Web Directions Design 2018 was held April 11 & 12 at Arts Centre Melbourne.

The room had an immediate buzz as soon as people headed into the room, which lasted through the whole event.

Old school jump menu

Day One

Day Two

Disclaimer & Image Credits

  • These notes were hammered out very quickly and paraphrase what speakers were saying. If you need an exact quote, use a definitive source such as a recording or slide deck.
  • Photo credits as per the social media embeds.

Day One

Jeff Veen – Crafting a Creative Culture

Jeff notes that we’ve been doing this a long time… Hotwired was 25 years ago!

Today Jeff’s talking about a key question, something that’s obvious a concern in his current role in a VC company:

Why do some products succeed when others fail?

Some people will say….

  • it’s just about distribution – if you get people to the product, you’ll be ok.
  • it’s innovation – tech people will tend to say this. Technology is what drives product success.
  • it’s about satisfying an umet need

In truth it is a combination of these things, there’s no single driver.

There is a truth that no product succeeds if it’s built by a single person – with some very very rare exceptions. Mostly the really big, successful products are built by teams. So ultimately it’s about the people.

What is it about successful teams? What can you do to minimise risks and maximise the chances of success?

You can try to gauge skills, team fit, experience… but the thing they’ve really been focusing on is emotional intelligence. EQ is “almost a silver bullet”.


Visualisation exercise: imagine you are enjoying a quiet paddle in canoe a peaceful lake, then suddenly you get flipped over into the water and you come up for air…

What emotions would you feel if you cam up and discovered some teenagers have snuck up and thrown you out, now they’re pointing and laughing. You’d probably be pissed off at them! But what if you come up and realise there was a piece of driftwood you didn’t see, that you hit and rolled the canoe?

You would have really different emotional responses to those two scenarios. You’ll have immediate reactions like gasping for air, but the emotional reaction is something you can control. It’s a skill called equanimity, or 'grace under pressure’. A state of emotional stability, especially in a difficult situation.

Jeff talked through a morning where he found his kid ramming rolls of toilet paper down the toilet. As a parent you need to stay calm. And another scenario where TypeKit was having a major technical issue… publication to the CDN wasn’t working and things were backing up hugely. They discovered about.me had launched and caused a sudden, huge spike in traffic. Then he found out there was more coming.

They had to work over the pre-Christmas weekend, which is part of the situation with a startup. It’s a risk. The team agreed this was one of those times they had to just get it done.

They had three days and decided to time box it:

  1. day one: identify the problem
  2. day two: build a solution
  3. day three: integrate and launch it

So they took a few steps:

  • sequester the team – literally something you can take from rocket science. They had one person on the dev team act as liason, and kept everyone else away.
  • remove business decisions from solving tech problems
  • provide moral support

They were trying to create a sense of equanimity, so people could perform their best in this moment.

They worked out in the end that there was a problem with their CDN origin server. They already had a plan to build their own origin server, to replace the stock one provided from their hosting partner. But the project plan for that was 19 weeks! But they did work out an MVP version they could ship in a day, that was just fast enough to bring the load back down and resolve the issue.

So what do we learn from all of this?

  • Everything we build on the web is connected, and everything breaks. We have to design for that – our teams, our infrastructure, everything.
  • Everything is user experience.
  • Teams thrive when they have a sense of equanimity.

Yesterday at Design Leaders, Project Aristotle came up a few times. It was an attempt to solve the question of why some projects succeed and others fail. They did it the Google way, by crunching a huge amount of data. What they eventually found: success came from teams who had a sense of psychological safety. That the team members had “a sense of confidence that the team will not embarrass, reject or punish someone for speaking up”.

It’s not just tech. Stephen Soderburgh says he likes to keep his set “relaxed but focused”. eg. with actors, he’s not trying to control them, he’s trying to amplify whatever it is about them that he finds compelling.

We are trying to create a culture of creativity. A creative environment where people feel safe, a sense of trust, a place they can succeed.

Comparing Adobe and TypeKit… Meetings! Adobe had so many meetings. TypeKit had some as well…

Meeting one: the standup – it was a way to start the day. Thinking back to Hill Street Blues – every episode started with the sergeant’s briefing, where everyone got into the room together before hitting the street. He’d always close with “be careful!”.

  • Start at 10:05 – don’t know why that worked, 10:00 nobody turned up on time; 10:05 they did
  • everyone attends
  • highly scripted event – many people wouldn’t speak
  • no phones/devices
  • no problem solving – take it offline

Meeting two: the product review

  • optional attendance, mandatory participation
  • not a forum for expressing opinions – this is crucial! Bad feedback: “I don’t like that blue”. Better feedback: “why is that blue?”. Great: “is colour important here?”
  • working session for group problem solving, that would be framed as either divergent or convergent. Is it a brainstorm trying to open up as many options as possible, or are you narrowing down to a solution?
    • divergent – brainstorming, limitless possibility, “yes, and…” (improv trick)
    • convergent – evaluate feasibility, acknowledge constraints, drive towards concensus
    • keep these two separate or they defeat each other

Things that work…

  • more exposure to users = better design instincts (designers, devs, sales people – everyone)
  • more exposure to great work = better design vocab
  • more diversity = broader product insights

You want a sense of candor – truth that is wrapped in compassion. You want to ultimately develop a team with good taste, a sense of pride in the work they’re doing, that they are making something good.

Meeting three: the postmortem

  • the meeting you wish you never had to have, where something has gone wrong and now you need to work out how to stop it happening again
  • a highly technical product has a lot of complexity, a lot of things that can go wrong. Nobody ever deploys code knowing it is going to break the system. They always thought it would work. But we have a human instinct to assign blame. It’s called fundamental attribution error – assigning mistakes to the character of the person and not the situation they were in.
  • Jeff got a lot of inspiration from Sakichi Toyoda, who came up with the “five why” technique for drilling down to the root problem. You are seeking the root cause.

Meeting four: the anti-meeting, group chat

  • acting like you’re distributed, even when you’re not
  • communication compression – chat can be shorter, more succinct than chat
  • ambient accountability – notifications of code deploys, PRs, support tickets, revenue events…...animated gifs
  • gifs may feel frivolous, but it’s an emergent part of team EQ, teams that trust and care for each other. It’s less emotionally expensive to post Chuck Norris giving a thumbs up than it is to open say “you did great work, I’m really happy I work with you”


  • psychological safety
  • clear expectations for communication
  • empathy through exposure and diversity
  • circumstances > attributes (focus on root causes, not mistakes by people)
  • continuous accountability & appreciation
  • unified by a common purpose (why does the company even exist and what is it doing?)

There is a concept in Japanese culture 'ikigai’, a reason for being (生き甲斐). There is a link between a person’s ability to express their purpose and their longevity. People with a clear sense of purpose, and the ability to express it, lived longer. In other cultures we have similar ideas like raison d’etre, devine will, nirvana.

Piglet: When you wake up in the morning, Pooh, what is the first thing you say to yourself?
Pooh: What’s for breakfast?
Piglet: I say… I wonder what’s going to happen that’s exciting today?
Pooh: They’re the same thing.

Our ability to write things down allowed us to have an experience and record it, so that knowledge could be transferred to others across space and time. We are developing new and faster ways to change data into information, into knowledge, hopefully into wisdom.

Now Jeff’s job involves trying to work out what’s going to be next. Designers craft experiences for the next generation. Can you find or create a team that makes you excited, where you can feel safe to create great things? Jeff thinks you can!


Jina Anne – Design Systems & Creativity

Today Jina is talking about design systems and creativity – a show of hands indicates most people here are using a design system! There has been a lot of pushback against design systems in the design community.

An old Apple interview question: imagining an Apple stove… there are a lot of guidelines – particular materials, accessibility requirements and so on. Would you consider that a creative task? (Well surely yes!)

Remembering the CSS Zen Garden – it was an example of how to be creative within constraints.

It’s a perennial question…

Is (x) killing web design?

Generally, no. Things don’t kill design. Design systems aren’t new, they’ve been around for decades.

Many companies surface their Design System through a UI library or something like a Sketch UI kit – those aren’t the design system, they are part of it. The term Design System really refers to the entire design ecosystem including things like brand, voice and tone and so on.

Design systems do not inhibit creativity!

A beautiful design system is about finding the same balance of consistency and variety. Too systematic and the design becomes predictable and repetitive. Too much variation and the system is confusing and overwhelming. Yesenia Perez-Cruz

Andy Clarke famously lamented that many style guides look ugly enough to have been designed by someone who enjoys configuring a router. He argues that we need art direction; that style guides and pattern libraries needn’t be dull; an that there’s no better place to experiment with new things like CSS Grid than your own design system.

Josh Clark wrote an article saying the most exciting design systems are boring. They are not there to invent the design or brand, they are there to curate it. “The design system carries the burden of the boring” so that designers and developers don’t have to.

Freed from some of the daily tedium that can come with being a designer, I can shift the bulk of my time and energy to looking at the bigger picture. – Katey Basye

Raymond Sutedjo-the talked about turning constraints into creativity. Constraints do not need to be suffocating, they can lead you to new paths and surprise you.

What does it meant to be creative? Many people will think about aesthetics, others will talk about problem-solving.


What if there were a school teaching design decentered from the hegemonic design gaze + centered unheard voices/ideas/cultures? – Amelie Lamont

I love traveling to Asian countries because it’s such a good reminder that “minimalism,” symmetry, black/white in design is not all that’s matters; there is so much aesthetic beauty in loud colors and patterns, and visual balance doesn’t only come from evenness. – Isha Kasliwal

The point is that design is heavily influenced by white, euro designers and education reinforces it; and that needs to change.

“I looked at it not from an aesthetic perspective, but what is the company trying to do? How is it moving into the future?” – Jennifer Hom


Salesforce used principles to bring the design system together:

  • Clarity
  • Efficiency
  • Consistency
  • Beauty

Many people will be familiar with the beautiful posters of these principles, illustrated with San Francisco landmarks.

The more decisions you put off, and the longer you delay them, the more expensive they become. – Craig Villamor

Failed design systems are due to a lack of unified vision, shared langauge and purpose.

Collaboration can bring out your creativity.

Mina Markham – “Collaboration breeds creativity.”

Jerlyn Jarnpoon-Phillips (Clearleft) – talks about using sketching as well as a design system.

Not everything has to be in or from the system. It’s ok to have special snowflakes, if they are being used to provide a specific interaction that only serves that context.

It’s ok to evolve a system. Patterns are not dogma.

There are new solutions and products coming out trying to bring design and code closer together:

  • Modulz
  • Interplay
  • Webflow – includes a great CSS Grid editor!

Sometimes it’s fun to do things outside design systems work.

  • US Web Design Standards did a set of design system themed valentine’s day cards
  • Microsoft fluent design did a twitter competition about which bit of swag they wanted
  • Salesforce fcreated a lot of swag to give out

...these things can all generate some excitement.

A last comment is a band metaphor. Jina was attending Design Ops Summit and they had a band get up on stage and start jamming, and they were doing really great freeform jazz – even though they had not played together before. Jazz can be thought of as a pattern library, if you know the patterns people can quickly and easily play together.

Design systems are for people. They’re not about tools and pixels and automation, although those are fun and useful. At the end of the day they are created for people, whether internal consumers or your users.




Dominik Wilkowski – Keeping your living design system alive

Dom’s a developer, not a designer, but it’s not crazy or scary! (troll slide with Papyrus and Comic Sans)

The most important thing Dom’s learned is that when designers and developers work together, awesome things happen.

What does Dom mean by Design Systems?

Be smarter together and more efficient, work more closely, deliver things faster.

Design systems can include a massive range of assets – but it encompasses your digital brand. It is the source of truth. It is a living and funded internal project, that will not directly generate revenue.

The Trap. Dom calls it 'the baby trap’. We obsess about the first 9 months of pregnancy, and forget about the next 18 years.

Design systems are designed by people, for people. People should be the central concern for a healthy design system.

Four pillars to sustain a design system:

  • Community
  • Collaboration
  • Track success
  • Communication

Conway’s Law paraphrased – a good design system is made up of a lot of different people. That’s what a community is all about. So how do you build a community?

Dom’s team created an open day called “design system love day”. Amongst other things it was an opportunity to reach out to people who had doubts, and engage with them on their fears.

Create a space for research – publish rationale as well as components. Elevate design arguments into research, which allowed them to head off the HiPPOs (highest-paid person’s opinion) by directing the decision to research. Spread empathy with research.

Do your research! Do user research, involve the design system team in customer contact. Do design and content research, include accessibility experts, even the legal team.

Excitement levels… this surprised Dom. Usually devs are far more excited about design systems than designers! But you need to aim for 50/50 excitement levels, don’t let the devs take over or the designers fade out.

Do frequent showcases. Show people what’s been going on, what’s working and what isn’t. Bring people into the process.

Keep up the momentum. MPV generates buzz, but once you’re up and running you have to keep pushing or people can really drop off.

Donation model – design system team often sits in the middle and there aren’t many people in that team. They are meant to solve everyone’s issues, but don’t have anyone to do the work. At Westpac they brought people in from design teams for a month to really learn how it worked and the challenges of supporting multiple products. They also provided a fresh perspective for the central team. Then after a month or two they’d go back to their usual teams as champions for the design system. Maybe they even wear some swag tshirts. This is how viruses work! Learn from the best when it comes to spreading something…

Encourage donations:

  • one team, one dream – some people will get that immediately
  • exchange for time saved
  • exchange for code built
  • exchange for upskilling people
  • great onboarding experience – get people early so they are ready to work on the product

Community building is not new. Other industries like science have been doing this for decades.


Nathan Curtis published a great article about “team models for scaling a design system”:https://medium.com/eightshapes-llc/team-models-for-scaling-a-design-system-2cf9d03be6a0; federated, central or individual.

What’s important is curation. Curation provides consistency, gives confidence to users, helps with communication.

It’s important to really listen. Most people struggle to listen, it’s a skill that is under-rated. Note what people tell you – literally write things down and internalise them later. Repeat things back in your own words, to demonstrate you understand them. Then you make those issues into a sprint goal or KPI, which creates authenticity and a welcoming environment.

Alphas – create a space within a design system to be really creative. Show in-progress components. Things that aren’t done. Create a space to encourage feedback and test drive assumptions. Use tools like Slack and Discourse for this.

Meaningful collaboration is not a solved problem. A study in 2017 came up with five points around this:

  • make it meaningful
  • upfront engagement
  • create fertile soil for engagement
  • deal with problems head on
  • handle ownership fairly

A cautionary tale from Westpac… during research for GEL they discovered many projects didn’t want to adopt the system because they didn’t know what was in it, what code was being used. So they open sourced GEL. Later on an internet mob went nuts because they believed GEL was making it easier to build scam systems. It’s not true, because there are actually far easier ways to scrape a perfect design. Ultimately they had to close the source again. They should have educated their users about security.

Track success

Track success to…

  • make yourself accountable
  • help the team to work towards a clear goal
  • help your project remain funded

But what is success for a DS? Asset downloads? Design consistency? Time saved? Lost in translation issues between design and dev? Or is it just attendance of your design system love day?

Frame metrics to be meaningful. Focus on the impact of your metrics, rather than the metrics themselves. If you avoid reinventing the button, you save taxpayer money! If more devs are using the DS, you have less devs who don’t know about design. If you have more consistent interfaces you have less users have to learn how to use your sites/products.

Celebrate your wins. At Westpac they published a design system love publication – an email that explained things in non-technical terms. Track milestones and metrics on the DS website, demonstrate adoption. Build trust and authenticity by publishing.

Be fabulous as a team so people want to join you.


Communication is both really important with humans, and really flawed.

Over-communication is always better than too little. Write docs. Docs docs docs and more docs.

Remember who you are writing for. Do you do separate docs for designers and developers, so you can tailor it for each audience? Or do you combine them so you expose each group to the concerns of the other? ...no matter which you choose, stick to it.

What should you document? Your research, alpha releases, your processes, roadmap… and delight your readers. There is an opportunity to make someone smile when they see something from the team. Make publications entertaining. When you write error messages you can make them fun! Put easter eggs in. They’re silly but they’re fun!

Show that you’re proud of what you do!

These things made a huge difference to morale and happiness.


The big summary

...then finally, iterate.

But the most important thing is to keep playing. Break things if you need to, but communicate it… because design systems are for people.


Paul André – Everything but the execution

Starting with a story... actor Brian Cranston was facing a problem in his career.

Early in my career, I was always hustling. Doing commercials, guest-starring, auditioning like crazy. I was making a decent living…but I felt I was stuck in junior varsity. I wondered if I had plateaued. Then, Breck Costin [his mentor] suggested I focus on process rather than outcome.
I wasn’t going to the audition to get anything: a job or money or validation. I wasn’t going to compete.
I was going to give something.
I wasn’t there to get a job. I was there to do a job. I was there to give a performance. If I attached to the outcome, I was setting myself up to expect, and thus to fail. My job was to be compelling. Take some chances. Enjoy the process.

Ordinary people focus on the outcome, extraordinary people focus on the process.

It’s easy to think that your career will grow if you just keep adding skills – to be able to execute more and more things. But that isn’t the whole picture, as it’s focused on the outome and not the process.

Questions being considered…

  • What takes work from good to great?
  • What does career progression look like?
  • Why are you doing this in the first place?
  • What decision is the team trying to make? How can I help them make it correctly?

Outcomes may be to solve a long-standing problem, identifying a need or product and creating a team around it, or even cancelling a product. Stopping something can be really valuable, you can refocus elsewhere.

Expand your scope

Story of JFK and the janitor:

John F. Kennedy was visiting NASA headquarters for the first time in 1961. While touring the facility, he introduced himself to a janitor who was mopping the floor and asked him what he did at NASA.
“I’m helping put a man on the moon!”

  • Understand how our work ladders up to the overall mission. Knowing that helps you understand the nuances of decisions, how to optimise what you’re doing for the greatest impact.
  • Broaden the question of impact beyond your immediate team.
  • What are the tacit assumptions of persistent myths? Look between the silos. Are the seams showing in the product, where each team’s responsibilities end?
  • Unblock yourself. Get more involved in strategy and roadmap. Build research, design, data science and PM skills.
Be opinionated
  • Product sense means combining insights with strong points of view. It’s not magic, it comes from a deep understanding of people. Your point of view is informed by insights.
  • Foundational work aligns everyone, and gathers deep context around people.
  • Understand goals and how it relates to the customer. How well is the product meeting those goals? Competitor analysis can feed into this as well.
  • Advocate insights and point of view by leading with recommendations. Turn customer pain points into product recommendations (they’re busy -> be concise).

(Paul ran a quick exercise where people attempted to clap their favourite song to each other, to see if they could identify it just from clapping… Almost nobody could get it, other than “We Will Rock You”. Despite people knowing the song in great detail in their mind, communicating it was hard. Also people don’t have the same experience and knowledge.)

  • Over-communicate
  • Different deliverables to different groups
  • Your findings need to be referenced without you being there. Make them memorable, help people internalise the concept.

One concept you can use is the 'mini museum’ to encourage people to physically explore a concept. Create an immersive environment that helps people understand what you are researching and designing for.

Story artefacts – swag, booklets, etc that people can keep with them. An example was a little booklet about the way a product had changed someone’s life, allowing to quit their job and do something else.

Look to the future

We need to be doing both tactical and strategic work; and keeping an eye on external factors and trends.

  • Important but not urgent work
  • How to uncover opportunities?
  • Exercise: what does wild success look like in 1, 2, 3 years? Is there alignment from stakeholders and leadership?
  • Exercise: future workshops/scenario planning to see how today’s decisions might play out.
  • Connect external trends to business and strategy. What general trends align with the business’s strength? what societal trends will impact the team?
  • Partner with data science. What is declining or increasing? Can we draw a line between trends, using this data?
  • Use a segmentation, extreme uses, emerging markets or diverse groups… these can all identify opportunites, areas where you can provide unique value.
Lead change

Adapt Kotter’s 8-step change model.

Create a climate for change

  • align with existing focus
  • find allies and sponsors
  • create a sense of urgency
  • create a vision

Enable change

  • Show the vision rather than the fix
  • Communicate, engage with people who have concerns
  • Start with some short-term wins

Sustain change

  • Follow through on findings and ensure action is being taken
  • What did it solve? What open questions are left?


Everything but the execution:

  1. Expand your scope
  2. Be opinionated
  3. Overcommunicate
  4. Look to the future
  5. Lead change


Laura Summers – Art vs Science: UX research in the age of the reproducibility crisis

John’s intro talked about the discussions he and Laura had been having around the “reproducibility crisis” in science, where people are unable to recreate results of experiments.


This story begins with Amy Cuddy’s TED talk about body language, with the very bold claims about using power poses and the impacts the technique could have on peoples lives. The video blew up massively, people went crazy for it.

But meanwhile people were talking a lot about whether enough work was being done to reproduce the results of studies, or to put it another way – to cross check the results. The Reproducibility Project was born; and a high profile example was that they could not replicate Amy Cuddy’s work. Cuddy’s TED talk was torn down, becoming a shorthand for flashy social psychological work that could not be replicated.

In science there are some key problems that lead to the reproducibility crisis:

  • publish or perish – the pressure to publish leads to a very high volume of studies and papers
  • no replication studies – nobody wants to fund replication studies over new research
  • clickbait

P-Hacking shows that people are manipluating work to come in just below the line where results become “statistically significant”. Whether they even realise they’re doing it.

So what does this mean for UX research?

  • “prove me right!”
  • demanding shortcuts or early results
  • preferring quant data over qual data

UX research is trying to reduce business risk. Does reproducibility even matter? We come from science! We are science lite – said with love! eg. the double diamond? From science. It’s a lift from the scientific method.

Also we have to remember that scientific ideas get debunked, but they live on. Myers-Briggs is a classic case – it is astrology for people who should be too smart to rely on astrology.

Method/problem mismatches – people use the wrong method to solve problems. eg. they’ll use UX testing to attempt to work out product/market fit. We have to question what we’re doing and why we’re doing it.

UX testing is to work out if they can use the tool, not if they will, or if they want to.

Should UX research be reproducible? Sometimes, it depends!

Reproducibility is impacted by…

  1. Experiment design – model and methodology, sample size and selection
  2. Data capture – will the same study get the same results if run again
  3. Interpretation – if I looked at the same data as an earlier study, would I reach the same conclusions?

UX has a tension between qual and quant work. Qual is almost never reproducible, but it’s still valid. It’s unlikely multiple rounds of UX research would produce the same data; nor would people always draw the same conclusions.

So what can we do?

  • If crunching numbers, make sure you practice research design hygiene and understand the strength of your signal. Slides have links to lots of tools to help this, like AB Testguide.
  • Embrace uncertainty, just as scientists do. Don’t speak in absolutes. Cultivate your curiosity. Reward “I don’t know” – as people become more senior, they stop feeling comfortable to say they don’t know something.
  • Define your study before you start (in science this is called pre-registration, and it enables people to get feedback before investing time and resources).
  • Plan for no conclusion – sometimes you don’t get clear results. You have to be able to admit it.
Good Poor
expect the effect to be consistent over time don’t expect the effect to be consistent
the hypothesis is important to business model functioning low risk to business model or low business priority
product has been consistent since last study UX or UI in flux; too many variables to control for

Get fresh eyes on your data – see what the comparison can bring.

Power ups:

  • fact check – if someone claims that a study shows something, go have a look at it. Even just reading the abstract will often be enough. Develop your sniff test.
  • open UX – perhaps we need open data, open results, FOSS style? Should we be doing meta research using data sets from different companies and the research they are doing?
  • continuous discovery – doing one-shot studies leaves value behind. What would it look like if we did the same research across a timeline and start looking at long term trends?


  • Build culture for continuous learning
  • Embrace uncertainty
  • Replication studies (maybe)
  • Spend more time on research design & analysis
  • Uncertain results are ok

In short, be sceptical, pick a good question, and try to answer it in many ways. It takes many numbers to get close to the truth. – source

@summerscope | slides

Simon Knox – Measurable Design

Two problems:

  1. Design decions are hard – and there are times people basically just guess!
  2. Design starts out great and slowly unravels – you can’t manage what you don’t measure..?

People love numbers. People like magic numbers. Some things like sales and performance have clear numbers. But what would that be for design?

There is a DOW average – it’s a measure almost nobody really understands, but it gives a number. We are seeking the DOW of web design (great in-joke!).

Start on the inside… “I don’t want to talk to users, they’re gross!”

How much is your design system worth? How many engineering hours is it saving? Look up the design debates people were having in PRs, or planning sessions, that aren’t required any more.

Physical measurements:

  • contrast is easy to measure but we keep getting it wrong!
  • Signal:noise ratio can be measured for typography and charting (signal is relevant information and noise is stuff other people made you shove in there).
  • Line length – “studies have shown”...? actually there really are studies and they’ve been reproduced! But you can work out what works for your product then measure if you’re sticking to it.
  • Golden ratio

Measurement systems

  • Pulse metric – page views, uptime, latency, seven-day active users, earnings. But being alive or dead is not a good measure of the quality of your life. It’s just not very expressive.
  • Heart metric – happiness, engagement, adoption, retention, task success (the methodology suggests you pick two to focus on)

Goals → Signals → Metrics

Goals should not contain metrics! Keep the goal broader, to avoid making it self-fulfilling.

People should be happier → measure the number of one-start reviews → reduce the number of one-star reviews

Engagement isn’t a great goal but it’s easy to measure so it’s popular.

Simon went with happiness and task success. These are really good metrics, but they are hard to measure.

Happiness – could you measure twitter outrage? Over time you’ll see people go through change aversion responses after every relaunch. It seems the best way to measure happiness is still….sadly….surveys.

  • ask one single question. If you want to do more you will get far fewer people filling them out.
  • how you ask questions matters – ask neutral, reproducible questions
  • how you collect the answers matters – free text vs multiselects etc

Measuring task success

  • Analytics work for some tasks
  • User tests work best for measuring task success

Take feedback, but don’t let them tell you what to do! Get feedback but don’t literally do what they say would solve the problems they’re raising.

You can’t measure your way to new ideas. Data only tells you about the things you already have.

Data is not insights.

Engineering term: AM/FM. Actual Machines/F***ing Magic. The things we have now vs the things that are coming next year that are going to solve everything… like magic. Sadly the design number is still FM.

So don’t let data make your decisions. Measuring design is more than just numbers.

Not everything that counts can be counted. Not everything that can be counted counts.


Sam Hancock – Your subject matter expert is wrong

Setting the scene: it is estimated that over 80% of digital projects fail, and 97% of companies have experienced a failed digital project. Common problems are shifting priorities, bad scope, releasing too much in one go, silos between departments.

A quick disclaimer: SMEs are vital to the UXD process. Sam loves them!

Three disruptive SME personas/types you may encounter:

  • The fake SME. The most common, aka the ignorant egotist. Avoid confrontations and back up decisions with research.
  • The loner. When you are stuck getting feedback from one single person. Try to bring in other people who work alongside them.
  • Resistant to change. They may go as far as deliberately disrupting the work. They may be afraid the work is making their job obsolete.

These archetypes all have motivations and there are ways to deal with them.

Servian design methodologies:

  • deep dive
  • service design
  • rapid xp

If you can get into peoples world, you can learn enough to play the role of SME when you need to. Or at least know enough to engage them more effectively.

You still can’t win them all. Great case was Sara Wachter-Boettcher’s example of a bunch of male stakeholders making assumptions about how women shopped, leading to them launching a product that was a total failure. If you can’t talk SMEs down from their assumptions, you can’t stop them making mistakes.

Book recommendation: Tragic Design – Jonathon Shariat

Wrong can be good! Most of the time in failing fast and early is a good thing. Facebook has tried a few ideas out like Poke, Slingshot and expiring posts – they didn’t succeed, but without those perhaps we wouldn’t have got Facebook stories and Snapchat. We see this pattern in many companies.

SMEs hold most of the pieces to the puzzle, but have no idea as to how to put it together. If they did, none of us would have a job.

Jason Pamental – Dynamic Typography with Fluid Sizing and Variable Fonts

Something Jason thinks about a lot is the adjacency between design and development. Particularly in design systems where we are building systems to support design. The typography techniques he’s showing today are not the final destination, they are a beginning.

Type is important. Type is the voice of your words and your brand. Most of what we do is put text on screen to influence people to make an action.

There are no crystal goblets, no defaults devoid of friction. Design has visible surfaces, inevitably, and they brim with significance and context and connotation and intent and tone. – Nina Stossinger

With TypeKit and responsive design there was so much scope to make things work beautifully-but-differently across devices. We gained the ability to do great things, but people hated the FOUT and they pushed back. But it was manageable, there were ways to make the implementation account for font file load time; so that people didn’t notice the swap.

A new chapter, a fourth episode with three things…

  • CSS custom properties (aka variables)
  • CSS calc()
  • scalable fonts

A variable font is a single font file that behaves like multiple fonts. – John Hudson

Variable fonts give us a way to do great typography, without the significant weight and performance problems of loading multiple font files.

The technicalities of fonts are that they expose various adjustable axes like height, width, stretch, weight, slant…

Reference: MDN variable fonts guide

A great tool for this is Firefox Dev Tools which now includes a Fonts tab.

So how can we bring these three technologies together into a scale? There is some (admittedly complex-looking) maths you can code up and feed different values.

See Flexible typography with CSS locks for the code. Currently the technique does result in a value with a unit, although there is standards work going on to bring in a method to produce unitless numbers.

The role of the typographer has changed. We no longer decide; we make suggestions. – Tim Brown

So what suggestions can we make?

  • Dark modes – when you reverse contrast, you usually want to make the type thicker or thinner depending on the device DPI. There are media queries to allow this (see CSS Tricks: Dark Mode in CSS and try out Roboto Delta)
  • Accessibility – people with low vision might like a higher-contrast mode, or someone with cognitive issues could benefit from wider word spacing and line height. These can be done with tiny amounts of code.
  • We can offer alternative typefaces with very little extra code.

So what happens when you hit something like IE11 support? For those features a browser doesn’t support dynamically, you can serve static compilations.

This tech is enterprise ready – IBM is as enterprise as you can get and they just released IBM Plex Sans Variable – while it’s a big font at 233kb, it has tremendous support across languages.

There are new features coming like scroll snap and CSS enumeration, which give really powerful typography options. We can start typesetting book-style layouts that swipe left and right, all in the browser. This opens some really interesting options in ebook publishing.

Plus you can animate transitions between properties!

We have the ability to be more reactive to our users’ needs and more expressive with the language we put across. We can be more true to the brand and avoid poorly substituted typefaces. To thine own brand be true!


v-fonts.com has a great collection; there are many others published separately on github as well.

@jpamental | slides | rwt.io

Day Two

Donna Spencer – Dejargonising Design

Readify knew they needed design but people didn’t really know what that meant in the consultancy context. Donna had to figure out how to communicate what design does, so people could bring in the right work.

“Design” has certainly hit the mainstream business press, there are plenty of articles talking about the business impact of design. Articles like “what every executive needs to know about design”. These articles are trying to unpack the top line items out of design; the business impact they have; and how to lead designers.

A particularly good read: John Maeda | Design in Tech Report 2019

So business is getting into design, but people still don’t really understand it. Even we here don’t speak of it consistently, we mix the aesthetic and the problem solving and so on.

“Design” also has an existing meaning both as noun and verb. We can’t just throw those away or pretend they don’t exist, but they don’t help our version of design.

So how can we help people understand?

A tangent on cognitive linguistics. We have levels of thinking around language (animal → dog → dalmation)... we don’t look at a dog and think “animal”, we go to the level of detail of “dog” or “dalmation”. Plus we have lots of existing notions of what a dog is, how it will behave, what we might do with the dog.

If you are working with someone whose experience of design is mostly visual, in their mind that’s the way they’ll wrap up everything around design. That applies to everyone, however experienced – design leaders will show their own mental framing in the pieces they write about design.

The pieces of design
  • User-centred. It is all about understanding the people who will use the things we build. Not just thinking about them but working directly with them, building real empathy and understanding their world.
  • Creative problem solving (Donna doesn’t use the term 'design thinking’, which is too jargony). We don’t take the straight path, we explore many ideas and experiment.
  • Shared experiences. Going off into a corner and making a design, alone, means people have no idea how you arrived at the result. If you don’t bring people on that journey they have no way to understand the process or why its outputs are valid. Alone and isolated within a company, design is a microworld of aesthetic high-fives. – John Maeda
  • Deciding with not for. Designing with people is more effective than doing design to them.
  • Experimental and iterative. (“This is the only wanky diagram…”) The diagram isn’t great but the point is that design does not take the linear path, there are lots of feedback loops and iterations.
  • Implemented. Design without delivery is just hand-waving.
  • Designers aren’t homogenous. Designers aren’t one thing. It’s a mistake to treat all designers as being the same or interchangeable. People generally understand this with developers (or they at least know there are different types of devs), but they still do it to designers. We have a huge range of skills; and different mindsets. Role titles are for HR. We have skills, knowledge and mindsets – and that’s how we should thinkg about putting people on projects. The people involved don’t even need to be a designer. Lots of people have the skills we associate with design, but don’t have that role nor would they think of themselves that way.

Communicating design

While recruiting for design roles Donna has interviewed a lot of people who can’t express what their skills are, what makes them special and valuable on a project.

What is your special sauce? Can you explain what it is that you will bring to a project? Also, what are your gaps? Many designers have a profound lack of business understanding. They don’t get into thoughts like business risks, markets and opportunities.

Think about who is asking questions. What do they know and what is their experience with design? Are they expecting you to smash out a bunch of wireframes and visuals? Will they understand the process and realise the question is what the business should do next – not how that looks.

Think about what they are asking. Do they need to know what to do next? Do they simply need visuals? Do they need user research? ...and so on.

So think back to the levels of language cognition. Go down through the levels of design.

  • Design is not one thing – break up the chunks and communicate them separately
  • Designers are not one thing – get the right people involved
  • Who is asking, what do they know and what do they need to know


Book recommendation that came up during Q&A: personalmba.com

Katja Forbes – Being Human in the Age of AI

We are in an interesting time for AI. McKinsey predict 13 trillion dollars of global economic activity in the next few years. As designers we have an important role in this.

So many AI talks are basically 'the future is that we will be murdered in our beds by robots’. Katja thinks there are much more positive futures.

The AI-generated candy hearts experiment demonstrates how easily things can get weird when the training data is skewed and biased. A more unsettling project used a neural network to generate pick up lines, although some were quite sweet and hilarious. There is often a lot of unintentional humour in AI work, and we should embrace that more than the idea that Skynet will bring about the end of the world.

To frame what we are actually working with, its important to understand the basic types of AI:

  • Narrow AI, which is what we have now. It’s really just machine learning, these AIs can generally do one single task acceptably well.
  • General AI, which does not exist yet, is things like star wars droids which are sentient beings.
  • Superhuman AI, which also does not exist yet, is the idea of an intelligence that is wildly beyond human capability.

Designing for machine learning isn’t for the hand-wavy future. This is very much for the here and now. – Josh Clark

It’s important that we design things for humans. Design needs to get involved and keep users, humans and society front and centre.

An important factor for any AI project is to set expectations of what it can and can’t do. AI is bad at “easy things” and good at “hard things”. AI is better than humans at hard, pattern-based things like playing Go and Chess. Humans are still better at “easy” things like identifying faces.

How to work out your Minimum Viable Intelligence?

  • Does it respond when you interact with it?
  • Is it competent? The first ten interactions have to be flawless for people to trust it (“10 to win”).
  • Will it survive when people try to break it? Because people will try to break it, and they’ll probably be weird and creepy as well.

If you can’t pass all these things, why would people give the AI their credit card details?

AI gets a lot of over-promising – originally Cortana’s interface boldly said “Ask me anything”, but Cortana really can’t answer anything, so the UI was eventually changed to something more plain like “search”.

Babylon Health does a much better job. It’s an interactive symptom checker, but it repeatedly tells you that it’s not a doctor. Actual doctors still get pretty upset as it can give people a false sense of security when they should see a real doctor. But the site does a good job of setting expectations.

Trusting invisibility – interfaces are disappearing, as people speak to devices or write natural language into a text box. How do people trust decisions made invisibly? How do you design for people to trust the code?

Anything we design will face questions of trustworthiness. – A Designit

AI is absolutely riddled with bias. People often mistakenly believe that AI is unbiased. But as Microsoft’s Tay showed, we teach AI all its ethics and biases – Tay went full sexist, racist nazi in less than 24 hours, with Twitter responses training the AI. People did this to the AI.

Even the simple example of candy hearts had a curious bias towards bears – lots of hearts about bears. But it’s desperately important when you consider that a self-driving car needs to know what a wheelchair is, or it will probably run over people when it thinks a wheelchari will behave like a moving vehicle.

Microsoft tried again with AI, Zo, but created a bot that was much more locked down; and that created its own problems. The new AI would censor things without understanding context, which is arguably as bad or even worse than the original. Its biases are more devious and still quite disturbing. Microsoft have now published a guide to responsible bots trying to make some sense out of these experiments.

AI is now recognised as a company risk. Microsoft and Google measure it as a separate risk.

There are so many examples of bad AI, like Amazon’s sexist recruiting AI… and the only thing people can do is pull the plug. The data has trained the AI (with bad data) so deeply that it can’t be fixed. Many historical data sets accurately capture the biases of their time, and the AI dutifully recreates and perpetuates that bias.

Microsoft have put out some really good AI principles that address these issues. There’s even a card game to test analytical thinking around AI (“Judgement Call”) and open conversations with your team.

So where are various governments with AI?

  • America has an executive law which essentially boils down to wanting to 'own’ AI. It’s all about national security and 'upholding American values’; and the word “ethics” does not appear so much as once.
  • Canada have a federal directive that makes ethical AI a national issue. They are focusing on how to monitor AI and have human intervention as required.
  • Australia… well we have some funding (a little under $30m over four years) to create national standards and an ethical framework for AI; although the amount and division of funds raises a few questions.

Choosing your first AI pilot project? Ask these five questions (from Harvard Business Review):

  1. Will it give you a quick win? (results inside 6-12 months)
  2. Is the project either too trivial or to big? (is the size of it right to be meaninful)
  3. Is your project specific to your industry? (company or industry specific projects can be evaluated more easily)
  4. Are you accelerating your pilot project with credible partners? (most organisations don’t have AI specialists)
  5. Is your project creating value? (what is the value and can you articulate it)

How do we avoid bad AI design?

  • There’s a canvas! (Katja points out she did not create it, but it is useful and a familiar format)
  • Expand who assesses AI experiences. The right people are often missing from the teams who assess AI experiences. – Dustan Allison-Hope
  • Explore possible AI experiences – both good and bad. Ask what are the best and worst things that could happen?
  • Design for ongoing human training of AI. Ensure humans can intervene with AI experiences. AI training is an ongoing task.
  • Be more transparent with the public. We should be giving people information about how our AI works, so they can make an informed choice about using it. The more secretive we are, the more Tays and Amazon hiring AIs we’re going to get.

What matters tomorrow is designed today.

The runway for AI is very short. A $13t market means there is a lot of work going on. This is a field that will grow exponentially. We have to think about it today and make sure we are having an impact on what’s being designed.


Andrea Lau – What to think about when designing maps: moving beyond generic and into amazing

Without a map, you’re nowhere!

Small Multiples have done a lot of jobs with maps – around 60 projects all up – across a diverse range of datasets. We use maps for all kinds of situations in our lives, private to professional. It’s really easy for maps to become frustrating; and harder to make them really awesome.

The idea of a generic map isn’t so bad – like the ubiquitous Google Map. They do work and there’s nothing wrong with them.

Framework for really amazing maps

Great maps build up through these layers:

  • intuitive interaction
  • useful controls
  • relevant data
  • right context (base maps)
Base maps

Context lets people know where they are and what they are looking at: landmass and water, streets, boundaries and labels. These can all go into a base map, the lowest layer of the design that everything else is layered on top of. In some cases you don’t need much detail on this layer, in others you’ll want full satellite imagery.

Satellite maps are great for physical spaces, understanding things like vegetation and literally what’s there. The problems are that they are limited in detail, they are often quite varied in colour making them hard to design with, and they are heavy for performance.

Street maps are lighter and recognisable, people are used to dealing with them. Light modifications to Google maps can make them much cleaner to use. Google maps let you tweak a lot; and there’s Snazzymaps as well.

Mapbox Studio is a step up from that, Small Multiples use it a lot. It lets you control the typography (which all designers want!), plus you can control zoom level.

Designing with maps: there are Sketch plugins that can inline Google maps and Mapbox; but screenshots still end up working better.

You must always include attribution in the base map.


Map data will generally be composed of points, polygons and markers. You need to consider the accuracy of this data; and how that impacts design.

Reference: Jacques Bertin’s visual variables

Lines can be very specific, or curiously nonspecific – but arcs are used for a variety of reasons, including generating a sense of movement between points.

Polygons – there are lots of tools to work with them these days, which is great. Colouring polys needs to account for the underlying data: category, sequential, diverging. These will all help choose colours.

Tool: Colourbrewer. A note on borders – you normally choose borders that blend in a bit, they need to clearly define the space but not be too intrusive.

Legends – these help people understand all the data you’ve provided. You need them to be as obvious as possible.


Controls let people change the context in some way – zooming and out, changing the location, choose a specific point, or refreshing back to the default state. Controls are usually placed in the corners to avoid distracting from the map.


All our usual design considerations are compressed down into a smaller context, but they don’t really change.


Looking at the map for Design 19… Its primary purpose is to help people get to the venue. The google map is good; but it was clearer when it was pared down to less information, and that was focused on getting there. So public transport was retained. The zoom controls were kept to give people a hint that the map was clickable. A lightly customised place marker was used to be at least a little on brand.

Service NSW branch finder. The original was too busy and really hard to work with. So they clustered the markers to hotspots at higher zoom levels, to make it easier to drill down into the right region. They reduced the amount of duplication and detail on the lowest zoom levels.


Diana MacDonald – Designing recommendation systems

CultureAmp is an employee feedback product, which has led to a lot of Recommender Systems.

Recommender Systems predict preferences and show relevant items. Products like Netflix use this to recommend new shows to watch, for example. They are handy but the design territory is often quite uncharted and the UX guidelines aren’t great.

CultureAmp give people preset questions to get started, but then they recommend more. To guide people on which ones to choose they provide context and likely outcomes for each question.

Things to think about:

  • choosing outcomes
  • design considerations
  • improving over time


What values are you optimising for? Cultureamp values good people science. What people often think are good questions don’t hold up under the science, but they are of you need to consider how you can guide customers to pick better questions. Other things to consider are time to decision and satisfaction.

Design considerations include things like designing for trust and experience.

To build trust you can use social proof – draw on trusted networks, so you don’t have to prove the recommendations are good; the user’s existing network provides that proof. Using really clear labels helps a lot as well, eg. Netflix is very clear “because you watched X you might like Y”. You don’t have to guess why you are receiving a certain recommendation.

Experiment with how fast or slow your recommendations update and change. Pinterest updates immediately, making use of the Recency Effect. But when done too quickly you can get the 'instant takeover’ effect. People get upset when you pollute their feed because they looked at something once. Pinterest reveals why things are showing up and lets you tune it.

People love novelty, so use diversity and serendipity. Spotify will give you a bunch of songs in the same general genre (diversity), with some unexpected recommendations mixed in (serendipity).

Data is not neutral. Recommenders depend on data that will usually have inherent bias, and you will have to work to undo that bias. Pinterest’s search results for “CEO” are markedly different from Google.


  • Knowledge based – easiest place to get started, you already have data about your own business
  • Content-based filtering – automated recommendations linking similar things
  • Collaborative filtering – things like a person buying product A and B suggests they may like C

You can also return hybridized results which incorporate more than one technique. CA’s question recommender does this.

Look for positive and negative feedback signals. Choosing a Pinterest pin is a positive signal, unfollowing a topic or manually reporting something is a strong negative signal.

Netflix infers a negative signal if you abandon a show halfway through and never return; vs binge watching. It also listens to active signals, for example when you manually “like” things.

Use analytics to track what people are doing. Diana’s Typey Type project offers recommendations on which lesson to do next; but allows people to take a break as well. But people rarely skipped – they just wanted to keep typing.

Designers are in a position to influence decisions. We can play an important role in the way these systems are designed and how they nudge human behaviour.

If you work on recommenders, please do share your knowledge on it as there is very little out there!

@didoesdigital | didoesdigital.com

Chris Lienert – Designing for Learning Difficulties

Chris is here today because of his wife @sazzarj, who is a primary school teacher. Teachers learn how to identify indicators and teach children with learning disabilities; and she started showing Chris the things she was learning.

People have been compelled to share information long before humans even evolved. Neanderthals left warning signs in dangerous caves. Language evolved through many forms through history and we still have extremely different forms of language in the world today.

火 looks a bit like early glyphs, pictures of twigs with flame. It’s not always this easy to see the thread. We’ve mostly moved beyond visual and into phonetic language.

The rules in Italian are reasonably consistent – i is always pronounced “ee”, ch is a hard “k”. Now you know how to say “bruschetta”!

But in German, ch may be hard or soft. Then you have 'lone words’, like “engagement” which is given the French pronunciation because it’s a word lifted from French.

English is an opaque language with no consistency at all. The/them/theme… horse/worse… “i before e” except when it isn’t. English is put together from a range of root languages.

So language is difficult! It gets much harder when learning difficulties are involved. There are physical differences that show some peoples brains don’t have the same arrangement of connective fibres. This creates learning difficulties, but they may not surface if you learn a language like Italian first; then suddenly when you learn English you have trouble.

So how do we fix this, as designers?

  • There are specific fonts for dyslexic readers, including Open Dyslexic which is free. However their effectiveness has been questioned and there are some more mainstream typefaces that test well, including Helvetica and Arial.
  • There are typsetting rules to support dyslexic readers – larger type, more spacing, etc.
  • Don’t use justified text… for anyone!
  • W3C has cognitive accessibility guidelines
  • Be prepared for the fact some people will be applying their own design settings
  • Meet colour contrast – there are tools to support this, but they are hidden in dev tools or require extensions
  • Dark mode is fantastic for photophobia. We tend to design for light by default, but we should also be handling dark mode as a media query.
  • Extranous Linguistic Complexity…..... use simple words
  • Animation – don’t overdo it! Tone things down, give peoples brains a break. There is a prefers-reduced-motion media query, although browser support isn’t really ready. However there is a trick you can do to avoid switching off motion for everyone (see codepen)
  • Reduce visual noise – don’t autoplay media, don’t hurl dialogs at users for no reason

The conclusion: there is no such thing as normal. We’re all weird. We will all run into a situation where we need some assistance. It’s simple design ethics that we should not exclude people or make their lives harder.

@cliener | links | slides

Eva PenzeyMoog – Designing Against Domestic Violence

(Note there were a lot more supporting statistics cited in the talk, but as it was difficult to capture them all accurately I’ve opted to omit any I wasn’t reasonably sure I had right.)

Notes on this talk

  • Eva notes she has appropriate credentials to talk about this topic – she’s a trained rape crisis counselor and has trained hundreds more. She has moved into tech and has collected information on how tech is enabling domestic violence.
  • A note on language – while men are also victims, 95% of perpetrators are men and the language and examples reflect that.
  • The stories are true but anonymised.


Story: A young couple who have been dating for a year, he is emotionally abusing and controlling her. During an argument he pulls a phone from her hand and throws it against the wall. After this she recognises that things are getting worse, so she breaks up with him. But he begins stalking her and she can’t work out how he is tracking her. She attempts to turn off all the technological pathways she can think of, but he keeps turning up. She calls the family violence hotline and finds more things like her car’s GPS system. Once she disables the car’s tracking systems the the stalking finally stops.

81% of abuse victims are stalked by their abuser
1/6 women in Australia are stalked at some point in their lives

Designing against stalking

  • GPS/location must always be clear and obvious when in use. It’s frequently hidden, done in the background.
  • GPS and location sharing systems must always be easy to switch off.

Impact over intent – people don’t mean to design things that cause or enable harm. So this term is useful, because it shifts the focus to the impact and does not seek to blame. Yes there are exceptions. There are products and services literally designed in a way that guarantees harm, like stalkerware to “find cheating partners”.

Domestic violence relates to violence from an intimate partner.

(There were a lot of stats at this point, which clearly demonstrate the huge scale of the problem.)

Domestic violence is not an edge case.


Story: Isaac and Helen. A couple marries and open a joint account, but like most bank accounts Helen is added as the secondary account holder, creating a power imbalance that ultimately enables Isaac to completely financially control Helen.

90% of abusive relationships include financial abuse.

  • Joint accounts should be 100% joint accounts – separate access, inability for one person to cut the other off.
  • Financial software should flag suspicious actions that indicate financial abuse. The patterns are known and detectable.
  • Bankers, financial professionals and call centre staff should be trained on the warning signs of financial abuse and how to intervene.

CommBank has a Domestic and Family Violence Customer Support Program, which provides a phone number for victims to call. It had 87,000 calls in the first month in 2018; and in 10 months they helped 6000 people (95% women). The program was expanded after ten months, to train staff to identify at-risk customers.

A poor example is the federal government push to get people into couple’s counselling – which is actually terrible for survivors.


Story: Lisa is a software dev and her partner Ben has all the IoT 'smart devices’ in the home. Over time he gets more controlling and uses the devices to monitor and harass his wife. He uses it to lock her out of the house, change the thermostat and harass her in other ways; then gaslight and berate her when she confronts him. He uses a 'drop in’ feature of an IoT device to eavesdrop.

89% of DV support professionals who had cases involving misuse of technology in the past year.

  • who gets to control what? Homes with multiple adults, there should be safeguards to ensure they have equal access.
  • users must always be able to give consent to things like incoming communications
  • there should be a history log to show who had changed things and give proof of abusive behaviour


Story: Sandra’s husband Jake has been violent for years. She hopes it will stop now she’s pregnant, but it gets worse. At 4 months pregnant he throws her to the floor. She is recovering the next day and looks through her pregnancy health apps, trying to find a way to record the assault and learn about the likely impacts.

1/23 pregnant women experience physical DV in Australia

  • pregnancy and health-related products should plan for the reality of physical violence as a health factor in pregnant women’s lives
  • it is possible to include support pathways in apps when DV is detected, although it must be done very carefully


Considering cases of abusers using social engineering to access buildings:

  • Anti-guest list that could be given to front desk staff, with details on who not to allow into the building

25-31% of murders in Australia involve a current or ex intimate partner
In Australia 1 woman per week is murdered by her partner
Leaving a DV situation is the top cause of women becoming homeless


Designing for security

  • Research must include the stories of DV victims
  • Remember 1/3 women and 1/16 men will experience physical or sexual abuse by a partner
  • Imagine scenarios for abuse and design against them.
    • Black Mirror Brainstorm (Aaron Lewis)
    • Stress Testing (Sarah Wachter-Beottcher & Eric Meyer)
    • Domestive Violence Abuse Testing
  • Once scenarios are identified, look for solutions according to normal design process
  • Identify opportunities for safe and meaningful intervention. How can abuse be detected and what are safe ways to link victims with support services?

But what about….? (preparing for the ways people might try to avoid the work)

  • Is this really our responsibility?
    • Yes, if you say no you’re saying you’d rather wait for an incident. This is both unethical and a PR nightmare. The PR aspect can be good leverage when the ethical argument isn’t enough.
  • Won’t this stifle our creativity?
    • Do people think car designers are unfairly stifled by including safety features?
    • Limitations and constraints don’t limit creativity!
  • But this is just an MVP... we’ll do it later…
    • it’s not ok to put something dangerous into the world just because it’s an MVP. The impacts will begin from the MVP.
  • We should just focus on (some other thing) instead.
    • It’s a false choice – it’s not one or the other, you can do both. This is our job.

Dark times lie ahead of us and there will be a time when we must choose between what is easy and what is right. – Dumbledore


Jon Bell – Abuse and Disinformation at Twitter: An Inside Story

Kicking off with a story of the weird behaviour of terrorists getting blocked from Twitter – they’d keep coming back and getting banned over and over. Why would you keep doing the same thing? He asked about someone who studies this, and they said he needed to consider the motivation: getting blocked more often was like an achievement, a high score. Once he understood that motivation, he was able to begin designing aginst it.

Jon notes that this talk must include things that are quite uncomfortable, but these are things he’s seen… Jon joined the Twitter 'abuse team’ in 2016. The team cared deeply about their work, everyone was so motivated they experienced the 'pickle jar effect’, people became fairly poor at listening to other team members.

The team had to implement some process around capturing the huge list of possible features and projects, so people stopped re-pitching the same stuff over and over. They started doing epic levels of documentation on not just what they were doing, but why they did it and how they did it.

They created a video called “Amy’s first minute” – when someone experiences abuse, you have one minute to show that there is a pathway to safety. If they don’t see that in a minute they’ll leave and they really should leave, you don’t deserve to have them stick around.

User controls:

  • Mute keywords + conversations
  • Notification filters
  • Reporting

So the team was going really well for a while… then… a big re-org happened. Ultimately Jon could not accept what happened through that re-org and the things that were de-prioritised as part of it.

(Meta talk about how easily Jon could paint himself as the hero, but it simply wouldn’t be real or useful.)

Three thought exercises

  1. imagine a world when everyone was paid the same – people would only do a job if they were passionate about it
  2. what if everyone was really good at their job? there is a downside, as it sets people up to let the emotional immune system kick in – so we can write people off
  3. what if everyone was empowered? the problem is turns into an accidental arms race, because everyone has so much power they step on each others toes with their empowered actions

So a team that seems like it should be ideal can have some real issues in practice.

...that was Jon’s epiphany. He was surrounded by passionate, hard-working people who had been told to go make an impact. It was like a bunch of people in a boat, furiously rowing in circles. Teams with a bunch of rockstars trying to be leaders can end up being bad or ineffective teams. Jon acknowledges that he’s the one who left the team, the others were able to deal with the big re-org.

Book recommendations:

  • Animal Farm – it’s ultimately about humility
  • How to Win Friends and Influence People – we need more diplomats
  • The Righteous Mind – how good people can disagree on big things

We need an empathy test, to sanity check whether people who talk about empathy a lot have developed a blind spot.

Here are three tests:

  • Nickelback have sold 50m albums
  • Comic Sans
  • “sportsball”

...we should be able to find empathy for people who like these things, but most people are quick to be dismissive about at least one if not all of these. Beware of letting your personal taste override your empathy.

Five features Jon feels Twitter should consider

  1. Remove replies – this feature got cut in the re-org and at the time Jon couldn’t deal with that. The problems with the feature have been dealt with.
  2. Twitter ombudsman who writes an independent report on big decisions from Twitter. This would also provide precedent and history. It could apply to all tech companies.
  3. Fact checking – when enabled, posts can be flagged with fact check resources
  4. Categorise every tweet on a meta level – which would enable deeper, more powerful filtering and potentially even create some connections between communication silos (“echo chambers”). You could set Twitter to only show you tweets ranked as “thoughtful”; and clickbait might stop making money.
  5. Best news product – provide updates on the tweets you read, including corrections and fact checks. Use all the categorised content to create hubs around stories, showing pro and con analysis; and all the updates.

Last thought – some of this might work, some might not. A lot of design discussion is very black and white – love/hate, good/bad. We need to allow room for people to make thoughtful proposals. Hot Takes™ are seedlings. If they are grown from a grumble to a thoughtful critique they will gain greater value.

Opher Yom-Tov – Creating impact by scaling four peaks

Opher’s thesis on how designers can have massive impact is through large organisations – whether government, or nonprofit or corporate. There are very few people who are able to create a large movement outside a large organisation.

There are four mountain peaks that each of us as designers need to scale:

  1. where is the company, between the swamp of status quo and the oasis of awesome?
  2. where is design in the hierarchy? Where does the biggest supporter of design sit in the organisation?
  3. what is your organisation’s perception of design?
  4. where are you on your journey to design mastery?

There is a magical place called the Oasis of Awesome, where you and your organisation arrive at when you absolutely able to deliver massive impact. For ANZ their version of this is that their customers love them, because they are doing the right thing by them. That staff enjoy working there because it’s a great place to be. That their products are awesome and there’s a bias to action.

You definition of the Oasis of Awesome will be different, but you’ll be able to imagine it. There are companies out there who have made it, like Google and Apple and many others.

But it’s not easy to get to the OoA. People tend to be very happy in the cozy, warm Swamp of Status Quo. People need a nudge to get out of there.

Between the swamp and oasis you go through…

  • Ascent of self-awareness, whether at the individual or organisation level. Where you have to reflect on how bad the swamp is, and maybe there’s a better place. It’s a bit of an uphill slog.
  • Summit of commitment, where you have enough people convinced, that have the conviction that the swamp was bad and there’s somewhere better to be. This is not easy, it often means replacing a CEO, or a Prime Minister, and most or all of the leadership team.
  • Run of transformation, where all the hard work happens to actually get there.

Before you can begin a journey to change, you need to be able to identify where the organisation is. That’s the first peak.

The next peak deals with hierarchy. There is always some kind of hierarchy. Where is the highest-placed person who really gets design? That will make a huge difference to whether change is possible. You need high level support. Remember that it isn’t always someone who you’d think of as a 'designer’.

The next peak is whether people understand design. Do non-designers think it’s all about aesthetics? The crayon department that slaps lipstick on pigs? Signs and symbols are a huge part of design, but that’s not the whole. It’s also about objects and artefacts; interactions and services; and finally solving systems and wicked problems.

Would your organisation see a major business problem and decide to tackle it as a design problem?

The last mountain you have to climb is…. yourself. You have to be prepared to muster the passion and grit to take on the difficult journey of having major impact.

What are the traits of a great designer?

  • purpose – what do you stand for? what gets you out of bed in the morning? If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there.
  • niceness – the single biggest superpower that you need to master is niceness! It takes years to master any number of skills, you are going to mess up and fail. If you are nice to people they will reach to you and help when you’re down.
  • craft – build your skills, build your ability to execute. You may build this in a place you don’t ultimately think you’ll have a big impact, but if it’s making you better at your craft then it may be the right place.
  • pragmatism – Apple spends a remarkable amount of time prototyping things, but even they have to make a decision one day to ship something even when it’s not perfect. Sometimes the best design is the one that’s released.
  • persistance – you need grit, don’t compromise on the big picture even when you’re tactically pragmatic
  • leadership – find opportunities to engage people around you, build your coalition of the willing


The last thought is that the journey looks like one post-it note.

The creative process:

  1. this is awesome!
  2. this is tricky
  3. this is shit
  4. I am shit
  5. this might be ok
  6. this is awesome!