Designing for Digital 2018 – Austin,TX

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I just attended the Designing for Digital 2018 conference http://designingfordigital.com in Austin, Texas, at which I co-delivered a workshop on digital empathy and creating safe spaces online with Deirdre Costello (Director, UX Research, EBSCO Information Services – @deirdre_lyon) and Carrie Morgan (Head of User Services/User Experience Librarian, California State University San Marcos – @DigitalCarrie). I hoped to get a lot out of the conference, which I certainly did, but what I brought back from Austin is something completely different to what I expected, something more than just learning about design thinking and the user experience.

I’d like to think that I’m a liberal kind of person who welcomes diversity and self-expression. But the people I met, the presentations I attended and the city of Austin itself, made me realise that there is far more too it. We all have a personal responsibility to help people arrive at that place and make it safe for them. The trip made me reflect on culture change in the workplace and how we create safe spaces where people can become the best versions of themselves. It also made me reflect on the embedding of UX research in academic libraries and how we can promote and develop a culture that is conducive to that.

In her opening keynote, Veronica Erb @verbistheword from NRP talked about how we can create change without authority. This certainly resonated with me in the context of the work we are undertaking around culture at the Brynmor Jones Library and how we all have a responsibility to make this work successful. She talked about what it means to be a change maker and how taking small actions, supporting ourselves and broadening our perspectives can support and help us all to deliver change regardless of role or responsibilities. She talked about modelling the behaviours that we wanted to see and how acting in a way that isn’t normal within your team or institution could eventually make it so. She noted how this can sometimes be scary and challenging, and how we need to support ourselves through the process.

Veronica broke support down into three areas, thoughts, relationships and emotions.   She talked about externalising your thoughts to help you decide what to change and how to make it happen, along with ensuring that you have regular two way human communication to help make and evaluate change. She highlighted that when communication isn’t two way, it becomes an abusive relationship and how we all need to ensure we do our part in friendships and how, by building friendships we can create communities and stay connected to the world we are trying to make better. She talked about releasing your emotions, taking time to walk, read etc and making sure you relax and feel better, rather than burning yourself out.

Broadening perspectives was about being able to express yourself, how you think about how others express themselves and how they are judged because of it.   She talked about avoiding assimilating the compromises that we have made and training ourselves to manage the biases we have. By identifying our biases, and introducing items to our lives to counteract them, we can become more understanding, appreciative and accepting of others.

The talk really made me think and reinforced what I have said about us all having a responsibility to make change happen and be successful. By taking a few small steps, as Veronica noted we can even change the things that we thought “are just the way they are”.

I attended many other excellent talks through-out the conference, other highlights being Danah Boyd – Founder & President/ Principal Researcher, Data & Society/ Microsoft, who spoke about the messy reality of algorithmic culture and then Debashish Paul – Product Designer, Facebook, who spoke about his career journey and how his passion and enthusiasm for design helped him become who he is today.

The workshop we delivered went very well and felt like a really relevant fit with what I considered the underlying theme of the conference. We spoke about how UX often focuses on online usability, which informs design decisions through information architecture. While important, this doesn’t encompass everything a user needs in a space. We focused on another component of UX: creating spaces where users feel safe. We spoke about how users bring anxieties with them to online spaces, but how informed design choices can ameliorate that stress. We discuss empathetic design, ethnographic research methods and the practical application of results to ongoing and future projects. Workshop participants had the chance to practice interview techniques with real students and then take park in a design studio where they produced prototype online spaces based on their findings.

For me, the underlying theme was one of culture, diversity, acceptance and change.   A few days in Austin certainly makes you reflect. Austin felt like an incredibly liberal city, it is a wonderful and weird place. It made me question if I go far enough to support and help people celebrate who they are and whether I do my part to help create safe spaces for people in the work place.

We all bring something to the table, by understanding each other’s stories, respecting each other’s views and working together we can achieve great things.

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