strategies to get what they think they need. She’s got an antidote with the exercise she shares.

Caryn Vainio says if you’re a traditional designer and want to break into VR, do it. Play some games, go to meetups, download Unity (it’s free!). If you’re a VR designer, don’t forget traditional design elements. I could listen to her talk forever, but I seriously regret the team not requiring her to bring her alpacas.

Things got really trippy with Gene Kogan as he showed us machines hallucinating, which made a few people feel a little less FOMO for missing Burning Man to attend UX Week. We also witnessed impressive things AI can do recognizing patterns, making art, and generating music. I particularly loved his responses to the fear of Terminators taking over the world — we have a long way to go. I’ll be refreshing the site for his book-in-progress.

Did you know you can receive a cease and desist for calling yourself an architect in public forums if you’re not licensed? Neither did I until Molly Wright Steenson showed us the light — we’re all trying to redefine our ranks with titles and descriptions of greater magnitude and meaning.

Erik Dahl gave us the most valuable nugget to conquer imposter syndrome. Beat the mentality of “I’m not a runner until…” by saying, “I AM a runner.” He declared it having run only short distances, and created rituals like putting his shoes out before bed and marking off his training runs in a highly visible place to reinforce the identity until he became an ultrarunner — that means he runs more-than-marathon amounts that would kill mere mortals. Anyhoo, it’s relatable that we’re not always experts, and that being broken down reminds us to be human. I’m trying to decide how I’d work differently if I declared “I AM a billionaire entrepreneur!” or if I would just start buying ridiculous things for friends and family.

Elizabeth Buie gave us some things to think about with TRANSCENDENCE! What is it? How in the world do we measure it? Is it possible with a digital interface? She showed a couple interesting notes from her PhD work analyzing the rise of spiritual apps, showing an interest in users seeking some kind of transcendent experience. I didn’t get a chance to talk to people in her and Alastair Somerville’s workshop, but it sounded fascinating.

I must have been so into Marsha Haverty’s talk because I wrote one single note: Chairs are for sitting. WTF does that even mean? I’ll do my best to summarize. Ecological psychology should inform design, especially in VR. Marsha’s talk called out design choices that give “actors”, or game players, intuitive indicators about the environment they are in. Things like chairs should have the properties actors understand as humans in the real world so that they can go forth and play, or sit. The coolest thing I chewed on for a bit here is that information is not just an input, but a participant in how we behave.

Andrew Lovett-Barron’s desire to be of service as a designer lead him to government work (in many ways painful, he reveals); and eventually to his fellowship with New America interviewing people at public interest ventures.

Peter Lewis urges us to replace “Hello, World” with “Hello, Neighbor” in his talk detailing his harsh recognition of being privileged. He gives some thought to being a product designer and the weight it bears for society-shaping.

I hope I recapped decently for everyone who’s getting notes back to their bosses for what they learned! If there’s anything missing from here, or if you looked in the video notes and didn’t see presentation deck links, we don’t have permission to share it.

It was such a pleasure spending a week with you, and I’ll be counting down to next year (psst, it’s early bird ticket pricing). Stay in touch!