Design, Event, sketchbook

At DesignUp19

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 Kolko: Creativity

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
  • Quantify it
  • 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…

Andy Budd: An accidental design leader

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.

The ideal talent pyramid

“Give your team the air cover to support learning and growth.”

Accountability Ladder for designers

For more guidelines visit his site Clearleft.

Panel: Roti, Kapda or Mobile

This panel, moderated by Ripul Kumar was about how Indians are changing as a result of their high mobile usage.

People will find a digital consumption equilibrium.”

Navneet Nair of Phonepe

“People expect pleasure out of productivity.”

Payal Arora, author of The Next Billion Users

Payal Arora: Design for the next billion users

Payal spoke about the 5 needs of the next billion users: Fun, Flexibility, Family, Fusion and Friction, and the need to understand the nuances of contexts.

“We need friction to protect people from themselves – to provide a pause before action.”

Design for Social Good: Devika KrishnanAkshay Roongta

We are “maker-centric not market-centric” no matter what the project brief or design process is!

Devangana Khokhar: Data for Social Good

Arindam Mukherjee: Insights for Product Development

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.

The Microsoft Edge designers getting their books signed by Jon Kolko

All in all, a great conference – lots of validation, new learning, new ideas and new people to connect with! Looking forward to the next!

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Life, sketchbook

A Bad Day at Work: Surviving Work, Part 3

As I said the other day, all through 2017 I was drawing out my stress. One day, after an incredibly difficult meeting I came back to my desk, and took a few minutes to quietly straighten myself out.

TRANSCRIPT

    01: Soo: Thankful I can draw
    02: Soo: Ah…Instagram…
    03: Instagram post
    04: Soo: Quickly finish this then go home for the next meeting
    05: Soo: Ma? Umm..hmmm
    06: Soo: I’m OK, I’m at work. Such a bad –
    07: Ma: Oh you’re at work? I saw your post on Instagram – I thought something was wrong with Orin! Bye!

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drawing, Life, sketchbook, Work

Surviving work, part 2

It was early 2017 when I first started to use my drawing to deal with work stress.

I was still grumpily trying to understand what my role as a Design Manager should be, and the anteater, as usual, gave his sage advice:

Sometimes all you need is a different perspective on life, like The Principles of Uncertainty by Maira Kalman.

stress02-3

And I also finished reading M Train by Patti Smith around that time.

stress02-4

While all this helps momentarily, there’s actually larger causes for work stresses which need to be carefully resolved. But of course, I didn’t know that then…

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Event, Technology, Work

Grace Hopper Celebration India 2018: A designer’s perspective

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.”

Sonia Manchanda

 Among the panel there was Sonia Manchanda and Anuradha Madhusudan who really stood out for me.

“Ask yourself, does this idea fit into the narrative of the company?”

Anuradha Madhusudan

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!

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drawing, Life, sketchbook, Work

Surviving work

The last two years have been incredible years of growing for me in my professional life. Challenging work, difficult situations, and always the need to build trust from bottom up.

These are some of the earliest drawings from those days:

201702-work-1

201702-work-2

What kept me going was the long game, and guiding myself with

Progress, not perfection

which I learnt from this 99u talk by Effie Brown.

I also draw myself out of stress, since drawing is nearly therapy for me. The 2017 and 2018 sketchbooks are filled with “stressy” drawings – as my friend Uli would say – like this one:

201702-work-3

After a while though I got used to it, and learnt how to survive difficult days

201702-work-4

Though our man, the brown boy, did have the last word:

“Ultimately, it’s all about having a good time. Later on if you feel you haven’t enjoyed yourself it’s not worth it.”

201702-work-5

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Books, Design, Life, sketchbook

Reading “White” by Kenya Hara

Like I posted earlier, I read White last year and loved it. Here’s a drawing I made during that time.

white

[WHITE
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.

From the sketchbook called Captivity (Feb 2017).

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art, Books, drawing, Life, sketchbook

From Sojourns in the parallel world

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.

levertov

“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.

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People, sketchbook

Phil

It’s almost a year ago that I became a Design Manager at Adobe. Like everything in my life I took it very seriously and questioned the life out of the role.

On a trip back to the mothership, I met with Phil Clevenger, Design Director. Here’s some advice he had for me, among others, that I immortalized in drawing:

[Phil]

“Do something that keeps you happy everyday.”

And this is one for the dark days, when you’ve done all you can:

“Cut yourself some slack. Let some people go.”

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