Design as Product Strategy: Bringing design thinking to product management in order to create products people love

Most companies consider strong product management to be the “glue” that holds together products as they are being conceived of and built, and most companies treat product management as either a marketing or an engineering activity. But modern startups like Airbnb and large corporations like JetBlue or Starbucks have proven that industry disruption is possible not by focusing on adding features or just improving sales, but instead by focusing on providing deep, meaningful engagement to the people that use the products or services. This engagement is achieved by designing products that seem as though they have a personality, or even a soul. These products feel less like manufactured artifacts and more like good friends.

Design doesn’t refer only to aesthetics or usability, although these are things consumers are most likely to notice or appreciate. Design is both a noun and a verb. It can mean the visual or tactical quality of a product, as well as the process by which products are conceived. Design is a more comprehensive way of thinking about people and human behavior than engineering or marketing. It is a product development process that uses empathy with a community of potential consumers in order to identify problems to solve. Design leverages a certain way of thinking in order to infer solutions to those problems that will have meaningful emotional appeal, and a strong market fit.

In this talk, you’ll learn how to apply that process yourself using these four steps:

  • Identify product/market fit, by seeking signals from communities of users
  • Identify behavioral insights, by conducting ethnographic research
  • Sketch a product strategy, by synthesizing complex research data into simple insights
  • Define the product details, using visual representations to simplify complex ideas

From Paths to Sandboxes

Designers are trained to guide users toward predetermined outcomes, but is there a better use of this persuasive psychology? What happens if we focus less on influencing desired behaviors and focus more on designing ‘sandboxes’: open-ended, generative systems? And how might we go about designing these spaces? It’s still “psychology applied to design”, but in a much more challenging and rewarding way!

In this talk, I’ll share the journey I’ve been on, from trying to shape and influence a user’s path, to creating these sandbox environments. You’ll learn why systems such as Twitter, Pinterest, and Minecraft are so maddeningly addictive, and what principles we can use to create similar experiences. We’ll look at education and the work of Maria Montessori, who wrote extensively about how to create learning environments that encourage exploration and discovery. And we’ll look at game design, considering all the varieties of games, especially those carefully designed to encourage play — a marked contrast with progression games designed to move you through a series of ever-increasing challenges, each converging upon the same solution. Finally, we’ll look at web applications, and I’ll share how this thinking might influence your work, from how you respond to new feature requests to how you design for behavior change in a more mature way.

Why the Mad Men are Mad at Us

Our world is changing. Advertising agencies blew the web opportunity the first time around, but they’re not going to let this happen again. They’re smart. They understand communication. They can run persuasive rings around BJ Fogg. And they’ve been doing user research since before Jakob Nielsen was born.

If you’re considering a job as an IA or UX professional at a traditional ad agency, you don’t want to miss this session.

Ad agencies generally stayed out of the blast range when the dot.bomb went off. And they’ve since waited patiently. Happily, most ad folks still haven’t got a clue as to what IAs do. But when they finally do “get it,” we are either going to learn to get along with them or find ourselves relegated to an unenviable group of semi-human subcontractors — a status otherwise reserved for printers, layouters, and the gopher who delivers lunch each day.

The last couple of years, IAs have learned to appreciate business thinkers like Philip Kottler and Peter Drucker. Now it’s time to get acquainted with the ad industry’s pioneers: Claude Hopkins, John Caples, Rosser Reeves, Bill Bernbach, and David Ogilvy.

This presentation will take a closer look at what ad agencies consider “good” advertising, how they interpret “concept,” and why our notion of “proof of concept” is completely nonsensical in the world of advertising. I’ll show you some successful campaigns and some award-winning campaigns — these are not necessarily the same thing — and explain out why these are admired or condemned by so-called “creatives” at ad agencies.

Together, we’ll explore why advertising creatives despise web types in general and usability folks in particular. You’ll find out why stuff that “works” on screen doesn’t work in print ads — and vice versa. And I’ll dispel some of the popular myths about advertising, such as “all advertising is good advertising.”

Lights! Camera! Interaction! Design Inspiration From Filmmaking

Storytelling is a core component in designing for meaningful, engaging experiences but its usefulness goes beyond helping communicate the goals and benefits of your product or design to stakeholders, team members and users. With a strong understanding of storytelling we can make better decisions about functionality, appearance, UI, tone and more, to evoke the experiences we want to create for our users.

Filmmaking, a storytelling medium, follows a similar process, beginning with a screenplay and then deriving from it a series of decisions like appearance, action, composition, etc. all of which are made to influence the audience’s experience. To do this, filmmakers have developed and long made use of tools and techniques that aid in communicating with audiences to better evoke ideas, emotions, and even behaviors.

Some of these tools, like storyboards and parallax animation, have already found their way into our processes and designs. But a closer examination of these tools reveals possibilities to expand upon them and strengthen their impact.

And a deeper exploration of filmmaking itself reveals numerous additional techniques that are not often discussed in interactive design, but hold potential for adaptation and can serve to challenge and inspire designers. For example:

  • Tools that help their crews collaborate and coordinate around a film’s vision.
  • Cinematic patterns used to convey information and characteristics about a objects and characters
  • Methods for directing viewer’s attention and guiding their experience

Prior to becoming a designer, I studied filmmaking and animation. While my career has taken me in a slightly different direction, I’ve found that many of the cinematic storytelling ideas and principles I learned in those years have shaped and improved my approach to designing for experiences in digital environments. As technology continues to advance and allow interfaces and data to react in near-real time, the opportunities to explore new techniques in visual communication only expand.

Attendees of this presentation will come away with new insights into visual storytelling and its applications to their work. With exposure to new tools, potential techniques such as camera and storytelling devices, and ideas as to how to leverage them, they will be able to explore their potential use in their work.

Additionally, attendees of this talk will leave inspired to look closer at the process and mechanics of filmmaking in an effort to learn and further their own craft in creating digital products and services. What can we learn from great films and filmmakers? And how can we apply these understandings to our work in creating experiences for people?

Me, You and Them: Designing Interactions for Healthy Relationships

In 1925 architect and designer, Le Corbusier laid the foundation for modern design by making a call for humans and products to live proportionally and harmoniously. Sounds good right? He stated that design should act as extensions of our limbs, but he also proclaimed, “the human ­limb object is a docile servant. A good servant is discreet and self-­effacing in order to leave his master free.”

While today, we don’t talk in masters and servants, 88 years later this paradigm still persists in our relationships with technology — technology has taken on the role of master while we have become the servants. What does the future of human-­to­-technology relationships look like? What can we do right now in interaction design to begin the journey towards healthy relationships with our software, apps and websites?

In this talk Fawn Ellis will explore the core elements of healthy long-­term human relationships and how these needs can be translated to designing healthy long­- term relationships with digital technology.

The Self-Aware Researcher

Whenever I do user experience research – no matter the user, client, product, or method – I learn new ways to improve my research. Each experience helps fuel my deliberate practice of research skills.

As a moderator or an observer, the self-aware researcher benefits from the opportunity to plan, practice, review, and try again. Over time, moderating becomes smoother, plans more thorough, and analysis more targeted.

Come to this presentation to consider how, by researching yourself, you can improve your research skills and pursue the path from novice to master.

Designing for Villains

Designing for people we don’t know or understand is hard enough, but what happens when we design for people we don’t want to understand or, even worse, people who we usually vilify? This panel will discuss the challenges of designing for porn consumers, gamblers, and — worst of all — sales people.

We’ll explore the importance of setting aside your preconceptions to conduct objective research and letting go of your stereotypes in order to establish empathy with your audience. We’ll also consider some strategies for working with unfamiliar or controversial content. For example, it’s critical to know when someone is using the abbreviation “BB” that they mean “Blackberry”, “baby”, or… something else.

Tools for Uncovering Arrangement and Meaning

If we don’t understand the data, information, and content we’re working with, how can we attempt to explain it to others? Worse yet, how can we (and they) make informed decisions based on it if none of us really understands? I’ve spent the past year and a half finding and experimenting with tools to help solve some gnarly enterprise information architecture problems. I was immersed in a world of information that is often duplicated, stale, or untrustworthy, and I was asked to make sense of it. Traditional IA tools couldn’t provide the answers. I wasn’t trying to design a website or app, or produce a deliverable for its own sake — I was trying to understand the information piling up around me, and help others make decisions based on it.

Using my own work as an example, I’ll help you answer and explore questions like:

  • Should we choose our tools not for what they produce, but for what we can learn from them?
  • Where can we even start when we’ve got a large amount of data to figure out?
  • What can we learn by playing with information and transforming it in different ways?
  • How might we better understand the scope, limits, relationships, patterns, and structures in our information?

Finding useful tools can be difficult, and they can be found in unlikely places. We’ll look at several uncommon tools that have been valuable in my own work, including Gephi, Google Refine, and Tiddlywiki. I’ll share my successes and failures and discuss how I’ve learned to evaluate these tools. If they are unfamiliar, I’ll show you enough to get started using them immediately. After brief overviews and basic examples, you’ll be armed with ways to improve your own work, and new directions to explore!

Designing for Shades of Grey

Humans are non-binary beings—our thoughts, behaviour and decision-making are complex. Computers are binary, and as designers and strategists we need to understand how a black-and-white approach to data doesn’t reflect the many shades of grey that make us human. We also need to be alert to the unintended consequences of our work.

In recent years, the growth of cheap, networked sensors collecting large volumes of data, combined with a philosophy that “measurement is good,” has started to polarise the way we view ourselves—focusing on measurable self-improvement over societal well-being. Shades of grey are a social lubricant, giving us plausible deniability and the ability to create suspense and surprise.

This talk will use real-world examples to highlight some of the ways in which designers and strategists can adapt the way they present the collection, measurement and display of data to help individuals maintain control over the way their data is interpreted and visualised. As designers, we need to learn how to create diverse, rich information spaces that balance business and technical needs with those of the individual and society generally.

Give a hoot! Mapping (and caring for) the semantic environment

Before an architect designs a building, she must first understand the environment for which it will be designed: the plot size, shape, and location; the conditions of the ground; exposure to the elements; access to essentials like water and sewage lines; traffic patterns, and more. Only after she’s carefully measured and analyzed the place can she propose a meaningful and practical intervention.

Information architects must also understand the environment we will be designing for. However, ours is not a physical environment but one made of signs: instead of earth, vegetation, roads, and neighboring buildings, we deal with words, ideas, rules, roles, and relationships. Ours are semantic environments, and just like architects do, we must thoroughly understand them before we start proposing designs that change them.

This presentation will introduce the concept of the semantic environment, as it has been developed in the field of general semantics, and will teach you a method for mapping the various semantic environments that affect your project. I will argue that one of the information architect’s responsibilities it to avoid polluting these environments, and will show you specific ways in which you can do this.

In this presentation, you will learn:

  • What the semantic environment is, and why it’s important to your projects.
  • How to avoid polluting the semantic environment.
  • How to create a map of your project’s various semantic environments.
  • How that map can inform the design of a cross-channel information architecture.
  • How my team helped develop a cross-channel IA for a service-focused organization by using this technique.