13 May 2019
Annemarie Faber
Annemarie Faber

From Business to Buttons 2019

A trip report

On May 3rd, I attended From Business To Buttons, a User Experience and Service Design conference hosted on the beautiful island of Djurgården in Stockholm, Sweden. It’s organized by Swedish design agency InUse which put together an interesting program of speakers on a broad variety of subjects. I will share the highlights.

Center stage of the conference

Jake Knapp developed the Design Sprint method because he experienced how many projects get killed, because no one had a recipe for starting projects the right way. Each day of the design sprint method has a theme to counter the default way of doing projects. You don’t make a perfect plan first, you take the Monday to make a map. Next you don’t host ineffective group brainstorms, but you spend Tuesday working alone, together. Wednesdays are fast and decisive, instead of getting stuck in endless discussions. Then, instead of working months on an MVP, you fake one on Thursday. On Friday you test your biggest assumptions with 5 users to gather quick insights, instead of waiting for the perfect data.

Want to read more from Jake Knappp? Check out Sabrina’s blog post (in Dutch).

Lindsay Aitchison shows how design sometimes can be rocket science, but the design process is universal. She works as a Space Suit designer for NASA. For each mission, they answer two basic questions: where are you going and what are you doing? From there, they design the perfect suit for a spacewalk with a tool belt on the ISS, or for trying to get from A to B on a dusty moon surface.

Neha Kumar’s work lies on the intersection between human-centered computing and global development. She applies a lens of intersectionality in her work with disadvantaged groups. There are usually multiple disadvantages that overlap. For example, discrimination, the socio-economical situation, an infrastructural challenge and the patriarchy at the same time. As a designer, it’s difficult to have empathy for groups which are vastly different from you. She employs an asset-based approach (look at what you’ve got) instead of a deficit-based approach (look at what’s missing). She also encourages us to ask ‘the other question’. When you see discrimination, ask if there might also be patriarchy at work. If you see sexism, ask yourself if there is also heterosexism at play. Not to cause problems, but to become better attuned to the issues, which will make you better designer.

It’s usually easy to spot bad animation, but what makes good UI animation? According to Val Head, it all starts with a good reason for there to be animation. And “to delight users” is not the answer. Purpose and style need to be balanced. For purpose, consider continuity (reference people’s mental models), feedback (letting people know something has happened) and direction of attention (call attention to changed and important items). Val approaches style as if it’s a choreography. Many moving pieces need to work together to create one flowing piece.

After writing the book on “Service Design Thinking”, Marc Stickdorn has learned that doing is the hard part. So, he shared his twelve commandments of Service Design Doing, the topic of his latest book. Commandment number 2 is: “Make shitty first drafts”, which he colorfully illustrated by showing us a picture of his first child. To sum it all up, Marc said the following: “People don’t want service design, they want their problems solved. No matter how you call it, it’s all about people.”

Christopher Noessel, who works with Watson for IBM, noticed a pattern for machines that do things on the user’s behalf. Instead of giving you a tool (a vacuum cleaner to use to clean your house), it simply achieves your goal for you (a Roomba cleans your house without your help). He calls this agentive tech and explains how it’s not a product, but a mode of use. For example, smartphone keyboards have multiple modes. You can type yourself (manual), the keyboard can finish your sentences (agentive), or they can correct spelling errors (assistant). As designers, the thing to look out for is how UX absorbs AI, like how spell check used to be a separate product but is now baked into other tools.

Jeff Gothelf, the godfather of the Lean UX movement, told a story of sense and response. As a company, you need to ask yourself: are we solving user needs, or are we exploiting user needs? Both routes will make you money, but what do you choose? Culture will always be ahead of policy. If you try to make your users do something that does not suit their needs, they will find a way around it. But if you implement a good feedback loop, you can discover what the culture is, and improve your process accordingly. You can frame your success metrics in user centric terms to help with this.

Tech has problems and Laura Kalbag wants us to consider them. Disruption usually means destruction. Engagement usually means addiction. Low contrast designs and obtrusive CAPTCHA’s makes your interface inaccessible. Profiling users based on their characteristics, reinforces social inequality. Facebook for example allowed companies to exclude users from a certain race from seeing their advertisements. Initially, this might look like ‘targeting the right audience’. If you look deeper, it could mean deliberately not showing your job openings to marginalized groups. Kalbag challenges everyone in tech to be different, advocate on the behalf of people who might not be able to and to be difficult in order to disrupt the disruptors.

Kim Goodwin noticed that many design teams spend a lot of time on design systems. She sees that as a good investment but questions whether it is the best investment. Design systems are just the top of the UX iceberg, where underneath lies a mountain of corporate decision making. Goodwin proposes to invest as much effort into your decision-making system as your design system. On an industry level, we need human-centered values (not just user-centered, because people who don’t use your product might still be affected) and enforceable ethical standards. As an organization, work on diversifying your team and setting the right metrics. Next to measuring the goal you want to achieve, also measure the value you’re not willing to sacrifice.

Next to providing a day full of inspiration and insights, InUse seems to have mastered the art of conferencing. From a pair of hosts that rivalled the best of hosts to the Eurovision Song Contest, to a clear Code of Conduct, a diverse lineup of speakers and a conscious attitude to the CO2-footprint of the event, they had thought of everything. Which ensured that us attended had to worry about nothing else but learning. And if you’re worried they forgot about you: they did not!

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About the author

Annemarie Faber (/annemariefaber) is interaction designer. She has a background in Information Science and Cognitive Psychology. Annemarie enjoys learning everything about complex environments and using that information to make designs with the best user experience.

Events (26), User experience (53)