A few of us had the privilege of attending the very first one day event by Create Leicester. And what an event it was. We were treated to seven thought-provoking talks from leading voices at the heart of the UK digital scene. Speakers from the BBC, FutureGov, Lloyds Banking Group and more.

But first, a little background information. Create Leicester started life in 2017 with a simple vision: to provide a creative hub to learn, collaborate and network. The idea being to bring together the digital community and share insights. The quarterly events have gone so well the organisers decided to put on a bigger day-long event. Hosted at Curve Theatre in the heart of Leicester’s cultural quarter.

So that’s where we found ourselves. Gathered with other like-minded folk to hear from a collection of acclaimed speakers. Without further ado, here are our key takeaways from the day.

Ben Holliday

Chief Design Officer, FutureGov

A Design State Of Mind

Ben set the tone with this talk on design as a state of mind. He reminded us about how fast things change. And how important design is in reframing, creating and connecting us. We often think of design as starting afresh, or ‘redesigning’ something. But it’s often about continued progress. The iterative process of refining things and working collaboratively.

He evoked the Billy Joel hit ‘New York State of Mind’ to make his point. Encouraging us to adopt a ‘design mindset’ and take it with us wherever we go. And cautioning of the repercussions for not doing so. The most recent example being the downfall of Thomas Cook, which is widely attributed to it being “an analogue business in a digital world.”

Ben summed up the design mindset as:

  • User-focused. We should approach things from the perspective of the user. Business and technical considerations should be secondary.
  • Simple, not complex. Focus on outcomes and use simple models to convey component parts. Storyboarding, system maps, that sort of thing. Going back to first principles.
  • Big ideas. Design is about imagining the future. And coming up with a big idea that people can get behind. Having the confidence to say: “we can change that.”
  • Not knowing. We often hold conflicting ideas. As designers, it’s about feeling that tension and making intuitive leaps. Starting with what we know. Strong ideas, held loosely.
  • Change our minds. The question we should ask ourselves is: ‘how might we be wrong about this?’ rather than proving we’re right about something.
  • Open-minded. Design is collaboration and open. That is what connects us and allows an idea to be developed. We should be open to change, adapt and question things.
  • Data-informed. Data only tells us what has already happened, not what might be. It can potentially stifle creativity. So we should be more data-informed, not data-driven.

Helen Joy

UX Consultant, Sparck

Whose Design Is It Anyway?

Helen challenged us to think about who we’re designing for. And in particular how accessible our products and digital experiences are. She referenced the Inclusive Design Manual by Microsoft throughout her talk, which is available online as a free resource.

“Every decision we make can raise or lower barriers to participation in society. It’s our collective responsibility to lower these barriers though inclusive products, services, environments, and experiences.”

- Microsoft Inclusive Design Manual.

She began her presentation with this video. Using it to show how people often use things differently to the way they were intended. Pointing out that as digital designers and content creators we can get trapped in ‘filter bubbles.’ Influenced by wants or even wishful thinking, rather than user needs.

Before we can apply the principles of inclusive design, we first need to acknowledge why exclusion happens. And it’s usually because we’re trying to solve problems using our own biases. Part of this is accepting that we live within a bubble of ‘digital privilege’. This filters how we see things. We need to look beyond this and design for people that don’t have our level of expertise.

Some key stats around digital skills:

  • Around a fifth of the population don’t have digital foundation skills i.e. they can’t use a device, open a browser, update passwords, connect to wifi.
  • ~4.9 million people cannot use a mouse or touchscreen.
  • ~6 million cannot turn on a device.
  • ~7 million cannot open an app.

- Lloyds Bank UK Consumer Digital Index.

In simple terms, Design + Accessibility = Inclusive Design. But to accomplish this, we need to let go of the assumptions we have. For example, 4.1 million adults are offline and many of us would jump to the conclusion that these are older people. But in reality, 48% are under 60 years old. Meanwhile, 47% come from low income households and 32% have a disability.

Persona profiling can be useful, but marketing folks often take a too simplistic view. Seeing them as little more than demographics or a collection of likes/interests. It’s important to think about attitudinal factors and to map behavioural patterns/scenarios onto user groups.

Helen pointed out that we tend to think of personas as individuals. But in truth there is a ‘persona network’ behind this. One that’s made of family, friends, coworkers and even strangers. Often this gets called ‘assisted digital’. There are also different degrees of accessibility and we need to understand this ‘persona spectrum’ so that we can design for inclusivity.

‘User research is a team sport’ and we all have a responsibility to look after the user. To do that, we have to accept that we’re not always working with the same toolkit as many of our users.

Emma Parnell

Service Design Lead, Addaction

Making A Change

Emma gave a moving talk on the subject of change. Both personal and organisational. She offered a unique perspective for two reasons. Firstly, she was the only speaker that works in the charity sector. And secondly, what she spends her days doing is ‘service design’.

Having taken up a 12-month secondment at Addaction, she talked about the personal challenges she has faced in her new role. It was a huge change and one that took her outside of her comfort zone. One of the things that provided some comfort was the notion of ‘conscious competence’ and she has begun to regain confidence after such an upheaval in her work life.

Holding uncertainty is one of the things we have to do as designers. And that uncertainty is extended when it comes to service design. It’s also exacerbated by the intangibility of designing processes and workflows, especially when it has the potential to affect people’s day-to-day lives.

Emma manages this by trying to make change tangible. Reframing or redesigning things and putting in a framework when previously there was none. Or where there was, but it had never been documented. She agreed that ‘design is a mindset’ but at some point it needs to be made tangible. It can’t just be an abstract idea or kept in people’s heads.

Jaskiran Kang

Lead UX Designer, Education & Skills Funding Agency (ESFA)

Having A Self Vision

Jaskiran spoke about the importance of having a self vision. She began by talking about when Leicester City FC won the Premier League. That feeling of coming together around a common purpose or celebration. And how valuable it is to surround yourself with like-minded people that share similar values.

She referenced the visions that big tech companies have:

“To be Earth’s most customer-centric company, where customers can find and discover anything they might want to buy online.”

- Amazon

“We ignite opportunity by setting the world in motion.”

- Uber

“Monzo makes money work for everyone.”

- Monzo

These help us to understand what the company stands for. And it says a lot about the culture of the organisation and what’s expected from people. But it’s important to consider if your personal values align with the company you work for, or the clients you represent.

It’s like a venn diagram. The overlapping section where personal values match with business values is what Jaskiran refers to as the sweet spot. Where you can find fulfillment in your work. By contrast, if you’re having more bad days than good days, that could be an indication that your personal values are out of sync with where you work.

It helps to have this personal vision written down. To develop one, it’s about thinking of the times when you most inspired. To remember your proud moments and what you care about most.

Dan Jones

Creative Director of Content Discovery, BBC

Speculative Design

Dan’s talk resonated with us because RKH recently partnered with a trends intelligence agency. We have started to explore trend analysis for clients and consider potential futures. So it was fascinating to discover how the BBC apply the kind of insights we now have access to.

Before going into their approach, Dan set the scene a little. He talked about how the ‘move fast and break things’ mantra of Silicon Valley had pervaded our society. Where the ability to retweet was designed with little thought for what people would share. How fake news spreads across social media. And we’re now shifting into surveillance capitalism, backed by facial recognition.

He questions whether user-centred design is partly to blame, or could be done differently. Using ‘transitional design’ to prepare for more sustainable and equitable futures.

"When a measure becomes a target, it ceases to be a good measure."

- Goodhart’s Law

“We will be ready to design the future” - that’s the new BBC principle on which speculative design is based. With that in mind, Dan and his team have developed a Futures Activity Timeline.

Here is a summary of the key stages:

  1. Focus. Hone in on the trends that will shape our future. Diving them between primary and secondary factors. Starting with what’s central and then mapping outwards.
  2. Immersion. Going beyond our own heuristic bias. View what’s going on through various lenses. Social, Technological, Economic, Environmental, Political (STEEP analysis).
  3. Potential Futures. Extrapolate and apply to future scenarios. Consider potential outcomes, from likely to underlikely. But also what would be a desirable future would look like.
  4. Ideation. Consider how products and services might change. But remember that the future isn’t a clean slate. Instead, it’s often a blend of old and new.
  5. Provoke Debate. Engage with people internally and exchange. Get them to imagine these futures too. Superflux does this well, translating future uncertainty into present day choices.
  6. Backcasting. Once we’re reached a credible and desirable view of the future, work backgrounds to figure out what could be done now. Putting it into motion.

Dan describes this process as ‘problem-framing’ rather than problem-solving. Futurecasting allows us to use trend analysis and forecasting. To imagine sustainable and equitable futures. And then loop that back into what we’re doing in the here and now.

Johan Adda

Product Design Lead, ClearScore

A Simple Design Formula

Johan was due to talk to us about design thinking applied to the circular economy. But in a late change, he decided to present us with his simple design formula. One that he used at Apple and has continued to use as a digital designer and more recently as a product designer.

“Styles come and go. Good design is a language, not a style.”

- Massimo Vignelli

Anyone who ‘creates experiences’ is the loose definition of what makes a designer. And these are the seven principles that Johan aderes to:

  1. Emotions = Memory. We need to think about what emotion we want people to feel. And then tap into memories that will trigger that emotion.
  2. Beauty + Simplicity + Utility. Those are the three things needed for effective design. We often get preoccupied with the first of these at the expense of the others.
  3. Design for Micro Moments. Think about the little things. If you’re creating a form, it should still be easy to use and intuitive. Micro interactions matter.
  4. Use portrait video. Vertical video is better, especially on mobile devices. But always have an edit in square format for Instagram too.
  5. Use solid design principles. Johan recommends Humane by Design. This provides guidance for designing ethical digital products that focus on user wellbeing.
  6. Simplify, simplify, simplify. Always look to cut complexity. But designing for simplicity takes time. There are a thousand no’s to each yes.
  7. Achieve something for humanity. That’s a bold statement, but it just means putting the human experience first.

Lily Dart

Head of Design Systems, Lloyds Banking Group

Design Systems 101

A quick show of hands revealed how many of us knew what a design system was. Not many. And even fewer have one that we use day-to-day. So a great choice of topic and we all found Lily’s talk enlightening and something we could forward as digital designers and content creators.

“A design system is a collection of reusable components, guided by clear standards, that can be assembled together to build any number of applications.”

- Inside Design by InVision

In essence, a design system is the single source of truth that groups all the necessary elements and allows teams to design and develop digital products. It’s made up of various things. Design principles, brand identity and language, components and pattern library. Constellation is the name of the Lloyds Bank Group’s design system.

“Design has always been largely about systems, and how to create products in a scalable and repeatable way… These systems enable us to manage the chaos and create better products… A unified design system is essential to building better and faster; better because a cohesive experience is more easily understood by our users, and faster because it gives us a common language to work with.”

– Airbnb

The purpose of a design system is to provide alignment. As you scale up your business, it allows your teams to work with a centralised set of guidelines and toolkits.

Scalability often creates tension between autonomy and size of team. Smaller teams tend to have lower autonomy, but deliver at speed. As your digital estate grows, senior management usually find ways of giving people more autonomy. But too much and things start to become out of sync, resulting in calls for more governance. The problem isn’t autonomy though, it’s alignment. So a good design system keeps autonomy high, while providing greater alignment.

Here is what Lily says are the pros of a design system:

  1. Reduce risk. The goal is to create a consistent language. Accessibility is the issue. Each new interpretation of the colour palette creates variance and reduces accessibility.
  2. Consistency & Coherency. Deviations cause confusion. Inconsistent user interface is perceived by users as unprofessional, buggy and even fraudulent in the context of banking.
  3. Designer-Developer Alignment. A tiny change in a hex value can show a visible difference and most are unintentional. APIs and component libraries can help to semi-automate this.

For an organisation the size of Lloyds Banking Group, a design system can help to save significant time and cost. By Lily’s calculations, 50% and 33% for designers and developers respectively.

Key Takeaways

  • A design mindset is about having strong opinions, loosely held. Being open and adaptable to change. Putting the user first and being data-informed, not data-driven.
  • User research is a team sport. We need to step outside of our digital privilege bubble. To think about degrees of accessibility and apply the principles of inclusive design.
  • Finding a way through uncertainty is one of our challenges. It can help to put some tangibility around change to make it feel more real for people.
  • We all need a personal vision. It’s what guides us and allows us to find like-minded people to work with. That shared sense of achievement that comes with it.
  • Look to the future rather than designing for today. To seize tomorrow’s opportunities, brands need to use trends intelligence. To create sustainable and equitable futures.
  • Work to a simple design formula. That puts as much emphasis on simplicity and utility as beauty. Spark emotion and design for micro moments.
  • Move beyond brand and style guides. Look for closer alignment between designers and developers. Create a consistent visual language.

Want more insight? Read our summary of Leicester Digital Live 2019.

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