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How Human-Centered Design Delivers Tomorrow’s Solutions

Posted by Peter Sullivan on October 10, 2019 4 min read

ITX UX 2019: Beyond the Pixels Conference Takeaways

ITX UX 2019: Beyond the Pixels design conference created one of those potentially historic moments. The kind of moment that, looking back years from now, we may realize the true measure of its significance.

For 3 days, we listened and learned to industry experts and each other. And at its conclusion, we left the conference embracing the idea of product design based on its ethical impact on our human users. As we pursue answers to tomorrow’s questions, these conference takeaways have the power to change the trajectory of future design efforts in terms of human-centered empathy and compassion.

Target Investment in UX Decision Systems

A direct connection exists between organizational objectives and the design systems we create to deliver them. Kim Goodwin kicked off the conference keynotes by calling on decision makers and designers alike to understand how their decision and design systems shape the world we humans experience.

Decisions made by business leaders create the design system used to implement them, she said. It is those decisions that create the human experience with the products we design. But Kim urged us to think in new ways about how decision systems impact our work. If leaders adapt, we can envision a world in which human-centered design guides our future work.

The most important thing we can do as design leaders is to worry less about design and more about human-centered decisions. — Kim Goodwin

“We need to invest as much in enabling better UX decisions across the organization as we do in UI design,” Kim said. “Our task as designers is to help our teams understand what it means to be human-centered. The most important thing we can do as design leaders is to worry less about design and more about human-centered decisions.”

Outcomes > Outputs

For so long, our culture of delivery has blinded us to the reality that merely delivering a product doesn’t mean that product has value. We’ve been so focused on delivering features that no one stopped to ask, “so what?”. Keynote speaker Jeff Gothelf tells us, “When we free ourselves from that mindset, we shift from a culture of delivery to a culture of learning.”

In other words, outcomes > outputs.

During his talk, Jeff guided us to this discovery, explaining that product design and development – by themselves – represent neither the problem nor the solution. “It is the organization that must adapt to today’s market realities if we are to enjoy long-term success” Jeff said. “We accelerate the pace of our progress when we value learning over delivery.”

I see humility as the ability to change your mind in the face of evidence. — Jeff Gothelf

In a waterfall world, learning is a lagging indicator that comes only after we launch a product. Oftentimes, the learning comes too late, and we’re humbled (sometimes humiliated) by the output. In today’s modern agile environment, the iterative nature of the sprint allows us to ship, sense, and respond as more-frequent learning opportunities let us proceed or pivot. In this case though, we do so wisely and with humility, which Jeff defines as “the ability to change your mind in the face of evidence.”

Take an Ethical Approach to Design

As Assistant Professor in the School of Design at RIT’s College of Art & Design, Miguel Cardona comes to UX design through primarily an academic lens. In his closing keynote, Miguel walked us through the role of ethics in design, and with it, industry expectations to focus on responsibility at the micro-decision level. It’s the little things, he said, that often bring the greatest impact.

My objective is to have designers think more intentionally and critically about everyday design decisions, with a lens focused on human values like security, inclusivity, and accessibility. — Miguel Cardona

As designers, Miguel said, “we need to think about the decisions we make that lead to the intentionality – the decision systems – that drive our designs.” He urged us to begin our introspection early in the process, and in the “error space” using a premortem, assuming the perspective that something is wrong.

“We will see progress when we place emphasis on the power and accountability of the designer to attune with human values and promote these expectations to others.… Only then,” Miguel concluded, “can we determine whether our efforts are benefiting our human users, or perhaps some other stakeholder.”

It’s the self-assessment tool that will guide the future of ethical design.

“What Got You Here Won’t Get You There”

During ITX UX 2019: Beyond the Pixels, together we came to understand what it is to be human-centered and to invoke human-centered design principles. We examined the evolution of design from featured-focused to user-focused. And we firmly planted ethics at the core of future design.

In a race that has no finish line or predetermined path,* we learned that the same tools that got us here will be insufficient to advance our future work. We need new perspectives, diverse ones, if we are to get there. Our pursuit of mastery continues nonetheless. When we come together to learn from industry experts and each other, we draw ever closer to achieving our goal.


* BBVA Group Executive Chairman, Francisco González, excerpted from Jeff Gothelf’s presentation, entitled “Almost Everything I Learned from 9 Years of Lean UX.” Oct. 5, 2019.



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