Conference, Design, Design Strategy, Innovation, UI Design, UX Design

Highlights from Design Matters 2017

by Alex Taylor, Art Director at Backelite

We were fortunate enough to be able to attend the second installment of the Design Matters conference in Copenhagen this past September! It was packed with 27 speakers from some of the hardest-hitting players in the digital design world today, along with more than 500 participants from all over the world.

Themes included Conversational UI’s, Spreading the Product Design DNA, and Embracing Failure. Here are a few highlights from the two-day event which we hope to attend again next year:

Day One

Welcome to Design Matters!

The setting for this year’s installment of Design Matters was in a huge former salt warehouse located in North Harbour in Østerbro in Copenhagen. Participants were greeted with bright blue canvas bags of schwag before having our pictures taken for the participants’ contact wall. Upon entering the enormous space, a flute player helped to welcome us with light music, along with delicious Danish breakfast pastries. (Perfect for those who arrived in Copenhagen the night before only to discover that they can’t handle heavy Danish beers.)

Once everyone was seated and caffeinated, Ingrid Haug, the conference’s co-founder, got things rolling: She discussed how new movements are emerging in the digital world and changing the role of the designer as we know it.

Failure: The End is the Beginning
Rahul Sen, Design Manager at Spotify

Using examples from history, biology and the Indian culture of ‘jugaad,’ Rahul motivated us with this first presentation where he urged us to change the way we think about failure and success. He went on to discuss failing in a thoughtful way and how this actually helps us to evolve, both personally and professionally. Thus we need to start creating cultures which encourage failure if we really wish to grow, whether that be in regards to ourselves, our companies, or our products.

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Applying Vonnegut’s 8 Rules for Writing to User Experience
Hazel Jennings, Content Strategist at Instagram

Hazel explained that at Instagram, they use counter culture novelist Kurt Vonnegut’s 8 Rules for Writing to solve UX problems — everything from better onboarding to making product decisions. Even though Vonnegut keyed these rules years ago on his typewriter, they can be applied today to use storytelling which builds a stronger connection between one’s product and the people who use it.

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How Uber Builds Trust in Self-Driving Cars
Molly Nix, Senior Product Designer and UX Design Lead at Uber

One of our favorite presentations of the entire conference, Molly explained how Uber is tackling perhaps one of their greatest challenges: We as a society aren’t sure yet if we’re ready to trust something as new as self-driving cars. She explained Uber’s journey in building this trust by creating transparency, control, and comfort for users. The design teams at Uber are approaching these issues by (1) looking to the past to learn how we overcame this lack of trust in other new technologies like automatic elevators, by (2) addressing these issues head-on with technology and etiquette-based responses, and (3) conducting a slew of tests to learn what works best from all of this research.

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Designing Voice UI’s: From Blank Page to World Stage
Cheryl Platz, Former Alexa Designer

When it comes to Natural User Interfaces (NUI), Cheryl really knows her stuff. She presented the entire 2+ years product development cycle all the way from conception to launch for the Amazon Echo Look, an Alexa-enabled home fashion photography device with companion app.
She covered common mistakes, ethnographic research tips, addressing product problems, and even gave us a peak at her hand-drawn storyboards and process.

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Day Two

Art vs. Product
Nicholas Felton, Information Designer at Feltron

We were very excited to see Nicholas Felton (AKA Feltron) speak, as he may very well be the king of modern data visualization. Famous for tracking the data of his everyday life before turning it into impressive ‘annual reports’ which he went on to sell, or helping to create the Facebook Timeline, he discussed the differences between being an artist versus being an entrepreneur. He also discussed his many side-projects (i.e. the Reporter app which allows people to beautifully visualize their own life’s data), along with his forays into machine learning and mapmaking.

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Validated: Communicating Designs that Appeal to the Business
Brent Palmer, Product Design Lead at Zendesk

Compelling branding should be a priority for every company. Perhaps as equally important if not more important is convincing internal stakeholders when a brand redesign is actually needed or that it’s worth it. Brent showed us how to do this while presenting Zendesk’s redesign — a redesign which had huge international implications. He provided various unexpected examples, like using videos, Snapchat, and guerilla efforts in order to get all the required stakeholders at Zendesk on board.

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Designing for Scale at Scale
Katy Tsai & Maria Iu, Design Lead & UX Design Manager at LinkedIn

Katy and Maria presented the redesign of LinkedIn on mobile and web, a process which took two years and many different players to complete. They described the rollercoaster of emotions during the life of this large project for 500 million members, along with overhauling LinkedIn’s IA, how difficult it is working with an ever-evolving scope, creating a new design language, and how feedback is a gift — even when it doesn’t seem like it. We especially took notes as they provided us with their war-room best practices!

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Learning from Failure to Be a Better Designer
Sam Horner, Product Designer at Netflix

Rather than discussing how to fail, Sam spoke about something perhaps even more important: learning from failure. When Netflix discovered that its users were having a hard time actually deciding what to watch, Netflix set out to create a concierge which would make movie and television recommendations based on each viewer. Even though this concierge wasn’t a successful, launchable product, Netflix continued using it and its code base to test different hypotheses and learn what best suited users’ needs. The conclusions drawn from these tests and failed hypotheses lead to other more successful hypotheses which were eventually put into production. The moral of the story? Be proud of what you learn, not what you build.

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Design matters was a hit — We were impressed by the slew of knowledgeable experts which covered such a wide variety of pertinent topics in digital design today, not to mention the Q & A sessions and workshops. All set in beautiful Copenhagen. We can’t wait to see what the conference holds in store for 2018!


Photos used courtesy of Design Matters