So much good stuff
Today was my favorite day so far at SXSW. I took in five sessions at the Interactive conference, and capped off the evening with an amazing screening at the film festival. So let’s get right to the session summaries!
This was a Core Conversation in which Gajendar set up the topic of leading a UX team in a startup environment, and audience members chimed in with their perspectives.
Strategic Line of Sight: Beginning as the UX leader in a startup, you need line of sight to the business, marketing, and engineering strategies.
Set expectations: politely but firmly insist that as a design leader, you need to be involved in executive-level conversations.
Say no: Gajendar: “I was asked in my first week if I would design the logo, t-shirts, business cards, etc. I said no, I need to focus on the product design."
Research: get executives involved in user research. Have leaders and team members name customers - real people, and talk about them.
Transparency: make design open and accessible to all employees and executives, not a magic art or black box.
Demonstrate value: show the before & after of your design projects. Be your own champion. Show and tell how your design is making a difference as you go along.
Goals, risks, and asks: know where you want to go, identify the risks, and make clear what you want people to do for you.
Now vs. next: balance the need to support current products, but keep your eye on what’s further ahead.
Getting others involved in UX / design thinking: be transparent. Put your work on the wall. Get people involved in research.
There were some good nuggets here. Nothing I haven’t heard before, but what stood out to me was the discussion about getting others involved in design. It isn’t just for the experience designers. Made me so happy to be at Intuit, where design is such a part of the culture. Yet there are always more opportunities for us to be inclusive and collaborative as the XD team.
“Design programs weren't made for data, and data programs weren’t made for design. We need new tools."
Led a project to publish an open source ebook (Data + Design
) about data design. Ironically: “There's no open source book about how to write an open source book…"
The goal of the book is to make data design concepts accessible to everyone.
Textbooks about data design are written by and for statisticians. Many young students feel like it's not for them.
Why do infographics suck? Three possible reasons:
1. Graphic designers are evil
2. Marketers are evil
3. It's hard to do it well
(#3 is correct.)
Infographics require require a blend of graphic arts, programming, and data analysis. Extremely unlikely you’ll find one person who is an expert in all of those.
Without even thinking about it, we are collecting a ton of data (example: Google Analytics.) But we don't know what to do with it.
Graphic artists being asked to visualize data don't have the required skills.
Graphical perception principles are largely unknown even to most designers. Data viz people (Tufte, etc.) hate pie charts. There's usually a better way such as column graphs, which provide easier data comparisons than multiple pie graphs.
Color theory comes into play. Monochromatic data viz is often better than different color scales. Blue & orange are pretty safe colors for data viz.
It’s easier to differentiate between distinct colors than shapes.
Visual trickery: stacked area charts make it difficult to see the trends because we look for a baseline to compare.
If you're not sure the best way to show a data set, show it in multiple different ways. Redundancy is often good in data visualization.
How do we make data more human? Example: consider two headlines above an infographic.
1. “US Unemployment Rates"
2. “The jobless rate for people like you"
The second one makes it personal and brings the human back into the story the data tells.
The 2008 Sichuan, China earthquake - one man sought to visualize the names of the many thousands of children who died. He printed spreadsheets of the names and covered walls with the sheets.
Then, he made an art installation featuring a backpack for each child who died. It made a massive mural that spelled out, “For seven years she lived happily on this earth" - a quote from one of the mothers who lost her child. Emotionally devastating example of how a designed data visualization can be artful and tell an impactful human story.
So often we think of data visualization (if we think of it at all) as merely an exercise in cognition. Help the user gain insight from a data set. This is in itself an area of design that requires deep study and hard work to master. But there is also a human element to be considered. When data tells a story about people, make a personal connection come through the design. The words, colors, shapes, materials used to represent the data can all make an emotional impact.
“I have been to the deep, deep bowels of corporate America. I have seen the most boring things one can see, and I’ve applied Lean Startup there."
Has the meta-theory of the Lean Startup been proven?
It has only been since 2011 when the book was published. There hasn’t been a rigorous longitudinal study to prove it, but I think it has been successful.
The fastest way to describe a startup: “anybody trying to create something new under conditions of extreme uncertainty."
It makes sense to use science, not astrology or willpower, to see if your business plan will be successful.
Key aspects of Lean Startup that everyone repeats: MVP (iterative: build-measure-learn) and Pivot (a change in strategy without a change in vision.)
“It’s moved much further beyond silicon valley than I expected." Seeing entrepreneurs around the world, and in different industries and sectors, has been a surprise.
Company founders send a signal by the systems they put in place that innovative thinking will get you fired. “What kind of company do you want to create in the first place?" Do you want to have one good idea once, and ride that until you’re disrupted? Or build a company that can grow and sustain itself through continuous innovation?
Interview exchange on the last 3 years of Eric’s career:
Interviewer: “You said, companies of any size can use The Lean Startup."
Eric Ries: “Right, but I didn’t really mean…!" - regarding Jack Immelt of GE reading the book and calling him. (GE has 300,000+ employees worldwide.)
Toyota wanted Eric to consult with them. “To me it was like getting called in to the principal’s office. Am I in trouble?" Eric thought this because Toyota is famous for lean manufacturing, and many of his ideas in The Lean Startup book are derived from Toyota’s methods. Yet, “Toyota was the least defensive from day one. The missing half of Toyota was to ask, what should I build in the first place?"
A lot early adopters of lean startup just adopted MVP and Pivoting, but didn’t pay attention to the managerial and accounting stuff, because it’s not as exciting. As companies grew, they called Eric back to ask about that management stuff.
It doesn’t matter if you’re 5 years old, or 200 years old, if your company is built to the old blueprint, you’re going to have the same problems.
Leaders something think their employees won’t adapt to an entrepreneurial culture shift and a new culture of innovation. Managers point at employees, employees point at managers. Engineers point at designers, designers point at engineers. Everybody thinks somebody else won’t change.
What would it be like if we came in to work one day and your leadership supported you in doing the thing you do best?
Entrepreneurship is the missing function of organizations. It’s like when companies used to not have a marketing department. They still do marketing, but nobody’s in charge of it. People do it on the side. That’s true for every function. So, entrepreneurs are product managers, brand managers, or other roles.
If you’re an entrepreneur, you might miss your revenue projections by many orders of magnitude. Very different from traditional, corporate management in which people get fired for underperforming by 10%.
Multitasking between multiple projects isn’t effective.
Our organizations are set up so that work passes through functions in a waterfall matter.
In that kind of org, if you have a $100k project, it’s not a one time cost. It at least that much for perpetuity. That’s one reasons companies won’t innovate. But if you just get $100k once, and you have to prove you learned something valuable before you get more funding, it’s a different story.
Ownership is different between large companies and startups. Equity ownership makes sense for startups. It’s skin in the game.
A lot of times employees get blamed if things go wrong, but if it all goes well their boss takes the credit. This is demoralizing.
Have productive failures. Learn what you need to stop doing, or learn something that allows you to proceed to something greater.
Companies are sometimes afraid the Lean Startup glorifies failure — but that never happens.
If people come up to you again and again, asking the same questions, and you have the answers, it’s time to write a new book. I swore I’d never write another book because it was so difficult.
A community where Eric can learn and test out what happens when you use his ideas.
Is Lean Startup leading toward a professional certification?
“I’m not a fan of that approach. Being a certified entrepreneur seems like the dumbest concept to me. That is more certifiable than certified. In some certification programs you make up a fake, hypothetical project to learn the concepts. I don’t want that to ever happen with Lean Startup."
Management is human systems engineering. Debugging human problems isn’t that much different than being an admin for a very complex server.
On Pivoting: Ask frequently and regularly, what’s the evidence that our strategy is leading us closer to realizing our vision? If it isn’t, pivot.
If you’re not trying to do something ambitious, don’t to learn startup experiments. Just go do the small thing.
Sometimes people like the crappy MVP thing better than the big, complicated thing you could build. Example: Google search. If you look at their About Us page from the early years, they apologize for not having some huge, complicated portal. Turns out people didn’t want that. People loved the simplicity of Google. So now Google gets to claim they had that vision from the beginning.
Viral, Paid, and Sticky - three kind of sustainable growth engines. You can’t do all three, you specialize in one. Don’t argue about it. Just pick one, stick to it exclusively until a set date. Then have a pivot or persevere meeting to decide if you’ll continue.
As designers we can embrace Lean Startup principles such as rapid iteration, learning quickly from users, and always being prepared to pivot our strategy to better pursue or vision.
“Design is better when it has a point of view."
Examples of intelligent spaces in architecture:
- 21 Swings
in Montreal is an example of a deep understanding of the problem space - unused space in the city.
- Luminous carpet
puts messages on the floor so you spend less time on your smartphone.
One of the challenges for people visiting mediated spaces is there is a screen in between you and the space.
What's the person's intent in the physical space? Don't put tech in the way. Cash registers get in the way in a retail environment, but as a shopper you just want to walk away with the stuff.
Will architecture know me?
The smart hotel of the future knows all of your preferences and needs, and senses your arrival. “Your digital concierge." The appearance of the lobby could change when you arrive.
The Disney magic band increased throughput in the park.
Architecture and technology have different paces. Tech moves a lot faster.
It's rare to find architects who practice from a user centric point of view. That's how it's taught now but old school architects don't work that way.
Any surface can be an input or output device.
This was a panel discussion among architects, and they didn’t really connect well to an audience of software designers and developers. But the comment about design being better when it has a point of view resonated with me. Integrating technology into a physical space requires a keen sensitivity to the needs of people using that space. So, too, does software UX design require a sharp awareness of the needs of our users in their various contexts.
“Our brains have biological functions built into them that serve a purpose, but work counter to the way we need to think as designers."
Mental tripping hazards:
1. Confirmation bias
When we receive confirmation we stop testing.
"The triangle of dumb."
The blurriness heuristic turns into a clarity bias.
If a UX researcher helped design the UI, they have a confirmation bias
You can't eliminate it. Just expect it and mitigate the damage.
2. Survivorship Bias
Aircraft survivability studies in WW2 led to designers wanting to put the armor where surviving war planes suffered the most battle damage. They didn't pay attention to data that was missing — planes that didn’t survive got shot in other areas. So they put additional armor there and saw better results.
You can always find a cluster of super successes, but these aren’t very helpful.
Restaurants fail and disappear. All that's left are survivors.
Competetive research only looks at companies currently around. Not the ones who failed.
3. Pluralistic Ignorance
The Princeton Drinking Study proved that people will keep their feelings and opinions to themselves, thinking that everyone else feels differently. But, in fact, many people agree. They just don’t share their thoughts out of fear, assuming the worst.
Get people in smaller groups and get them to freely share their thoughts.
Focus groups are a great example of what people do in focus groups.
4. Sunk Cost Fallacy
The Ski Trip Study
The Concord Plane
Escalation of Commitment
Ask: What’s the cost to NOT abandon?
5. Theory Induced Blindness (disconfirmation bias)
The Extramission Theory of vision
Glowing animal eyes
Plato - a gentle fire mixes with another fire
Superceded scientific theories
GI Joe Fallacy
Knowing about these problems does nothing for you.
Adapt your process.
Be open to criticism from all people.
Monday night I was in documentary film nerd heaven. I caught a world premiere screening of "Mavis!" at the SXSW Film festival. It’s about legendary gospel and soul singer Mavis Staples (of the Staples Singers.) An incredibly well made and emotional film. Lovers of music, American Civil Rights history, or just good documentary film will adore this movie. Here's director Jessica Edwards and her producer Gary Hustwit after the screening.
(Hustwit, by the way, directed the Helvetica / Objectified / Urbanized design trilogy -- a personal favorite. I nearly had a fan boy moment when I got to talk with him.)
Cameo appearances in Mavis! include: Bob Dylan, Prince, Bonnie Raitt, Chuck D and more.
They had just finished making this film 3 days ago, and it didn't have a distribution deal yet. But it is amazing and I hope it’s a huge commercial success. Keep an eye out for Mavis!