It was a frigid day in February when a small group of Devbridge Product Designers ventured to Seattle, WA for Interaction 19, a conference where designers from around the world assembled to discuss the current and future state of interaction design. When 1,500+ designers gather together, brilliance is bound to ensue. The theme of the conference was “Designing in the Wild” (which speaks to the nature of design in the software industry). For three days, we divided and conquered inspiring keynotes, engaging breakout sessions, networking events with presenters and other attendees. We shared a single purpose—learn as much as possible.
The products we build at Devbridge are out in the world, in the hands of thousands of people who use it in a multitude of ways. The tools and methods are ever-changing. Staying relevant requires awareness, tenacity, and teamwork. As new technology is developed and introduced, it is the designer’s role to bring humanity to the product to solve real problems, for real people.
Here's what we learned.
Don’t overcomplicate writing for design.
The art of writing is complex. Therefore, we need a simple process that does not inhibit the outcome. In his talk, Scott Kubie untangled how to write for design. He noted a handful of actionable steps to help write in a clear, succinct manner such as:
Define a workflow. Planning and research have to happen. We know this...but working things out and sticking to your workflow will get the best results
Find the ideal space. Where you write will dictate how you write...so find somewhere that works for you.
Write quickly. Try to get content down in one sitting. This will help with flow, language, and which perspective you are trying to capture.
Less is more. Edit. Edit. Edit.
“Scott gave me the insight I needed to really put pride in a process and educate clients that content needs time and space to breath. I like words and I want to continue discovering the power of them. Now, I have to make a plan”.
– Alistair Dance, Lead Product Designer
Design beyond the screen
Many, if not most, of the conference attendees, were screen designers. This was true of my colleagues and me, and I filtered each speaker's content through my software design perspective. One talk which broke this passive bias was Simone Tertoolen’s talk on smart handbags, titled “Designing for People on the Move”. Tertoolen identified a common problem: many handbags lack compartments and are difficult to simultaneously wear and look through. Through design thinking, she emerged with a new kind of wearable—a smart handbag with an interior light, a strap that made holding and searching through the bag easily, and naturally, charging ports for smart devices.
“This reminds us that, while Devbridge specializes in custom software, the design process is not limited to that area. Design is not a proverbial coat of paint on an interface, but it is, in fact, a process that can be scaled to solve all kinds of problems. Products (physical and digital), services, systems, and processes all have the potential to be improved through design thinking”.
– Amy Langa, Product Designer
Storytelling within the product
While I have read numerous articles about how various hormones are releasing during exercise, eating, sex, and even when someone likes your latest Instagram post, Jon Kolko’s talk brought the impact of hormone release from storytelling to life for me. In his presentation, Jon provided insights on how to gain the ability to form and present a vision of the future to drive product and service strategy through storytelling. Many successful products have a great backstory. This works especially well for B2C products where users make a purchasing decision based on emotion.
“At Devbridge, we build digital products to improve businesses. I wonder, is there a place for a good story within a business tool? Will it make the user’s experience better or productive? I’ve noticed that some products already use visual elements for fun. There’s the little monster on Asana, encouraging messages on FreshBooks, and the /Shrug on Slack gamify the product to give it personality. While these elements don’t tell a full story, they do provide a foundation for your brain to make up its own story. I am now looking for data-based insights to see what value playful elements generate so that I can make case to incorporate more personality into the ServiceBridge app roadmap. ”
– Adomas Tautkus, UX Designer
Empathy is not enough
A phrase commonly used in our industry is to “develop empathy for the user.” In his keynote, Don Norman challenged the idea of relying on empathy and spoke about the importance of actively engaging the communities we are designing for into the building process. Norman shared, “One of the greatest skills of a designer is not knowing anything...about the domain.” Liz Jackson delivered a similar message noting that while building empathy may help us understand the feelings of others, it also prescribes emotions to a group of people which may be inaccurate. She shared, “We don’t need your empathy. We need your solidarity.”
“Needless to say—empathy is hard. Next time you are gearing up for a new initiative think about how to best leverage the user community in the process. All people are inherently creative and it is the designer’s responsibility to facilitate and mentor community creativity. Because we know nothing, we need to be good at bringing people together. What will your research and testing strategy look like? Test prototypes often, build in regular touch points with the community and look for opportunities to mentor the community by teaching human-centered design.”
– Eric Strubinger, Senior Product Designer
As 2019 rolls ahead and the industry continues to buzz about shiny new technological developments, such as AI and blockchain, it is the designer’s role to continue to be an advocate for people. It's not just about building cool tech. It's about finding creative ways to create products that deliver impact and connect with users. We need to frame problems, understand the context, and create solutions that are fair, honest, and reliable. We look forward to sharing what we learned with our teams and applying fresh ideas to our products.