Over the weekend, I attended UX Thailand in Bangkok. The workshops were sold out early, and I could only get a ticket for the conference day. The lineup and content were both stellar, and I came away inspired and also a little enlightened. I took notes and thought I would share some of them.
Focus on outcomes, not output
Melissa Perri, the author of “Escaping the build trap” and CEO of Produx Labs, spoke passionately and entertainingly (great GIFs) about the importance of good product management and strategy. Escaping the build trap where teams are stuck in the endless loop of building features requires an organisation to focus on the outcomes rather than the outputs, and be able to execute the right processes at the right time to this effect.
A fair amount of agile fatigue has been present in our industry, and a jab at the term (the first in several throughout the day) elicited knowing laughs. Perri reminded us that the highest priority for agile is to “satisfy the customer through early and continuous delivery of valuable software”, and that it was never justabout building and shipping more.
Unfortunately, agile has often been interpreted as a way to deliver more faster without giving much consideration to how much of these outputs actually have a truly positive impact on customer outcomes. Instead, agile is supposed to give organisation agility to experiment, respond, and use those learnings to iterate better and build more useful features. Teams need to be in a constant cycle of productive discovery and valuable delivery. More features != better product.
What is the problem to solve, and what value to the customer would it deliver? Clarity in product strategy provides teams with goals and guardrails. From personal experience, a new feature can always be reverse-explained to fit a customer problem — in this case, having a clear strategic intent that aligns with the overall product vision goes a long way to reduce build/feature/scope creep.
On being a designer
Several speakers spoke about designers. How everyone can be one, and how we are all different and have different skills and proclivities.
On the first point, I have a couple of thoughts. One is of a certain dread, though not for reasons you may assume. Everyone can be a designer, I am all for that; I have worked with people from different business functions who have a natural instinct about what works and what doesn’t, and who came up with great ideas when the designers had drawn a blank. It is infinitely a better world when everyone’s invested in the long term outcome.
What I do slightly worry about is that in a world where everyone is a designer, that the current designers would again be asked only to deliver or focus on the deliverables (nothing wrong with craft; if anything, I admire designers who can dedicate themselves wholly to a discipline. It’s just that my pigeonhole is just not there).
I think that serves as a great reminder for designers to not rest on our laurels, and it is imperative to constantly evaluate the contributions and value we bring.
Designers change the landscape changes designers
Dana Chisnell gave an enlightening and sobering talk about how democracy is a design problem (not so coincidentally, this was also the name of her talk). When represented as customer journeys, the steps and processes that a privileged voter and a burdened voter have to take before they can legally vote become discernible problems that design can help to solve or alleviate! Design in democracy is more than just a ballot form, which also needs to be redesigned, really.
Jared Spool gave the closing keynote address, “The Evolution of a New UX Design Resolution”, where he spoke eloquently about what’s next, how to think beyond the current definitions of design, and how designers can think about their next career step.
Design is the rendering of intent.
At each level of resolution, the intentions change.
The way we render those intentions change.
That design is the rendering of intent doesn’t change.
- Jared Spool
Someone wants to log in to a service — the intent rendered is a login form, with fields for an username and a password and also a button to submit that information. That resolution is a screen. Zoom out a little further, and the resolution moves up a level to application — how does the user navigate between different screens, and how do they access information and features?
Zoom out more, and we are now at the organisation level. We design experiences and services, and imagine and execute digital and offline interactions between the user and the organisation.
So, what’s next? Eco-system design, where design takes place across organisations. To tackle these new challenges, we need pioneers to break new ground, settlers to spearhead new techniques, and planners to accelerate and scale our impact.
The role of the designer is changing, and we find ourselves in between resolutions. I find myself in this position — sometimes, I get frustrated when us designers are left out of bigger problems when I feel that we have much more to contribute; sometimes, I feel out of my depth.
To walk this talk and move to the next resolution, we designers have to equip ourselves with new skills and knowledge to employ new tools and techniques, and to ultimately deliver new and more impactful value.
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Also! New Zealander designer/research Yvonne Tse spoke about using VR in user research for a project with Christchurch International Airport. I really enjoyed learning about how her team conducted the research. Apart from being able to simulate spaces, VR afforded flexibility to switch structures, objects, and interactions when the situation calls for it.
However, Tse also rightfully pointed out challenges: realism (how do you simulate other senses, or reenact a chaotic scene?), novelty (participants had little experience with VR which made for a less-than-ideal learning curve, and some saw it as a game to win), physiological reactions 🤢, and psychological concerns (reality distortion is after all, distortion).
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Thanks, UXTH for organising (nice swag, too!) and all the speakers for sharing!