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A Lesson From A Gathering Of Giants

A Lesson From A Gathering Of Giants

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On October 8th, 2015 I attended Manifesto 411, my first design conference since I became a product designer. It was one of the coolest experiences I’ve had in my career to date, getting to meet industry giants and aspiring designers alike. We got to geek out on what we learned, about design and growth to make products better, over food truck delicacies and inordinate amounts of coffee.

This year’s Manifesto 411 was heralded to be one of the best design talks of the year. Special thanks to SC Moatti founder of Products That Count andJoe Robinson the director of Designers and Geeks for rounding up awesome speakers.

In attendance were the legendary couple of Patricia Roller and Dr. Hartmut Esslinger of Frog Design, growth prodigy Andrew Chen of Uber, and data wizard Karl Sluis of Pandora/Next Big Sound. Here are some of the key takeaways from the event.

Patricia Roller presents how Frog approaches Design.

“Growing Slow”

Patricia Roller and Hartmut Esslinger had one of the most entertaining and inspiring keynote presentations I’ve seen. I seriously wish they were my grand-godparents. As shapers of the industry, they bestowed their vast knowledge of design while keeping it fun and aloof the whole time, while also vivifying and making sure we understood the details.

“For nothing comes nothing. You have to invest!”
  • Tell everyone what you are designing and why you are designing it, good design doesn’t explain itself.
  • Bring pride to customer and peers by doing the best work you can. This will inspire people into design and grow the next generation of dreamers.
  • Tools are all around you. Imagine everything in its most basic form and you’ll remove boundaries that allow you to create awesome work.
  • Translate a what words really mean into tangible experiences. Don’t just showcase descriptions, make them emotionally memorable.

Make sure to check out Hartmut’s book, Keep it Simple:

Keep It Simple: The Early Design Years of Apple

Photo via Twitter Designers + Geeks

Fireside with Andrew Chen and Tim Chang

The conversation about how to grow is never ending. Andrew Chen is regarded as a prodigy in the growth space helping Facebook and Uber expand into more markets. Tim Chang is a Managing Director at Mayfield Fund, with a keen eye on growing and nurturing start ups. The two of them explored Andrew’s success and what he considers useful in terms of growth.

  • Think of growth as a term for using multiple models concurrently to form a system that pushes the boundaries of your KPIs.
  • Metrics should be a reflection of the strategy you’ve decided, and your product should be built to have analytics which allow you to gauge your strategy.
  • Passion-driven products gives you the momentum to get traction, but there is an evolution into a more quantitative state when you plateau out, which requires you to review KPIs and reassess your growth strategy.

Andrew’s suggested reading includes:

Stratechery by Ben Thompson - On the business, strategy, and impact of technology.

Designing Interactions

My Life in Advertising and Scientific Advertising (Advertising Age Classics Library)

Following the conversation, Tim and Andrew joined Jeff Ianoco of Square and Sigal Bareket of Taptica in a panel hosted by Eric Singley of Yelp. The panel ultimately highlighted the fact that to be better at growth, practitioners should develop ways to gain analytical and insightful developments of their harvested data instead of focusing on cheap tips and tactics found online. My favorite quote from Andrew that wraps up this panel was:

“Don’t shine a light on small pieces of shit.”

Anna Blaylock (@annamcspanna) of Netflix emphasizing the importance of simplicity.

The Design Blur

The afternoon was a blur with the amount of speakers that went on and off stage. This was the meaty product design portion of the conference. A ton of information about practical design from Anna Blaylock of Netflix, Audrey Crane of Design Map, Kara Place of Instrument, Golden Krishna of Zappos, and Kenneth Berger previously Slack. With all the data and insights gleaming from what growth has thrown at you, you’re bound to do build some great products! So here’s what the experts say:

“Prevent ending conversations with napkins.”

Design Map is an advocate of understanding napkins. Instead of leaving work to the designers and engineers to use their energy figuring out what you meant, sit down and talk to them to flush out your ideas. Your idea is not complete without you.

“Build teams to be more agile by combining one of each role into a small team to improve motivation, client love, and company spirit.”

At Instrument, teams are composed of Producers, Designers, Developers, Strategists. Great for scalability and for communications to develop and mange partnerships.

“The user doesn’t always know what they need.”

After considerable testing, Netflix discovered that providing all of the paid existing features upfront overwhelmed the decision making powers of the user to ultimately make the choice to subscribe or not. By only presenting the relevant information to the customer they were able to direct them to the subscription with less resistance, which led to a more enjoyable experience.

“The best user experiences are the ones designed with screen less experiences.”

Our culture is reflected in our products and today our culture is slowly disappearing as we grow more attached to screens. Golden Krishna advises that in order to make user experiences better, designers should consider the flow of the user not the screen.

“Build a product with peaks and valleys in its growth.”

Kenneth Berger stressed that building a flat product does not generate long term value. Instead you should pick three key attributes or features and getting those things very, very right and iterating on the feedback of your users so you can make a product with personality. Forget about everything else.

“Pay attention to how ups and downs co-exist.”

Berger also emphasized that 60% good also means 40% bad. Make sure that the 40% bad is something planned and not overlooked. There is always room for improvement for key things you’re doing, so keep an eye out how metrics affect each other.

Growth Analytics Panel

Eric Singley led another panel on growth analytics with Kenneth Berger,Steven Cohn of Validately, Charlie Crocker of Autodesk, and Lauren Wendland of Leanplum discussing how companies were using growth metrics to solve internal problems and/or products. Hard to beat a good sketchnote for what was discussed, courtesy of Mischelle Mulia:

Awesome sketchnote by Mischelle Mulia (@hi_mischelle) of the Analytics Panel

Closing Keynote: Next Big Sound

Karl Sluis’ closing keynote pulled quite a product out of Pandora’s box (haha yes, pun intended). Next Big Sound seemed to be a combination of everything that was discussed at the conference in a neat little package. Using insane amounts of data to generate leads in order to validate the likelihood of success of bands. The key take away was the truly awesome stats he provided and that:

“Content streaming is never going to die.”

When content becomes super accessible, the data generated can be interpreted hundreds of different ways and synthesized to any kind of product. The goal is for you to be able to create those connections and make them meaningful for your users.

Karl Sluis (@karlsluis) assuring us that streaming has established a foothold in our lives.

Be Leaders, Keep Growing.

It’s only been a couple of days, but I’ve started implementing some of the key takeaways and it has definitely shown in my work and thought processes. Golden Krishna’s concept of designing screenless experiences cleared up a ton of confusion I had about task flows, Anna Blaylock’s simplifying to the immediate choices has made some of my designs cleaner and more engaging, and my favorite one by Patricia Roller and Hartmut Essligner is reflected in this post since I’m tell everyone why I’m excited about product design and hopefully you will be too! So don’t forget to be leaders and keep growing!