User experience (UX) design and all its challenges and opportunities took center stage last week during the first edition of FusionConf for 2018.

Approximately 100 tech professionals in the Charlotte area converged at Camp North End for the mini-conference, which included panel discussions on such topics as creating an inclusive team environment and moving into a UX career.

This was the first FusionConf to feature UX exclusively, said Bermon Painter, one of the three organizers of the quarterly event.

The panelists and speakers came from near and far: a team from Cardinal Solutions’ Charlotte office spoke about inclusivity and how it’s benefited their clients as well as their company dynamics; Zuzana Sekerova, a program manager at Atlassian’s Austin, TX, office, gave tips on how to improve the product experience for potential and long-term customers; and Ramya Mahalingam, a senior experience design consultant in the greater New York City area, discussed designing with user safety in mind.

Charlotte tech professionals spend an afternoon immersed in UX.

During the inclusivity panel, the Cardinal team noted how much they appreciate diversity in the office.

“It’s important that you can hear a lot of different perspectives on a daily basis,” said panelist Ellen Boyette, a UI designer at Cardinal.

And by diversity, she and the rest of the team didn’t mean just the obvious physical, visible differences. Varying perspectives as a result of life experiences can also be useful. “I think it helps build empathy,” said Boyette, who is also a co-founder of the Meetup group Women in UX: Charlotte.

Being inclusive means seeing beyond the obvious when recruiting as well, said Joshua Mauldin, a product designer at Cardinal. “I think a lot about hiring for potential and not necessarily who has the best resume,” he said. Boyette agreed, adding that, while job candidates could have all the credentials and meet all of the posting’s qualifications, their interactions with clients could prove awkward if they lack “soft,” or “people,” skills.

FusionConf host Bermon Painter introduces panelists from Cardinal Solutions.

Team diversity can also be helpful when designing with user safety in mind, Mahalingam said during her presentation, “Designing for Safety.”

“A lot of times when we design stuff, we design it with a sense of utopia without acknowledging the things that could go wrong,” she said, citing as an example Pokémon Go. Following the popular smartphone game’s release in July 2016, news outlets reported that criminals were using it to lure players to specific locations so they could rob them.

According to a 2016 report from the Data & Society Research Institute and the Center for Innovative Public Health Research, nearly half of internet users have personally experienced online harassment or abuse.

“Think about what could go wrong and come up with back-up strategies,” Mahalingam said. Mediating online interactions, and implementing profiles, background checks, and verification and ratings systems, are among the safeguards some companies, such as Airbnb, have put into place to increase accountability, she said.

Other presenters at the conference included Sara Alloy, creative director at the Charlotte office of CapTech Ventures, Inc., who spoke about open-ended innovation, and members of the Meetup group Women in UX: Charlotte, who offered tips and advice for transitioning into a career in UX.

Lesley Luciano, a senior UX architect at Cardinal, encouraged job seekers to find a mentor and to attend UX Meetups for educational and networking opportunities. She and other panelists also recommended that potential candidates practice their whiteboard skills prior to job interviews. “The interviewer really wants to know how you got to that piece,” she said.

Garren DiPasquale talks Shaker design with FusionConf attendees.

The design process was also central to Garren DiPasquale’s presentation, “Shaking Up UX,” which harked back to the Shakers and their eponymous furniture.

What can this old chair teach us about UX design? Plenty. Image of Shaker side chair courtesy of Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon. Used with permission.

Minimalism and quality were hallmarks of Shaker design. Their design principles of honesty, utility and simplicity influenced everything from furniture and architecture to interior design and textiles, said DiPasquale, a fintech product designer in Charlotte.

He encouraged designers to keep the “why” of their designs in mind. Design systems should tie back to the mission of the company you’re designing for and should resonate with non-designers, he said.

Designers can be deliberate about what they make, DiPasquale said. “But more importantly, we can be deliberate about why we make it.”

Wrapping up the conference was Painter, himself, who gave the presentation “Projects are Easy. People are Hard.” Different personality types require different communication styles if people are to work together successfully, he said.

For example, when dealing with a perfectionist, being thorough and accurate while offering minimal risk is ideal, but if you’re working with an approval seeker, honesty, assurance and fairness are key.

Projects are easy. People are hard. FusionConf host Bermon Painter offers tips for better communication.

Regardless of personality type, active listening, paraphrasing and knowing when to say “no,” are helpful when negotiating with people, he said.

In an interview following the conference, Painter said that FusionConf is a way for people to get experience giving presentations as well as to connect with each other.

“These events are all about community-building,” he said, “and bringing folks together.”

For more information about the speakers and panelists from last week, go here. The next FusionConf, which will focus on design, will take place in June. Stay tuned for details.