Monday, October 31, 2016

Hello Bavaria! - Push Conference Day 1 (Munich Day 2)

In late October 2016, my company EventMobi graciously sent me to an extremely interesting and inspirational design conference in Munich, Germany called Push Conference. This is the fifth year of the conference, and I was excited to see the city as well as attend the two-day conference packed with influential speakers and topics.

It was also my first time travelling to a different country alone (let alone to another continent!) which was an adventure in itself, which I will document in another post. But for now, let's skip to my second day in the beautiful city of Munich. I had purposefully booked an AirBnB that is walking distance to the Alte Kongresshalle where the conference was taking place. As I left the apartment in the morning, I was excited to find that the walking path would lead me directly through the Oktoberfest grounds (which I had just missed only three weeks before...can't have it all). As I approached the lovely tree-lined oval of land, I realized that while Google Maps had shown a walking path straight across the grounds, I couldn't seem to find an entrance through the fence that also lined the area. So I walked around the bottom of the oval, catching an interesting-enough view of the workers dismantling the beerhalls and statues of beer steins and lions perched on pedestals.

I also noticed that around the outside of the grounds, all of the business parks were extremely beautiful and calm-looking. I couldn't see where there might be any parking, so it looked like a pedestrian maze of architecture and sculpture. It was really interesting. More on this later in the post.

I arrived at the conference hall to get in line for my badge. Volunteers served coffee and pastries to attendees while they waited in line, which was a nice touch.

The badges were very interesting, with little areas for stickers regarding the attendee's interests. I stuck mine on like so:

Once inside I noticed that there was a little tradeshow going on in the two-floored lobby of the conference hall. The lobby was simply filled with tables of interesting projects: some VR, some producing generative art, and so on. There were all sorts of things to see. I tried on a glove that, when paired with VR, would provide vibrating feedback to simulate the sense of touch in a virtual world.


Today's talks were about communication, process, and psychology (the process side of design).

After looking around a little, I grabbed a pretzel (Bavarian specialty) and took my seat for the first two talks. The creators/MCs of the conference introduced the day, and explained that while there was no WiFi in the building (darn you, old European architecture), attendees were encouraged to use the analog network (saying hello to the people around you). And so we did. It was at this point that I noticed a lack of event app, which was surprising and a little disappointing.

I also noticed that not many people were using computers to take notes. There was an array of tablets but by far the most popular was handwritten notes. I supposed at the time that the talks would be put online, but I felt that it would be best to record the points that resonated with me in the moment. And so that's what I did! What you'll read below is a short synopsis and key takeaways from my point of view on each of the speakers.

TALK #1 Scott Savarie
The first talk was by Scott Savarie, currently a product manager at Invision (which my company uses extensively) and a fellow Canadian like me!

Scott talked about how the role of the designer is always changing, and it's best to have at least a working understanding of a bunch of roles to be as versatile as you can be. I definitely agree with this point, though the opposite can also be true (specializing and becoming an expert in a specific skill). I suppose the method chosen depends on the type of person.

Scott discussed his three-step program, which consists of:

  1. Stop reinventing and start standardizing
    It's not a good use of time to reinvent the wheel, and you've probably heard of the saying, "work smarter, not harder". There's no point in doing work that's already been done, so we should instead focus our time on standardizing and agreeing upon a set of standards, like a style guide. The design team at my work focuses on this to the nth degree. In fact, you can read about it in a Medium article my coworker Phil wrote.
  2. Ask more questions before you even start
    I took this to heart. Asking questions (and hopefully getting answers of course) is key. Knowing not only what you are designing but also why you are designing it will help the process along immensely. What are the business goals? Who will use this?
  3. Use data and be reflective about it
    At EventMobi, we try to make data driven decisions as much as possible. We are lucky to have a depth of statistics in our database from users over the past while, which we can use to make design decisions about adding or removing features, improving experiences, and so on.

TALK #2 Nathalie Nahai

Nathalie's background is in psychology, specifically about how people perceive the internet. She spoke about the 7 psychological principles of successful products (I wonder if she's patented the phrase!). Some of the key interesting ones:

  • Endowed progress
    Persuading the user to think they've already begun the task, which motivates them to finish it. An example of this was a coffee card with two stamps already completed out of ten, versus a coffee card with no stamps completed out of eight. I can think of a million ways this could be used in user interface design, such as during onboarding!
  • Appointment dynamic
    Keeping the customer returning, creating a habitual pattern of use. For example, happy hour from 5:00-7:00 every day. People will remember that this pub has cheap drinks after work, and keep returning there because they know the appointment

After Nathalie's talk came lunch. I obtained a sandwich and continued my exploration of the tradeshow floor. There was a prototyping competition coming up in a few minutes, hosted by a German design agency called IXDS, that I wanted to check out. It ended up being a competition to put together a little racing robot with sensors and wires very similar to the ones I had been working with in my Arduino projects. The little robots moved around using a light sensor that would control a vibrator on the robot's body. With toothbrush heads attached to their bottoms, the vibration would move the bristles of the toothbrush to move, and a strong focused light could control the direction of the robot. See the video below:


And if that wasn't enough, there was also this really cool...projector-looking thing. You'd draw a cycle of your day in terms of dreaming, eating, or walking, and then place your card on the 'projector', which would actually project sounds based on your drawing. It worked better when you would layer more than one card, creating the sound of your day. Check it out:


After that excitement, I returned to my seat in the conference hall to start the afternoon's talks. Next up was Ame Elliot speaking about privacy, trust and security in user experience design. I was excited for this talk because we discuss it a lot at my work.

TALK #3 Ame Elliot
When considering security as a designer, as in any other consideration, you have to know your user. For example, Ame suggests as a U.S. native currently living in Berlin, that the attitudes of Americans and Germans are completely opposite. Americans trust social media and not their government, while Germans feel the inverse of that. I found this very interesting, as I thought about what it would be like to have complete trust in one's government (it's a little better in Canada, but I don't know that I'd use the word 'trust').

Ame used an extreme example of Dunkin' Donuts' rewards app (similar to the one every major food corporation seems to have nowadays), called DDPerks. When downloaded, this app gives the customary privacy policy and terms of service that we all skip over. Its terms are extremely aggressive: it has access to delete media from your phone, view your contacts, keep your phone from sleeping, and lots more. All of this for the cost of a coffee. How much do we value our privacy?

Ame also spoke about the responsibility of the designer not to mislead the user. Slapping a lock or a shield icon on something doesn't make it safe, and conversely, designers have the power to turn dry/scary topics of security into something the user can understand and even enjoy.

After Ame came a series of four lightning talks (ten minutes each), which was an excellent change of pace at that time of day. I have seen a number of lightning talks at my work and given one myself, and find that providing a limitation of time on the presenter makes for an essential explanation devoid of excess. Obviously not all topics can be successfully squished into a short span, but in this case it worked well.

Lightning Talks
  1. Anders Toxboe (a speaker from Push 2015) returned to make some amendments to his talk from last year. He had given many insightful tips of UX design, but had realized in the interim that using too may of them at once can confuse and overwhelm the user. As in all matters in life, quality over quantity.
  2. Laura Chiesa spoke about emotional interfaces. This was a good one. As a test, she told Siri that she was feeling sad. This was Siri's response:

    I love the idea of interfaces becoming more human-feeling, probably because it reminds me of my favourite movie Her (which Chiesa also mentioned in her talk!)
  3. Marina Grechko spoke about the importance of UI Maps, which are basically a collection of wireframes of an app that are connected to each other through links, all on one big sheet of paper. This allows all flows of the experience to be seen at once, for ease of review. I have a done a couple of these as part of some of my projects.
  4. Lastly, Olivia Shepherd spoke about the importance of keeping the user in mind when designing. This instilled the importance of user testing in my brain and how I could incorporate more of it into my work process.
TALK #4 Nick Babich
Next up was Nick Babich and his rules for the perfect navigation, in any product. He went through the basics, explaining (to my delight) about the perils of the hamburger menu. As I'm sure you know, the hamburger menu is a plague on the design world, forcing the mobile user to tap twice for any possible action, and usually without knowing what exactly is within the menu to begin with. One of my favourite slides of the entire conference depicted all the 'workarounds' people try, that all amount to the same user experience.

Hilarious. If you don't understand what John Travolta is doing in the middle of the slide, it's a meme taken from Pulp Fiction. Basically it means, "where the f**k am I?"

Nick also made some interesting points about navigation in new technology like smartwatches (use as little as possible) and virtual reality (where we are not limited by the 2D nature of design up until now). Someone in the audience made a good point by asking about the future of navigation patterns in voice recognition products. I suppose we will have to wait and see, or try some stuff out!

TALK #5 Tom Greever
I was very excited for Tom's talk, all about articulating design decisions to the stakeholders of our work. I find that my proficiency in this subject is a little lacking, so I welcomed some advice on how to convince my boss to agree with my design choices. After all, who doesn't want to be told they're right?

Tom started off with a newsflash (totally true).

He posed a question to the audience: what makes a good design? There are naturally lots of answers, such as the textbook ones: simplicity, good use of space, when you can’t remove anything else. But really, there are three components:
  • When it solves a problem
  • Easy for users to use
  • And one more thing...

The most overlooked and arguably most important answer is: it should be supported by everyone. If the designer doesn't support it, it won't get designed. If the stakeholder doesn't support it, it won't get made. Everyone has to be on the same page, at least to some degree.

One has to be a good communicator to be a good designer. Tom explained that there are four steps to winning support with everyone in the room:
  1. Approaching
    This one should be a given, you must understand the problem inside and out. What problem does this solve? How does this affect the user? Why is this better than the alternative?
  2. Understanding
    This one is a little harder. See the situation from the stakeholder's perspective. Remove distractions from the process, like shifting focus away from the typeface if that's not what you want feedback on. And, as much as you can, anticipate reactions and and how you would respond.
  3. Listen
    Most important. Give them time to talk as much as they want. Even when there is a silence, let it go for a good length of time. Let them know they're being heard. At this point the trick can be to hear what they're not saying. Read between the lines. You also want to steer away from the word 'like', which is subjective. Instead, ask if the design 'works'. It's like a magic word.
  4. Respond
    Now, it's your chance to respond. While you may disagree with what has been said, it's good to treat the situation like improv and start with a 'yes'. "Yes, and..." can be your best friend. It fosters an atmosphere of collaboration, and allows you to focus on the parts you agree on, which will earn you more trust and cooperation.
Tom gave lots of brilliant points and tactics to use, but he also provided a nuclear option; in case there is nothing else to be done, paint a duck. This means adding something purposefully for the stakeholder to pick at so they have some critique to give. Of course, you run the risk of the stakeholder actually liking the duck, so be mindful of that.

And that was it! Day one finished. Well, the talks, anyway. The speakers were thanked and given goodie bags (how nice), and the one-and-only attendee to have attended the conference for all five years was awarded a bottle of some kind of German spirit. And with that, the beer began to flow!

After the talks, I stuck around to do some speed-networking with 20-or-so others attending the conference. It was basically like speed-dating but with business cards and industry lingo. Not a single one of them was from Canada, or had even come from as far as me to get to the conference. How special. One interesting thing was that I met a guy from Bern, a town very close to Lauterbrunnen (where I had visited in Switzerland eight years ago). He even knew the small mountain I had climbed! Lovely.

I'm the networker on the farthest-right.

I also found myself having a nice conversation that evening with Luke Thompson, a designer at Kin, who I didn't realize at the time would be speaking the next day. You'll hear more about him in the post on the second day of the conference.

After that, I went to enjoy some of the fine Bavarian beer that the conference had provided, thanks to MailChimp (they never let me down). I met some interesting people who had been sent by their companies like me, one of whom was from IXDS, and their offices happened to be a ten minute walk away! As we were finishing the last of the beers, someone offered to walk over to the IXDS office to keep drinking. Well, of course I want to visit a design office in Munich, and if the party was going to stretch a little longer, who was I to say no?

Their office was extremely nice. They have a maker space with a 3D printer (which I would love to have in my own office) and a sort of lounge area across the ceilings of all of their meeting rooms (complete with wooden ladders to climb up top). I can't show you any of the pictures I took, though, because I don't think I was supposed to be taking any...but one thing that did surprise me was the infographic on water consumption I saw in the ladies bathroom. It looks just like my beef consumption project!

After some more chatting with the lovely people who work there, I decided it was time to go home. One of the other attendees who had walked to the office with me, was going in the same direction so we left together. On the way back, my strolling partner graciously waited for me as I took pictures of all the amazing public art in the business park.

As we made our way back past the Oktoberfest grounds, he showed me videos of Oktoberfest when it had been happening. It was kind of cool to see the video in the same place it had originally happened, but goodness knows I need to go back when it's actually happening!

When we parted ways, he wished me a safe trip back to Spaghettistrasse (a nickname for the street where I was staying - Pestalozistrasse sounds like Pasta) and we parted ways for the night. But my fun was far from over...I wasn't tired and still a bit tipsy from the delicious Munich beer, so I took a shortcut back to my AirBnB through a cemetery that turned out to be the Südlicher Friedhof (Old South Cemetery) which was established in 1563. It was too dark to read any tombstones and a little creepy, but there are some creatives of note buried there like painters, actors, architects, and sculptors. I took a time lapse as I walked through. Check it out:


After all that excitement, it was definitely time for sleep. More on the conference in my next post about day 2 (and day 3 in Munich).

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