Here’s a list of my top three takeaways from each talk, some personal thoughts, and the sketchnotes I made during the conference.
Thanks to the anonymous person who requested the organisers to turn on more lights in the audience area so I could see enough to sketch these!
Talk 1: Katja Forbes on Being Human in the Age of A.I.
- Most of the so-called “A.I.” in the market is machine learning, or narrow A.I. that is only competent at one task, so its going to be awhile before machines are our new overlords.
- That said, the time to make sure we don’t end up in a A.I. ruled dystopian future is now — make sure that products with A.I. are assessed by a diverse group of people and good and bad consequences are imagined and discussed.
- As machines are increasingly tasked with making decisions, its essential to ensure that they are not fed data that is sexist, racist, etc, because than it will make biased judgement calls that might severely affect the lives of normal people. Being transparent with the public on the invisible logic behind these decisions will help tremendously in gaining public trust in these automated systems.
Thoughts: I liked how Katja shared that she felt the Google Duplex call bots that sound like humans is a terrible and unethical design, because the lack of transparency to the human on the phone removes trust in the system.
That said, though, if technologies have progressed to the point where its unclear whether something if real or fake, and we need bots to ‘take the initiative’ and self identify themselves as bots and not humans over the phone, we have a bigger problem on our hands.
Talk 2: Tatiana Toutikian on Designing Futures
- People have a dark, repressed side to them that they need to express, and design needs to address. What are the ways that designs can go wrong, and what are the ways design can address things that might go wrong?
- The future is not filled with blue back-lit technology. The future is a modified version of current society that condones and controls different types of technologies with new values and customs. Watch how society changes to understand what technologies will rise up.
- Designers should feel responsible for creating the future, and aim towards observing and influencing local futures, rather than grand international ones.
Thoughts: I really enjoyed watching Tatiana on stage because she was so passionate about her work and also very personable. I liked that she was so interested in speculative design and encouraging others to explore possible technological futures that she’s spent her free time working on projects and workshops related to it.
When Tatiana spoke of being inspired by Neuromancer, I wanted to cheer so much. Science fiction is my favourite genre and I’ve come to design through it as well. In fact, I’ve learnt much about possible near futures by watching Japanese animation such as Psycho-pass and Summer Wars.
The question I’ve always had about actually participating in speculative design though, was that thinking through various technological futures and its implications is well and good, but what can designers do to concretely contribute to change local futures? I’m still not too sure about that.
Talk 3: Eric Snowden on Designing a Healthy Team
- If you’re new to being a manager, its ok to suck at first. Its like every new role you step into, you need to take some time to get the hang of it.
- Hire for value, ambition, potential, and collaboration rather than from a checklist of skills and degrees.
- Stop assuming your employees are incompetence — if they failed, did you give them the right direction, timeline and take in account their personal circumstances?
Thoughts: I liked how Eric’s reply of the question of “What can I do if I’m not a manager but an employee?” He said that employees should step up and talk to your manager if you see that something isn’t going right, maybe even discuss improving job descriptions.
I feel really lucky to be working at Pivotal, where plenty of what he mentions we’re already doing, such as asking for feedback regularly. I do feel that people at Pivotal are hired for kindness and potential on top of skills, and if Adobe does all that Eric talks about, I think it will be a great place to work too.
Talk 4 (Lightning Talk): Ukasyah Qodratillah on Designing for the Bottom Half of Indonesia’s Pyramid
The lighting talks are short, so I’ll summarise them more succiently.
Main takeaway: Designing new features for the bottom half of Indonesia’s population, such as the street vendors, is difficult because they will simply stop using the app when faced with unfamiliar things (e.g. tapping on a toggle button) out of fear of it breaking something they can’t fix (e.g. the phone, their cell provider, etc).
Thoughts: What struck me was that the circumstances and concerns of lower income Indonesians are very similar to that of lower income Singaporeans and Americans, as described in Teo You Yenn’s book, Inequality, and Lisa Servon’s book on the Unbanking of America. The reliance on social circles, and the inability to gain cost savings by purchasing things in bulk due to uncertainty in income are common themes. Perhaps these principles apply internationally to lower income population as well.
Talk 5 (Lightning Talk): Wenshu Kwek on Continuous Design
Main takeaway: Designers should find a balance between continuous delivery (delivery design that designers cringe at) and optimizing design (delivering too late and not being able to get user feedback at critical moments).
Talk 6 (Lightning Talk): Grace Su on Mapping the Value Chain of Sesame Farmers in Rural Myanmar
Main takeaway: Grace has mapped the key decisions that sesame farmers need to make throughout the value chain of sesame seed production in Myanmar. This has helped her company target one specific decision point to develop a product for. The product, soil testing as a service, aims to give sesame farmers the right information at the right time, for them to make a wise decision in seeding their crops, hence reducing their economic risk.
Talk 7: Mitushi Jain on Designing for the Invisible
- Invisible design has become so much of a norm that people do not notice it anymore. (e.g. stepping out of a cab and expecting the payment will be made automatically, “Alexa, play my favorite music”, smart traffic lights adapting its signals to actual traffic on the roads.)
- However, invisible design does create a visible impact in terms of changing people’s behaviour, and the impact can be measured to show the effectiveness of the design.
- Design for the intersection of the different user’s needs, so that everyone benefits, and make it as seamless as possible.
Thoughts: I like the examples from Visa that Mitushi shared, and I wonder if designing for the invisible means designing new norms in ecosystems as well. I feel that it ties in very well with Tatiana’s talk about how designing tech is akin to designing how future societies should function.
Perhaps as designers we should pay more attention to the social norms and cultures we are creating as part of the products we design, and also celebrate when we’ve moved society into a more preferable future.
P.s. Mitushi gave a talk of the same name at the UXSEA 2018 conference, with more focus on Visa’s design process (see sketchnote).
Talk 8: Yvonne Tse on Back to Reality
- V.R. is a possible workaround to prototype environments that have restricted entry. Yvonne did low-fi prototypes in unity and Google sketchup, and commissioned a firm to help with hi-fi prototypes.
- Be aware that because VR makes a situation look and feel very real, people might be emotionally effected, so take care that you keep your interviewees physically, psychologically, and emotionally safe. An interviewee was extremely stressed out because she heavily disliked travelling and the VR experience made her react as if she was standing in the real location.
- On the other hand, most people still expect any VR experience to be a game, so they might ask them “Did I win?” and get competitive about completing user tasks once they put on the headset.
Thoughts: I thought this was the most interesting talk, full of useful titbits for if you ever want to try VR as a prototyping tool for spatial service design. I chatted with a UX designer for the Wildlife Reserves Singapore (Zoo, Night Safari, etc) during the breakout session who was inspired to try out the techniques to improve signage for the two new sections the team is planning for the WRS, so I think it has plenty of potential.
Talk 9: Anshumani Rudra on 5 Lessons in Scale, Engagement, and User Delight in India
- Lessons from Practo: Design languages are not universal. For example, highly educated doctors weren’t able to recognise the edit icon in an app, and dropped off on task completion until the text “click here to edit your education” was used instead. On the other hand, non-digital natives (e.g. Anshumani’s mom) might become power users of apps they are motivated to use often, leading them to teach digital natives special interactions in common apps. (“You swipe right to reply to whatsapp!”)
- Lessons from CueMath: Designers should aim to deliver on what people need and do (“I want my kids to score well on Math”), but also aim to design for their aspirations and what they say (“I want my kids to like Math”). Otherwise, your competitor will take up the challenge.
- Lessons from Hotstar: Close the loop on your product’s experience to keep them in app. Allowing users to interact socially and comment on cricket matches within Hotstar, a live cricket streaming match, stopped them from leaving the app to comment on social media platforms like Fb and Twitter.
Thoughts: I enjoyed Anshumani’s stories about his mother’s adoption of technology, and he made some good points, but I really just wanted to hear more about how and why he transitioned from being an engineer, to a best selling children’s book writer, to a game designer, and then a product manager. Maybe next time?
Talk 10: Sebastian Mueller on Scaling the Great Wall
- Chinese apps look cluttered, but they are more user friendly to the Chinese population, because the Chinese language is not search friendly. Do not make your apps minimalist if you want it to survive in China — let your users tap or speak to find something, and use typing as a last resort.
- Prioritise human connection — do not replace your human call centers or customer service replies with bots, because you will lose the trust of Chinese consumers. (e.g. In taobao, customers tend to chat with sellers about product details through Ali wang wang before purchase, so that they can trust the transaction.)
- China apps are coming out of China, and soon their apps and interactions will set the norms for interacting with technology internationally.
Thoughts: It’s weird hearing a German guy talk about Chinese norms, and I’m starting to realise that Singaporean Chinese culture is similar but not quite the same as China Chinese culture.
As a UX designer, I’ve been asked to help with localising English apps into Chinese apps, and I’ve always said that I don’t have enough context to help effectively. Chinese norms in China, HongKong, and Taiwan differ, and I’m an expert in none of these regions. So please don’t ask your Singaporean Chinese UX designer to work on a China Chinese app unless they have extensive experience in that region.
Another thing is that the Chinese user’s preference to chat with the seller when shopping online reminds me of how I shop on Carousell, so that was rather relatable. There’s a distinct difference between my shopping habits on Carousell v.s. on Amazon or other trusted retailers, because if I make a mistake, I might not get my money back — and I’ve been scammed on Carousell before. Perhaps its the same attitude Chinese users take to shopping online.
Talk 11: Alysha Naples on Beyond the Screen
- Design intentionally for connection, belonging, and love, which are basic human needs, and take ownership to make things right when design results in horrible unintended consequences. E.g. The company that created the video game Quiver stopped work for a week to brainstorm and push a solution when a user complained of being helpless as her avatar was suddenly targetted and groped when the other players found out she was female in real life.
- Data and algorithms cannot replace facts and ethics in technology. By allowing algorithms to decide what news get written, promoted, and read based on those that attract the most views is detrimental to human society. Humans are still needed to fact check, decide what news is important, and report ethically on contentious issues.
- Getting a diverse panel to assess the pros and cons of new technology “does not mean put a woman in there and make sure there are different races.” Include people with diverse experiences — mothers, grandfathers, people with low income, manual labourers who lost their job to automation, and ask them, how do you think this technology might be used against you in the future?
Thoughts: I liked hearing Alysha’s experience of the video game Journey, and I wanted to tell her that the reason thatgamecompany had the intention to foster friendship for Journey, is because the company itself was built with the goal of developing games to encourage flow and positive experiences.
The founder was inspired by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s iconic book on Flow, and I’ve played their first two games, Flow and Flower, and I enjoy them immensely. Before I was a UX designer, I worked in the games industry, and I left the video games industry because there weren’t enough profitable companies doing games that inspire people to be their best selves. (Gamification does not count!)
Panel Takeaways, moderated by Shive Viswanathan, DesignUp Advisor
Katja Forbes, Managing Director of designit:
“In the end, did you design what matters, and did you meet your numbers?”
“What is value? Is it counted in dollars? Societal impact? Relevance? New ways of doing things? Design’s value is not easy to tabulate in dollars, but will it enable an organisation to stay relevant in 5 years?”
“Design is art that has been commissioned, and people are responsible for capabilities. Is it repeatable and easy to use? People want a frictionless experience, not moments of delight. Can people do it, do it easily, feel good about it, is it recognisable, and easy to recall?”
“It will be great if companies can look at return to society and return to the environment, and not just return to investment.”
Jacks Yeo, Deputy Executive Director DesignSingapore Council:
“Companies undervalue design, and we need to help companies understand the value of design more.”
“Small businesses value speed and efficiency over creativity.”
“Companies should not do blind adoption of tech — this has led to a percentage of vendors returning POS systems that they’ve failed to integrate into their business, because they didn’t consider if their workers are able to use it.”
Maish Nichani, Founder and Principal of PebbleRoad:
“I want to do stuff that leads to outcomes, anything else is digital lipstick. The full joy of designing something comes from solving for outcomes.”
“Designers should get involved in product thinking, as that is more important than design thinking. Keep an eye on your customer acquisition and retention.”
“You need design systems only because of scale.”
“As a designer, you start with trade craft — pixel pushing. Move on to Stage craft — performing, talking to other people. Then end at State craft — directing and leading the way.”
Kiat Lim, Principal Consultant at KIAT.SG:
“Clients come with a mindset that they are buying a thing — they provide a problem and then also the solution in their RFP. And I always wonder, aren’t you hiring us to come up with the solution?
“At least now I see some clients coming in with a problem, asking us to design an experience, and then request for us to maintain the lifecycle of the project.”
Some parting questions:
- Are we always limited by existing datasets to train A.I.? Is it possible to train A.I. to be more “forward thinking” and not make decisions based on or limited to existing data and norms? Have more of a personality or opinion?
2. Do less evil and more good seems to be the theme of the conference, but how do you define positive impact? Are there pre-existing definitions out there?
Comment if I’ve gotten anything wrong, missed out anything important, or just want to share some thoughts on the conference!