Three weeks ago the roads of +450 UXers from 44 countries led to Lisbon, Portugal. Their goal? Get the best UX training to excel at their jobs and connect with like-minded peers.
While the first three days were dedicated to hands-on workshops (📝 wrap-up article coming soon), the final day at UXLx was Talks day. 10 industry-recognised speakers got on stage to talk about the latest in the UX field and give all UXLxers an extra boost of inspiration (and a lot to reflect about).
🛑 UXLx is always a place of collaboration and so can this article be. While we made our best to sum the takeaways of each talk, feel free to highlight or add what resonated with you the most in the comments. 🛑
- Creative Boot Camp, Stefan Mumaw
- Design System Culture, Ben Callahan
- Activity-Based Research Interactions, Meena Kothandaraman
- Expanding your Design Lens with Systems Thinking, Sheryl Cababa
- Preventing Digital Harm in Online Spaces, Noreen Whysel
- Strategic Impact, Nathan Shedroff
- Humans and AI Systems, Carol Smith
- Untold AI, Chris Noessel
- Design Success in Turbulent, Ambiguous Spaces, Chris Avore
- Becoming a Changemaker by Leading with Design, Maria Giudice
👉 Christopher Noessel sketchnoted some of the talks and shared it on LinkedIn. Worth check it out!
Creative Boot Camp by Stefan Mumaw
After an awesome workshop on Storybuilding, we could only expect Stefan Mumaw to deliver a great talk to kick off the talks day at UXLx 2023. Stefan proved us that creativity is not some external force or a talent we can’t control, but rather a process and a skill we can get better at.
Starting from the question “How do you define creativity?”, Stefan came to the conclusion that creativity is problem solving. Every day we work to create routines to solve a problem. Creativity is problem solving with two characteristics: Relevance (most people are good at it), and Novelty (what most people struggle with). If we practice problem solving with relevance and novelty we’ll improve at it.
“Creativity isn’t a moment, it’s a process.”
To prove we can improve creativity, Stefan got the audience to do a series of creativity exercises, including the “Pirate Happy Meal” where we were supposed to come up with happy meal toys ideas during the historical era of Caribbean pirates. They served to illustrate the 3 Creative Boot Camp tips:
- Get Stupid — pretend you know nothing, start from scratch; the shape of ideation (relevant ideas > stupid ones > novelty);
- Want the box — restrictions make us more creative;
“Do not think outside the box but inside. If you have too much freedom, you cannot think creatively.”
- Can the critic — don’t be afraid of your idea not being any good, discuss it with people.
Design System Culture by Ben Callahan
Second up — Ben Callahan showing us how design systems and company culture are deeply connected.
We started by better understanding organisational culture and how it’s made up of three layers:
- Artifacts — what you see;
- Espoused beliefs — what people say;
- Basic underlying assumptions — what people believe.
Ben introduced the four primary types of organisational culture in the competing values framework:
- Flexible — dynamic, adaptive, willing to change;
- Focused — values stability, believe in their values as principles;
- Internal — make decisions on things happening inside the organisation;
- External — decisions based on things happening outside.
Curating a better culture comes down to 3 steps:
- Model it — behave in a way you expect others to behave;
- Meet people where they are — understand where people are having conversations, how they learn, interact with them in those places;
- Be consistent — the cultural curation might take years.
Ben ended with the statement “Your design system won’t make your products more consistent.” People will make what they want to make. Your job is to change what they want to make.
“Strong culture creates a lot of safety.”
Activity-Based Research Interactions by Meena Kothandaraman
Meena Kothandaraman got us to rethink the way we connect with participants when asking them questions in our research studies.
To reframe the researcher-participant interaction, Meena introduced the concept of an activity-based protocol. These activities are meant to make participants think more deeply about what they want to share and remove the researcher’s pressure to craft “the right question”.
“It’s not about the right question. It’s about the right method.”
For example, instead of “tell me about yourself”, Meena suggests we might ask participants to bring a picture of one item in their home that shows who they are. Other useful tool might be empathy maps, as they give participants a moment to think.
“We want to give people a moment to figure things out.”
She also shared a series of templates that can be used for participants to describe experiences and expectations, to compare something they have with their friends and family, or sentence completion exercises (I find the process of X to be like____. I would like it to be more____.)
Meena suggests we make our research studies a conversation, one that “unpacks the variety of their story”.
Expanding your Design Lens with Systems Thinking by Sheryl Cababa
Sheryl Cababa introduced us to the systems thinking mindset, one where design thinking and systems thinking work hand in hand, to avoid unintended consequences or harmful outcomes.
Thinking about systems forces us to consider beyond the direct benefits of use. When thinking about systems in our work we can apply three concepts:
- Interconnectedness — how are things connected to each other;
- Causality — what happens after using the product;
- Wholeness — thinking about the system as a whole.
How to take on the systems thinking mindset?
- Make the invisible visible — systems exist in our daily lives but we don’t pay attention to them.
- Today’s problems come from yesterday’s solutions — causal loops; perverse incentives.
- Diversify and empower your stakeholders — what is your position? what kind of powers and biases do you bring to the table?
“You can try to think beyond what you are in control of and start activating how to connect your values with what you want to happen from a societal impact perspective.”
Preventing Digital Harm in Online Spaces by Noreen Whysel
“You do have influence. You do have some risk involved in the products that you’re creating and even some possible culpability.”
Noreen Whysel presented a framework for evaluating the relationship that digital technologies have with consumers and the digital harms and dark patterns that violate that relationship.
The challenge of today’s designers is to determine whether or not what they are creating is fair, secure and in the user’s control.
Noreen walked us through a series of harmful UI patterns (the term to use instead of dark patterns): deceptive design practices, privacy Zuckery, roach motel, trick questions, etc.
She explored the concept of “Me2B Relationships” — the way in which we experience our connection to products and service providers in both the physical and digital worlds. They began where technology and humanity meet. And also the concept of Me2B Lifecycle — during our relationship with a product we provide different levels of data, that is retained and shared.
Ways of knowing if we’re spying on our users include safe technology audits and product integrity testing.
Strategic Impact by Nathan Shedroff
“Now more than ever we can’t ignore the fact that we have to make change that has positive impact in a lot of different ways.”
What kinds of impact?
- Financial impact
- Social impact
- Ecological impact
A more considered and careful research can help us take those impacts into account. We can do it through Trauma-informed research and design — trauma is an emotional, identity, or meaningful reaction to events. Before we research we must acknowledge our own traumas, research with trusted allies (trusted by research subjects) and build trust.
Nathan also introduced a set of tools such as the Ladder of Change, Levels of Participation, Capacity Building, impact tools such as the Theory of Change and sustainability tools like the Sustainability Scorecard.
When we have a design solution, we take into account the positive & negative impacts.
“Also, beware of the cost benefit trap. What’s it gonna cost to fix it vs where are the legal costs of not fixing. Avoid the quantitative trap. Most of the most important things in the world are NOT quantifiable. That’s a big framing problem”
Stéphanie Walter on Twitter (highlighting key content of Nathan’s talk)
Humans and AI Systems by Carol Smith
“We need to be more aware, more conscious of the work that we’re doing.”
AI systems have some form of bias. However complete objectivity is misleading and bias can actually have a purpose and be helpful.
Our goal must be to reduce harmful bias. We can do so by avoiding reinforcing discrimination against historically marginalised groups and by removing obvious indicators (gender, zip code, etc.) which reduces the ability to track bias.
We should also build “systems that people are willing to trust”. AI must be designed to work with, and for, people. People need to trust their tools to use them properly.
Carol Smith shined a light into the concept of Trustworthy AI. One that is human-centered, which capabilities and limitations are explained, has continuous monitoring and oversight is prioritised.
Finally, Carol shared some methods to support the creation of responsible and human-centered AI systems including: Activate Curiosity (speculate about misuse and abuse), Abusability Testing , Rewarding team members for finding ethics bugs, and the Card Game “What could go wrong?” (potential challenges and issues with complex technologies); Conversations for Understanding (talk about difficult topics like what do you value?, who could be hurt?, what lines won’t our AI cross?, how are we shifting power?).
“Design AI to work with, and for, people.”
Untold AI by Chris Noessel
Chris Noessel analysed more than 100 years of sci-fi shows to figure out how the AI we see on screen match up with the science of AI and how it has affected the way we think about it. That’s what Chris shared with us during his talk at UXLx.
“Sci-fi is a very poor instructor.”
By analysing those sci-fi shows, Chris was able to draw 35 takeaways about what they suggest about AI. He then crossed reference with AI manifestos (Google’s, OpenAI’s, etc.) and was able to understand than many takeaways actually map the manifestos ideas while others are pure fiction (AI is evil, for example), and probably should stop being portrayed by the movie industry. 29 imperatives drawn from the manifestos were never portrayed in sci-fi shows. Those are the stories they should start telling instead.
5 supercategories of Untold AI:
- We should build the right AI.
- We should build the AI right.
- We must manage the risks & effects.
- We must monitor AI.
- We should encourage an accurate cultural narrative.
Design Success in Turbulent, Ambiguous Spaces by Chris Avore
Over the past year, design teams and organisations have been going through a period of turbulence, uncertainty, and ruthless prioritisation. Organisations are not prepared or willing to adapt when confronted with unexpected turbulence. Their success has been built on delivering predictable products by repeatable means. Their success is measured in silos, subjective or out of touch with real impact to the business or society.
“Then I also discussed how macroeconomic factors, generational trends, and recent significant disruptions will ultimately mean designers must be adaptable and resilient in their work and process. Specifically, this means designers will need to apply a systems-thinking lens while navigating highly ambiguous spaces in our work and in our organizations.”
Chris Avore brought us techniques and approaches design leaders can apply to improve their odds of success. Those are based on systems thinking (interconnectedness, circular, emerge, wholes, synthesis, relationships). Here success is measured holistically and considers the ecosystem in which the work exists.
Becoming a Changemaker by Leading with Design by Maria Giudice
“We all have the capacity, the knowledge, and the skills to be a changemaker should we choose to accept the mission.”
Design leader, Maria Giudice, brilliantly closed our Talks day by showing how designers now have a crucial role in driving change across organisations. Maria started by introducing the concept of Changemakers:
“Design leaders will be expected to embrace ambiguity by making decisions with fewer facts, less guidance by executives, and with less certainty of what the end of the journey may look like, if it has an end at all.” (Bill Drayton)
Every designer can be a changemaker and change can be designed. We need to ask ourselves:
- What needs to change?
- Why it needs to change?
- Who will benefit from the change?
This will give us a clear directive for change.
Maria Giudice then guided us through the Top 6 mistakes changemakers make as they navigate the complex process of driving change:
- Failure to determine the ground conditions for success — having a clear directive, a powerful champion on your side, sufficient resources;
- Coming too hot — instead of being too confident and ignoring others, take time and learn from the people you work with;
- Lack of support in creating and building a shared vision — vision provides the why, make them collaboratively;
- Taking on too much — plans for lasting change need to be broken down into 3 or 4 steps; focus; show wins that will be noticed by people in power;
- Failure to communicate effectively —set a communication plan (why, how, for whom, when);
- Failure to iterate, adapt, and evolve — change is inevitable and conditions and priorities will always change.
Build trust by finding common ground (interests, goals, vision).
“Failure is inevitable, and it sucks, and it hurts. And it takes a lot of time to recover. (…) But be courageous because bouncing back from failure will only make you stronger.”
After Party @ Carmo Rooftop
After 4 days of intensive training we could all use a chance to lighten up a bit, while giving attendees and speakers the change to keep networking, only now in a more relaxed setting.
After a tour in panoramic buses from Parque das Nações to Lisbon’s downtown, we ended up in a rooftop overlooking Lisbon’s downtown, with drinks, snacks and sunset vibes music. 🍻🥪💃 Could there be a better setting to end this year’s awesome edition?
👀 STAY TUNED! We’ll start releasing the videos from the Talks Day on our UXLx Videos page, gradually, when we launch the next UXLx event. In the meantime you can check hours of content from the previous editions.
📸 All photo credits go out to UXLx’s official photographer — José Goulão.