Think Big July 29, 2019

Design & Content Conference

It’s time for some conference takeaways!

I recently attended the two-day Design & Content Conference in Vancouver, a wonderful opportunity for me to visit a city I never have before and learn from some very talented designers and content strategists about how we can all do better.

Look at all these people ready to LEARN! (Photo by Steve Fisher, courtesy of DCC)

Topics ranged from unconscious bias, to object-oriented UX, to intuitive design and beyond. It was one of the most eclectic conferences I had ever attended, both in the content it covered, the diverse speaker lineup it offered, and how they created an inclusive experience for all the attendees.

I’ve taken a few days to let all the learnings really settle in and for me to re-enter the hustle and bustle of Toronto after my chill, coastal visit. Without further ado, I’m ready to share some of my personal favourite takeaways from #DCCFive that I think anyone reading this can apply to their work as well as their personal life. Read on!

Gaining Perspective & Creating With Empathy

The Design & Content Conference kicked off with an interesting discussion about perspective. Steve Fisher, a Customer Experience Director at TELUS, began by telling a story of four blind men and an elephant. You may have heard this popular parable before (if not, watch this). It is a simple story that illustrates the complex problem of subconscious bias; all the preconceived notions, beliefs, and assumptions we carry around with us.

None of us have the whole truth. (Courtesy of DCC)
“We are all blind when it comes to things bigger than us. None of us have the whole truth. Our truth is just a part of reality.”

Fisher used the story to demonstrate how we all live within bubbles; individual versions of reality built around self-sealing logic. Why does this matter? Well, as creators of products, systems and content intended for others, we have to remember to suspend our judgement.

Broaden your bubble! (Courtesy of DCC)
“It can feel very vulnerable to be empathetic with somebody who we disagree with.”

This quote reminded me of one of my favourites from Aristotle (bet you didn’t think we’d be getting philosophical in this blog!), “It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.” As writers and designers, it is so important to have an open mind and to create with empathy and compassion. How else can we understand our users? We must be willing to embrace different ways of thinking so we can better serve those we are creating for.

Being Accountable

What’s one way we can step outside of our bubbles when designing? Target research. Skipping this step is simply wrong, and it means you’re assuming who you are creating for.

Malaika shares important lessons she's learned. (Photo by Steve Fisher, courtesy of DCC)
“We must feel accountable for the people we are creating content for.”

Malaika Carpenter, Founder of SayCred Media Group, explained that we have to create for those who we are serving, and the only way to do so is by talking to them. She learned this the hard way, when building an exercise app for people in the Middle East. Her team’s mistake was assuming health and fitness was universal, and it wasn’t until a developer asked Malaika, “Don’t you think it might be problematic to encourage people in Dubai to run every day in 100 degree heat?” Oops.

Oops. (Courtesy of DCC)
"Challenge yourself and your assumptions. Do the research and keep your users top of mind."

Defining Your Target

Strategy Director at Sid Lee, Jon Crowley, also spoke to this with his talk titled, “You Are Not The Target.” If you work in this industry, chances are you’ve heard someone say, “The target is basically me” or “So we did some research by asking some people in the office…” Not cool. These subjective shortcuts simply won’t do.

We've all heard this one before... (Courtesy of DCC)

If you really want to solve user problems, you must conduct real audience research from many different angles to broaden your perspective and develop a deeper understanding of who your target actually is. As Jon puts it, “Talking to more of you doesn’t solve anything.”

Remember, your target is NOT you. (Photo by Steve Fisher, courtesy of DCC)
"Subjectivity is a form of unconscious bias. We underestimate the work it takes to stop drawing on our own experience as the objective truth."

Here are some tips from Jon on how to better define your target: 1. Acknowledge your subjectivity. 2. List your assumptions. 3. Challenge your findings and the conclusions you make against every one of your assumptions.

Words Matter

As most conferences go, there was a lot of overlap between speakers, in the best way possible. Chris Govias, Chief of Design at The Canadian Digital Service, spoke to both the importance of perspective and creating for our target. He shared how ultimately, service design is about designing for the person who uses the service, at every touch point. We have to take the time to conduct research and hold conversations with the people we’re creating for so we can step outside of our bubble and into theirs. 

Chris shared a case study to illustrate just how much words matter. He was involved in a project with Citizenship Canada who wanted to optimize the user experience for immigrants looking to become Canadian citizens. The problem: People would go through the long, long process, then when they got to the last step – attending a citizenship ceremony in person – they wouldn’t go. Why? Well, Chris and his team realized that the notice people received in the mail looked a little something like this:

Yikes. Talk about intimidating! (Courtesy of DCC)

Imagine receiving an envelope from the government, and that’s the first thing you see. Yikes. Not to mention many people receiving this letter did not speak English as their native language. Not so welcoming. The solution? Changing the first line to, “Congratulations! You’ve made it to the next step in your citizenship process.”

We must create with purpose. (Photo by Steve Fisher, courtesy of DCC)
“Words matter. The use of inclusive language is the best way to foster community.”

In conclusion, words matter.

The event's wonderful MC's, Stevie Thuy Anh Nguyen & Geoffrey Daniel. (Photo by Steve Fisher, courtesy of DCC)

I’m so glad I got to attend the Design & Content Conference this year. Is was an excellent reminder to practice empathy, keep an open mind, and create with purpose at every touch point. I look forward to bringing what I learned into my work, and encouraging others to do the same.

These words are by Ivana Atlija

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