Somewhere Between Vulnerability and Design Thinking

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My story of discovering, first-hand, how important psychological safety is to teams pinning their innovation hopes on frameworks like design thinking.

I sat up from the exercise mat I was lying on and pushed myself off the gym floor. I hustled over to the window sill where my jacket, water bottle, and phone sat. I anxiously fumbled to unlock my phone and to tap the rewind button on the audio book, Dare to Lead, I was listening to so I could hear the last part once more.

The author, Brené Brown, was reciting a thought she always imparts to the leadership teams she coaches at the very start of their engagements.

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Do You Know Your Users?

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You think you’re just like everyone else. You think your thoughts, opinions, values, and habits are just the same as other people. Psychology calls this the false consensus bias1 because we assume much more commonality than reality warrants.

False consensus bias contributes to making bad decisions when we design software.

Alan Cooper noted this type of bias while wondering why otherwise smart, talented people often created such crappy software. He invented the persona-based design methodology to help facilitate insight into a product’s users and remove the designer’s bias. He wrote about the method in his seminal 1998 book, The Inmates are Running the Asylum.2

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Designing for Meaningful Social Interactions

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The age of cheap “like”-hunting needs to come to an end. It all started innocently enough with likes and tweets. Then in a few years, we suddenly ended up with governments scoring people and masses manipulated into meaningless activities to generate more ad revenue.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. Now the time has come for us—designers, working on digital products—to step up our game and act like real gatekeepers.

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UX Design Careers in 2018 and Beyond: The Future of the UX Designer

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Infographic showing different statistics about UX Careers such as locations, skill sets, and job titles. At the time of this writing, a search for UX design jobs on job finder Glassdoor reveals almost 20,000 open positions in the United States alone. By another source, the number is 24,000, with a 22% projected growth rate in the next ten years.

Salaries vary between USD$60,000 to $127,000 annually, with the median salary for 2017 being $77,000. With a significant spike year-to-year, the median salary in 2018 is $93,000 in the States, with the coasts offering the highest paying positions.

Onward Search provides a useful overview of the UX design job market in infographic format.

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Trusting the Process

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I am a firm believer that success starts with the statement of work (SOW). An appropriate and attainable SOW determines whether my team of UX designers and researchers get the time and activities we require to fully understand a client’s needs and fashion a suitable solution.

Regrettably, we often work within overly prescriptive SOWs that dictate a solution before we have a chance to understand the problem. One reason projects are poorly scoped is our clients’ discomfort with ambiguity. Clients understandably want to know what they are getting for their investment: Who will be on the team? What will they deliver? How will they deliver it? How long will it take?

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Biased by Design

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Back in the mid-90s, as the personal computer was booming, I was just your fairly average tween with a Skip-It™. I spent my summers in the California sunshine counting: 100, 208, 300, 986, always aching to get to 1,000. While my parents worked long past sunset, I played on the sidewalk of my parents’ company, Design Matters. Before it was a podcast, Design Matters—one of the first agencies in the San Francisco Bay area—was my personal experience with design. My parents were early web designers who rode the dot-com boom back when the area was still ripe with possibility.

This sounds idyllic, but I’m here to tell you from a child’s perspective: It was many long nights for my parents, and there were waves of regular tension. Although their success did come, it was far from certain, and it certainly wasn’t easy. I overheard many unpleasant conversations as my parents grappled with all the messy stuff that comes with building a ragtag team in a field that was neither well understood nor yet defined.

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Where Do Design and Business Strategy Meet? Design Thinking

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Design is a logical art. It’s the thought process behind the first mark on a page. It’s empathy applied systematically. It’s creative through abductive reasoning.

In other words, designers are no strangers to strategy. Yet even designers themselves forget that the world of design is much larger than mockups and prototypes. This “capital D” conception of design is often referred to as “design thinking,” a problem-solving framework that can be applied across any number of problem domains and at any scale.

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Book in Brief: Living in Information

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Editors’ note: This “Book in Brief” feature here on Boxes and Arrows is from
Living in Information: Responsible Design for Digital Places by Jorge Arango.

We’ll publish an excerpt, up to 500 words, of your book. The catch is that we’ll only publicize one book a month; first come, first serve. Other rules will certainly occur to us over time. Hit us up at idea at boxesandarrows.com.


Cover art; white tiles of various sizes form a wall surrounding a yellow door. The tiles have icons on them of an apple, a play button, a coffee mug, a cloud, etc.

Chapter 4: Engagement

You walk into the kitchen with the intent of making a sandwich, when suddenly you hear glass shatter. You immediately turn toward the source of the sound. Your pulse quickens as scenarios play in your mind. Has someone broken into your house? Where are your kids? You walk into the living room to discover your son with a surprised look on his face and a ball lying on the floor next to the shattered window. Fortunately, he’s alright. You comfort him and discuss what has happened, and then take your phone out and Google glaziers. You find a company that seems reputable and call them to set an appointment for the next morning. You go back to the kitchen and wonder, “Now, where was I?”

Thus far in this book, we’ve been discussing tangible ways in which places influence our behavior. But there are also more subtle ways in which environments affect us. One that is of particular importance is how they impact our ability to focus our attention.

Sometimes our attention is taken away by an exceptional occurrence, such as the sound of a breaking window. This is useful; the ability to respond quickly to changing conditions can help us escape danger. However, most of the time, we want to be in control of our attention. An environment that nudges us to spend more of our time there—or keeps interrupting us—would make it difficult for us to get things done.

The places we inhabit can either allow us to remain in control of our attention or snatch it from us for purposes of their own. Unfortunately, many of today’s most popular information environments are based on business models that incentivize the latter. The term used in the technology business is “engagement”: the amount of time people spend looking at or interacting with components in the environment. Given how important our attention is, it’s worth looking at how designing for engagement affects it. Continue reading Book in Brief: Living in Information

How to Create a Smart Home Product People Actually Want to Use

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For all the hype around the Internet of Things, most people are still content to control their homes manually. A recent Gartner survey found that they don’t mind getting up to adjust the temperature or turn off the lights, and 58 percent of respondents actually prefer the idea of standalone devices to connected ones.

If you’re scratching your head, you’re not alone. If having a connected home makes life easier, why are consumers so skeptical? Who wouldn’t want to control their lights or blinds right from the couch?

IoT’s UX issue

The trouble is that not all household IoT devices make consumers’ lives easier. Before the smart home of the future can become the standard, that needs to change.

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