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AI May Change the World, but First – Ethics and Empathy

April 5th, 2018

It’s no secret that in recent years, SXSW has become more about what cool tech can do than why it should do it. That said, the absence of a substantive and actionable discussion around digital ethics was more greatly felt this year than years past because of how advanced and immersive the technology has become. By the time the first talk was done, it was clear that this year’s speakers no longer pondered the probability of human-machine symbiosis, but rather, when and how so.

AI, machine learning, and enabling systematic collective thinking in humans

One of the biggest arguments I stumbled across this year during SXSW was around differing models of the man-machine intelligence relationship. Traditional models tend to position humans and machines running in distinctly separate tracks that intersect at key points in time. AI informing human decisions through access to broader, more accurate data sets. Or, humans guiding AI analysis with insights and questions that align to broader human goals. For many, this model simply “feels” safe – human contribution in the future state is assured, as is our authenticity and autonomy.

Newer models (such as those encountered this year), however, present humans and AI fused together in a systematic idea of collective knowledge sharing. Often referred to as “swarm intelligence,” these models blur the line between human and AI contributions by having both humans and AI exist in a single, multidirectional and exponentially expanding grid. Images of the “Borg” from Star Trek come to mind for many; and while human participation is confirmed, human authenticity and autonomy are not.

The debate between these two models is less about their validity and likelihood to exist and more about their inherent ethics. The first model struggles with ensuring that bias is kept out of the algorithms and datasets. The newer models which focus on collective knowledge systems could solve this and create greater empathy because it is inclusive by design, however, these models can seem more daunting from a participation perspective. The burden to ensure that humans are ready to contribute to these new systems will ultimately fall on designers to solve. Unfortunately, this is where the conversation typically stopped.

As exciting as it is to imagine the future that might be, that is exactly how daunting the reality of achieving that future will be. There is an entire mindset change that will need to happen for people to be able to truly realize the value of a new system that values transparency and access for all over competition and hierarchical rewards. While only a few of the speakers took these challenges head on, all were confident that empathy would sit at the heart of not only the question, but also the answer. Coming out of SXSW, the key take-away for this future vision was that there is real work to be done – and it will require aggressive collaboration among us all to move things forward.

Human digital immersion in humane contexts

The other big topic at SXSW this year was about a class of new immersive experiences powered by AI that had the ability to change people’s perceptions of themselves and the world around them. For participants, these experiences feel so real that the line between where the immersion ends and reality “picks back up” can become unclear. They don’t carry with them a simulated experience when they exit immersion; they carry with them a very real and tangible experience that is theirs and will always be theirs. While this degree of immersion can create incredible opportunities for helping people to understand scenarios they otherwise would have no actual exposure to, there are very real concerns that go along with exciting new capability.

Similar to the discussion on collective intelligence, if we are not careful how we create these experiences – we risk losing our sense of self in the mix. In this scenario, however, the man-machine relationship has the ability to alter the perception of what is real, what is not real, and whether it even matters. These experiences also leverage data to make them feel authentic – data that can carry its own biases of the past it is based on. The bias becomes part of the “new” reality, informing the participant’s new understanding of that reality and becoming a part of his or her personal truth.

Absent from the discussion almost entirely was the need for AR/VR experiences to have a clearly articulated intent and desired outcome. If participants are unclear as to whether or not they have left the experience, how are they to know what the purpose was in their having experienced it? The value of the experience for participants is its authenticity – “tricking” the mind into believing its authenticity is what changes them so profoundly. However, this opens the possibilities of manipulation – either real or perceived – that can lead to a lack of trust in what was experienced and a loss of clarity about next steps. Instead of positive actions and behaviors resulting from the experience, emotional trauma can emerge.

While the idea of experiential transparency was sometimes hinted at, it wasn’t often clear if anyone had even a hypothesis about what that might look like and how it would be applied without eroding the impact and value of the experience. In addition to onramps, the experience needs to have clearly marked and smoothly designed off-ramps that transition us back to reality. Off-ramps that ensure we know where we are presently, where we have been (virtually as well as in reality), and where we should go next. One thing that was very clear leaving these sessions: this new crop of digital experiences need to be designed with limits that prevent us from losing our sense of self and experiential history.

In the end, perhaps the most startling thing to say about the AI conversation at SXSW this year, overall, is that there really was not anything new to say. Whether this was for the benefit of the audience – because speakers felt that there was still not enough foundational understanding to move the conversation forward – or, because there was not enough progress made overall, was unclear. But the omission of actionable discussion was felt.


Sessions and resources

  1. Designing with Bias. (SXSW March 9, 2018). Erin Muntzert, Robert Murdock, Pam Scheideler, Ted Selker
  2. Evolving Responsive with Spatial Design. (SXSW March 9, 2018). Trista Yard
  3. Diangaster. (March 9, 2018). On SXSW2018 talk, “Choice Architects: Design for humanity”. Retrieved from https://twitter.com/search?f=tweets&q=%40dianagster&src=typd.
  4. ENCORE: Scaling Design Systems: Pixels to People. (SXSW March 9, 2018). Salih Abdul-Karim, Tim Allen, Hayley Hughes, Jane Makich
  5. Why Ethereum is Going to Change the World. (SXSW March 9, 2018). Joseph Lubin
  6. Beyond Design Process: Deciphering the Intangibles. (SXSW March 9, 2018). Carissa Carter
  7. Design in Tech Report 2018. (SXSW March 10, 2018). John Maeda
  8. Business on the Blockchain. (SXSW March 10, 2018). Amber Baldet, Brian Behlendorf
  9. SXSW Interactive Keynote Melinda Gates. (SXSW March 11, 2018). Melinda Gates
  10. AI: Ready to Disrupt Experience Design. (SXSW March 12, 2018). Yann Caloghiris
  11. Changing Minds: Behavioral Science for Designers. (SXSW March 12, 2018). Steph Habif, David Ngo, Matt Wallaert
  12. Crafting Conversation: Design in the Age of AI. (SXSW March 13, 2018). Daniel Padgett
  13. SXSW Convergence Keynote Nonny de la Pena. (SXSW March 13, 2018). Nonny de la Pena
  14. The Niche Guys. (March 12, 2018). Eddy Cue’s SXSW 2018 discussion on emerging tech trends. Retrieved from https://twitter.com/thenicheguys.
  15. When AI is Not Your Assistant: Meet Agentive Tech. (SXSW March 13, 2018). Christopher Noessel
  16. SXSW Convergence Keynote Whurley. (SXSW March 13, 2018). Will Hurley
  17. SXSW Interview with the Director of Engineering at Google, Ray Kurzwell. (SXSW March 13, 2018). Ray Kurzwell.
  18. SXSW Interview with the Director of the Digital Currency Initiative at the MIT Media Lab, Neha Narula. (SXSW March 14, 2018). Neha Narula
  19. What AI Reveals about our place in the Universe. (SXSW March 2018). Louis Rosenberg, David Eagleman, Shawn Carroll, Nikos Acuna. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lovOYBOfrY4
  20. Regulating AI: How to Control the Unexplainable. (SXSW March 2018). Andrew Burt

Designing Experiences for New Work

March 15th, 2018

It’s a pretty cool time to be a designer. With the advent of emerging technologies such as AI, IoT, AR/VR, and machine learning, the role of designers has transitioned from designing useful and usable interfaces for products to creating dynamic experiences that are meaningful and insightful for people. For those willing to try something new, it is a time ripe for imagination and innovation.

This past year, we worked on a project that challenged our role as designers. Partnering with an AI and drone services company, we designed an emergency response solution focused on new work practices for first responders (FRs) and their project managers (PMs). In addition to working with new technology and new partners, the timeline was tight. We were tasked to deliver our solution in four days so that it would be ready for the relief workers arriving on site for Hurricane Irma.

At the start of the project, it became clear that Hurricane Irma would have a dramatic and disastrous impact wherever it made landfall. Recovery support efforts would need to take shape quickly. Humanitarian efforts had to begin. Communications had to be re-established in impacted towns. And people would need to be able to contact loved ones and receive the support they needed as soon as the storm had passed.

Relief work is always dangerous. Between the unknown conditions of the work sites themselves and the hazards of traveling to and from them, the need to help facilitate quick and accurate decision making is an absolute must. Any new solution, would need to provide valuable information about the affected area such as damage to lines and towers, potential safety hazards in the environment, and connectivity to other members of relief team. It would also need to aid PMs in their decision making about team deployment, problem resolution, and FRs’ safety as they executed relief measures. It was work that mattered – for people’s lives!

With a week to design and deliver, a small cross-functional design team was assembled. To get started, we needed to examine the bigger picture of how FRs and PMs typically work together. How they navigate common challenges such as not being located in the same area, not being able to easily communicate with one another, and often times – not realizing what equipment they would need to complete the job, would be important insights for us to have as we moved forward. This new solution would need to empower FRs to confidently make more complex on-the-job decisions so that PMs could focus on the larger impacts and needs of the disaster broadly.

An interesting challenge confronted us, however. We had limited access to the subject matter experts and workers who typically provide those insights. We met this obstacle by leveraging our project sponsor as proxy for the workers. Through a set of highly focused working sessions, we were able to learn about how FRs and PMs collaborate, problem solve, and maneuver through the challenges of their job. We then applied those insights to create a set of initial solution hypotheses that we used throughout the process to test our designs.

Before jumping into the actual interface design, we defined the goals and outcomes of the digital experience through a set of experience design principles. We based our principles on our evolving understanding of workers particularly as it related to key concepts such as worker autonomy, efficient judgment calling, effective collaboration, and communication through a data-driven experiences.

The role of empathy in our design process for this effort cannot be understated. While we always believe our work should put humans at the center of the experience, for this effort, we needed to build empathy into the process of recovery work. For example, in the new experience, FRs would no longer be the only “eyes” on the disaster site. Drones would be able to capture fly-over imagery and feed it to an AI engine that would organize and prioritize work based on those images. It would be up to the experience to help facilitate a successful collaboration between man and machine so that good decision making and knowledge sharing would take place.

To achieve this level of empathy design, we needed to adjust our standard human-centered design methodology to be more fluid and forgiving. We borrowed relevant practices from both lean UX and atomic design to help us run more like a science experiment than a traditional design process.

Diving headfirst into research, we gathered insights into the needs of FRs and PMs, their work, interactions, and behaviors based on what we had access to: our sponsor, industry knowledge and best practices, and workers in similar roles, etc. We had multiple sessions to build a shared understanding from the research, generate and converge on ideas, and ultimately craft design assumptions to inform our experience design. We used additional working sessions with our sponsor to evolve our ideas, raise and resolve issues, and ultimately, validate our concepts. Rather than becoming sidetracked by deliverables common in a traditional process, we sacrificed documentation for collaboration.

In the interest of time, we moved away from detailed wireframing to create rapid “paper” prototypes that storyboarded key scenarios whenever necessary and tested them against our hypotheses. Working in constant cycles of sketching, sharing, learning, and revising our hypotheses were key to our process. We adopted a fast and nimble work style that had all of us wearing multiple hats, going beyond our comfort zones, and being willing to fail fast to get through design efficiently. One of the greatest benefits of this process was the deep sense of trust that formed among all of us, allowing us to really hear and explore each other’s ideas, debate our disagreements, and arrive at a common ground to quickly move forward.

In the end, one of the most significant learnings from this experience was that putting together a small diverse team with people from various disciplines as well as backgrounds, experiences, and interests was essential to our success. We communicated openly, were far more creative, and were able to converge on solutions quicker and more effectively. There was no stubbornness about ideas in the room – we all worked together for the benefit of the FRs and PMs who would be using this solution to help a community recover from a terrible disaster. The mutual trust and respect that we formed as a working team enabled us to continue to learn from each other during our post-project reflection as well.

While this is just one example of our how our work is changing, our learnings about the man-machine relationship and its potential to not just change our end-user’s worker, but our own as well, is something that we will carry onto future projects. Our success as designers is going to rest heavily on our ability to truly empathize with those who will be impacted by the experiences we create, not just those who use it. And our ability to appreciate the “bigness” of that impact will be at the heart of every design decision we make.

The Future of Enterprise Design Systems

October 26th, 2017

According to a recent enterprise UX survey of 3,157 designers, developers, and product managers conducted by UXpin, improving UX consistency was noted as 1 of 4 top challenges in the design industry. At LDS our design teams are currently evaluating our approach to building design systems and exploring areas where we can improve and streamline our thought process to address this challenge while factoring for future ideas of scalability and governance of design.

In our early assessment of what works and doesn’t work with our approach and factoring research across the industry, a few common themes emerged that we feel are critical to our thinking:

  • Future-state design systems will need to bridge and relate the areas of design such as information architecture, content strategy, data and integrations, and visual design to represent the logical structure of design
  • Elements of design need to become more common (e.g. patterns) to seamlessly care for experiential contexts and variability in a systematic way
  • Design systems will need to adapt over time to care for evolving design trends and emerging technologies

Let’s talk about each of these in more detail.

Defining the structure of a design system

As is typical when undertaking new design projects, we looked across industries (both consumer and enterprise) for emerging best practices. We found that design systems available in the industry are based on broad common visual design and behaviors, providing reusable front-end elements and visual style intended for mass use. Most often these systems espouse aesthetics of a design philosophy (e.g., Google material design).

We believe design systems developed specifically for the enterprise need to balance commonality with specificity and complexity. These types of design systems comprise of building blocks that make it rules based and logical in nature to ensure a coherent experience at any point in time. We need to factor functionality that is deeper and more specific with respect to content models, data, and integrations. And it all needs to align to the structural premise of design contexts and information architecture as a foundation.

Lifting context more commonly through design

Our work in designing employee experiences results in rich, variable, engaging, and branded designs that deliver personalized services, knowledge, and guidance based on meaningful contexts. In the past, we’ve designed for these highly variable and complex contexts with unique page patterns and components that were typically not useful elsewhere in the design. Reflecting on our earlier work, we’re discovering that this approach has exposed a new set of challenges and limitations in design reusability and scalability when thinking about the future state of the solution.

How can the solution evolve to improve the value of the experience and the way it is consumed without adding to the complexity of the framework? This is a perfect example of why our thinking must evolve to realize commercial grade design experiences inside the enterprise. Our focus now is on creating patterns and components that emphasize contexts, in a repeatable way, through reusable and modular patterns and components, leveraging content models and data structures.

Longevity and evolution of the design system

The biggest question for us is how can we extend the longevity of design systems as experiences evolve. While we don’t have the answer yet, we can certainly ponder the implications:

  • How will the design system extend to include additional design best practices and capabilities (e.g., channels, multi-devices, artificial intelligence, conversational UI, third-party apps, etc.) as the experience evolves?
  • What is the purpose and role of the design system in governing the design?
  • What additional elements of design would be valuable to incorporate into the design system (e.g., code snippets, directional content, etc.)?

Stay tuned for more information as we advance our thinking on enterprise design systems.

Crafting Enterprise Content for Influence

October 24th, 2017

As organizations work to build the capabilities of their digital workforces and transform their cultures, influence-based enterprise content is taking on a more significant role. Unlike transactional or process-focused content, influence-based content aims to drive behavior change. It’s the difference between using instructional content to get employees to complete a task and providing content that addresses employees in their specific context within the business.

Amidst these organizational transformations, employee expectations for engaging, digital-first experiences continue to evolve. Companies that fail to create influence-based content risk undermining their business goals. Driving employees to make the strides that grow a digital organization requires content that changes mindsets and behaviors. A dedicated focus on such content can help to advance numerous organizational goals including cultural assimilation, increased engagement, employee alignment, and communicating desired actions and behaviors.

But before they can hope to influence behavior change in employees, businesses should understand the elements that make content influential.

The right content for the right context

Enterprise content that sparks meaningful behavior change meets its audiences in the right context. For instance, messaging about career development might vary for employees in different roles.

In identifying the right context for your content, it’s important to consider several factors to foreground the employee perspective and personalize messaging.

  • Audience
  • Timing
  • Nature of the message
  • Channel for the message

Is an email announcement the best venue for communicating a company’s new cultural philosophy, or would a virtual town hall Q&A resonate more with the audience? Focusing on the above elements helps to identify the context that’s ripe for the influential content that powers organizational change.

Benefits of influence-based content

Approached systematically, influence-based content can play a vital role in transforming organizational culture. Successful influential content translates a company’s cultural philosophy into actionable ideas. Influence-based content also empowers employees to take action that supports business innovation, reinforcing that the best ideas don’t have to come from the top down. Empowered employees feel a greater connection and commitment to an organization, which helps align them to the future state.

Designing your content ecosystem

Crafting and distributing enterprise content that drives change begins with designing a content ecosystem that enables a business to get a 30,000-foot view of its massive stores of content. Companies still struggle to organize and deploy their existing content to drive change. Moreover, an inadequate content ecosystem thwarts an organization’s ability to create new influential content. Before a business can create such content, it needs to establish the appropriate infrastructure. To build a content ecosystem for influence, organizations must focus on four elements.

Integrate technology and content.

Audiences inside the enterprise increasingly expect digital experiences at work to match those they see in the consumer space. They want content surfaced for them that’s relevant, useful, and engaging. As such, any content ecosystem built for influence needs to integrate technology and content to drive techniques like personalization. Here, the importance of identifying or establishing context becomes clear. Understanding the context for content increases the ability of that content to resonate with the employee audience.

Equip influencers across your organization.

Influencers can come from all levels of an organization. In fact, some of a business’s most influential individuals won’t be in leadership positions. These informal leaders can help to drive change because they have access to a range of networks across an organization. Part of building a successful influence-based content ecosystem is enabling influencers to create and disseminate relevant content. A business may want to train such leaders to create or curate content by providing specific tools to help them do so. Building a network of key influencers broadens the sources for influential content and instills the idea that such content doesn’t have to come from leadership.

Craft a strategy for developing influenced-based content.

Formulating a strategy for developing influential content is key to ensuring it yields results. For instance, establishing a regular cadence and providing clear messaging from leadership about organizational vision and mission helps to build credibility with employee audiences. Enterprise-wide goals and initiatives will necessarily come from organizational positioning, so it’s vital that communication about these topics resonates with audiences across an organization. Such content would avoid jargon and address audiences in everyday language that invites them into a conversation about the business and their place in it. Building a framework for influential content might also include elements like a content calendar that assigns key influencers to communicate regularly on specific themes.

Measure content effectiveness.

What does success look like for influence-based content? The answer to this question will vary based on your business’s needs. But your content ecosystem won’t be complete unless it includes a way to measure content effectiveness. As executives increasingly make data-driven decisions, being able to show the why and the how of content success is vital. For example, if an organization wants to use content to increase employee self-service for a task like requesting time off, a useful measure of the success of that content might be reduced calls to the business’s call center. Establishing the means to measure content effectiveness avoids wasted time and resources and helps to provide direction for future content efforts.


Creating the influence-based content that advances digital organizations is no one-off proposition. Businesses looking to develop and strengthen their digital workforces must take a systematic approach to building a content ecosystem for influence. This means integrating content with technology to maximize its impact, leveraging key influencers within organizations, establishing a clear content strategy to build credibility with employee audiences, and measuring content effectiveness to provide direction for new content. By building a sound content ecosystem, companies can meet business needs while also increasing employee commitment.

Using Digital Experiences to Create New Habits: Take-Aways From Nir Eyal’s Hook Canvas

August 7th, 2017

New technologies, more information, shorter attention spans and almost everything accomplished with the internet of things creates fierce competition for our attention from the digital experiences in our lives. To effectively navigate this constant barrage of beeps and buzzes, we must decide which experiences to pay attention to and which to ignore. Inevitably, some apps and sites become invaluable, while others fall by the wayside.

We recently attended a talk with Designers & Geeks which featured Nir Eyal. Eyal developed the HOOK canvas that focuses on strategies to create habitual products. The model draws on psychological research about how habits are formed and incorporates four essential elements—triggers, actions, rewards, and investments. These elements can be observed in successful consumer products, but are often lacking in enterprise experiences. According to Eyal, “The HOOK is an experience designed to connect the user’s problem to your solution with enough frequency to form a habit.”

Digital experiences which do not inspire regular use are missed opportunities for organizations which rely on them to influence behavior through the transmission of ideas of culture, representation of the enterprise brand, and provision of information and tools in support of work.

We believe that Eyal’s Hook canvas provides some good food for thought to the design of enterprise experiences. Here are our top take-aways from his presentation:

  1. Successful experiences have both internal and external triggers. Internal triggers are strong emotions such as boredom or loneliness which prompt us to act (think Facebook). They are the foundation upon which a digital experience provides value for its constituents.

    External triggers are the prompts that make constituents go to the solution. This type of trigger tells us that there is something to do. For example, the number of new items displayed on the Facebook app.
  2. For a person to act, they must be motivated, capable of acting, and experience something which triggers the action. (Eyal draws on B.J. Fogg’s work at the Stanford Persuasive Technology Lab for this.) Designs that consider these factors better support the likelihood of action. Anticipation or avoidance of emotions–people tend to seek pleasure, hope, and acceptance while they avoid pain, fear, and rejection—can increase motivation. Ability can be affected by time, money, physical effort, brain cycles, social acceptance, and non-routine. Triggers which are designed to be easily perceived support successful completion of action.
  3. The most effective actions are simple and continue to reward us. Controls such as scrolls or swipes support actions that are easy to accomplish. However, each quick movement gives us huge results like the continuous feed of news on Facebook or the never-ending grid of cards on Pinterest.
  4. Rewards do not have to be material to be effective motivators, but they must be related to constituents’ problems to have value. Rewarding people only for the sake of it (badges, anyone?) won’t keep people coming back. Instead, rewards must be connected to the problem that the experience solves. These can be characterized in several ways including social fulfillment, hunt for self-satisfaction, and self-achievement.
  5. Investment is necessary for the experience to hold value over time. When we engage with a digital experience, our preferences become understandable–what we do, when we do it, and who we connect with all provide data that can shape the experience in the future. And when we act (for example, sharing, following, or commenting), triggers are created. Eventually, our participation in the cycle creates new a habit.

To remain competitive in this time of digital transformation, organizations must create digital experiences that enable their people to accomplish their work more efficiently, more effectively, and with greater satisfaction. The creation of these experiences requires considerable time and expense, and will affect everyone in an organization. Eyal’s HOOK canvas is a useful approach to ensuring that design for the enterprise pays off—we can leverage the concepts to create experiences that become invaluable and support happier people actively moving an organization’s goals forward.

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Our Power to Shape a Field: Notes from Confab Central 2017

July 17th, 2017

This year marks an exciting time for content strategists. Not only is the field of Content Strategy coalescing around a brilliant, engaged community of Learning Workers. It’s also emerging full-force at the height of digital transformation.

The energy was striking at this year’s Confab Central in Minneapolis, where hundreds of people gathered to obsess collectively over how you see your digital world. Everyone at this conference shared a strong sense of budding responsibility: that content strategists play a key part in determining the new digital realities in which we interact and connect.

Businesses are coming to realize content as a major business asset. Content can also be the greatest impediment to success if it lacks the right talent and resources to optimize maintenance, design, and above all, strategy.

Workshop with Kristina Halvorson

On the first day, I attended a workshop led by Kristina Halvorson, who spent much of the time drilling into us the importance of strategy behind Content Strategy. Strategy is what differentiates us from content marketing or communications. Strategy is what will align your content with business goals. And strategy requires both foresight and analysis, both birds-eye and detailed views of the ecosystem (the people, the capabilities, the needs of a business). The key to Content Strategy success isn’t through sifting written material in some kind of isolated vacuum. The key comes from productive engagement with and deep knowledge about the right stakeholders. Content Strategy is an important space for the Learning Worker within your organization because of the systemic knowledge the role requires.

Above all, the content strategist can synthesize for digital ecosystems the internal language that circulates in and defines a business. Internal language is the stuff of your content: it defines your vision, goals, culture, and yes, strategy. Content strategists can convey consistently the desired tone and voice of a business. Through an analysis of that language, we can determine your organization’s strength and gaps, as well as identify its differentiating characteristic.

Halvorson’s workshop introduced one theme that resonated throughout the conference. Many speakers acknowledged productively that the definition of Content Strategy is under debate. That the field is still coalescing offers a promising opportunity for businesses. A field evolves through energetic conversation, revision, and refining. The speakers and the engaged audience were determining the field in the moment of each presentation, based on individual experience, successes, failures, and experiments.

Themes from the Field

The first keynote by Anne Handley characterized another major theme of the conference: the importance of empathy, user research, and social media data. Her talk agrees with others that would follow: that predetermined user personas, ready-made stories, and trendy but rushed innovation potentially impede your strategy. Remedy that by talking to people often. That way, you can reevaluate the story you want to tell and the language you want to use to tell it.

Other themes dominated the breakout sessions on the second and third day. Among them was structure. Structural analysis of organizations lead to better structured content, to smoother communication and collaboration across (sometimes necessary) silos, and to a view of content relationships, not just categories. Most importantly, fixed structure isn’t something to impose on content: structure is specific to every organization and it must remain flexible and organic.

The theme of centralization ran through the sessions in different ways. Many speakers elaborated on how strong Content Strategy centralizes and aligns content creation and maintenance throughout the organization. Centralization of Content Strategy efforts helps minimize content ROT and the hoarding that produces it. Centralization also makes the content principles and guidelines work hard, not workers. That way, working environments can retain flexibility.

The last theme of Confab Central was how Content Strategy revolves around human connection. In a memorable keynote address, LeVar Burton’s personal journey toward literacy advocacy reminded us of the stakes behind Content Strategy. His hugely successful 2015 Reading Rainbow kick starter and reboot redefines literacy as digital literacy and critical thinking. He emphasized how stories move relationships, and that the digital realm brings to bear new modes of storytelling.

Burton’s insights about the digital revolution in education has deep implications for Learning Workers. Device agnostic, advanced systems of learning will be learner-driven – a promising path for the adaptable employee experience. In a world of digital transformation, content matters deeply to how we will relate to one another and share knowledge. Content tells a story. And the story in which you invite user participation determines how business gets done. Businesses are in the face of an opportunity to help crystallize a field, and they have access to the talent it takes to shape it.

Studio Snapshot: The UX Tribe

May 8th, 2017

The UX Studio at Logical Design Solutions is a small powerhouse doing big things. Our experiences support new ways of working, and to create these experiences, UXers work intensively with project teams comprised of experts in the domains of business, architecture, content and visual design.

These collaborations invariably expand our understanding and nurture new ways of thinking about business problems because they provide input from colleagues who view the problem through a different lens. That’s what LDS is like—it embodies the idea of life-long learning.

This learning also happens in our UX Studio meetings, and these meetings are really where I find my tribe. They often start with quips and jokes about the latest office observance, like who in our group is eating what now and why (long story). We also catch up on what’s going on in our personal lives—usually there’s a story about someone’s kid (like, who ended up in the hospital this week). These gatherings are important because they keep us in touch during periods of concentrated work, when we are distributed across teams and may not see other UXers except to say “hello” and “goodbye” at the bookends of the day.

And then, there is also the meat of the matter—the sharing of trends and developments in the world of UX and how we might consider these ideas in the work we do. Topics are wide ranging, with recent discussions focused on AI and how we might apply and design for it in the enterprise, how to provide context in interfaces that surface big data, or the implications for digital first design within organizations. We have genuine conversations that feel like a team practicing soccer—someone kicks it off and the ideas bounce between us, everyone adding something—facts, additional sources of information, or their interpretation of the topic.

Each week, I leave these meetings understanding the value of an hour, evidenced in the ideas that such a small increment of time have inspired. I usually come away from our gatherings with a new perspective–what I thought when I took my first swallow of coffee has taken twists and turns, and arrived at a whole new place by the time I can see the bottom of my mug.

Design Trends for Digital Employee Experiences

March 31st, 2017

In 2017, we observe evolving design trends that originate in emerging technologies and efforts to address the needs of digital transformation.

The trends that we believe will contribute to the shape and definition of digital employee experiences within the enterprise range from “chunking experiences” into simple, meaningful “bites,” to enabling specific users through hyper-personalization and access to alternate paths to supporting experiences through artificial intelligence (AI). Beyond this, audience and behavior-based design, in addition to the broad use of metrics and analytics, can influence user engagement and participation.

These trends will significantly change our experiences and interactions with products and services. If successfully applied, they will leverage the depth of technology to augment peoples’ inherent capabilities and provide experiences that feel supportive and humane. While many companies are still in the early stages of their digital transformation journey, we believe the following trends are worth assessing to understand the value that they bring to the digital employee experience.

Conversation: a natural way to interact

In 2016 we witnessed the mainstreaming of applications that relied on chat bots and conversational UI to help people achieve goals using voice or text commands, instead of buttons or links. These types of applications eliminate the need to understand an interface, and the requirement to learn a new interface as people move from one device to another. Additionally, the use of conversation (voice in particular) feels comfortable because it’s like interacting with a person. Conversational UI is today providing efficient ways to get simple things done in the consumer space. Personal assistants like Alexa or Google Home help by turning on lights, playing music, or finding information online in response to voice commands. Other services like Domino’s Anywhere utilize more widely available formats such as tweets or text messages (in addition to personal assistants) to order pizza. For more complex interactions, hybrid interfaces in consumer apps like Operator or KLM’s messenger app combine the ease of conversational UI with rich graphical feedback such as photos, maps, select buttons or other formats.

This year, conversational UI will improve based on learnings from the explosion of applications in 2016. Better natural language processing will reduce task abandonment due to misunderstood language. Continued development of hybrid interfaces will support more complex interactions. Overall, conversational UI interactions will become more effective and efficient, and generally more satisfying.

For enterprise solutions, we see opportunities for conversational UI to provide efficient ways to complete tasks and access information. Getting people to the “right” information supports organizational alignment and reducing time spent completing simple tasks frees it up for more nuanced work.

Artificial Intelligence: machines that learn and teach

Trending together with conversational interfaces are advances in AI that are moving beyond expert systems and explicit algorithms. Companies and researchers on the forefront of technology are developing deep learning systems which can understand input without a specific algorithm. In 2016, Google Translate researchers developed a system which could use the concept of transfer learning to translate from one language to another based on its pre-existing ability to translate from each language into English.

In the consumer space, AI currently powers chat bots and other conversational interfaces, and is being used to give people input on how they can better accomplish a goal. Call centers are using AI systems to analyze speech and exchanges that reps have with customers. In some call centers, the AI system acts as a real-time coach, influencing a rep’s interactions by telling them when a customer is upset or suggesting changes to behavior, such as speaking more slowly.

Within the enterprise, we see tremendous value and potential for AI to supplement the experience through the provision of meaningful and relevant information and data. This input can support better decision-making, enhance process support, and positively influence employee behaviors.

Hyper-personalization: experiences that adapt to the person

Hyper-personalization is a natural progression in experience design. It creates the best experience to meet the unique needs of a specific person. To provide the best outcomes, hyper-personalized experiences are based on expressed preferences, needs, and habits combined with data collected by behind-the-scenes technology.

We are seeing these types of experiences in the consumer world for established business models and as engines of emergent models. Hotels are using AI to customize guest experiences before they arrive, setting room temperature or TV channels based on personal preferences. Stitch Fix, an online personal styling service, builds an individual profile based on a customer’s answers to questions combined with captured data from online interactions, recommendations, and purchases. This profile becomes the basis for product recommendations which change as the profile is refined over time.

Within the enterprise, hyper-personalization may provide the richest area in which design can support changes in behavior and work practices. Based on the availability of large sets of meta-data, employee solutions can evolve from tools that act as static aggregators and entry-ways into transactions, information libraries, and data sets into tools that fundamentally adjust to the situation of the person using them.

Our Approach

The methodology used by the Experience Design Studio at Logical Design Solutions combines a people-centric design approach with digital technologies to enable greater connectedness between an organization and its people. Emerging design trends present new ways to create connections. We must consider how these trends can contribute to employee experiences that exceed expectations.

Consultant, Content Analysis

March 3rd, 2017

User Experience Designer

March 3rd, 2017