Key takeaways from UX+ Conference 2019

published on
October 7, 2019
words by
Jiggy Villanueva
Art by

The largest UX conference in Asia, UX+, made its first debut here in Manila last August 2019. It was filled to the brim with insights, stories, and tips from the designers behind products we love to use every day — YouTube, Twitter, Dropbox, and Grab, just to name a few.

We learned so much from the conference and we were itching to apply them to our design practice. So, after the conference, we took the time to process our learnings over post-its and markers through — yup, you guessed it — an affinity mapping session. Here at Kalibrr Design, we’re big fans of this exercise. We think it’s such a neat way of bringing out ideas and distilling them into focused statements.

We currently have those learnings up in our office. Looking back at some of them, I wanted to share my thoughts on the things I learned from the conference that also helped me navigate my first month as a Product Designer.

1. Don’t be afraid to immerse yourself in the complexities of a design problem.

As designers, we tend to design for simplicity — to reduce clutter and streamline processes has always been the goal. While it’s still something that we should aspire for, Paolo Malabuyo argued that sometimes, the best solutions aren’t necessarily the simplest.

Paolo Malabuyo is currently the Director of UX for Google. During his talk, he shared what it was like working with some of the world’s most established product teams and how they tackled different design challenges. One particular challenge he faced figuring out how to put a heads-up display on the windshield of a car — a project he had with Mercedes-Benz. Sounds simple right? But, as Paolo’s team then quickly found out, for this Blade-Runner-like holographic future to be realized, they had to look into the complex physics of how our eyes see when we’re driving. For it to work they had to mount a small projector from under the driver’s seat so that the projection does not obstruct the driver from seeing the road.

The problems we tackle as designers usually don’t live in a vacuum, they usually touch other systems, context and, most importantly, people — complexity comes with the territory.

Coming up with the best solutions means being determined to look past the surface level of the problem and diving deeper to find those insights that usually people don’t see or think about.

These can come in the form of uncovering edge cases, tweaking language translations or following desire paths. At Kalibrr, for example, we work with different companies who each have different processes and different goals when it comes to recruiting the best people. Working closely with them enables us to bring clarity to complexity and come up with solutions that fit their needs.

2. Be aware of your biases and always exercise empathy.

Another thing that brings in complexity in design is dealing with cognitive biases — Paolo also brought this up during his talk. We all have our inherent biases — whether we’re aware of them or not — they affect the way we work with other people, interact with information, and design solutions. Confirmation bias, for example, is our tendency to overvalue new information that confirms what we already know. This can be bad for us because it can keep us from probing further into a problem.

Even as a team, we can have our collective biases that can make it harder for us to break out of. When there are not enough perspectives in a team, it could feel like an echo chamber where other ideas can’t thrive. We could also fall prey to groupthink; going along with what your team members say just to avoid discussion.

It might sound intimidating to deal with cognitive biases, I mean how are we supposed to get out of our own heads, right? But an important first step is to acknowledge that these things exist and could affect the way we do things. As individual designers and as teams, it’s crucial for us to be thinking about how we exercise empathy to push against our biases. The way Paolo sees it, empathy is a muscle: the more learn to see things from other’s points of view, the more clarity we have.

3. Delight goes beyond animations and illustrations; it’s mostly about performance.

Besides getting to see Cap lift Mjölnir again, JP De Guzman’s talk on Anxieties and Delight really hammered home for me an important aspect of user experience: in order to design delightful products, you have to be aware of your users’ anxieties and meet their expectations every time they use your product.

For users, anxiety usually comes every time an app crashes, shows an error message out of the blue, or fails to send something without explanation. When these things happen, we’re wired to keep trying again, expecting to get a different result. We get frustrated every time it doesn’t.

In delivering delight, performance matters; we respond positively to things that work well when we expect them to. Making sure that a product consistently performs well takes precedence over flashy animation and compelling illustrations (although they’re also important).

4. Design is Political

The panel brought together Ely Apao from JG Summit, Angela Obias-Tuban from Metrobank and brought back Paolo Malabuyo to talk about how UX design works in different kinds of organizations, big or small. They all chimed in on the struggles of establishing a strong design culture in any company. The challenge almost always boils down to trying to show the value design brings to the organization.

For them, Design is always political, not just in the societal sense, but also in terms of the politics that happen within office walls. In order for people to understand the value of design, sometimes passion for the discipline won’t cut it. We have to be aware of other disciplines at play in the workplace and bring the value of design in those contexts. Most times, the work will not speak for itself, you have to be the champion of that work. A good design team consists of different players each with different skillsets, but essentially they fall under builders and planners. It’s good to have a mix of both in your team.

5. Growing together as a design team means looking out for each other’s individual growth as well.

I remember Eleanor Harding talking about her journey towards the North Star in her career and how her experiences helped her grow into the formidable force in the industry that she is. For her, with the way our industry is moving, every day is punctuated with some sort of change — whether it manifests itself as new research methods or new fancy design tools. It’s easy to lose our way and feel stuck in where we are in our careers.

In order to grow, it’s important to ground ourselves to a vision of who we want to be — which Eleanor refers to as a North Star. She found that mapping out the things we’ve been doing so far in our career and how we felt about them helps in nudging us closer to that ideal versions of ourselves. The more we get to know what we like doing, the more we move towards related work that pushes us to grow.

Working with a team, I also learned that you’re also responsible for your teammate’s growth as well. I’m lucky to work with people that continuously check up on each other’s progress and guide each other to become better in their craft.

6. Having a great product voice proves that often the smallest details make the biggest difference.

Benjamin Hersh reminded us that even the smallest details can make or break an experience. During his time at Dropbox and Medium, he found that content and the copy written for their product contribute to its usability as much as the overall design itself. In fact, a product’s voice should be part of design considerations from the get-go.

Ben gave three things to remember when writing for your product voice: be clear, be a friend, and be expressive.

  1. Be Clear — Being clear refers to making things easy to read and understand. Try to use simple, commonly used words and be as concise as possible — brevity is a key skill here.
  2. Be a Friend — Being a friend means being helpful to your users through your writing. It’s like you’re designing an imaginary friend which shows up and helps out at the right time. Design your product to talk to your users like it’s just a normal conversation with a friend. It’s also important to be polite as much as possible.
  3. Be Expressive — we should strive to be expressive with our words. Ideas are complicated and sometimes we need to find creative ways of communicating those ideas. Looking beyond word choice, there are other elements that we can play around with. It’s good to make sure that the choices we make in this aspect are appropriate for the context.

7. Continuously enrich yourself with as much context and insights about your user as possible.

Jay Demetillo talked about how they would go on dinners with different people across South East Asia to get a sense of how people enjoy their food. He found them very insightful while working on GrabFood because it gave him so much context about their users and it enabled his team to tailor the experience around the joy of food.

Jay echos an important aspect of UX design which is gathering context (read Alexis’s article on Context, it’s super helpful!). For Jay, enriching himself with context means understanding, not just the immediate outcome users want out of their service, but also the environment and the social aspects surrounding food.

Many factors like these shape the way users behave. Sean Gill talked about how all behavior is context-dependent and gave a neat framework called M.A.P.S that helps in contextualizing user behaviors and empathizing with them.

  1. Motivation: do they want to accomplish the given tasks?
  2. Ability: do we have the skills to accomplish the tasks?
  3. Physical Opportunity: are they physically able to accomplish those tasks?
  4. Social Opportunity: do they have enough social mobility to accomplish those tasks?

Being aware of how context shapes behavior really helped a lot the past few weeks when we thought about how we could structure our user research activities like workshops, interviews, and usability tests to extract as much context and insights as possible to help us grasp the behavior of our users.

Thank you for reading!

Photos by Alexis Collado

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