Don’t Forget You’re Human

Posted 4 years ago by James Utley No Comments

Technology has undoubtedly changed the way we perceive and interact with the world. Communication has moved to the digital space, as have the tools we use as designers. There was once a time when creatives were true craftsmen, spending hours in front of an art board or a typesetter. Collaboration meant working face to face, hashing out ideas and grinding out work as a team.

I had the privilege of attending the Big D conference in Dallas this year and found the talks to be both insightful and inspiring. They also reaffirmed an idea I have held for quite some time—that technology itself is distracting us from the very fact we are human. As humans, our greatest potential is achieved in the best environment, using the best tools. However, we need to remember that we are physical beings living in a physical world and though we are designing for a digital space, our process needs to take into account that we are still people. We need to step back, work with our hands, and interact with people face to face, rather than becoming silos behind a desk.


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Scott Zimmer, a design lead at Capital One spoke about three different principles of designing to disrupt, one of which was to “Get Deliberate About Space”. The talk focused on how the environment in which a designer works has a direct impact on their productivity. Zimmer explained that Capital One’s design studios seek to reimagine space outside of typical design labs and have created spaces that consider the context of how their designers work every day. For critiques, they have implemented a gathering space that centers around a single screen/presentation area. Collaboration spaces are designed for small as well as large groups and are closed off so as to not disturb other designers on the floor. They also built Anti-collaboration spaces for those who need some time to focus on their own. This approach considers the way people think and provides the best environment to facilitate innovation.

I have found this idea as well as the result to be especially true for the Agile process. The agile model intends for all parties to be within reach because changes happen on the fly, and need to be absorbed quickly and easily. Space is an integral part of this process. Having the entire team sit and work at the same physical table is very effective. Since everyone is within arms reach, decisions arrive at a consensus and communication is inevitable. Cubicles are physical barriers that tend to create great rifts in communication. Even if the team is in close proximity, not having that face to face interaction changes the team dynamic. People are less apt to ask direct questions, individuals are no longer directly in tune with the group, and the team dynamic begins to deteriorate.


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Lets say a young designer who is adamant that he has exhausted his options and has found the best solution approaches you. When asked what his other ideas were, and where his sketches are, you realize he has explored only a handful of options. As we move into the digital space I have observed an increasing amount of designers who use this approach as they have lost touch with integral part of the ideation process: sketching. Brian Sullivan from Sabre presented us with five sketching secrets that would help us learn to “Design like DaVinci”.

The five secrets he was referring to stress the following:
1. Sketch by hand on a sheet of paper.
2. Do initial sketches alone.
3. Review your sketches with others later.
4. Use annotations, arrows, and labels.
5. Save and re-visit your earlier sketches.

Essentially, Brian was trying to emphasize the importance of using our hands, exhausting our ideas, and last but not least, documenting them. Remembering that we are human and the fastest most efficient way of thinking through and pumping out our ideas is to utilize the sketching process. This is vital in design as it helps us think outside the realm of our first response and begin to explore new configurations and unique ideas.


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In his talk about UX as a service, Brandon Ward, a user experience designer for Improving Enterprises, claims he champions collaboration and building open communication within a team. “We’re people, people!!!”, says Brandon, reminding us that despite our work we need to consider that everyone is a person with a voice, and our interactions should put that at the forefront of our mind. Brandon tells us we need to work through exchanges, not as silos. “Present a team with a problem, they’ll find solutions. Tell them to use your solution, all they’ll find are problems”. The best way to work is to be open, honest, trustworthy, and inclusive. If we remember that we are working with humans, a race that is naturally narcissistic, we can use that to our advantage. If we take that into account and learn to communicate effectively we can become a team that builds consensus, solves problems, and becomes an engine for innovation.

Before technology became so prominent in our world, we still had the ability to design effectively. As much as technology helps us complete our tasks, designers should keep in mind that it can also hinder progress if we allow it to. The physical space we work in, the tools we use, and the way we collaborate all play a part in the day to day life of a designer. The Big D Conference helped bring attention to these things and help me to realize what I was doing and what I could be doing to improve myself and my work. I challenge you to step to evaluate your own processes, sketch more, change your environment, and become a better collaborate. You may find that remembering your human, will keep you grounded and maximize your effectiveness throughout your design process.

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