Semi Permanent Sydney - recap
Last week I attended two days of the new and improved Semi Permanent design conference. We were treated to panels and discussions from thought leaders in the areas of design, business and culture with what to expect and how to thrive in the future of technology.
This is my take on some emergent themes...
Holy cow! There’s a lot to look forward to...
The highlight of the new SP format was that we were basically eavesdropping on real conversations about the future between industry leaders, and gaining insight into their way of thinking.
We heard the passion and excitement with which Google discussed AI; Uber explained their immersion into the local culture of various cities; Teague and Ace Hotel defined revitalising the travel industry; Facebook indicated the social opportunities of connecting people through VR; and all acknowledged that purpose-driven business is becoming the norm rather than the exception.
Of course, all of this excitement brings about some important topics for discussion...
Whether we are conscious of it or not, our designs have impact on our users and the communities we put them into. The importance of taking responsibility for design was discussed in both of the Future State technology panels.
We need to acknowledge the peripheral effects of design - when we create something to solve one problem, what else is it doing? For example - UBER, whose mission is ‘transportation as reliable as running water’, is also reducing the demand for parking. As some major cities currently have 30% of urban infrastructure dedicated to parking buildings, what could be created if that space is free for something else?
If we create a self-service system which saves a CIO 20 minutes out of their day, what can they do with that extra hour each week?
Taking responsibility also means taking the initiative to measure if our design solves a problem.
How many more people were able to sign up for life insurance, because our online process made it less scary and hassle free?
Data, the balance of quantifiable and qualitative metrics, and storytelling are key to forward-thinking processes.
The importance of storytelling was an underlying pattern as an integral tool for both internal team processes and brand communication.
Storytelling is valuable in getting buy-in and intention alignment with your team and customers. As designers, our role lies in visualising a future that people can point at and say “that might work” or “let’s tweak that”. The ability to formulate a narrative allows teams and communities to connect with what is otherwise intangible.
By creating quick and iterative prototypes we can gain early customer insight into the functionality of a design. Partnering this with strong storytelling allows a complete understanding of a proposed solution.
Empathy and embracing hacks
As designers we make choices that affect our users. Empathy and user testing should be applied through the full lifecycle of a design. The more we empathise, the more we can discern how and why users interact with our designs.
For instance, people find ‘hacks’ when the design isn’t doing what they want - this is a huge opportunity. It allows us to find the latent demand in the system and unlock it. People buying and selling on FB has spurred them to create a dedicated shop section in business pages. Netflix have increased focus on the mobile platform after discovering that many people watch on their mobile even when they have a tv in the next room.
What all this means for me as a designer…
With the huge leaps in technology coming, and the important problems that businesses are working to solve, it is essential to develop the right skillsets, tools and teams to bring this future about.
Ethan Eismann, Director of Product Design at Uber, outlined that their designers have had to become economists (understanding the market), anthropologists (understanding the people and behaviour) and sociologists (understanding culture and infrastructure in communities).
To me, this means I have to constantly be learning and evolving my skills and understanding. Every time we tackle a project at Frontend, I want to be looking at it with fresh eyes; understanding the story of the business we are helping; and creating a solution that serves a purpose and has a measurable and lasting impact.