Approaching holistic design – Joint Futures afterthoughts
Sep 26, 2019, 9:34 AM
Joint Futures offered new insights on the future of design. Shaping our tools and methods towards enabling humanity and diversity will be the next steps for our industry and especially us designers.
On September 3rd, a bunch of us Nitoreans attended Joint Futures 2019, a conference hosted by Elisa. The conference brought designers and other industry professionals from around the world together to a venue in Kaapelitehdas, Helsinki. It featured 28 speakers and their respective talks divided into two divergent tracks (the craft track and the people track).
Last year, its predecessor Design Systems Conference focused extensively on Design systems anatomy, working better, smarter and faster by scaling. More than techniques, this year the theme was leveled up towards more broader views, touching the themes of ethics and impact on societies and life.
The discussions of the two days were further organized into craft, strategy and operations -themes. On the third day, participants had the chance to take part in full-day workshops on various topics. If you want to read what Nitor's Petri Lahdelma wrote earlier about his expectations before the conference you can read it here.
Much like it has been in the past few years, ethics in design was a hot topic. Several talks examined inclusion and diversity and the “Double Diamond” was scrutinized and widely deboned.
Also very popular themes were discussed about our privilege as designers, designer agency at work, values and accountability from various aspects and by several industry professionals.
Below is our key takeaways from our personal highlights at JointFutures. Check also the talks available on YLE Areena’s streaming service.
The Future is Human
One of the most vocal concerns in the conference was that we easily tend to forget the human in human-centered design. In his speech "Let's Destroy Silicon Valley”, Mike Monteiro uses Twitter and Facebook as examples on how these companies started off with good intentions by bringing people closer together, but somewhere along the line the services have taken a turn for the worse.
Now these mechanisms also contribute to the distribution of hate speech, fake news and interference in elections. The scary part is that someone has allowed the system to work that way.
In her talk "Bring Back Human-Centered" Kim Goodwin emphasized that experiences are built on decisions. Algorithms, training data, revenue models, corporate goals, and security policies are examples of big decisions that set the undertone for the whole experience created. These decisions have the potential to change human behavior.
So how can we make decisions that are for the greater good, and how do we know if they are right? It should be possible to look beyond our initial intention and ask ourselves: why are we doing this and who benefits from our design choices? Good design is intentional outcomes and intentional impact. And as Mike Monteiro said, we are the gatekeepers that have the chance to ask why and say no.
Diversity Takes Us Further
As already mentioned, inclusion and diversity were among the most popular themes of the two-day event. Talks examined inclusion from two distinct perspectives: inclusion at work and in design ops, but also from the angle of designing for diverse audiences.
In her compelling speech “Building Socially Inclusive Design Systems” Tatiana Mac spoke about how seemingly minuscule and unknowingly designed details can quickly multiply from atoms to molecules, to organisms and finally form software and applications that exclude entire segments of people. Design Systems can have great power with scale and impact, but they are also its weakness. We may end up creating services and cultures which have inbuilt exclusiveness. This being possible, designers can have shockingly large impact on societies.
But how can we be sure we are making inclusive services and products? We simply need diversity. Josh Silverman mentioned in his talk “Brand is Marketing is Operations” that the problem is actually people, not technology. By this he meant that we need cooperation, alignment, and diversity in our daily work and operations. Right decisions require diverse deciders. And more importantly, diversity needs to be fostered - it doesn’t manifest by itself.
Creating diverse teams is difficult because we are drawn towards people similar to us. Affinity biases must be acknowledged and pulled into the limelight, otherwise, they can interfere with good intentions. One should try to mitigate their own biases. Eduardo Ortis advices: “Foster creative culture, transparency and empathy - intentionally.” For a person more accustomed to business terms: diversity means more productive and more innovative teams.
Inclusion, in many of the speeches, was often mentioned along with agency. Team leaders should give team members a voice, agency, and responsibility. In his talk “Business embraces design,” Jose Coronado talks how inclusion can be a powerful tool. He reminds us about how team members, design leaders, and designers should engage, empower each other, and embrace our differences.
“Biases, if let go through our design processes, can lead to systemic discrimination - so remember to design in the next larger context in mind,” Hana Nagel says and reminds us that understanding design challenges also means understanding them in their socio-cultural context. “Ethics reach as far as our inquiry,” she reminds.
Shaping Our Tools and thus Our World
A lot of discussion was raised about tools and methods commonly used in design. Many of the tools were seen misused so many times that the original thought behind the tool itself has been forgotten. Agile, Design Thinking, and the Double Diamond gained criticism from multiple speakers. We are often too lazy to rethink the most effective ways in our workflows and communication and just rely on the good old tools.
In her keynote speech “Designing for social change,” Priya Prakash criticized how the Double Diamond is being used nowadays. The way it’s used today does not apply to projects in the real world. The model does not take into account variables such as unsure budgets or the fear of product failure. It is also missing the ethical dimensions valuable for today's design. The tools and methods that we use are shaping us and the world.
Marc Stickdorn held one of the most concrete speeches of the conference. In his talk “Doing is the hard part,” he discussed the modern intricacies of design and how we should know our methods and processes better. He was also skeptical about the Double Diamond working in the real world but reminded that it still has a valid concept behind it. We need to say ‘Yes, and’ when divergence is required and ‘Yes, but’ when it is time to converge.
His main message was that no one should rely on only one way of working, but seek the best practices of multiple ways. Design processes are mental models how to work, and we shouldn’t be too fixated on a single process. We should be more flexible when applying different methods and tools as all design challenges are unique. In the end, it is not about the tools, but about the outcome and value delivered.
All in all, the conference was well organized and gave a ton of new thoughts to consider in our daily work. We will return to this topic with a blog post of its own and discuss the concrete take outs from the event. Stay tuned!
Additions to the Bookshelf
We also gathered a shortlist of books mentioned during the talks. Here’s a few of them that just might end up on our bookshelves atop of “Design Systems Handbook” by DesignBetter.Co, a book that was handed out at the conference for free:
- Christoffer Alexander:A Pattern Language: Towns, Buildings, Construction (Center for Environmental Structure Series)
- Erin Meyer: The Culture Map: Breaking Through the Invisible Boundaries of Global Business
- Victor Papanek: Design for the Real World
- Jocko Willink & Leif Babin: Extreme Ownership: How U.S. Navy SEALs Lead and Win
- Nassim Nicholas Taleb: Antifragile: Things That Gain from Disorder
- Mike Monteiro: Ruined by Design: How Designers Destroyed the World, and What We Can Do to Fix It
- Bill Wooditch: Fail More: Embrace, Learn, and Adapt to Failure As a Way to Success
- Susan Cain: Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking
Alana Riihelä is a design professional with industrial design background - although she focuses currently on digital mediums. She has experience in designing functional, desirable, and viable products and solutions in interdisciplinary teams, for almost a decade – with special passion for visual and concept design. When she takes time for offline, it often means going outdoors with a stubborn French bulldog or doing arts and crafts projects.
Lotta Ahonen is a digital designer hoping to make the world a better place with the power of design. She has a passion for creating good products and services in close collaboration with developers. In her free time, Lotta directs her passion towards dancing.