Saturday, July 6, 2019

IAN SWEET, Danda Da Hora & Strive Conference

Weekly Update 2019-24: Los Angeles songstress IAN SWEET and Brazilian queen Dandha Da Hora both graced my week in different ways, as well as Strive: the UX Research Conference.

This week's instalment of my Badass Women music series comes from IAN SWEET aka Jilian Medford, a local to Los Angeles. She toured with Frankie Cosmos (another badass woman) and has released two super-sweet albums. I absolutely adore her ability to balance her poetic vocals against brash, heavy guitar strums to make for a powerful, yet melancholy sound. It's the right music for cleaning your apartment, going for a brisk walk through the woods, or drafting a resignation letter for a job you hate.

I started with a song called 2soft2chew off 2016's Shapeshifter.

I never knew there was red-coloured egg crate foam?!

I attended a very inspiring user research conference this past week, surrounded by leaders in my field from all over the world. It was two days of pure awesomeness, meeting lots of new people and reconnecting with old friends as well. More on that in the inspiration section below.

On Tuesday my band played a very special drumming show with a guest star. All the way from Bahia, Brazil (via Santa Cruz, California) came Dandha Da Hora, an amazingly sweet and talented triple-threat singer, dancer and drummer. She did a few workshops with us leading up to the performance, which I thought were the most special moments we got to spend with her. Her sweet temperament balanced out Pato's quite well, and she took the time to learn all of our names during the practice.  Of course she sings like a literal angel.

Just when I thought I couldn't be more in awe of her, she gave a lecture (with slides) about the subjugation of Afro-Brazilians. They had been historical excluded from Carnival until the coming of the bloco (band) Ilê Aiyê in 1974, which made a rightful place for Afro-Brazilians among the celebrations.

Following that, we accompanied her on drums as she taught a dance class. This was also special to me because she explained to us how her dance classes must be accompanied by real music. It provides something that recorded music just can't.

This Thursday marks my last BrainStation class for the semester. I love week 10 because I get to see all the final projects for the semester, and my students get to share all the fruits of their labour. I'll be taking a semester off after this one, so I've really got to take everything in before I leave until Fall.

My family is also doing another garage sale this weekend - the perfect activity for my dad since it's also Father's Day! I know he loves to make a deal, get rid of his stuff to people that will enjoy it, and hang out with his family. What else could a dad ask for?! Plus, I'm sure we will be able to fit in a Chinese food dinner for him (his favourite).

Random Thought: Dandha Da Hora
I really must pay a bit more tribute to this amazing woman. Originally from Bahia, Brazil (the same place where our music is from), she now lives in Santa Cruz, California doing the same thing as our band: spreading the word about the power of Brazilian music. Since she can sing, dance, play drums, and who knows what else, I think of her as a person who exudes the spirit of Bahia 24/7.

Spending the day with her was a treat in and of itself, going from a private band practice with her, to a lecture about her experiences with prejudice in Brazil as well as North America, to watching her lead a dance class - I am convinced there's nothing she can't do.

The way she spreads the culture of her home is very similar to what Pato (my band leader) is trying to do, and it was really inspiring just to watch her live the music in so many ways. Not to mention, she has some beautiful outfits that accentuate her dancing so beautifully.

I can't wait to see more of this in Brazil next year!

Inspiration: Strive
I am so fortunate to work at a company that sent me to Strive, an excellent UX Research conference in Toronto. Over two days, I tried to absorb all the information I could.

Thursday was filled with design-specific user research tactic, my most favourite talk of which being from Kristina Rostorotsky. She took great care in outlining all the reasons designers hesitate to do research, and gave calm rationales as to how designers can use our existing skills to leverage an improved research practice. I really appreciated her approach in asking everyone to write down our fears about UX research on a cue card at the start of the talk, and then one way we could combat that fear with a design skill (or superpower) we already possessed on the back of the card at the end of the talk.

Another amazing talk on Thursday came from Ariel Sim, a true visionary whose mission is to show us all how to predict the future through design and anthropology. She described her love for the diagram of Waves of Change (based on the one by Deborah Frieze), depicting the way social change disrupts the status quo. There are four types of people along the line of resisting change to embracing it, and this is the crux of how true social and technological disruption happens.

Protectors will uphold the dominant system (say, the dial-tone telephone system) while hospice workers will maintain its death for them. Meanwhile illuminators draw attention to oncoming trends (like the internet becoming more accessible) and must repeat themselves a number of times, while trailblazers are the ones who listen to the illuminators and leave the system to start something new (like a smartphone).

Ariel is an enthusiastic believer in big-picture thinking, using her world cultural and anthropological skills as a lens through which to conduct design research. She urged us to make decisions based on the long view, and to choose our tools wisely from the design research toolkit.

On Friday, my mind was truly blown over and over again with how much I still wanted to learn about UX research. Shruti Kataria from Airbnb spoke about the company's use of design research to inspire trust, and the importance of opinions as well as facts. Designers and researchers are in a unique position because we study our own biases and are naturally data-driven. We can derive hypotheses from findings, which are what makes our opinion useful to us. This makes sense to me. I see design as an art and a science, wherein sometimes I rely on my gut to make a decision about the findings I've gathered.

Vivianne Castillo spoke about the importance of care and self-care in performing ethnographic research. This type of work, interviewing and working with people from all walks of life to understand their problems, can be very taxing on the soul. Vivianne urges us, rather than "move fast and break things", to slow down and take the time to perform empathy-recharging tasks of care with our interviewees and participants as well as ourselves.

The end of the second day came too quickly, but ended off with a bang. Christina Janzer and Michael Massimi of Slack spoke in detail about their own design research process, in the form of a case study on how to bring the intra-office messaging system to Japan's tech scene. Since the app relies on so many English mannerisms and conventions (in language as well as culture), this would be a huge undertaking in understanding all these differences and how to go about appealing to them through design.

Michael broke down his entire process for us, starting with interviewing all stakeholders, understanding their needs, and creating a list of questions that represented those needs. He then assigned each question a specific user research method that would be able to answer the question. He also assigned each method to the best person for the job (which was not always himself), received sign-off from each stakeholder and set out to complete the research. Co-creation workshops, one-on-one interviews and generative research all came into play.

Slack is big in Japan!

Both days were so inspiring. Especially as a designer on a very small team who takes on all my own design research, it was awesome to meet so many people going through the same thing. I came away with so many things to experiment and try, what an amazing experience.

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