The 7 best design talks of WebExpo 2016

A two days full of great talks about design, development and business. That’s how I could introduce the 9th year of WebExpo 2016 conference, that was held two weeks ago downtown of Prague in Czech Republic (September 23rd — 24th 2016). Many inspirational speakers came from all over the world to the heart of Europe to share their experience with 2.000 visitors.

The program was super rich, supported by 70 speakers talking mostly in English. Among all speakers you could find leading professionals like Peter Morville and many others from InVision, Slack, Google, IBM, Monotype, Intercom, Adobe, etc.

Alright, let’s get down to business. I would like to share with you my selection of the best (design) talks I visited, followed by my comments and interesting points I learned during those two intensive days…

  1. Peter Morville — The Architecture of Understanding
  2. Robert Kerr — Telling Tales: using narrative techniques to bring UX presentations to life
  3. Kevin Cheng — How to Storyboard Product Ideas
  4. Dana Cohen Baron — Ready. Set. Sprint!
  5. Benjamin Keyser — From Pages to Threads: Designing the future of Messaging
  6. Tom Giannattasio — UI in Motion: Connecting the Dots
  7. Tereza Kosnarova — How to design meaningful things

1) The Architecture of Understanding

Peter Morville, President at Semantic Studios

Peter organized his talk to 5 chapters — Nature, Categories, Connections, Culture and Limits, where he explained how everything is interconnected from code to culture, as he also shares in his new book — Intertwingled 1. Peter told stories, based on his work and life experiences, so it made the talk more practical and catchy.

I would like to highlight one thought from a chapter called Culture, since the talk was broader in topics.

Peter emphasized the importance of information architecture and encouraged us to go even deeper — understanding people and their culture especially before you move forward making some changes. You need to dig into the problem, not just the superficial level (e.g. visible organizational structure, processes, strategies, goals, etc.), but also going into the level of the underlying assumptions (e.g. unconscious, things taken for granted beliefs, perceptions, thoughts, etc.).

Peter described it well on an example, based on the Double Loop Learning theory, saying that people are fairly good in changing their actions and behaviors based on the results or feedback, however they are not as good in changing their beliefs.

Some inspiration for several interesting books can be found watching the talk.

I really liked this wonderful quote that illustrates the ideal synthesis of form and function, that we all desire to achieve in our every day designs.

“No house should ever be on a hill or on anything. It should be of the hill. Belonging to it.” — Frank Lloyd Wright

I found the talk inspirational and bit philosophical, so it takes some time to absorb all thoughts and to figure out how to apply them in my daily work/life. I liked Peter’s way how he looks at things from multiple perspectives, as it provides you different lenses that allows to see the real problem. Thanks to that, you can do right design decisions.

2) Telling Tales: using narrative techniques to bring UX presentations to life

Robert Kerr, User Experience Designer at IBM

As a true story teller, Robert approached to his talk like it was a story. In a very catchy speech, Robert described how using narrative techniques can be beneficial also in design (not only to create movies).

I learned about so-called Beat Sheet, created by an American screenwriter Blake Snyder, that helps to break down your story into bite-size, manageable sections, each with a specific goal.

Rob also mentioned an IBM’s project — Find the story, which may help you with first steps finding and telling the story.

Finding stories helps to understand the user and it facilitates transmitting the message in an engaging way, so you can present UX concepts that are emotive, watchable and memorable.

3) How to Storyboard Product Ideas

Kevin Cheng, Design and Product Executive at kevnull

Kevin kicked off the second day of WebExpo with a great talk about storyboarding. In my opinion, it was very well complementing the Friday talk about telling tales in UX presentations held by Robert Kerr — by finding, capturing and communicating users’ problems.

Kevin is using comics to communicate complex ideas and to make storyboards more understandable. Storyboard helps to communicate the idea across teams and stakeholders to stay on the same page.

“Comics are Trojan horses for information.” — Kevin Cheng

Comic can express various emotions to deliver the right message. The advantage is an easy and quick understanding, without reading long text descriptions. Basically you absorb the message without much realizing that you put effort in learning something.

Kevin encouraged everyone present that anybody can draw, without hiring an illustrator for that. You don’t need any extra artistic talent to do some sketches during your lunch time. However, for those that are still not confident drawing, he reminded that there are tools out there and everybody should try it!

4) Ready. Set. Sprint!

Dana Cohen Baron, Strategic UX Designer at Google Campus

Dana talked about her experience with Design Sprint method, explaining how important is to validate your assumptions and ideas with the right target group. Design Sprint method was developed by Google, and it helps answering critical business questions in just a few days.

To prepare your Design Sprint, you will need the following ingredients that Dana introduced as “The Secret Sauce”:

  1. Momentum
    Allow 2–5 days to gather a fully focused group.
  2. 360 View
    The key stakeholders work together to brainstorm, prototype and validate possible solutions with real users.
  3. Facilitation
    The sprint master helps to run the workshop smoothly and makes sure rules are being followed.
  4. Structure
    All members work intensively under a very tight schedule. Everybody is focused and defined objectives are delivered on time at the end of the sprint.

Dana highly recommends to invite to the workshop, even a stakeholder that you might know that is difficult to deal with. The trick is, that defined rules and the facilitator will help to handle that person. And even if the workshop might get more difficult, Dana says that it worths it, because the whole project afterwards would go smoother, since all topics are communicated clearly enough within the whole group at the early stage.

Design Sprint is a very collaborative method, where the main advantage is that all members are synced together thanks to a very intensive team work. This method can save a lot of time and money, evaluating concepts early at the beginning with the right people to eliminate wrong assumptions.

5) From Pages to Threads: Designing the future of Messaging

Benjamin Keyser, Product Design Director at Intercom

Benjamin shared in the talk his vision, saying how message threads will replace the not-so-interactive web for everything we do from saying hello to your friend to finding and buying a house. He mentioned that this shift is already happening, demonstrating an example of WeChat, a cross-platform instant messaging service in Asia, doing 2 times more transactions than PayPal, having more than 700 million users. Yes, WeChat is used already for more than just messaging — for instance you may send money to your friend within a conversation, order goods or just pay bills.

Benjamin also highlighted, how important for people is their focus and context they are in. It is crucial to understand how people manage their time, attention, and decision making, instead of forcing them to have individual apps for every single task.

“People need focus and context” — Benjamin Keyser

Another awesome concept is illustrating the usage of message threads, conversational UIs, bots and artificial intelligence that may play a big role in messaging design and commerce in future — animation courtesy of Isil Uzum.

6) UI in Motion: Connecting the Dots

Tom Giannattasio, Director of Product at InVision

Tom uncovered how animation in design can be meaningful and how it can help. Animation is a great thing to illustrate an interaction, to help users understanding the context or just to aid telling a story — but we shouldn’t misuse it, since it can break the experience.

“Animate responsibly” — Tom Giannattasio

It was a very creative talk, full of real and practical examples, representing UI motion design patterns.

7) How to design meaningful things

Tereza Kosnarova, Head of Research & Design at Proof & Reason

Tereza talked about basic principles of Customer Journey Mapping and shared her experience with this technique, that helps her to design meaningful products.

During research, Tereza observes what clients (or users) are doing, thinking, feeling and experiencing. This helps her to understand users in order to deliver great experiences.

If you want to solve a certain problem, you need to prepare that it will take time and money — not only doing research, interviews and workshops, but mainly executing those changes across the organization to take the effect.

Customer Journey Map needs to be populated only with data from a real research, otherwise it is meaningless.

Tereza recommends to maintain the map with post-its on a wall, so it is accessible for anybody in the team, anytime. The map is meant to be a living map — to be updated often, as you progress with ongoing research and changes.

There are also on-line collaboration tools to help you manage your Customer Journey Maps — like this one we are designing at Quadient (formerly GMC Software)

The WebExpo 2016 was well done. All design talks I visited I found inspirational, giving new perspectives and practical — with examples and less theory. In some cases you could also find yourself thinking — Hey, that’s pretty obvious! — however I believe it worths refreshing even basic principles from time to time, because it helps you to realize that you know it.

Definitely, there were more interesting talks than I could cover in this review and since I still have not learned how to be on multiple places at the same time, so I had to prioritize. For those that are interested seeing videos of those talks — all of them were recorded and are available for free — enjoy!

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