On October 13th, speakers from Interact London graced the stage at the Natural History Museum. Aside from how delightful it was to be back at an in-person event in such a wonderful location, one of the things I loved most was watching the convergence of ideas and common themes build throughout the day.
Sure, talks were structured around this year’s theme of ‘designing for tomorrow’, but they were created in isolation. That’s why it felt so special to see these ideas emerge in unison. What echoed back from each of our speakers was a considerate and compassionate view of how we can better support our users and each other – and design a better world.
It felt as though after a few years of uncertainty and strife, we’re now turning inward and reflecting on not only what comes next, but how we can improve what exists already. It wasn’t just about shiny new tech like NFTs and the Metaverse, but what we should let go and what we can do better.
If you couldn’t make it, you can watch the full day’s events over on our YouTube channel. But if you prefer your insights in a written form, here are my seven favourite lessons from Interact London 2022.
Eric Burman from Nike kicked off the day with an ode to setting boundaries, preserving time and changing the way we approach KPIs (but more on that later). But one idea I really liked was his discussion of designing natural pauses and clear endings.
Eric explains how humans have an evolutionary bias to wait for stopping cues. That’s why autoplay and infinite scrolling wreaks havoc on our minds, productivity and output. And we’ve all experienced completing tasks or activities that either do not end, or end far too abruptly. But this issue can’t just be solved with improving your confirmation screen.
Leanne Jones and Tommy Toner, the duo of presenters from Cuckoo, outlined their experience of trying to close their account with a certain rainforest themed brand. To actually do this, they had to hunt through various help pages, account summaries and subscription types, before finally finding the ‘close account’ page hidden in the footer.
In some ways it’s natural to not want the consumer lifecycle to end, but there’s an art to letting people go gracefully. By making it simple to leave a service, we’re able to leave things on a good note and improve the chances of that customer coming back. It’s important we respect our users enough to let them make decisions that work for them, even if it’s not what we want ourselves.
A little friction can be a good thing
I know, I know. As an industry, we’ve been pushing for ‘frictionless design’ or ‘frictionless experiences’ for years. We want it minimal, we want it quick and we want to complete tasks with as few roadblocks as possible.
Eric Burman asks us to consider – what if this isn’t always the case? In the same way some users shift from mobile to desktop when making big purchases or important decisions, maybe we want and expect a natural pause for consideration before we click ‘confirm’.
We may want frictionless experiences occasionally, but when things are too easy we can feel unsure. At best we’re not certain if we’ve completed an action, and at worse we may have committed to something before we fully decided. Through this lens, you can see how some frictionless designs can end up in the murky realm of UX dark patterns.
Tommy Toner from Cuckoo explained how initially he tried to reduce the sign up process for their broadband packages to as few clicks as possible. When Leanne Jones joined the team, she immediately scrapped this idea. This was because they found their users wanted pauses within a transaction to give them time to reflect before deciding.
The same will be true for your users, too. We want to take our time making big decisions, purchases and commitments so we can be sure we get them right. So instead of speeding everything up, we should think about how and when we should slow things down more.
AI isn’t the boogie man
Long lauded as either the saviour or destroyer of the human race, the real impact of artificial intelligence (AI) is somewhere in the middle. Beyond images of sentient robots taking over our cities, Nomensa’s Creative Director Chris Richards touched on something closer to home – the role AI could play in the design process, including whether or not it was coming for his day job.
The AI debate reminds me of the factory floor approach to art seen in Banksy’s documentary, Exit Through the Gift Shop. It centres on the street artist Thierry Guetta, also known as Mr Brainwash, who rose to fame without ever really creating anything of his own. Instead, he packaged up other artists’ work and got his giant team of workers to create safe, consumer-approved products that sold well but lacked soul.
Just like Jeff Koons and his balloon animal sculptures, AI falls into the category of artists that ‘live laugh love’ their way into hotel lobbies and IKEA showrooms. They have novelty, sure, and maybe in time even some talent, but in reality they are still a composite of different artists’ output, data inputs and defined intents.
Without human hands and ideas behind a piece, what’s created lacks agency, intention and the transmutation of our experiences into something tangible. And at work, it loses the wisdom and gut feeling that comes with years of practice, play and failed attempts.
Ultimately Chris is right – AI won’t replace us as artists or designers. But it could make our work easier by helping with creative prompts, visualising ideas or automating some parts of our day-to-day work. So don’t worry – the robo-apocalypse isn’t upon us just yet.
Track the outcomes you don’t want (A.K.A the rise of anti-KPIs)
Technology moves so quickly that it can often feels like changes seem to come quicker than we can adjust to them. But technology is not some speeding getaway car that we can’t catch up with. We’re the ones in control.
While no one really intends to design something malicious or addictive, unintended consequences are still consequences. So we need to make sure we don’t accidentally design something that is disempowering for our users.
To this end, we need to keep track of what we don’t want to happen just as much as measuring what we do. Like Heldiney Pereira from Monzo hinted at – we’re gifted with a mountain of data that we can either use to untangle problem behaviours or cherrypick out the stats that look best in a board report.
It’s important we keep an eye on the way our products are moving, and to follow Hannah Tempest’s advice of regularly reviewing and removing what isn’t working anymore. Or, as the guys at Cuckoo put it – when planning, we need to follow questions of ‘How might we?’ with ‘at what cost?’
Time your time (and set up boundaries)
Setting boundaries looks different for everyone, but it’s an important skill to learn if we want to be resilient at work. This could be as simple as blocking out time in your calendar for specific tasks or being strict with not replying to messages and emails outside of your working hours.
Both Eric Burman and Deepika Adusumilli talked about how we need to respect each other’s time. And how we need to be mindful of each other’s vulnerabilities and infinite distractions. We can’t expect people to be mind readers, but we also need to feel safe enough to express what we need. We can only do that in teams that foster psychological safety.
One thing we’re developing internally at Nomensa is a ‘user guide for me.’ This is a living document where we can map out the ways we want to work and what we need to collaborate most effectively. If getting cold called fills you with dread, add that in. If you need space between meetings because you find it hard to shift your focus – include that too.
The user guide is great for everyone, but especially for our neurodiverse teammates. It’s good for personal preferences and bigger requirements. It allows us to ask for what we need so that other people can show up for us.
Don’t be afraid to burn it all down
Nomensa’s Experience Director Hannah Tempest explained that “extinction is the rule, not the exception” and the apps, digital services and organisations that last are the ones who update their offering often. It’s essential we ask ourselves not only what could we do better, but what could we live without?
There’s also an opportunity in regularly inventorying and analysing your digital creations. Whether it’s by defining your components through content modelling or creating a design system, you’ll see how elements within a service can be repackaged, reused or repurposed elsewhere. We see this throughout the animal kingdom where features fade out or are reused by different animals in different ways.
Hannah also explains that complexity isn’t always best. Beauty and delight aren’t always needed. It’s viability and usability, as she rightfully points out, that counts. And if we find that we’ve gone wildly offtrack, there’s nothing wrong with admitting failure and starting all over again. If anything, that’s what ensures our survival.
Instead of failures being seen as a negative, identifying them early or throughout development is actually better as it means one less issue your users may face. This an idea shared by Heldiney Pereira at Monzo – it’s our job as designers to decipher, filter and remove features to ensure we only deliver what’s useful to our users. All the rest is just noise.
Designing for tomorrow starts today
Carl Collins from Goldman Sachs explains that sometimes to understand the way forward, we need to take a giant leap backwards. It’s okay to focus on the minutiae to make sense of the bigger picture and maybe, by fully accepting humans for what they are – anxieties, frailties and all – will make us better designers and ultimately better humans.
He summed up the feeling of the day quite nicely when he said that: “the internet is an unknowable, unlimited page filled with anxieties and edge cases.” We can either be consumed by that – or rise up to the challenge. And if Interact London 2022 is anything to go by, I’d say our industry is more than ready to.
Can we help you?
If reading this post has inspired you to improve the experience you deliver to users, we’d love to hear from you! Get in touch today.