Last week I had the greatest pleasure of attending DesignUp 2022, the first in-person Design conference in India in 2.5 years. As always, DesignUp has a high bar for quality and this time also it did not disappoint. There were wonderful talks by the speakers and unconference events.
Here are some of my sketchnotes from the conference:
It started with an insightful talk by Nav Pawera on Design in Agriculture
I loved how Nav’s talk took us on their journey of research and design, as the team figured out the relationship farmers had with tech, the role that ground agents (Sahabat Jiva’s) played in their research, evolving the co-creation sessions, and finally at the end of the first year, that the team learnt to get over their own biases as designers! Such a huge learning, that shows amazing self awareness as a team.
Graphic designer and illustrator Kriti Monga shared her insights from living a designer’s life, around the themes of craft, curiosity, courage and living a creative life
Her projects showed how she leans into using her hands and the physical experience to guide her toward exploring ideas further into experience beyond the visual.
Krish Ashok‘s talk on Strategic Laziness was funny and clever.
Writer and designer Lauren Celenza‘s talk spoke truth to some uncomfortable topics we never articulate, about being designers in tech. Her thoughtful and insightful talk resonated with me and the experiences I’ve had in my career in multiple ways.
This quick sketchnote below was for the panel discussion on Design for Bharat moderated by Suresh Venkat.
The second day started with a talk on music and structure by musicians and designers Drupad and Neeraj Mistry. A lovely zen-like beginning to the Sunday morning. Unfortunately, my iPad gave up and I had to draw on paper.
Anek: Design in Diverse Societies by Prof Girish Dalvi was phenomenal, and deservedly got a standing ovation from the audience. Civic signage in India include multiple languages – but English always stands out. Girish informs us that it is because the Indian language typefaces have not been properly designed to scale. As he led us through their process & journey, we learnt about type forms and the craft beyond the digital that is needed. Thanks to their type foundry Ek Type, open sourced via Google Fonts, we now have these ubiquitous typefaces used from signage to media to even WhatsApp forwards!
My friend Ayaz Basrai of The Busride Labs shared their work on the India Futures Project, a speculative design project on the future of India around multiple themes. It was marvelous, challenging our current perspectives with dark visualizations laced with humor. Like a Powers of Ten, it took us to the hive mind of bees and zoomed out through the talk to the overview effect experienced by astronauts in space…
I missed a bunch of talks in the middle, for example my friend Ashish Goel’s talk on courage, Meeta Malhotra’s talk on getting designers a seat at the table, as I was prepping for my own talk on looking for Creative Joy at work. Here’s Rasagy, Meera Sapra and Manali Mitra sharing their captures of my talk.
Designer Ruchita Madhok shared lovely stories about stumbling upon design history 😛 and turning inspirations into passion projects.
During the event, I also helped out with the Unconference events, Sketchnoting with Rasagy and Storytelling with Suresh Venkat, learning as much as we shared, and being totally blown away by the creativity of the participants.
I had forgotten how wonderful and inspiring conferences can be, and DesignUp recreated all that magic all over again, a passion project by designers for designers. A big shoutout to the volunteer team (in which I play a bit part), led by Jay, Shiva, and Narayan.
I just came back from DesignUp 2019 which isn’t just a design conference, it’s made by designers for designers. This year it was bigger and better than ever. In the conference lineup there was a mix of data+design, the pluralities that exist in India with design for the social sector, design leadership and a number of varied workshops. Here are the sketchnotes of the talks I attended:
Jon talked about four ways in which design leaders can help to enhance creativity of their teams – to acknowledge feelings, tame ambiguity, drive a vision and let teams run wild. For example, designers feel vulnerable when putting up their work for a critique, so respect and acknowledge that. In a critique, he said, there should be no hierarchy. The highest paid person in the room is equal to everyone else, it should be a democratic process so foster trust. Another aspect of a design leadership is to set a vision – frame the problem and humanize it.
“Show the team why there’s a reason to believe. Bring the design criteria to life.”
Dave Malouf: Design Ops – The power to amplify design value
Dave’s talk finally gave me a name to some of the activities I’ve been engaged in over 2019 – hiring and setting up the design team and the comms for Microsoft Edge Design in India. For a long time, until I heard from Dave, I didn’t really think I was doing real “design” – but I realized after this talk, that I was setting the foundation for the team now to start performing at their best.
Design Ops basically creates time for design teams by streamlining effort and communication, to focus and put their best energy on the most creative aspects of the work. For scaling a design team and ensuring a quality practice that creates quality experiences, design ops is a must. Dave’s talk focused on principles and values to guide with.
“So that we mutually understand and value what is quality design output, AND quality practice is. Design Ops carries the burden.”
Socialise design quality
Critical design language
Monitor to learn and adjust
The design process (and proud to say we use the shiny double diamond in our team) that helps to explore multiple approaches:
Dave also explained how should design teams use quantitative and qualitative data:
Methods for collecting the right data as part of the design process
Instrumentation to be built in to capture the right data
Dashboards to turn data into insights
BTW, Dave founded the ixda – and that’s where I learnt how to be an interaction designer way back in 2004…
I had been reading Andy’s blog since 2004, and he was one of the early designers, and his talk was about the roles and responsibilities of design leaders.
An absolutely fantastic talk that made we wish I had a design mentor back when I was struggling to understand how to lead design teams. Now after 5 years or so, I may have learnt all these, only with a few battle scars and heart burn.
Andy talked about 5 things: Hiring the right designers for your team, retaining them and helping them stay creative, giving them the space to thrive and managing up and down.
“Give your team the air cover to support learning and growth.”
Another awesome talk which I couldn’t draw – because my pen had run out of ink – was “Design Leadership without losing your hair” by Param Venkataraman.
“The higher you go, the deeper you need to look.”
What was nice was that lots of speakers recommended books like Orbiting the giant hairball, Design the life you love, etc. There were so many more talks that were happening in parallel that I missed, including Alyssa Naples’s talk. It was really difficult to be at each of them. Plus there were all the wonderful conversations that happened at the edges of the conference.
All in all, a great conference – lots of validation, new learning, new ideas and new people to connect with! Looking forward to the next!
It was my first ever Grace Hopper India Conference for women in tech and having a reputation as a top conference for tech, I had high expectations from it. And more so because it was organized by women – who were, from my experience in corporate life, organized, efficient, empathetic and warm. And this year there was even a Design in Tech track. Naturally I was curious and interested.
This year the event was very large with nearly 5000 attendees, 440 companies, and about 300-400 odd attendees from Microsoft itself. There was also 1% men in attendance, the largest ever in GHCI, as we heard in the keynote.
A celebration of women in tech
Beyond the usual welcome and introductions, the first keynote speaker was Lori Beer (Global CIO, JP Morgan Chase). She shared her journey of moving from technology to finance. The key takeaway from her keynote was her message to Pay it forward – what kind of impact can you make in your own way, how you can support other women in the field and what can you give back to the women in tech community.
All the first day talks, including the keynotes, were almost calls to action to the women attendees – about owning their career and believing in themselves. It might seem redundant for some, but for most of the audience, these messages really resonated because we work in a primarily male-dominated profession, even now.
I’ve always been a designer in tech and for most of my career I have been the only woman in the room and had never seen women at the India leadership level until recently. Younger colleagues have asked me why that matters, but it does.
It takes a lot of grit to speak up when you’re the only woman in the room when you might be the only one with a different point of view. It takes a lot of determination to overrule interruptions and still make your point. It takes a lot of perseverance to imagine your own career path when you don’t identify with any of the role models in front of you because they didn’t have to make the same choices of pregnancy, motherhood and parenting. It takes a lot of courage to come back to work and prove yourself again and again because you made different choices than the people in power.
For many, this set the tone for the rousing and motivating experience for the next 3 days.
However what could have been done better was to include the male attendees into the conversation, but there was no acknowledgement of the men and how the genders can collaborate/support each other better. After the first initial mention of the 1% men stat they were forgotten in most of the sessions I attended. Like SheroesSummit, this could have been a great platform to not repeat the biases of the past and start on a more inclusive note, and possibly including different gender identities.
Design and tech
The conference content was significantly tech-intense and of good quality from what I heard and experienced. There were at least 5 parallel tracks running so it was quite easy to miss out.
Though the organizers had tried to address multiple themes within Design in tech, like de-mystifying Design, Design Thinking, the journeys of a few well-known women Design leaders, and how to transition to a UX career if one is so inclined, there was a fundamental lack of interest in the evolution of Design in Tech or in trying to understand the relationship between Design and UX – the terms were used pretty interchangeably. For a number of attendees, this was an intro to Design so there was a risk of miscommunicating the concept of design and its role in technology.
These were the talks that stood out for me:
Inclusive Design and Accessibility: Swami Manohar from Microsoft Research
Dr Manohar began by talking about recognizing your privilege and exclusion, before addressing inclusive design, and why diverse perspectives matter. His point of view, which is Microsoft’s point of view about Inclusive Design is that if we make it better for the usually excluded group of users, we make it better for everyone.
From How to Design, Innovate, and Create Designs that People will Love: A panel with women design leaders.
“Wait for the right moment of insight – a non-obvious, disruptive insight.”
“Ask yourself, does this idea fit into the narrative of the company?”
It was interesting for me to see how much curiosity there was around design. It shows that not only is there a lack of designers in the field, but also not enough designers who can demystify and evangelize their process and work to their tech partners in meaningful ways. There was a whole session on developers who want to become designers.
A case study about how these developers, Sampada and Aslesha, used design thinking to solve a real problem. I was quite impressed by their level of empathy and how they learnt and applied the design process while solving this problem.
This talk Design for Conversational Interactions by Vidhya Duthaluru and Vandana Abraham was really good, crisp and useful. From a project they had done for Uber, Vidhya succinctly identified all the steps one needs to think about while moving an interaction to a conversational experience.
This was a set of useful conditions to know while Designing for Emerging Markets by Muzayun Mukhtar.
The gender conversation
As I mentioned above, this was a celebration of women in tech. But the idea of “women in tech” itself was a bit fuzzy to some. In almost every talk I attended, by women and men presenters both, there were some sweeping statements about why women would be good at design or women would be good at accessibility or women would be good at storytelling – it’s not about gender, it’s about the person and the skills! This not only reinforced gender stereotypes but also diminished the content of their talk for me.
Despite this and some other logistical challenges, #ghci18 was a great experience and I also managed to catch up with friends from elsewhere at the conference. I met a number of really nice women and found that spending time in the company of women can be very supportive and affirmatory. If nothing else, that’s one good reason to go to women in tech conferences every year!
Every morning I sit and drink my coffee and read a few pages of White in silence and calm, and it’s a beautiful meditative experience reading this book. I feel thankful for life and everything that is still left in this world for me to wonder at.]
Read it for the experience as well as for the content.
A year or so ago, I used to have a morning ritual of waking up and reading some poetry with coffee. Once in a while I would read Meditations by Marcus Aurelius, and during that time, I also read White by Kenya Hara. (It’s such a meditative, beautiful book, and it was rather a spiritual and other worldly experience for me.)
One of those mornings, I read this poem by Denise Levertov. Though it’s about immersing our human consciousness in the natural world, to me the last few lines evoked how we continue to voluntarily lose ourselves in the virtual world.
“No one discovers
just where we’ve been, when we’re caught up again
–but we have changed, a little.”
From the sketchbook called Finding Soo • August 2016.