On April 6th, I, along with my colleague and fellow designer Peter Pilat, hopped on a plane to Kyiv, Ukraine for the interface design conference, Krupa 2019. We attended several amazing talks about what different people are doing today in the field of design, and we were so fortunate to have the one and only Don Norman, who headlined the conference, sign his book for us!

Don Norman

We picked a few of the talks we attended and wanted to share some of our thoughts on what we learned over the weekend in Kyiv.

Product design in automotive by Dmitry Starkov

CloudMade’s Dmitry Starkov delivered the opening talk. He discussed some of the challenges he faces when turning connected cars into intelligent cars. While he gave his talk in Ukrainian, the English translation was excellent and helped us to understand everything quite well. The product he works on transforms a large amount of data generated by modern cars into meaningful driver profiles to deliver personalized experiences to those drivers.

Since we’ve never worked on automotive products, it was fascinating to hear about the challenges he experienced in that environment. Drivers have a wide range of interactions with their cars, and it was helpful to see how a designer accounts for all of them!

Learnings:

  • Designs should look natural and respect the chosen platform. What works on your screen or prototype might not work inside of a VW Golf.
  • Car manufacturers consider themselves as serious businesses, and their designs need to respect that. Showing mockups won’t work, so they work from final visualizations.
  • Elements like tabs are difficult to operate in cars, so layered content doesn’t work well.
  • Even the largest manufacturers are looking for innovation that comes from smaller teams working on improving various aspects of the driving experience.
  • The design must not be distracting, as safety is the most important factor. Notifications are not desirable, but predicting what the driver will need is a key.

Facilitation of product interface development by Alexander Ivanov

Also speaking in Ukrainian with an English translation, Alex talked about the fact that a product is not created by only a product manager, product designer or a front-end engineer. It’s a collaboration of many functions in an organization, and everybody contributes to the user experience. That’s why it was great when he brought out his whole team including back-end and front-end engineers, support staff, marketing specialists, and others.

Alexander, the PM and previously a developer, described how exciting it is to work with users and how he struggled to hire a designer for the team years ago. He talked about how the potential designer candidates all wanted to redesign the product’s homepage while ignoring some key insights from the data he provided them. Alex struggled to find a product-oriented person that had a keen sense of what was important and impactful. He eventually hired a front-end developer instead.

One of his key messages was that if your product includes search, the search queries are a great source of what users are trying to do in your system. He closed the talk with a very impressive video of their rebranding that we enjoyed a lot. There’s a lot of talent on the team and wish them the best of luck as they build their product!

Visual design testing by Jiří (Jerry) Tvrdek

After introducing his company, kiwi.com, and their mission, Jerry mentioned that one of his first tasks as the Head of Design was to unify the company’s visual style. They developed a framework consisting of four phases – Preparation, Interviews, Surveys, and Report.

Preparation requires a defined design brief, recruited participants, a lab setup with scripts, and a set of design deliverables that are ready to be shown. For their design unification project, they developed 4 different visual styles – Frank, George, Alpha, and Omega.

During the interviews, they asked participants to score these deliverables on a semantic differential scale from -2 to +2. As an additional validation tool after the surveys, they followed up with surveys to help eliminate extremes.

At the end of his talk, Jerry walked us through the report and showed us the final winner – George. One thing that we really liked was that they tested everything, such as screens, stylesheets, landing pages, and even ads.

Relationship advice from our users by Guillermo Torres

Guillermo talked about how when he worked on Google Maps in Brazil, that it was the only market where Waze was the leading navigation app. What the team had learned was that users wouldn’t trust Google as they perceived it as an institution from far away. On the contrary, Waze was a platform which relied on data from the local community, giving it a much more personal feel.

To make it humane and add delight, they began showcasing major events, such as using colorful markers to represent the Gay Pride parade in Sao Paulo – all updated in real time. To classify customer preferences, they used the well known Kano model.

Google Map Delight

He also gave an example from his current design role at Airbnb that shows how the company focuses on making sure everyone feels included and that they belong. The checkout process on Airbnb includes two steps that aren’t necessary for the actual checkout. The first one is a summary of the rules that a host sets up and the second one is a message to the host. It creates friction in the checkout flow, but it’s a clear example where the design focuses on ensuring that each Airbnb user belongs to the community.

Guillermo also showed a great example of how Spotify sends you a breakup playlist when you unsubscribe. He stressed that makers are responsible for the platforms they build and that platforms are never neutral. If you make it easy for users to perform specific actions easily, you have to take into consideration that people will use them frequently. He empathized that makers should think about what benefits certain features bring but also how those features can be abused.

Advanced interface challenges from the dark corners of the web by Vitaly Fridman

Vitaly is a showman, and his funky personality filled the whole stadium while throwing chocolate to the crowd and teaching us how to tie a balloon. Vitaly pitched four topics: Designing for touch, Navigation, Breaking out of the box, and Privacy. There were many useful takeaways, but we listed those we liked the most.

He showed statistics that not everybody is using the newest iPhone – many people are using cheap phones. He asserted that interfaces need to account for performance and network constraints. In other words, phones are getting cheaper, but not better.

He also showed data that, on average, people check their phone every 12 minutes. With this kind of mobile interaction, we need to budget less than 30 seconds for each standalone task.

Vitaly continued talking about mobile usage gestures. He stated that the one-handed grip and thumb taps matter the most and that we should test designs with accuracy dots because people never hit icons precisely. An excellent example of a thumb-driven design is the Ada app.

He also touched on some of the navigation patterns, such as always keeping the “close” button on the same spot as the “open” button or other menu icons.

Design Menu Close

Lately, Vitaly has spent a considerable amount of time reading privacy policies. He found some funny examples, such as “subscribing your immortal soul to the service (though the company won’t claim it),” or this bit included in Tumblr’s policy:

Tumblr Privacy Policy Design

However, there are not only jolly policies. For example, there is a clause in Instagram’s Terms of use that even though you are the owner of your photos, you grant them royalty-free license to them.

Instagram TOS Design

Services know more about you than your friends or family. Invest some time in reading the policies, or you will never know what you accept. This also applies to the other side of the table. You should invest time in designing privacy policies that are easily digestible. Make them easy to read and more understandable. Vitaly ended the talk on a positive note and proved that he not only teaches you a lot but also entertains.

21st century design by Don Norman

Don conveyed the problems of today’s designers and his talk was exactly what we expected. It was very provocative and sparked discussions during networking.

He began by showing us his phone and asking why we need to replace phones every 2 years. Is it really needed? Why do we produce things we can’t recycle? We are destroying nature by harvesting rare materials just to throw them away after some time. Designers chould be solving much more significant problems such as climate change, hunger, and access to education by using design frameworks and our problem-solving skills.

Don stated that a major problem is the lack of designers at the executive levels (C-Suite) and in decision making positions. Why is that? Why are we building features proposed by marketers and not by designers? When others control the decision making, then the value is presented by numbers in a spreadsheet but not actual designs.

Like Vitaly, Don mentioned that another problem is the relentless selling of our privacy. Ads, analytics, data – companies know everything about us.

One of the essential tasks for a designer is to solve complex problems. Don described how to approach this:

Use the four principles of human-centered design:

  • Always focus on people. They are the ones using the product.
  • Ask “why” to get to the underlying need. Don’t just solve the symptoms, solve the problem.
  • Think of everything as a system. Remember that problems are interconnected and decisions have consequences.
  • Test all your decisions. Everybody gets it wrong so make, observe, test, and iterate everything while assuming you will always have to change something.

Combine both top-down and bottom-up approaches:

  • You can’t build a system with only specialists, so let designers work with local experts who know the local conditions.

Leverage opportunistic incremental learning if you need big changes:

  • Start with small quick projects. You will face less opposition, and it will be easier to abandon the wrong solutions.
  • You can apply this in government projects as well.

Don mentioned two books in his talk, and we wanted to mention them in case anyone missed it – Tyranny of Experts & Design for the Real World.

Summary

Big props to Projector for putting together such a great conference! Peter and I enjoyed the talks and the atmosphere, we met new friends, and we were pleased to see that designers in Ukraine are incredibly talented. We appreciated the focus on delight and how it can be a major differentiator and that companies, such as Airbnb and Google, understand the potential impact it has on users. It’s something we’ve been trying to leverage since productboard started and we will continue delighting our users through our designs.

The conference also reminded us to never stop experimenting and to have fun! It’s okay to insert some friction if it helps the design be more inclusive. And when in doubt, focus on the principles of human-centered design stressed by Don Norman. Be humane and design responsibly.

Thank you Projector and see you next year!

Zdenek Kuncar Apr 10, 2019