Conference Review: Digital Design & Web Innovation Summit 2015, Part 2: Highlights from Day 2

November 6, 2016

The inaugural Digital Design & Web Innovation Summit took place at the Westin Bonaventure Hotel & Suites in Los Angeles, in September 2015. For an overview of the conference and my reviews of the sessions that I attended on Day 1, read “Part 1: Overview and Day 1.” Now, in Part 2 of my review, I’ll cover the sessions from Day 2 of the conference’s Digital Design & Web track, which took place on September 11, 2015.

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Leveraging Creativity for Your Advertising Partners

Presenter: Kevin Adkins, Creative Director at The Washington Post

Kevin Adkins’s presentation was chock full of the kinds of delightful, interactive-media experiences you’d expect at a conference on Digital Design innovation. That’s not surprising given that the Washington Post now derives its vision and digital inspiration from Amazon. Nonetheless, it was exciting to see. I captured links to as many of the experiences as I could. They are well worth checking out.

Key Points

  • About The Washington Post:
    • Founded in 1877, The Washington Post is 138 years old.
    • Amazon’s Jeff Bezos acquired the newspaper in 2013. Since then, The Post has gone through a transformation that’s resulted in exponential growth in its readership.
    • Under Bezos, The Post has extensively revamped its Web site and mobile apps. It now offers content on the go and, as a result, mobile consumption has increased by 88%.
    • There’s very little overlap between desktop and mobile or across different digital platforms.
    • Millennials are the newspapers’ primary audience.
    • The Post has successfully experimented with Amazon-inspired targeting to increase reader engagement.
    • The newspaper was an Apple Watch launch partner in 2015.
  • Watch-worthy infographics:
  • Clever gamification:
  • A design-based story: White House Shooting
  • A novel user experience for Kindle: Project Rainbow
  • Well-done videos:

My Analysis

Fast Company named The Washington Post the most innovative media company of 2015, and it’s easy to see why. They have hired great designers and built a great team. They’re using data effectively and building compelling, informative, innovative, digital-storytelling experiences. They have definitely raised the bar for online news.

Redesign at Scale

Presenter: Amy Parnell, Head of Product Design at LinkedIn

Amy Parnell gave an inspiring presentation about LinkedIn’s product-development process and shared how the company is able quickly to roll out innovative, new features. Her direct, effective approach to product innovation has helped her to become a Director at LinkedIn in less than five years.

Key Points

  • At LinkedIn, Amy has led several profile-page redesign rollouts:
    • the “Katy” redesign
    • university pages
    • “Art Deco” redesign—Pulse was the first Art Deco–themed project.
    • “Rolling Thunder” redesign—There was a rolling launch of the redesigned logo, with the exception of the logomark itself.
  • About LinkedIn:
    • The company acquired in 2015.
    • Amy was responsible for innovations in LinkedIn’s Organizational Design & Recruiting group.
    • LinkedIn strongly promotes a centralized design team and close collaboration.
  • On design innovation:
    • Start small, then scale. Begin with small teams and small projects that can grow.
    • The market research team sits next to UX research.
  • Design-innovation process:
    • Step 0: Market Research
    • Step 1: Product Design—A new product-design team consists of a UX designer, researcher, and developer. There’s no product owner.
    • Step 2: Testing—Product teams design, iterate, and test until they’re ready to showcase the product.
    • Step 3: Product
    • Step 4: Design Systems:
      • A Design Program Manager manages the library and produces code.
      • They build the project brand, pattern library, and asset library for Sketch, Illustrator, or Photoshop.
      • The team works in two-week sprints.
      • Their goal is to be consistent, efficient, and achieve a fast rollout.

My Analysis

LinkedIn’s process—doing market research first, then proceeding to rapid prototyping and testing before getting product management involved—is unusual and seems like a more logical, pragmatic approach to design-led product development.

Amy’s colorful language throughout her presentation was one of the highlights of the conference. I also loved her use of the term brazen design leaders in her synopsis, which is how she describes LinkedIn’s bold approach to product development.

Design Collaboration

Presenter: Alain Tolentino, Director of User Experience and Design at Yahoo Sports

Alain Tolentino spoke extensively about Pixar’s ability to take a failing project and turn it around through the power of collaboration and teamwork. He quoted Pixar President Ed Catmull, whose words about the work culture at Pixar were quite telling:

“While I’m not foolish enough to predict that we will never have a flop, I don’t think our success is largely luck. Rather, I believe our adherence to a set of principles and practices for managing creative talent and risk is responsible. Pixar is a community in the true sense of the word. We think that lasting relationships matter, and we share some basic beliefs: Talent is rare.”

Key Points

  • About Alain’s background:
    • At Riot games, he worked on League of Legends.
    • At Yahoo, Alain worked on the first-ever NFL live stream and launched Yahoo’s popular Fantasy Football app.
  • Keys to success:
    • delivering great products
    • shaping your narrative
    • designing your culture
  • What is collaboration?
    • “How you collaborate is your culture.”
    • “Collaboration is about people working together to create value.”
  • What is the difference between teams that achieve great things and teams that don’t? Tolentino gave the example of Toy Story 2, which went direct to video:
    • Pixar’s defining moment came when they changed direction.
    • Pixar refused to lower its standards.
    • They brought in a team that shared strong synergy and trust.
    • They retained the core idea, but made the story work by adding drama people could relate to.
    • They use co-located teams.
    • Here’s the thing about teams: “If you give a good idea to a mediocre team, they’ll screw it up. But if you give a mediocre idea to a great team, they’ll make it work.”
  • What are some questions to ask when internal conflicts surface?
    • Is the team qualified?
    • Are the people motivated?
    • Are the objectives well defined and understood?
    • Do people share the same goals?
    • Do they care for each other?
  • About inspiration:
    • As designers, we inspire.
    • Strategy needs to come from the top.
    • Innovation comes from the doers, through collaboration.
    • Their design process involves a behavioral model and storyboards.

My Analysis

Alain did a great job of explaining what works for companies that aspire to create a culture of innovation: attract great talent, encourage collaboration, and use design and new technology to inspire the teams and audience. However, Tolentino focused the bulk of his presentation on Pixar—a company that excels at creative innovation—and spent relatively little time actually talking about innovation and the challenges in achieving it at Yahoo. As a former employee of Yahoo myself, I can sympathize with those challenges, but it would have been great to hear more about how his team has overcome obstacles and achieved synergy in building innovative Yahoo Sports user experiences.

Should We Pay Attention to Wearables?

Presenter: Chris Chandler, Head of Product Experience at Fandango

Chris Chandler answered his question “Should we pay attention to wearables?” by saying, “Probably.” His humorous presentation was well received and captured the challenges of designing for a new, exciting technology that hasn’t yet achieved full market penetration and adoption.

Key Points

  • Adoption of wearable devices:
    • Wearables are descending into the trough of disillusionment—from the Gartner Hype Cycle for Emerging Technologies, shown in Figure 1.
    • 40% to 70% of people are aware of wearables.
    • Only 1.5% own a wearable device
  • Some technology trends to think about:
    • Internet of things (IoT)
    • ubiquitous sensors
    • the quantified self—that is, self-knowledge through numbers
    • ephemeralization—[This is the ability of technological advancement to do] “more and more with less and less until eventually you can do everything with nothing.”—Buckminster Fuller
  • Popular trends in wearable devices:
    • medical, athletic performance, and health devices
    • industrial and military devices
    • devices for nerds
    • apps for measurement—for example, dashboards and apps for self-analysis
    • the Moocall app—which helps track cows
  • Disruptive new concepts:
    • No user interface is the best user interface.
    • invisible computers
    • dramatic machines
    • hero moments
    • ubiquitous computing
    • calm technology
  • Evolution of the relationship between people and devices:
    • one to many—for example, a group of people watching TV
    • one to one—for example, a person using a personal computer
    • many to one—a single person with many devices such as a notebook computer, tablet, and smartphone
  • Final food for thought:
    • Get lean and agile.
    • Wearable products and applications should take location, activity, and context into account.
Figure 1—Gartner Hype Cycle for Emerging Technologies, 2015
Gartner Hype Cycle for Emerging Technologies, 2015

Source: Gartner, August 2015

My Analysis

Fandango seems to be missing some key opportunities with its movie app for the Apple Watch. The app does alert users when a show time is approaching and displays a QR code a ticket checker can scan. But Chris told us the key shortcoming is that Fandango hasn’t properly thought through what the app should display when a user hasn’t yet purchased a ticket. The app’s home screen just shows quotations from movies without any calls to action. This is only marginally better than showing an empty screen and is a huge wasted opportunity! Every time a user glances at the app’s home screen, this is an opportunity for Fandango to add value to their brand. They could easily use that space to up sell or learn more about a user’s preferences.

Changing Culture Through Creation

Presenter: Josh Klenert, Head of UX & Design at JP Morgan Chase

Josh Klenert’s presentation about his experiences directing innovation at media companies focused on substance with style. An experienced creative director, with a strong editorial background, Klenert clearly has a strong sense for what works and what doesn’t. He has confidently brought a classic sense of design to new technologies. Josh is a proponent of changing culture through creation. His contributions span multiple media.

Key Points

  • Companies Klenart has worked with include the following:
    • iHeartRadio:
      • There are 750 radio stations.
      • Users download 25 million songs per month.
      • Users listen up to 10 hours a month or three hours per day.
    • Huffington Post:
      • This Pulitzer prize–winning site gets 2 billion pageviews per month.
      • This not-for-profit newspaper publishes long-form, digital content.
      • Insight: “Social is the new front page.”
    • JP Morgan Chase:
      • The site has 52 million users. One of two households are Chase customers.
      • They shifted from an epic, quarterly release cycle to an agile, quick-win, rapid-release cycle.
      • Built the “Chase Newsroom” - content engages and promotes
      • Chase app values– simple, personal, human, cohesive. Surprise and delight.
  • Josh’s main advice:
    • “Don’t f*ck up the app.”
    • Pay attention to context.
    • Narrow the focus and broaden the results.
    • Introduce design thinking slowly.

My Analysis

Josh Klenert’s presentation, with its great examples of brilliant design, showed that sometimes, in trying to create innovative user experiences, we aren’t always striving to achieve something totally new, but something good. Under his direction, iHeartRadio repackaged radio and delivered it to new-media audiences. Huffington Post repurposed news in a similarly novel and effective way. His presentation slides are well worth viewing for some pertinent examples of polished user experiences.

UX Innovation in the Transformation to Digital Education

Presenter: Eric Thomason, VP of User Experience at Pearson

Eric Thomason spoke frankly about the challenges of innovating at a long-established, traditional business entity like Pearson. He also shared some practical strategies for incrementally changing corporate culture and breaking out of inefficient business processes that stifle creativity and innovation.

Figure 2—Learning design, the right solution for the right user at the right time
Learning design, the right solution for the right user at the right time

Key Points

  • About Pearson:
    • The company was founded in 1844.
    • It has focused on construction, publishing, and education.
  • Culture change versus inertia:
    • There’s a tiny triangle of innovation at the top of the pyramid. We need to start by building the foundation first.
    • There are many obstacles to developing new products, including instructor resistance to technology.
    • They had to move from being a house of brands to a branded house.
    • The UX team worked to develop personas to create greater empathy with users’ needs.
    • Build reusable components—for example, Origami—so innovation can be fast and easy.
    • Efficiency allows innovation.
    • As Seth Godin has said, “Fail fast, fail cheap”—and learn fast.
  • Some useful links:

My Analysis

Eric’s presentation was relevant and useful for designers who are in the difficult position of being the first to introduce the value of design thinking and user experience research to their companies. Not all of us are lucky enough to work at a company with the culture and resources to support spectacularly innovative product development. Eric’s suggestions and examples were practical, helpful, and doable—even at a company that still uses TPS reports. His talk was inspiring!

Final Thoughts

Conferences are generally a great place to find inspiration and network with other UX professionals. This one was no exception. However, at a conference whose name includes the word innovation, I’d ideally expect to learn about remarkable, life-changing products, technologies, and processes from all of the presenters. So, at future conferences, I would like to see the bar raised a bit higher on what constitutes innovation.

That said, hearing about Jeppesen’s iPad navigation apps for airline pilots, The Washington Post’s investment in new-media concepts, and LinkedIn’s product-development process delivered some genuinely exciting moments. This is definitely one conference worth attending for digital designers who need to stay current and want to meet colleagues from various industries.

Overall, there was a lot of buzz around wearables at this conferences. In fact, many conference-goers sported shiny, new Apple watches. As designers and techies, we love our new gadgets. But conversations with people wearing these new watches revealed that most of us aren’t using these devices to their full capability. And we, as designers, are not yet leveraging their full capabilities. The new technologies are here—now it’s up to us to get creative and bring true innovation to our designs 

Staff UX Designer at Spirent Communications

Los Angeles, California, USA

S. Miria JoMiria is a UX professional who has designed user interfaces for software, Web sites, and online advertising experiences at Yahoo, Symantec, and Digitas, and as a freelancer. She is currently doing user research and UX design at Spirent, a multinational, telecommunications-testing company. Miria is also pursuing a passion project, developing several Mars Kids! television series concepts to inspire children to learn about science and space exploration. She also writes songs, rescues Web sites, and creates art.  Read More

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