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DesignDrivenNYC: growing the design group and design function in organizations

Posted on May 11th, 2016


05/10/2016 @WeWork, 115 West 18th Street, 2nd floor, NY

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Three speakers spoke about their methods to integrate #design processes into all parts of product #development within retail-facing #financial firms. Betterment is a small, but rapidly growing company that is upsizing the design team. Citi and Learnvest are moving from a haphazard view of design to a single customer-centric design process throughout the organization:

In the first presentation, Jamie Strollo @Betterment spoke about the challenges the UI/UX design team faces as the company goes from a small startup to 9 designers to doubling by year end. Originally Betterment had a flat organization, but now there are challenges: integration of new people and avoiding the bad dynamics of large meetings. Design is the only shared resource across the company, so there was duplication in work. Some strategies for tackling a new design challenge are:

  1. Kick off strong – ask what is the problem?, what is success?, how do we measure?, constraints? Initially concentrate on measuring the drop-off rate when evaluating a design change. But eventually shift to measuring the effect on profitability.
  2. Assumption gathering – for stakeholders, high-level activity, focus on fears and confidence, agree of riskiest assumptions, talk to customers to validate.
  3. Focus on Top 5’s
    1. Great for large groups, Iterations
    2. High-level activity
    3. Select only top 5 design needs
    4. Helps to Establish patterns
    5. Bridge the “delete” conversation
  4. Ideation / paper prototyping – better for smaller groups. Bring in other areas of expertise, let others have a voice
  5. Managing feedback – decide who are the decision makers, who to inform. No big UI critiques (a polished presentation gives a finished feeling and makes it hard to change), share often and early, speak about objectives and key results. Start conversation by what is the objective.
  6. Invest in relationships – customers and coworkers

Another challenge as the company grows is creating a method to give better estimates of the time to complete a design. This is hard since much of time goes into understanding the problem

In the second presentation, Billy Seabrook @Citi spoke about how Citi has created a single world-wide design team. The goal of better design is to move customer’s view of the bank from a transactional experience to a relational experience.

Starting six months ago, Billy has approached the following challenges within the bank:

  1. Organization – create agile groups adding individuals looking at strategies; research and usability studies; producers to keep on time and budget.
  2. Skills – Create a cohort of coaches to teach design thinking throughout the bank. Minimal viable product is at the intersection of business viability + customer desirability + technical feasibility; Partner with IDO to foster agile design thinking throughout all parts of the bank
  3. Applied Projects – Citi Fintech launched 6 months ago to launch the bank of the future: focus on mobile (mobile only), speed and simplicity (2 weeks of design thinking + 2 week dev sprints)

To foster common branding and look-and-feel world-wide, document templates are shared world-wide. Senior people in each location are in constant contact.

Coaches have backgrounds of policy or planning. The main thing is the mind set of being customer centric.  In the past, most of the product design was outsourced, so design principals were inconsistent also there was a lack of consistency in evaluating designs.

The Design group reports to the COO of Fintech and is considered a cost center (despite its’ close affiliation with profit centers).

In the final presentation, Abigail Hart Gray @Learnvest (help financial planners create simple, effective, .., plans for retirement…) talked about the challenges of integrating a unified design process into product development at Northwestern Mutual (acquired Learnvest last year).

Abigail started with the question of a Defining Design Driven? She interviewed experienced design professionals and found commonalities:

  1. Team structure – be at the table when decision are made
  2. Process – iterative process
  3. Outcomes – but interviewees disagreed up whether good design resulted in products that were best for customer or best for business.

She talked about becoming a champion of design within the company:

  1. know the capabilities
  2. need to invest in design
  3. designers must educate their audience and sell their vision.

If you need to explain the interface, it stinks!

Steps to get started (data-driven, customer centric, outputs oriented):

  1. pick something with low stakes – no bottom line implications
  2. research well
  3. measure everything
  4. share results
  5. repeat

As an aside on the measurement process, one needs to consider the possibility that customer behavior changes by knowing that they are being observed. The Hawthorne effect can elevate or suppress responses depending on prior customer engagement (friends&family vs. the general population), frequency of engagement (daily vs. occasional), etc.

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Design Driven NYC: Assembling great #design #teams

Posted on February 14th, 2016


02/10/2016 @NewSchool, W12th Street, NY

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Four speakers spoke about team building as it relates to design:

The first speaker, Katy Kasmai @TeamExponent talked about a method of brainstorming for ideas to solve large, impactful, long-term, impossible projects, a.k.a. #moonshots or 10x moonshots. She conducts workshops that employ a #DesignSprintMethodology. Some of the key touch concepts are:

  1. Team commitment
  2. “Yes and !”
  3. Do it!

In the second presentation, Ben and Ben spoke about many aspects of the company emphasizing their team approach to improving the product. Jet, like Amazon, sells online. Since they are smaller and newer than Amazon, they look for competitive advantages, such as options to forego returns, etc. Their company is based on full availability of data to all in the company (this includes salaries). Real-time sales data are displayed prominently in the work area. All know the results of A/B testing in real time.

They Structure their teams to act. They build small vertical teams that are autonomous and self-select projects. All teams have unfettered access to data and research and are empowered to push ideas into the live sales environment. Anyone can hold a group brainstorming session.

The use a home grown tool, Juice, to design ideas. The tool is design so one can fail fast and better. It is a css based design system which creates a small screen first and is highly responsive. Better prototypes make better research.

The conduct in house research every Thursday in which, get customers do a live shop-in in which all members of staff can observe. They use an eye tracker to determine whether certain design elements really matter to the customer.

They also conduct impromptu “research on a budget” (a.k.a “sip and study”) where they go to a local coffee shop and ask customers to spend 15 minutes looking at a site.

They also conduct remote testing in the customer’s home, in both moderated and unmoderated sessions (see my previous notes on this topic)

Next, Jen @18F talked about working on a distributed design team. They are a civic consultancy for the U.S. government within the U.S. government. They help other agencies improve their web site and create tracking tools to monitor usage of those sites.

They have 159 people located throughout the U.S. with only 44% in D.C. Their design team has 30 people who are linked by weekly video calls and Slack. They have a team culture including weekly 15 minute updates by each person. Members are encouraged to give and receive backup and create self-organized critique groups.

They find it important to know the real-world context in which everyone works. So people post what their workspaces look like.

They do almost all communications online, but realize that it is important to meet, so they have an annual physical get together.

They try to over-communicate so everyone if comfortable when stuff gets hard people can talk to colleagues. They encourage mutual support (similar to moonshots, “Yes and !”) and have an appreciation bot in Slack which contains a channel for all message of appreciation.

They also have online Design studio exercises in which problems are presented and individuals present and upload their ideas to

The last session was an interview with Khoi conducted by Dan Kozikowski.

Khoi talked about a wide range of topics ranging from design organizations, his daily routines, etc.

He views the organization as being secondary to creating a team and having the team work together well. However, he feels that great products can also come from individuals.

In the design process he feels quieter is better so mornings or evenings are best. He talks with people during the day.

He starts with paper and pencil combined with research online using Pinterest. He feels there are few original ideas and wants to see what has worked or not worked

He uses compCC as a bridge between pencil and paper and Photoshop

He uses Basecamp or Slack for feedback. The best designs come from lots of healthy iterations including time spent thinking about the problem and away from the problem.

For his group, he looks for people who want to learn things especially at startups since they change rapidly.

He is methodology agnostic and is driven to solve problem with new tools and methods.

He notes that learning specific tools will not make a career and communication (especially writing) makes your career.

Mentoring requires development of a personal relationship to know how the other person defines their world.

On web design, current there is a lot of sameness, especially with flat design breaking the site into blocks with big photos and block letter. He sees the next step as development of designing rules (rather than layouts), especially content aware designs. Theses will consider key colors reflected in the layout and have tools using machine learning and computer vision.

He foresees tools moving from desktop to mobile. This will give all designers more flexibility to work in their best environment. Some of this process is already happening with cloud based apps such as Google docs, Dropbox, etc. The move from box to subscription software also moves in this direction as the ecosystem becomes an essential part of the infrastructure.

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DesignDrivenNYC: Creating a good #Design, #CorporateCulture, #Networks and #Skills

Posted on January 13th, 2016


01/13/2016 The New School, 66 W 12th St, NY

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The four speakers were

Soraya Darabi – spoke about the importance of good design, saying that much of what differentiates unicorns from others is design. It matters what the founding team was thinking and that is reflected in the design of the produce/experience.

She was attracted to work for Foodspotting by the vision of the founders to highlight beautiful presentations of food. ZADY is designed to a beautiful web site emphasizing the sustainability and ethical production of the products. In this way, their luxury products are differentiated from mass marketed clothes. The design becomes the foundation for a sustainable brand encouraging millenials to vote with their dollars. Transparency with the supply chain is a key part of the brand.

Hullabalu, has immersive games for children and is designed by asking questions such as “how does a five year old interact with the main characters, a panda”. This then leads to design questions such as the color of the panda and what the panda’s friend should look like, etc.

A good designer thinks about choices to get an appropriate reaction from people. This is more than just differentiation or following the crowd.

Next, Aaron Weinberg talked about the importance of culture in motivating people and what TED does to encourage a productive environment.

  1. Cultivate Culture – who is around you and what are their traits? Gender diversity helps. Absence of ego is important.
  2. Find the right people – they get people who have an affinity for TED content. Look for nice, motivated people and then evaluate their skills. They hire people who are already motivated and then work to inspire them. Money is not the compelling reason to work for TED – it’s a non-profit. Not a deep company so not a lot of ladder climbing.
  3. Stay connected – the team goes to the TED conference where bonds are built as the team works together. They also have an annual 3-day retreat, all hands quarterly meetings. off-site tech summits.
  4. They want people to believe in why they are doing what they are doing.

In the third presentation, Gary Chou talked about the goals of Orbital – part co-working space, part incubator,… and a home for launching new ideas.

Orbital was the culmination of his thinking on networks which started when he worked at Union Square Ventures. He talked about the entrepreneurship course he teaches and how the class project (raise $1000 using networking, kickstarter, etc.) is designed to raise the student’s awareness of the power of the network. Orbital was founded with a similar goal.

Gary talked about what it takes to be successful creator today?

  1. Deal with failure.
  2. Need to think about the conditions and environment you are in

One then adds

  1. Need constraints – constraints eliminate decisions and allow you to concentrate
  2. A way to mark time – some metric needed
  3. Access to dialogue – engagement with other people.

To build something we combine

  1. Product
  2. Process
  3. Network – the infrastructure you need

Finally, Joel Califa spoke about the conflicts that he, as a designer and as a developer, faces when trying to keep up with the rapidly changing workplace requirements. Specifically, trying to keep up with trends in multiple areas creates what he calls “full stack anxiety”: his list of things to learn grows bigger and he must decide what to learn and what he can no longer keep up with.

To ease his anxiety he proposes the following path

  1. Look at the big picture. What kind of work do I want to do in the future?
  2. Create some structure – don’t treat everything you learn at the same level. Write them down to get them out of your head.
  3. Take the decision out of the moment: if ___, then learn it. What is more important to learn? This ordering reduce your cognitive load. Create a list and then do it. Constraints are good as they eliminate anxiety
  4. Stop following trends – There is always a new (and better) thing. Use the tools that are convenient for you and you need for your current role. Prioritize transferable skills
  5. Prioritize happiness – don’t be anxious. Work can be fun. If you really enjoy doing it, then learn it.

Joel neglected to say that we all face this issue, even those who are just developers. It’s also something that is not new in the world: in the past it just took longer to become obsolete.

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Design Driven NYC: #TypeFace, an online space for #Designers, #Design for non-designers and designers

Posted on December 9th, 2015


12/8/2015 @ TheNewSchool, 66 West 12th Street, NY

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Four speakers talked about design related concepts:

In the first presentation, Gale Anderson @SchoolOfVisualArts shared her knowledge and enthusiasm for different type sets. Gale talked about various design projects from her largest, a sign on the campus of the Pennsylvania College of Art and Design in Lancaster, PA to her smallest, a U.S. stamp commemorating the emancipation proclamation.

She as co-authored with Steve Heller 12 books typefaces and wrote the book “Outside the Box” on hand drawn type on packages.

Gale also talked about how her passion for type extends to a collection of bottle caps and pictures of outdoor signs in NYC.

Gale spoke about the many authors who have inspired her and given her insight. These include

  1. Paul Rand and Alex Steinweiss
  2. Alvin Lustig
  3. Beverly Thompson
  4. Bruna Munari
  5. Saul Bass

Some of her favorite contemporary designers include

  1. Fred Woodward
  2. Paula Share
  3. Louise Fili – signs in Italy & Paris

She recommended as a reference book – Ellen Lupton “thinking with type”

The second speaker talked about a site for posting your accomplishments in the world of design. Anil Dash @Makerbase has created a site where designers can memorialize their work and seek like minded people.

Anil talked about the difficulty in getting credit for your accomplishments and how the site strives to make the site a good environment. He talked about discouraging “drive-by contributors” with the following rules

  1. Persistent identities – so you can see the history of what you have done. Don’t require real names, but you cannot be anonymous
  2. Adding accountability around content
    1. Whenever you change things – the editing actions are visible in context.
    2. Show your actions to your peers – receive email notification.
    3. Trust people to use their judgment.
    4. You can edit your own page.
    5. All your actions are viewable in your profile.
    6. There is a moderator for content who will get an alert if there is an “edit battle” (if a page is being modified frequently by two individuals) or other disturbances
    7. Make it easy to flag anything, anywhere
    8. Make a place people can trust
    9. Anything you put on the site is public.

He said the biggest challenge is to get people to come back and also for people evaluate what other people are doing.

He wants to make the site a place to share information on how to solve problems.

Next, Sara J Chipps @Jewelbots talked about how she, as a non-designer, manages designers.

Sara loves good design and spoke of how important design is in the products (Amazon Echo, Glossier , Bustle, Caeden (headphones)) she uses and the games (monument valley) she plays. However, she is not a designer. She gave recommendations on how to acquire good design if you are not a designer and how to communicate with designers.

Sara’s Principles (for those who are not good at design):

  1. Copy those who know how to design – Googled “beautiful slide deck”: Solid color background, sans serif, mostly in caps, etc.
  2. Illustrator and photoshop are difficult. Like pixelmator since it is easier to use.


When dealing with designers in your business

  1. Hire for perfection – and passion for the craft
  2. Never be prescriptive – better to share what your emotional response when you view the page.

Finally, Josh Long @Oscar (health coverage) talked about how design fits into a rapidly growing company that needs to design for many groups: patients, doctors, etc.

He talked about ways to make design work

  1. Don’t wait for things to happen – come up with your own objectives.
  2. Everyone has the right to come up with ideas, so respect what other are creating
  3. Experts need to make the big decisions – it’s a balancing act
  4. Don’t be precious about anything – your first idea might not be the best

Embrace the chaos.

When asked about the type face for the whimsical ads on the subway, Josh said that they wanted to balance the playful nature of the graphics with serifs on the type face to emphasize the serious nature of the product.

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Design Driven NYC: #redesign, #usability, #consultancy, #rebranding

Posted on October 22nd, 2015


10/20/2015 @TheNewSchool, 66 West 12th Street, New York, NY

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Four speakers talked about the important of #UX design in product development:

In the first presentation, Scott Stein & Eamonn Bourke talked about the redesign of the #USAToday web site and mobile apps. Three years ago USA Today redesigned their pages while keeping their focus on the news with increased use of user-generated content.

They wanted to retain design components they thought were successful such as the headline stack on upper right and have similar functionality to what already existed in 2012. They also felt that native apps were the best way to deliver different types of content for each platform. The responsive design would concentrate on the home page. Despite this, they wanted to create a common look across platforms. One example is a live logo in the upper left which is changed daily to summarize the big topic for the day. The design was also done with a goal of making a common look for all Gannett publications, both large and small.

The first page has a newspaper layout. Following pages have visual breakouts so users are reminded where they are in the app/site. Tablet apps snap from page to page while phone apps scroll. They wanted to naturally include in-line galleries and in-line video. Social media is imbedded within articles. The navigation conventions were adjusted to be consistent with the device, so Android users see the usual Android navigation conventions, while Ios users have Ios navigation tools.

Their usability tests have guided their design

  1. Users scan headlines with images being of secondary import
  2. Users graze off the front page. They don’t swipe from story to story
  3. Instead they go back to the front page to go to the next story
  4. Users want a sense of hierarchy indicating the top stories
  5. Despite the ability to create immersive, full-canvas ads, most advertisers found it more cost effective to say with more traditional ad placements.
  6. Mobile users often prefer text to videos

In the second presentation, Rohan Golkar, Jake Lazaroff , and Jan Cantor talked about the consulting projects at NewsCred to increase customer interactions.

They call their concept “Customer centricity”  = what customers value most + what drives the most value for businesses. The approach involves

  1. Prioritize customer challenges, not features of the site: know what problem you are trying to solve. To do this give teams challenges and let them take ownership of scoping and validating a plan. Try to make things fit together. Set up Key Performance Indicators.
  2. Listen and observe your customers. Observations are especially important since users don’t always say what they really want. Conversation –> Observation –> Inspection. They talked about a calendar app in which they initially moved information from the display into a hovering tool tip. Despite the improvement in the look and feel of the app, they found that users were losing this information when they took screen shots to send to others who did not use the app. As a result information was lost in transmission. To remedy this, they added an export function. They also take engineers and designers to their training sessions so the engineers and designers develop empathy toward users.
  3. The minimum viable product should not be just your first release. It should be every release. Scope small, fail fast and iterate early and often. Shipping frequently feels great and makes customers happy. Requires a fast feedback loop.
  4. Measure and make measurement part of your DNA. Focus on metrics.
  5. Customer centricity is a team sport – trust and transparency are keys to success. In-app presentations should announce when new features are introduced.

Jules Ernhardt @ustwo then gave his view on the present and future of design.

Besides creating #MonumentValley game, ustwo has worked on a variety of projects including watch faces for Google and VR guidelines for Google cardboard developers.

Currently, Jules sees independent design studios acquired by larger firms which consider design an important part of product differentiation. He, however, sees challenges on maintaining the integrity of design within these larger shops. Eventually he sees a return to consultancy.

His larger picture of ustwo and other design firms is to develop the capabilities to develop products as well as pure design work. This requires multiple disciplines: engineering, branding, etc. One way to do this is to become a digital product studios working in the areas of

  1. Consultancy
  2. Venture work
  3. Own IP

When asked about the maximum size of such a studio Jules said that, 100 to 120 people would be a good size. (This is similar to the size anthropologists find in tribal groups as space and time limits our abilities to create strong social bonds to everyone in a larger group.) But studios can replicate the model in different cities. The balance is to generate enough money and profit to risk venture work.

In the last presentation, Talia Fisher and Ben Gelinas @JackThreads talked about the rebranding of the site. This involved moving away from a purely data-driven design to develop a brand using data-driven methods.

The move was initiated in response to the following changes

  1. The flash retail market was dying with fewer leftover things to sell
  2. New leadership
  3. Need to differentiate from other brands

The data driven design process included the following

  1. Daily and hourly goals
  2. Data -> insights -> design
  3. Myopia as a result of some findings: e.g. A/B tests indicates that heads of all models should not be shown when modeling product. The site looks crowded with an infinite scroll of objects at the bottom.

Efficiency can mean the inability to create a brand (in the extreme, all firms come to the same conclusions and all sites look identical)

  1. Too much and no visual hierarchy.
  2. Too tall so logo takes too much space
  3. Not distinct enough

As a result of the changing business environment, they decided to launch their own clothing line. This requires branding and requires them to cut down on the items they carry and create a better user experience.

They wanted a sense of quality that encourages discovery of a personal style. So they first concentrated on global navigation redesign to improve usability. They worked on the big pictures. So the redesign might affect conversion rates and bring down revenue per session, but branding in this case took precedence over metrics.

  1. The Home page redesign – less content, but more impactful.
  2. Move to highlight just one thing. Targeted shoppers could navigate to where they want to go.
  3. Use elastic scroll so users get from one page to the next with a short scroll.
  4. Data > insights > brand lens > design

Need to balance data with their design to create a brand

Cannot test brand loyalty with A/B testing in two weeks.

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DesignDriven NYC: designing processes that foster good behavior

Posted on January 15th, 2015

#DesignDriven NYC

01/14/2015 @ WeWork, 69 Charlton St, NY

Four companies presented thoughts an effective #design of their #WebPages and communication with customers.

Matthew Tully @Harry’s (which does direct customer sales of shaving products) spoke about optimizing the design and efficiency of sending out email. In September 2014 Harry’s wanted to send an email to customers announcing the launch of aftershave and foaming gel products. They took this as an opportunity to streamline their email process in which creatives spent too much time doing copy editing and the entire process involved multiple group sessions (see  Lessons learned when moving to the new system included:

  1. Design your system by looking at the full process then pick the steps to speed up. Look at previous emails and find patterns in both the format and process. e.g. full width pictures + text. When you find these common blocks, name them so it is easy to reference them both in discussion and within programs.
  2. Automate everything – Create tools to generate tags/items in html. Also write styles externally in Sass (a superset of CSS). Use Grunt and io to automate and compress images. Use Litmus to quickly verify that the email looks good in all devices.
  3. Review it live – Get test emails into the browser as soon as possible so everyone can look at it. Test in different devices (e.g. mobile); Simulate what customers will see.

These changes have many benefits. One of the most important was making it easier to A/B test. From these tests they determined the importance of the location of the subject line. Also that the slug line matters so recipients know that if they are not viewing images in the email, they should open a browser to see them.

Aneesh Bhoopathy @GetPointApp talked about their OnBoarding product which allows users to share and discuss web pages online using a chrome add-in. He also talked about the challenges creating a web site that would enable users to easily master setup. The current steps are

  1. Go to web site
  2. Once installed, the user gets an example which explains onboarding
  3. The side asks the user to login to either Facebook or Google+.
  4. Next it asks the user to invite others to join Point
  5. The site shows the hotkey for sending Point
  6. It asks the user to send a real page to Point.

Creating this sequence of steps required testing to better understand the barriers users face during setup. To do this they kept a full history in Sketch of all screens along with notes and feedback. As improvements are made, bottlenecks are identified and fixed. They concluded:

Reduce choices when possible so everyone gets the same page to practice on. Only show one simple way to do things initially.

Abe Geiger  and Krissi Xenakis described how @ShakeLaw created a mobile app in which a user answers questions to quickly create standard legal agreements. It takes advantage of mobile technology to easily insert pictures/video in the document if needed. They talked about many of the design decisions including

  1. Structuring documents in plain English by removing legaleze boilerplate
  2. Present a list of questions to fill in the document details
  3. Use of a serif font to make the document easy to read, yet project a sense of importance
  4. Include a way to capture signatures to be included in the document

Scott Belsky @Adobe illustrated his thoughts on the future of creative careers by showing how these ideas were incorporated in the Behance web site.

Behance wanted to design a LinkedIn for the creative world: organize and connect those in the creative community. When creating the site they wanted to address the following social challenges to encourage innovation and the discovery of talented individuals:

  1. The “long tail” is backfiring – (the internet creates an infinite number of niches as there is something for everyone on the internet). However, innovation happens in the overlap of different communities/ideas. So the site was designed to foster views into other fields and encourage publication in fields other than one’s own narrow specialty.
  2. Have we empowered the masses without discernment? Popularity is important, but acceptance by key, knowledgeable individuals is also important. Therefore the site is based on both opinions of the group and opinions of a set of professional curators. Initially Behance invited 100 people with well-respected portfolios and Behance created the portfolios on the site. These continue to be the most seen as they are the most popular. This encourages others to use the site. Also credible curated comments elevate good work by unknowns.
  3. When attribution is not supported, opportunity is lost. They want to build a graph showing who created the fonts, the pictures, etc. (Pinterest is also doing this.) They eventually want to monitor who is using which tool when creating new content. He feels that good attribution fosters good work as discovery becomes more important than referral when identifying talent.

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DesignDrivenNYC #2: designing as a group activity, design goes international, rebranding

Posted on December 4th, 2014


12/03/2014 WeWork @ 69 Charlton St, NY

Kim Bost @kimbost @coverpay

Andrew Chen @ andrewfchen @Gilt

Manuel Lima @mslima @Codecademy

Paula Guntaur @pollybirdy @FiftyThree

Four speakers talked about their experiences in designing web sites. They emphasizes collaboration of designers and developers to improve the user experience.

Kim Bost @coverpay (“dine and dash”: Cover takes care of the mechanics of paying for the meal) talked about the iterative design process. She said design decisions should be shared by the full team including developers, designers and business. Transparency is a key part in this sharing and is fostered by

  1. Frequent iterations in the cycle of design -> build -> measure
  2. Sharing incomplete work to foster trust and increase team motivation
  3. Get up-front buy-in by group members on the problems & goals document

Andrew Chen talked about lessons learned @Gilt (online clothing sales) when adapting their U.S. site to cater to customers in China. By looking at their competitors they made the following observations of retail sites used by customers in China

  1. Pages tended to be cluttered and filled with graphics.
  2. Customers preferred buying items from a small number of sites, such as Alibaba, which sold a wide variety of products

This list was further expanded as they implemented the changes.

  1. Gilt needed to create system for language localization. Buttons and other Fixed parts of the site need to have translated text. Gilt is working on a method to translation the dynamic content, including descriptions of the items for sale today.
  2. In contrast to the U.S., 75% of transactions use Alipay and UnionPay.
  3. Shipping – in China, user expectations are for 3-hour shipping.
  4. Mobile – need localized version of apps.
  5. Page & content loading – CDN’s are inaccessible. Need internet content provider (ICP) license to quickly load content. To ameliorate the problem of slow-loading pages, they eliminated some JavaScript code and streamlined the site.
  6. Social experience is essential. Customers in China have justified concerns about product quality and fraud when making online purchases. Establishing a presence in is important in obtaining social verification.
  7. International customers tend to search more and make fuller use of the FAQ page. In Asia customers buy fewer brands as there is a greater consensus on favored brands.

codecademcy logo

Manuel Lima @ Codecademy (online courses on how to write code) described how they rebranded the company starting with a focus group and updating the look and feel of the site.

Interviews of 23 users showed them that there were four types of users in a 2 x 2 grid with axes of experience and engagement: hobbyist, achiever, refresher, explorer.


Novice Intermediate
Active achiever explorer
Passive hobbyist refresher


To better reach all these groups Codecademy wanted to

  1. Redesign the logo to emphasize the online nature of the learning experience
  2. Make ‘merit badges’ have a uniform look and feel
  3. Bring uniformity to the headers, footers and color scheme

The page redesign was guided by the principles.

  1. One column – multicolumn dilutes the narrative.
  2. Social proof – have users do the talking
  3. More contrast – colors used for specific calls to action (CTA) to make each stand out
  4. Fewer form fields – increases conversion rates.
  5. Keeping focus – reduce number of calls to action in a single page. Focus on what matters
  6. Direct manipulation – directly act upon UI elements – reveals contextual actions/controls.
  7. Visual hierarchy – insert white bands to give the eye a place to stop.
  8. Visual recognition –provide users with visual elements that they are already familiar with. Show thumb nail icons and visuals showing coursework progress
  9. Larger targets – increase the size of form fields and CTAs. Fitt’s Law – the smaller the target, the longer it takes for the user to go to. Also better for touch-enabled platforms
  10. First use – optimize for a great out of the box experience.

Paula Guntaur @FiftyThree talked about a collaboration tool for creating graphics on iPad. The Mix product gives people starting points: Templates that you can modify.

Since many users have multiple journals they added a row above the main set of journals to create a duplex view. To refine the idea, the developers and designers went through the following steps.

  1. Sketch ideas
  2. Wireframe – show details and it fits into the bigger system
  3. Motion visuals – create detailed story-board visuals
  4. Prototype – use JavaScript to create a mockup. Shows developers how things should look also can be used to beta-test the idea.
  5. Build use C++ and OpenGL. Designers also use a tool to fine tune the display.

posted in:  Data Driven NYC, DesignDrivenNYC, UX    / leave comments:   2 comments

Data Driven NYC: #DataScience, #Artificial Intelligence and #ImageRecognition

Posted on November 18th, 2014


11/18/2014 @ Bloomberg, 58th and Lexington, NY

Matt Zeller @Clarifai talked about using #NeuralNetworks to do image recognition. (See to try it out). The theoretical foundations for Deep Learning were established in the 1980’s, but the successful application of these algorithms needed faster hardware (GPU) and larger data sets for algorithm training. Recently, these have become available and neural net models have become more accurate than other competing algorithms.

Matt mentioned the many uses of image recognition including classifying consumer photos, shopping for specific items, accessing stock photos,  placing ads appropriately (e.g. away from negative news mages), ad targeting and analyzing satellite and medical imagery.

For a more technical description of the image recognition methods (and a example of the current limits of the Clarifai web demo) see my notes on a presentation by Rob Fergus.


Next, Mark & Rob @bitly talked about the business model and technology they employ. Mark Josephson said that bitly works with more than 45k brands to improve the reach of their web sites. To most users, however, bitly is known as service to convert long URLs into shorter links. However, by shortening a link, they can reroute clicks through their servers and monitor who accesses the sites. In this way they learn how content moves around the world. For instance, they have been able to track the growth in Facebook usage as compared to Twitter’s slower growth.

Rob Platzer talked about how they built a scalable data architecture. Their goals are to create a flexible system to handle very large volumes, but retain the ability to add information as it becomes available, conduct multiple parallel analyzes of the data and make it easy to create customized reports. To do this they use a pipeline architecture in which information is added to items in a queue (or data are analyzed) and the output passed to the next queue.

Undoubtedly, some of their inspiration must have come from the queue-based architecture of operating systems.

20141118_192355[1] @xdotai is an application which acts as a personal assistant for scheduling your meetings. Dennis Mortensen talked about how he wants to recreate the same experience as a personal assistant. So this is not an app, but “someone” who can accept an email requesting a meeting and will handle all the negotiations for setting up the meeting. It is designed to handle human dialogs as if it were a call center, even though there is no humans in the process.

Marcos Jiminez Berlenguer talked about how “Amy” is a set of modules (which are currently using humans as trainers, but will eventually dispense with humans).  Marcos spoke about the challenges of understanding responses such s ‘1-2 Monday’ and how the system is designed to parse responses, negotiate times, understand the time-of-day preferences, the history of the negotiations, etc. He also talked about the longer term challenges of understanding social dynamics (such as status or preferences) which might be incorporated into these negotiations.


Finally, Michael Rubenstein @Appnexus described how appnexus programmatically matches ad buyers and ad sellers.

Catherine Williams talked the technology challenges the company has faced as it moved from simple databases to large databases that can be mined to assist both buyers and sellers. Some of the challenges were making sure that real-time ads were evenly spread throughout the day, eliminating porn sites from their service by key-word detection (however, ‘’ should not be excluded even if it contains the letters ‘slut’), and improving the market place design to help both ad buyers and ad sellers.

posted in:  applications, data analysis, Data Driven NYC, databases, DesignDrivenNYC    / leave comments:   1 comment

Designing great apps: Design Driven #1

Posted on November 6th, 2014


11/5/2014 @WeWork, 69 Charlton Street, NY

The initial meeting of DesignDrivenNYC had four speakers:

Hook 05 Nov 2014

Nir spoke about the #psychology of getting people to use products and how user’s experiences with a product can lead to getting hooked on the product. He talked about four aspects of addictive products

1.Trigger – there are two types of ‘call to action’: external and internal. External triggers tell you what to do (such as ‘click here’). Internal triggers are formed through an association in the user’s mind. For instance, certain negative emotions may trigger us to check email or facebook or youtube. The most addictive sites are those that satisfy some psychology need.

2.Action – In response to the triggering emotion we do an action in anticipation of a reward. This could be scrolling down in Pinterest, pushing the play button on Youtube, etc. Nir cited B.J. Fogg who has broken down behavior = motivation + ability + trigger with ability and trigger broken each down into 6 levers to encourage action.

3.Reward – He talked about the pleasure centers in the brain and in particular about the nucleus accumbens. Brain studies by Olds & Milner used electrodes to simulate this area and found that this area creates an itch so we have desires. Other research shows us that the unknown is fascinating and variable schedule of rewards creates the highest rates of response.  Different types of rewards lead to different types of behavior: rewards of the tribe (sense of community), the hunt (e.g. knowledge), the self (e.g. search for mastery, competency, control); an example is the need to scroll down to search for items that might be of interest.

4.Investment – The user puts something into the product in anticipation of a future benefit. Increase the likelihood for getting a benefit and the user returns more frequently. By putting something in we might increase our chances of responses from friends (Foursquare), make the application better able to advise us (Google) or help establish a good repulations (TaskRabbit). He mentioned that most other products we use depreciate over time, while addictive applications appreciate over time.

Slides are available at

Diana @etsy spoke about her experiences redesigning the Etsy web site to make it more attractive to mobile users. The first step was to emphasize responsive design and create a style guide that improved the visual layout, was flexible for a wide range of products and could be easily understood by developers.

She made many points including 1. Don’t lock in your design early and be ready to iterate based on feedback 2. Develop a naming convention and document everything 3. Train developers and then trust their judgment going forward

Tim @Warby Parker talked about their process of developing new eyewear. He talked about how the steps of Design, UX, development and feedback are not a linear process and feedback is needed for each of these steps and the order of steps may vary. Better to think of it as overlapping processes. He also emphasized the wide range of information sources that can go into these steps: web analytics, survey, strategy analysis, customer contact, retail experience,…

Zach @Foursquare talked about his experience designing a new application. He gave a short history of foursquare and said that recently foursquare realized that it was evolving into two separate, but inner-connected, uses 1. Where are my friends 2. Evaluation of locations.

As a result the company decided to split the foursquare app into two applications. Zach described his experience designing the interface for the new ‘where are my friends’ app.

He lead the audience through the process of coming up with a name: swarm connotes meeting up with people

He then talked about various motifs considered:

  1. Meeting – unique paths
  2. Circles – as in circle of friends
  3. The “bee” unique paths

Feedback indicated that people like unique paths, but bee options are limited: want personality & attitude.

bee 05 Nov 2014

This lead Zach to explore the best way to express the motif through graphic design including iterations on the bee icon to make it more inviting and on the SWARM label to make it easier to read.

posted in:  applications, data, DesignDrivenNYC, UX    / leave comments:   1 comment