How Many Designers Does it Take to Change a Lightbulb?

November 23, 2016 Monica Nuyens

During the CanUX conference in Ottawa, last week, I found the design answer to the age-old joke, "how many designers does it take to change a lightbulb?". The answer turns the joke on its head; must there even be a lightbulb at all

CanUX (pronounced “canucks” since it’s the longest running and largest annual UX event in Canada) is an event created for people who want to learn and share their expertise about user experience. The conference covered topics like user research, usability, information architecture, interaction design, service design, and just about everything related to the creation of compelling products, services and experiences.

20 international speakers from diverse industries and backgrounds spent 2 days speaking about user experience through different lenses. The topics ranged from citizenship, board games, and UX unicorns to patient experiences, and research studies.  

Below, I’ve made note of some of the key takeaways from the weekend: 

1) Consider the physical world when designing digital products. As designers, sometimes we focus too much on designing great looking interfaces without thinking about where the end user will use it. We need to ask ourselves what are they doing and where are they doing it? As Adam Polansky put it, “The best experiences align with what you desire in the world.” 

2) Make the invisible visible. When conducting user research through interviews, journey maps, and workshops we can learn so much more if we make the invisible visible, said Meghan Armstrong. By listening to the conversations happening around us and not allowing the deliverables to get in the way, we can gain true insight. Responding and adjusting our plan for a workshop can provide the best value, so we should also focus on designing the participant experience while conducting research. 

3) “Game design and interaction design are fraternal twins. They share the same DNA”, said Stephen Anderson. Stephen showed us that board games can teach us about designing great experiences. Designing a game involves playtesting with a prototype, looking at the use of space and how it holds meaning, and finally friction is usually removed in UX but game design purposely creates it to allow the user to learn and be challenged. 

The highlight of the conference for me (and many of the attendees) was listening to Alan Cooper – the man widely recognized as the “Father of Visual Basic”, founder of design monolith, Cooper, and pioneer of personas and other interaction design tools. From the moment that Alan took the stage, we all knew we were in for a treat. The title of his talk, “Ranch Stories”, gave the impression we would be hearing about his life after his busy career…which we did, and a whole lot more. 

Alan’s thought provoking talk made the connection between the ethical & moral implications of agriculture to the tech industry. His experience of running Monkey Ranch, his farmstead in the hills of Petaluma, California, brought to light the struggles of local farmers and their ability to make a living from their previously successful livelihoods. Since the rise of corporate farming, we’ve been seeing more and more serious consequences of this practice – including damaged land and massive amounts of pollution, not to mention family farms becoming all but extinct. Alan reflected on the state of the tech and design industry and questioned if we are heading in a similar direction. He urged us to do everything in our power to strive for quality in our work, and not to focus on shipping timely, cheap, low quality products and experiences.  

Alan’s Call to Action was simple: “Ask why”. He encouraged us, when presented with a new task or feature, to ask ourselves, “will it add value to the person using it and make their experience better?” Simple as this sounds, this straight forward question cuts to the heart of much of the work we do.  

Here at Architech, I’m proud to be part of a community of amazing designers who think critically, listen, and empathize in order to create the best experiences possible for clients. Most importantly, I'm part of a team that is always growing and evolving -- continually asking "why" in order to uncover new ways to build meaningful digital products. 

CanUX may only have lasted the weekend, but after spending these two days surrounded by like-minded designers and researchers, I’m back at my desk feeling engaged and inspired to design and build memorable products and services that will make people’s lives better.

About the Author

Monica Nuyens

As a Visual Designer at Architech, Monica focuses on creating beautiful, intuitive and functional user interfaces that lead to delightful experiences. Although her passion is producing rich visuals, she is also loves creatively solving problems, while collaborating with her team for the optimal solution. Monica is an architect of understanding and is always striving to be a champion for the user.

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