How we applied the Antifragility Principle to Experience Design.
Being an interaction designer, this is my first antifragile design experience.
Like most designers, I usually fall in love with the project I am working on (only the best ones, of course) and I struggle to accept unexpected criticism.
I would like to talk about an experience that led me to challenge these beliefs. I started to challenge my own design choices and most of the time innovative and anti-fragile ideas came out of it.
But what is the Antifragility Principle?
It is applicable to any context: a forest, a company, an object, a program, an individual, a planet, anything that can change, adapt and improve thanks to a traumatic event. It indicates the attitude of some systems to change and improve when facing: stimuli, stressors, volatility, disorders. As described by Nassim Nicholas Taleb in his book Antifragile.
“Antifragility is the true opposite of the concept of fragility. It denotes the characteristic of a system to change and improve when facing an external stressor in order not to protect itself but to adapt. An antifragile system embraces the unexpected and the uncertain, it positively assumes the risk.”
To understand the concept of antifragility in its entirety it is necessary to define its direct opposite: fragility. A fragile system is perpetually exposed to events that can compromise it and destroy it.
But what can we do to protect this system?
It is necessary to apply measures to strengthen its resolve in order to implement the concept of resilience and raise the level of failure of the system itself. However, stronger does not mean antifragile.
An antifragile system undergoes the traumatic event, makes it its own and uses it to evolve.
How the pandemic made our project antifragile.
Last March, more precisely on Monday the 9th, instead of the usual team meeting about “the Antifragile Project” (we will call it like that because we cannot reveal its name just yet) we had our first video call with the client.
For the first time, after months of work, we did not meet our client in the office like we would usually have done, we didn’t book a meeting room or chat over a coffee before discussing the project.
We clicked on the “Join the meeting” button directly from our home. We had reduced most of the human interactions that we had become accustomed to, weird right?
Well after all, a few days ago in Italy the pandemic alert from SARS COV-19 was triggered, a major event that has locked the entire nation in its apartments.
At the time we were working on the ancestor of “the Antifragile Project”, of which we were very proud, but due to this global crisis we felt that our design priorities had changed. We wanted to exploit the historical moment as a validator of the idea itself, and this was exactly the case.
We used the chaotic moment as a reason for evolution.
In only a few weeks we revolutionized the concept, redefined the timeline and expanded the project team. We transformed our communicative urgency of the moment into an objective to be achieved and we used the existing social transformation as the object of our study. In fact, Taleb writes in his book that
“The excess energy that arises from the hyper-reaction when facing difficulties is what allows us to innovate”.
After 19 meetings, a total of 47,5 hours of political, social and scientific discussion with our client, we reached a saturation point last June. Date on which we decided to pause the project for a predefined period: two months.
We were convinced that the perception of space and time was relevant to the historical moment and social context, so we wanted to test the credibility of the project by pausing it and taking it back in hand with new awareness two months later.
Two months later we set up a meeting called “the State of the art of the Antifragile Project”. Meeting in which we reviewed the material produced up to that point (concept, user flow, wireframes, brand identity and manifesto). It was one of the most exciting meetings of my career so far, we were all collectively satisfied in that meeting and even more convinced that the project would find fertile ground.
That lineup after months, very risky at an economic and professional level, has made us question the entity itself of the antifragilé project. The internal test had successfully exceeded all expectations, we were all motivated to proceed and arrive at an MVP prototype to be tested.
After a few weeks we had a prototype ready to be tested. And we did it.
The resilient resists shocks and stays the same, the antifragile gets better.
Now I’m writing this article as I apply small changes to the experience and user interface to “the Antifragilé Project”, the remote testing has been a success and an explosion of insights.
What have we learned from this experience? Well, surely to listen to both ourselves and the surrounding environment. We learned to question everything, our assumptions, our experiences, our choices, right from the most embryonic stages of the project.
Today we are convinced that a change of course generates innovation and true innovation is not created in situations of ease and safety but in a situation of chaos.
Thanks for reading ❤