A couple of weeks ago I had the pleasure of attending Designation, “an all-expenses-paid exploration of the versatility of a career in design, how design is applied differently across industries, and what it looks like to be a design leader facing the business and social challenges of our world.”
The Magic of New York City
It was my first time traveling to NYC since I was 7 years old. The trip alone was enchanting. The gentle bustle of the city on a Saturday morning, the crisp cool air as we walked to the other side of TriBeCa that Saturday night, the constant honking that you would find irritating anywhere else, but feels like some sort of contemporary symphony simply because it’s NEW YORK, the millions of stars on a clear Sunday night at 30,000 feet above New Jersey. All of these little things captured my idealistic heart over the span of barely two days.
On top of all that came DESIGNATION. I have no words to explain just how inspiring and mind-expanding this conference was. I was tremendously lucky to have been selected among 98 other tremendously talented students from al over the country and given a seat inside this room bursting with talent and excellence.
The keynote speakers were captivating, the panels where thought-provoking and the workshops were engaging and very educational.
The line up was phenomenal! I’ll list all the speakers below so you can find notes for the talks that speak to you the most from my on-site notes that you can download as a pdf file on my next post where I’ll be covering DAY 2.
*: indicates my personal favorites
KEYNOTE I: BRAND GROWTH: FROM PROMISE TO PERFORMANCE
Dana Arnett & Patrick Palmer | VSA
PANEL I: “Designing for Trust” | Panelists:
Michael Gericke | Partner at Pentagram
Jason Severs | Chief Design Officer at droga5
Che Douglas | Global Head of Design at The Wall Street Journal
Rich Bessel | Design Director at Intuit
Peter Boyce II | VC at General Catalyst
*KEYNOTE II: THE WAY TO DESIGN A BETTER WORLD
Steve Vassallo | Foundation Capital
KEYNOTE III: SEEKING DESIGN-MINDED INTRAPRENEURS
Andrea Anderson | SAP
PANEL II: “Designing for Good” | Panelists:
Ariel Kennan | Deputy Director, Service Design Studio for NYC Mayor’s Office
Zack Brisson | Principal at Reboot
Brian Collins | Co-founder & Chief Creative Officer at COLLINS
Alex Center | Design Director at Coca-Cola
Ifeoma Ebo | Senior Design Advisor for NYC Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice
Marty Johnson | Founder & CEO of Isles
PANEL III: “Designing for Innovation” | Panelists:
Joe Daoud | Experience Design Lead at BCG Digital Ventures
Erica Tjader | VP of Design at Surveymonkey
Ted Persson | Design/UX/Brand Partner at EQT Partners
Natacha Poggio | Founder & CEO at Design Global Change
Katherine Schwab | Assoc. Editor at Co.Design
EXECUTIVE SEMINAR I: I was paired with Chris Willis from DOMO
EXCECUTIVE SEMINAR II:
*ONE WORLD TRADE CENTER OBSERVATORY
Photos courtesy of Designation 2018
Highlights From What I Learnt
Each keynote, panel and workshop was between 30 minutes to 1 hour long and full of so much knowledge, advice and content that it’ll be difficult to share everything I learnt but I’ll give it a try. You can find lots more details in my pdf notes at the end of this post.
BRAND GROWTH: FROM PROMISE TO PERFORMANCE
“The urge of designing is much like the urge of living. The belief that somewhere hidden is a better way of doing things.”
Design is a passionate study, but it is also an applied art. A means to an end.
The notion of Promise over Performance
This concept in particular make me think a lot, because it went against what I would have thought. Patrick Palmer made a case for PROMISE over performance. he argued that it is a better strategy for a brand to over-promise and fall short of the promise just slightly, rather than under promise and over-perform. According to him customers respond better to that format.
An case study presented was BMW. They promise to be “the ultimate driving machine”. They live up to that claim for the most part but, arguably speaking, it’s not the undisputed pinnacle of excellence in the automobile industry. Yet it has created a reputation for itself under that promise and its customers respect it for it.
Promise to strive for something extraordinary and deliver just a sliver below that.
The Palm Springs tram was presented as an example of underpromise and over-delivery. This came from a personal story. He was on vacation with his family and they wanted to go up on the tram but they read a sign that the wait time was incredibly long, so discouraged they decided not to even drive up. The he went to talk to an attendant and ask if the wait time was truly that long. They told him it was only about 15 minutes tops.
This made him think of all the families that must have left disappointed and unwilling to wait for so long because the Pal Springs Tram was trying to under-promise and over-deliver.
“I see you’ve finally ended up in a good place. Maybe now you can make a difference in the world.”
— was said to Patrick Palmer once he established himself in his career.
YOU CANT BE A CYNIC AND A DESIGNER
Being a designer means that, by nature, you believe there’s a better way to do things, you hold aesthetic and functionality in high regard and are always looking at the world through curious eyes. This, intrinsically makes you unable to be a cynic.
“Design is so simple its complicated.”
Studying the market
They conducted a nationwide study where they compared different factors to determine the most successful brands in each market, from automobile, to air travel to mattresses, etc. These were some of their findings:
- The Power of Alignment: Spirit was a brand that stood out when considering the alignment between promise and performance. He stated that they promise a cheap, bare bones travel experience and that’s what they deliver. You don’t expect any more beyond that.
- The Power of Overpromising: It’s surprisingly better to overpromise and underdeliver SLIGHTLY. Example: BMW with a singular promise.
- The Power of Clarity: FOX News is exceptionally clear with what they offer. People who tune in get what they expected.
- The Power of Tangibility: Begin your process at the end with the user experience and work your way to the promise, not the other way around. Offer something tangible.
Performance is the result of designing perfectly to an intention.
Designing for Trust
Trust for a company today doesn’t just come from it seeming nice on the surface and putting ups a trustworthy facade. In order to create trust today, companies need to restructure and transform the inner workings of the organization.
“Should designers be licensed?”
One of the panelists brought up this really thought-provoking questions. He said it’s more important than ever, in an era of fake news, for designers to be aware of their power and influence in the user/customer.
Question to make or break the job interview: Dark patterns
Michael Gericke brought up an important concept. That of “Dark Patterns”. Dark patterns are carefully crafted tricks within the user interface with the purpose of misleading the user into doing something. Gericke mentioned that he thinks it’s tremendously important to know of dark patterns and design ethically, i.e. not using them within the company. So much so, that he brings it up in interviews and even dismisses the applicant if they aren’t aware of dark patterns or don’t have a confident stance on the topic.
“It’s important to design for different abilities, as opposed to designing and/or adapting for disability.”
Recommendations from each of the panelists:
- Research AI and how it will relate to your field. “It’s the future. Be prepared.”
- Now that everything is digitalized and you can access so much content online, don’t forget to still connect to real, tangible objects and experiences. He presented the example of how the NY Library has digitalized its collection, but they have objects on site. He had a great experience visiting and looking at historical artifacts. Held Virginia Wolf’s walking stick.
- Podcast: High Resolution
- Advice: design for everyone, in all walks of life, for all different abilities.
- “Shaping the Field of Psychology” – William James. “Hard to read and inaccessible but inspiring.
- Advice: Put yourself in as many situations as you can – especially as a designer, put yourself in places you normally wouldn’t be professionally and ask what you can bring with you skills/ style.
Q:”How do you trust that the user knows what they want?”
A: Creating trust, understanding where they are coming from and developing empathy for the user. Also, removing options and simplifying. Apple is an example of a company that is applying that model.
THE WAY TO DESIGN A BETTER WORLD
“The number of companies that have been founded by designers is rising exponentially.”
Steve Vassallo – writer of “The Way to Design” – a guidebook for designers to become founders. Read it for free here.
Being a designer founder
Success will be determined by a deeper, more intuitive sense for the human condition. There’s a natural pull to get lost in the details and the smallest aspects. Nate, creator of Pocket, launched a Firefox plugin and later expanded. You don’t have to launch at 100%.
It’s very important for designers to be business literate. Involve yourself in the business conversation, because designers tend to pull back from that.
5-Fold path to be a great design-tech leader
- THINK BIG
- BREAK OUT OF THE CRAFT BOX
- SYSTEMS THINKING
- BE AN ADVOCATE FOR DESIGN
- DESIGN A SYSTEM FOR REPEATABLE GENIUS
Let go of the focus on small details and the “craft box” thinking of larger strategic issues. Treat as a business not a hobby.
The concept of “minimally viable” was ditched at Airbnb. Approach the process as you would a first date. Minimally viable would be unacceptable for a first date. Aim to dazzle.
Steve Job’s underreported ability was his talent to focus in and out of details to big picture stuff seamlessly. He wasn’t the designer, engineer, etc, he was the conductor of the whole operation.
“Build enough lightweight processes in order to transition fluidly into the second version. “
THE MACHINE THAT BUILDS THE MACHINE
Design a process that can be repeated numerously for a great outcome every time, not just one great product once. Process over product. Fetishizing a final product is dangerous because great design is more than just a product. Its a process.
“Product market fit isn’t solid, its fluid. Designers need to inject as much intention to the process as they do to the product. This will ensure better market fit for the products in the long run.”
Think about the business model as part of the design challenge as early in the process as you can. Don’t just design a product or service and stick a business model on top of it after the product is done.
SEEKING DESIGN-MINDED INTRAPRENEURS
Why should companies invest in design?
Because there is a 228% increase in margins for companies that have incorporated design as a part of their overall structure.
characteristics of the successful design-minded intrapreneur
- Business savvy
- Human centered
- Respectful instigator
- Confidently iterative
- Courageously committed
Designing for good
Q: Where do good design ideas come from when designing for good?
A: According to Brisson, from the collaborative process and coming into contact with the user. Collins disagrees here. he believe too much user input is detrimental. What he believes is missing os what the customer/user isn’t saying. He likes to approach it as getting the user to love something he likes – that’s what he’s been doing with his work for Spotify. Brinsson makes the excellent point that there is a place for that approach, but it’s not as viable in the public sector, where the user’s voice is more important than in other areas.
Problem seeking over problem solving
Collins emphasized the importance of being a problem-seeking designer as opposed to a problem-solving one. Anticipate what a problem will be before it arises, solve it before it comes up. How can I help? What needs to be changed in my community? Go out of your ways to look for problems. Don’t just solve the ones that are presented to you.
“Our skills are not just a valuable asset but a tremendously powerful tool. We make ethical decisions on how to use and apply our power.”
Qualities of value
Active listening. Observant. Empathy. Bespoke. Adaptive. Realist. Fervent. Humble. Intelligent. Inquirer. Confident. Judicious. Moral.
DESIGNING FOR INNOVATION
The word innovation can be vague. It can mean nothing and everything.
How do you know that a product is innovative?
Innovation needs to be redefined constantly. Today, innovative tends to signify something that “has less, simplified, minimalist”. But it’s always redefined. The user will generally determine if it was a success.
Transparency and data collection
Designing transparently is very important. (Facebook’s current controversy was brought up): A panelist mentioned that he has seen within his company that, for business, “the more data you capture, the better”. “I don’t believe it started in a bad way, but it’s out of control.”
For instance, “when you record a video on a platform and delete it without posting it, that data is captured. Text typed into a comment box and then erased is captured.”
LinkdIn was brought up as an example of data collection where the user is okay with it. Your data is packaged and sold to recruiters.
how to remain relevant throughout your career
Don’t attach yourself to any particular technology alone (web developer, AI designer, etc) -especially today when everything changes so fast within the industry- but also practice the soft skills and the principles in order to be able to adapt and carry your skills to different platforms, areas, etc.
A strong sense of the fundamentals along with curiosity will carry you through your career.
how to craft your portfolio
Design is so homogeneous and countries are starting to do things in very similar ways, so when one of the panelists sees portfolios she notices that they can easily look bland and unoriginal. So work on crafting your work and portfolio with the purpose of showing that you are a unique, inquisitive individual with distinct interests, skills and curiosities.
ONE WORLD TRADE CENTER OBSERVATORY
The day ended with an incredible VIP tour of the One World Observatory, and a fantastic view that left me completely speechless. So I’ll just let the photos do the talking, even though they don’t even do that view justice.
Stay tuned for my highlights from DAY 2 and a pdf file with all my raw notes from the conference coming next week.