Notes on the O'Reilly Design Conference

Last week I went to the O'Reilly Design Conference and enjoyed learning about emerging UX trends. The conference was full of high-quality presentations on UX practice. Here are three of my favorite talks.

The Many Minds of the Maker

Knight-Mozilla Fellow Livia Labate shared examples of how designers can overcome barriers to learning code. Her experiences from the pragmatic (no you don't need to learn Rails) to the philosophical (to be good at something, be bad at it first) are relevant to people beyond designers. Her willingness to find common ground and avoid stereotypical conflicts between designers and developers is important.

Measuring Hard to Measure Things

GitHub's Chrissie Brodigan shared user research that helped make GitHub more useful to new users. She included interesting examples of empathetic listening to understand what people wanted. I especially appreciated her insights on survey design and A/B testing offers of free, private code repositories at attract people. Pro tip: consider phrases other than "free private" (e.g., “You’re eligible for a free private repository!”) in an email subject line to avoid spam filters. There were some nice lessons on transparency too, as people took to Twitter to complain about newbies being offered free stuff at the expense of long-time users during a limited-rollout experiment.

Designing for Evil

Brandon Harris described the benefits of a troll persona (or, more generally, an attacker persona) for understanding how users could subvert your software to harm others. This seems particularly relevant as a way for designers without a technical security background to consider how their interfaces are vulnerable to attackers. For example, Scout wrote about Ashley Madison's leaky interface and password recovery flow. With no technical knowledge, a designer could imagine someone testing both their partner's and their own email addresses to see what kind of messages are returned.

Privacy as a Social Good

The conference had a robust slate of 11 presentations over two days in the Design for Social Good track. Privacy played a role in several presentations, including my own talk on UX for Security. Two areas that felt particularly rich in other talks were helping people feel mastery over IoT environments. and questioning algorithmic decision-making. It was nice to see designers talking seriously about the benefits of privacy, but more work is still needed to expand the conversation. Birds of a Feather groups and hallway conversations on social good felt more anchored to "social" as in social media rather than societal good.

Favorite Quotes

Image of a slide from the conference, which says: This is hands down the most time-consuming process and the least efficient thing that I do in my life. [...] People have wasted years of their lives doing this.
Facebook’s Margaret Gould Stewart, pictured here, encouraged designers to improve enterprise software by offering this quote from a usability study participant. There are many painstaking experiences that waste people’s time, and they have no say in which system they have to use for their jobs.

For the Reading List

Two of my next UX reads will be Designing for Respect: UX Ethics for the Digital Age by David Hindman and Designing for Dasein by Thomas Wendt.

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