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A Review: Web Directions Design Leaders and Design 2018

Web Directions Design was held over three days in April 2018 with great presentations spanning a broad range of topics across the design industry. Some were focused on emerging technologies such as eye tracking, Blockchain and voice UI, others on the importance of research and ethics in design. 

by Richard Sison /

My Highlights

I attended both the Design Leaders workshop and Design conference. In total there were 24 presentations and the overall quality was fantastic! Though mentally exhausted by the end of it, I found myself engaged the whole time. Of all the presentations, there were three in particular which really resonated with me.

1. Designing Inclusive Products by Sara Wachter-Boettcher

Being responsible designers means knowing what the effects of our design decisions are, both positive and negative.

Sara challenged the famous Facebook quote "If you're not breaking things, you're probably not moving fast enough" with "If you never slow down, you never know what you're breaking".

The point she was making was that we need to be more mindful of the effects of our decisions and more aware of the assumptions that are guiding them.

To support this point she used the example of Facebook's "Year in Review" feature. In it she outlined that Facebook made a lot of assumptions about users when launching that feature:

  • Assumption 1: The user had a good year
  • Assumption 2: The user wants to re-live it
  • Assumption 3: The user wants to share it

Sara went on to explain the negative effects of an innocent mistake through a story about her friend, Eric Ries. A year before this feature had launched, Eric's daughter had passed away. As a means to update family and friends without having to call them individually, he posted photos and updates on Facebook. When this feature launched a year later, Eric was forced to relive all of those moments in an unintentionally, insensitive way.

We often optimise our products around who benefits and not enough about who can get harmed. As designers it's important to always consider the effects of our decisions and question the sources that are guiding them.

2. Using "Jobs To Be Done" Theory in Design by David Herse

The "Jobs To Be Done" (JTBD) methodology focuses on understanding a user's context, behaviours and motivations behind why they use a product and what they're trying to achieve.

Two interesting techniques that David demonstrated in his presentation were the Switch Timeline and the Forces Matrix.

A core area of "Jobs To Be Done" is to understand why a user hires a certain product or service. The Switch Timeline is a tool which helps visualise and understand the decision-making journey around why a customer has switched to (or from) their product.

The Forces Matrix adds more context to this journey by uncovering the forces which are affecting the decision. The forces being push, pull, anxieties and habits.

This presentation was a great introduction to how "Jobs To Be Done" can be introduced into the design process. I've been following the methodology for a few years now and incorporated some principles into my design approach. It's great to see that it's finally getting more popular locally.

3. Designing for Voice by Darla Sharp

When designing for voice interfaces it comes down to a lot of embracing, understanding and reacting to context.

Darla kicked off her presentation with a few examples explaining where a voice interface is more convenient and more efficient than interacting physically. To summarise, using a voice interface is helpful for simple tasks, with the caveat that you need to know what a simple task is (and you need to get the format right).

Requests like basic math ("What's 15 x 24?") or requesting a song to play on Apple Music are relatively simple because even if there's room for interpretation, there are enough data-points to at least make an educated guess.

When doing a more complex request, Darla explained that the "happy path" almost writes itself. It's with edge-cases when the language (or the request) is so open to interpretation that things become difficult. Asking Google for the weather in "Springfield" when there are over 30 across America and you're not near any of them makes for a difficult decision tree. And one scenario you want to avoid when designing a voice interface, is deferring a user to their phone to complete the task. Anyone that's tried Google or Apple's Siri, knows that this a frustrating experience.

This was a great presentation with an insightful demonstration of the challenges that need to be considered when designing for voice interfaces.

Wrapping it up

I had a great time attending the conferences and meeting some new design folk. I took away a lot from the three days especially when it comes to being more aware of the effects of the designs we produce.

A recurring theme through several presentations was the importance of ethics in the design industry. Whether it's from the design decisions we need to consider in our products or acknowledging the fact that everyone has biases, as designers we are in a unique position of power and we need to check ourselves and act responsibly.

I leave these conferences feeling inspired, knowing that even the largest teams go through similar challenges in their day-to-day is extremely motivating!

For a more comprehensive write-up of the WebDirections Design conference, you should check out Ben Buchanan's Big Stonkin' Post.

Posted by Richard Sison
User Experience Lead

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