Last week, Edinburgh was the host to DIBI: Design It; Build It a two day UX Designer and Web Developer conference with speakers hailing from the likes of BuzzFeed, Victoria & Albert Museum, BBC, and Facebook - to name just a few! The day was jam-packed with high quality talks, the audience was engaged and minds were buzzing. Incase you missed it - here are some of the key takeaways covered on day one:
Culture, the Product.
Cat Watkins merrily kicked-off the session with life lessons and strategies to help build design-driven organisations - each of his points perfectly capture in GIF format - but one would expect nothing less from BuzzFeed's Design VP. Pulling from his impressive and varied career path, (Formspring, Zoosk, Etsy, Amazon and BuzzFeed), Cat covered topics ranging from product team makeup, mentorship, ethically dubious startups and much more. But within the torrent of wisdom he unleashed upon us that morning, one main idea really resonated:
“Building a great company culture is as hard as designing a great product - this s*** is hard and the wins are smaller than expected.”
You could actually hear the shift in thinking throughout the room. For my part, it suddenly made an intricate conundrum turn into a wealth of possibilities. Indeed, when tackling a complex product or service, designers have a variety of tools and techniques to help articulate the why of what they are building. Cat's novel idea is to apply that same design thinking to something as intangible as company culture. Somehow it makes complete sense. I myself can’t wait to explore what a press release of our company culture would look like or what our "MVC" would be!
Performance - The unsung Hero of great experiences.
“Performance is a design feature not just a technical constraint, sites and apps that load fast build trust and are memorable” says Senior Product Designer at Vox Media Yesenia Perez-Cruz.
Using what she calls a Performance Budget (illustrated above), Yesenia is able to have meaningful discussions with stakeholders when making design decisions and prioritising features that stick within the load time budget and thus don't compromise the experience.
She invited us to think more about our stylistic choices when designing an online experience. Web fonts, for example, cost page load time. Therefore, weighing your font pairings and using that metric as a design constraint will result in more efficient web pages and better experiences.
“Don’t discount system fonts for body text, as that frees you to spend more of your performance budget on a unique web font for headlines.”
Much like the topic of her talk “Design Decisions through the lens of a performance budget”, Yesenia's points were hard hitting and directly applicable.
Designing for the Future
Kati Price, head of digital media at the Victoria & Albert Museum, made a point about the complexity of selling and delivering "Creativity" to clients who say they want "Innovation" but would like to bypass the ambiguity that comes part and parcel with it. Her advice to bring them round to experimentation and risk taking is to involve them in direct user feedback, as so often the main stakeholders are the most removed from it.
“I also like to remind them that everyone has to start somewhere”
Anna Debenham, prolific freelance front-end developer, challenged us to take our thinking of universal design to the next level.
"Thinking in phone - tablet - desktop doesn’t work anymore. 20% of 16-24 year olds access the web through games consoles, some even complete their student loans forms on them!"
Designing for web browsing on a game console, a printer or a fridge is weird, Anna concedes, however dismissing them completely would be short-sighted and regrettable.
"If we don’t start getting involved with these new forms of accessing the web now - we will miss out on the opportunity to shape their design conventions. In less than 2 years, these will be established as the norm and much harder to change."
Nick Finck echoed this sentiment later when referring to the “Technology Tsunami” we are experiencing and explained in a very Darwinistic fashion, that "we need to adapt fast or die".
The Social Responsibility of Design
Indeed much was said about the new interaction that emerging technologies afford, however one theme that came through several times was the social responsibility of designing and building within this context. Richard Adams, strategist and Consulting Manager at the Royal Shakespeare academy made a personal plea to the audience:
"We get hung up on tools & processes, the real question is why you are doing this in the first place - we need to take responsibility for what we are making."
Jack Sheppard, Design lead at Eighteen, gave one of those “you had to be there kind of talks”. In fact, his session could be the topic of an entire blog post but for the purpose at hand I’ll give you his main point:
"Empathy, understanding and sharing someone else’s feelings, is the ultimate power of a good designer. And as attractive as it seems to capitalise on this to get people to fill in forms or push them down funnels, there is an opportunity for designers to do better."
Closing Keynote speaker and Facebook Product Design manager Nick Fink, followed with:
"We are barely getting along with technology. As designer’s we have the fantastic opportunity to shape the future, we only need to make sure we are building one that operates for the better of humanity."
Nick then went on to introduce uxforchange.org, a platform designed to help designers mentor and be mentored. The aim being to collectively encourage responsibility and accountability for what we put into the world. As a confident and experienced speaker it was nevertheless very clear that this cause is very close to Nick's heart - Are you looking to mentor or be mentored? Get involved early here.
In closing I'd like to give the team at Dibi a hard hitting high-five for the fantastic job they did of pulling together a diverse set of speakers from a wide variety of backgrounds and experiences. This was a truly refreshing “tech” conference that did a great job of increasing our understanding, broadening our minds, reality checking our convictions and ultimately reminding us of why we got into this Digital Space in the first place.
“We work in the people industry, not the tech industry.” - Jack Sheppard