Alan Cooper, Jon Kolko and Joe Stewart in Conversation
Design Extravaganza, presented by AC4D (Austin Center for Design), packed twelve extraordinary speakers into two mind-expanding days. The intimate gathering was a refreshing change of pace from the more established and larger scale design conferences. While there were numerous interesting themes that emerged from the presentations, and lively discussions that followed, a few topics really stood out.
Context Driven Design
Nearly every speaker at the event touched on the importance of user and environment centric design. Research has long played a critical role in driving the design process, but as designers are invited to take on increasingly complex and significant design challenges, we must greatly increase our role in the collection and analysis of contextual data. Several speakers specifically highlighted stories of design and client teams making poor decisions based on lack of practical contextual understanding. Additionally, we saw several examples of how frog Design and others have been able to find innovative solutions through contextual research by discovering that they might not even be asking the right questions. When we as designers put our egos and assumptions aside and truly open ourselves up to the realities of our target users and their environments, we can leverage local knowledge to make our projects more relevant and successful.
Increasingly, designers are being asked to solve for larger, more systematic challenges. The majority of design problems we are accustomed to addressing are finite, and have a definable and understandable set of components. Systems design often require teams to model potential future states of complex interrelationships which are exponentially more complex than simply understanding the sum of parts. Dave Cronin, Design Director for GE, encourages designers to look at these expansive initiatives as platforms rather than a series of spot solutions. When approaching expansive systems, there are likely to be more contributors and stakeholders increasing the importance of taking a more open and collaborative approach rather than applying rigid top down design restrictions. Finding success in systems design often means managing more through enablement and goal setting than prescriptive and formulaic approaches.
Dave Cronin, Design Director for GE
Experimentation and Risk Taking
Several participants took time to underscore the value of risk taking. Alan Cooper, CEO of Cooper Design, made the case for digital's impact on product and service development by highlighting the shift in risk and reward. Where a physical materials based economy rewards cautious planning and exacting resources management, the digital world favors those who experiment, fail-fast, and try again. Paola Antonelli pointed to the vast and rapidly expanding maker movement as evidence of a more trial and error based approach to design. We also heard this theme from Bryony Gomez-Placio, Co-Founder of UnderConsideration, who shared several nontraditional success stories of artists and designers willing to indulge their more experimental ideas even when they had no concrete ideas where they were heading.
Alan Cooper, CEO of Cooper Design
Believe in Your Ideas
As creatives, we are all intimately familiar with the power of imagination, but as professionals we are all too often reminded of the seemingly overwhelming limitations that surround us on a daily basis. Global Creative Director at Huge, Joe Stewart, placed a great deal of emphasis in his talk on the importance of following your inspiration and championing the ideas you really believe in. When discussing the very real challenges humanitarian efforts facing as the global population continues to surge, Heather Fleming, CEO of Catapult Design, was quick to point out that humans, by our very nature, will not attempt something that we believe to be impossible. If we as designers don't allow ourselves the space to imagine solutions for the daunting challenges that face our world, then they really can't be solved.
For more information or to see the presentations in their entirety, check out the Design Extravaganza website! They should be uploading the remainder of the talks soon!
About Adrian Taylor
Adrian Taylor is an Interactive Creative Director and Principal at Pushstart Creative, a multidisciplinary agency focused on the convergence of physical product, interactive technology and brand experience. While much of his current work is focused on research, strategy development, and UX he will always have a passion for pushing pixels. Stop by designtaylor.com or find Adrian on Twitter.