Field notes from a design team at Adobe MAX 2017
I’m encouraged by the trend of conferences and groups for women in technology. It’s fantastic that women are starting to come together to find their voice and grow as professionals in a male-dominated industry. However, as a creative woman in design at a large technology company, I feel something is missing; where are the groups to support women in creative positions and design leadership?
As a member of a women in design group at Microsoft, we addressed that gap last week in Las Vegas. We decided we didn’t need to go to a conference focused on women, but that we could go to a creativity conference together; and that we would lean on and learn from one another during the experience. We all expected lots of of tech, tools, and processes, which Adobe MAX certainly delivered. But what really excited us were the passionate and talented people we encountered.
Here are 5 inspiring things we discovered
The theme that resonated most with me was empathy; for our customers, for the teams we manage, and for all people. We are all different, and differences should be celebrated. As designers, we have a role to play in making sure the products and services that we shape are flexible enough to help all people, not just a few select groups.
Tina Roth Eisenberg, founder of Creative Mornings, spoke about the importance of fun in the work place, but also the importance of empathy and understanding for the situations those you work with. She said that “trust breeds magic,” and that “business relationships are like real relationships.” Amazing things happen when team members trust and respect each other and enjoy working together. Work (and life) shouldn’t be all about personal gains and personal winnings; create an environment where people feel heard, safe, and respected and the team will flourish. Kindness + Empathy = Loyalty.
Albert Shum, Corporate Vice President of Design at Microsoft, spoke of radical empathy, and how important it is to advocate for human interests in this new era of of artificial intelligence. How do we keep people, rather than tech, at the heart of things, and how do creators of AI embrace inclusivity and represent a diversity of perspectives? The data used to train machine learning models needs to represent the diversity of the customer base, and designers of AI have a role to play to be empathetic and ensure no one is excluded.
The most inspiring part of Adobe Max was seeing the creative community come together not just to make products and marketing materials that look amazing, but to truly change the world through empathizing with others different from ourselves and empowering them to be co-creators. We have a role as designers to practice empathy, and to shape the future we want.
“When you humanize a culture or an issue, people are very capable of getting it” — Annie Griffiths
Adobe MAX was a culture shock. I was expecting “Hello, I am Adobe and this is how you use a brush”, but instead I got an amazing experience listening to creatives speak about life and art as a single entity. Design should not just be about grids, rules and check-lists but it should feel free and come from the heart. When design can pull at heart strings, then you know it’s something special.
Two speakers who totally rocked this message were: Annie Griffiths, a photojournalist, who uses her photography to tell stories on empowering women and children in developing countries. It is through her photos she gives them a voice. The second was graphic designer: Aaron Draplin, who gave a great talk about how to be human in this industry, and that design should not be a process but be about life experiences. It is so easy to get comfortable and blend into our environment, but our quirkiness and personal style are what sets us apart from each other and this is what our work should reflect!
I walked away from Adobe MAX thinking, never stop creating art for yourself and try to bring a touch of you into all your designs at work. In other words, don’t stop being you!
- Hui Lui
I was attracted by 3 extraordinary speakers. Jonathan Adler talked of leaving his day job to pursue pottery, freeing him to begin each day attempting to realize his overnight vision at the potter’s wheel. Aaron Draplin relayed that he designed his own workspace. He’s a visual designer that runs right through walls. Literally. And there was Emily Pilloton, an architect (and now teacher) who, when asked if she would design an addition to a school building replied- “Yes and…” then went on to develop Project H, a design/build program for students who proceeded to construct their own place of learning.
These speakers shared a passion which transcended their career into every aspect of their lives. I believe their passion fueled their bravery, their willingness to get out of their comfort zones—to try something new.
One of my fears is that of being ordinary. : 0
By emulating these inspiring creators, I hope to be able to summon my own courage to attempt extraordinary things.
Amidst all the high-tech, automated, machine learning, and AI presentations, what I found to be the most inspiring was hearing about the truly human, tactile, intuitive, and emotional aspects of design.
Kelli Anderson is an incredible paper artist and designer. She reminds us that paper, like design, has the ability to demonstrate and show us things we otherwise could not see. Beginning as a flat sheet, once folded or curved, paper can occupy a myriad of 3-dimensional spaces. For example, twist a strip of paper into a Mobius strip. By physically experiencing this, we instantly “get it.” But take a look at the math behind a Mobius strip — it seems much more complex than simply twisting the paper. Similarly, design — by subtly (or dramatically) “twisting” and “bending” — can emulate a myriad of personalities. Design can create surprise and delight. It can bring to life emotions and tones. These things are harder to quantify, but make experiences memorable. As designers, sometimes we don’t always need to start out with the math and the data. It’s ok to invent, discover, and feel things out first.
Adam Morgan is a creative director at Adobe and spoke about the value of emotion and creativity in a world focused on data and rationalism. Is it important to connect to an audience on an emotional and visceral level? If people can comprehend and react to a straightforward and logical message, why get creative? Logic has been king recently: test, evaluate, use data, think rationally, emotion will cloud your decision making. But emotions make us human. Our conscious brain looks for patterns. When it senses a disruption, or anomaly, it perks up and pays attention. Then the chemicals [emotions] start firing, and a memory is made. How can we better connect with customers and initiate action? Create something unexpected and lock it in with a positive emotion and a stronger memory will be made. People will connect, react, and remember. Attention + emotion = action.
I came out of Adobe Max completely blown away by the creativity and marvelous software technology. But what it really reminded me of is that we are humans. We live in a tactile world with nuance. We have memory, reactions, and intuition. Data, information, numbers, and all the quantifiable things are important signifiers, but let’s not forget that logic needs emotion. And the squishier, experiential, and tactile feelings are what our senses consider memorable.
HEROES (ARE HUMAN)
Designers have superpowers to change minds and influence people…and you don’t have to wait for someone to ask you to do it— Bonnie Siegler
Adobe Max was the first conference I’ve ever attended and I came home after three days feeling inspired, rejuvenated, and in reference to our CEO’s newest book, refreshed. From the 72 hours spent in Vegas — which breaks my ultimate life-rule of never spending more than 48 hours in the Sin City — the talks that resonated with me the most were the speakers who opened up about their personal experiences in design.
Mina Markham, the first engineer on Hillary’s design team, talked through her experience from day one to the final election. Final results aside, she talked through her long journey of building a pattern library famously coined “Pantsuit Nation” which by its final development led to the beautifully designed and coded website, Hillary.com. Her experience showed courage and despite the blood, sweat, and tears along with unsolicited personal attacks on social media on her color, gender, and support for Hillary Clinton — she steadfastly stated that it was worth it, one hundred percent. As a creator, I oftentimes find myself facing a sea of challenges but Mina Markham’s story taught me that the hard work put into ensuring a genuine and thoughtful experience is worth all the punches.
The genuine failures, successes, and navigation through moments of ambiguity were all places I’ve been — and these hard earned insights inspired me to reflect and internalize the lessons from those who also create. Adobe Max set up a platform not only to excite us with their new tools and innovation — but also a way to hear from our heroes in the industry, making them more accessible, relatable, and human.
As a woman in tech it’s interesting to see that all the things that inspired us were different aspects of humanity. As a woman in design it reaffirms my belief in human-centered design. And as a member of our women in design group, I gained new appreciation that we are all unique — with diverse backgrounds, personality types, and passions. We are also at various stages in our lives and careers—with different goals and approaches. I believe this diversity can only make our design teams stronger. — C.K.