Image shows the workshop that was held at UX Lausanne: Jeff bridges spoke about Lean UX.

UX Lausanne 2016: Design with a purpose


When does design have a purpose? UX Lausanne 2016 offered some answers and strategies in the case.

The purpose of design at UX Lausanne

Why design? In a specific project, design processes can provide focus and reduce risks. In general, design can help us learn and improve our products—or our environment. As Christina Wodtke, opening speaker at UX Lausanne 2016, put it: Design is a way of interacting purposefully with the world.

Purposeful design was a key theme at this year’s UX Lausanne, Switzerland’s largest event about User Experience. Louise Downe, Head of Design at UK government, set a perfect example: Talking about design in the service sector, she showed that the key to UX is not designing for the internet. Good service design is simply about reducing complexity. About making things easier and faster. For instance, one of GOV.UK’s most popular services is a phone number which people can find on the government’s website. It’s clear, helpful, and it has hardly anything to do with the web.

Reducing risk and designing the right thing

But how do we know that we’re creating ‘the right thing’? Many of the talks at UX Lausanne highlighted how design processes can help set and pursue a clear goal and purpose. They can help us understand risks and how to deal with them. They help us understand the system in order to change it.

Everybody names their process slightly different, but in the end, we all agree that product design goes through a cycle. After the first release, we learn, we iterate, we adapt and improve. We take a risk with the initial release, but then evaluate our design through e.g. analytics so that we can reduce risks for the next cycle. Christina Wodtke, too, emphasised that measuring is crucial in design. It can give us feedback, guidance, and purpose. It can help us understand failure and celebrate success.

From a culture of delivery to a culture of learning

Jeff Gothelf put it straight: We have to shift the way we design. We have to move from a culture of delivery to a culture of learning. Not least because times have changed. 15 years ago, we shipped software in CD-ROMs. Today, the distribution is much more direct. Feedback is more immediate. Expectations are different. Our work doesn’t stop with the deliverable—design has become something temporary.

But not just our workflows are changing. Design as a whole is changing. Like the talks at Interaction 16, UX Lausanne showed that design is about solving problems and making a difference. Davide Casali, Product Experience Director at Automattic, talked about UX for Good, a design-driven movement that fosters social change. In 2014, for instance, the movement tried to find out how we can harness feelings to end genocide. They designed the Inzovu Curve, a model that describes how profound emotional experiences can be transformed into actions.

So what?

Change is often based on assumptions. Jeff pointed out that we take assumptions all the time. Even if we’ve used the exact same set up in a previous project, every project is a new set of assumptions. To deal with this, we need to make experiments so that we can learn—and then make informed decisions. Though, beware that making an experiment means trying something new. Taking risks is part of it: If you’re not willing to kill it, it’s not an experiment.

So how do you know if you’re taking a risk worth taking? How do you find out if your product has a purpose? You need one simple question: So what? Or, to flesh it out: So why would anyone want that product? If you have an answer that is both honest and good, you know that you’re doing the right thing. Your design has a purpose.

More about the topic

:ratio is curating videos and slides of the talks on the UX Lausanne website. Well worth rewatching:

Other interesting conference recaps:

  • Interaction 16: This year’s Interaction 16 also dealt with the purpose and the impact of design.
  • UX Lausanne 2015: A review of last year’s UX Lausanne, amongst others with Andrea Resmini, Donna Lichaw and Cennydd Bowles.