A team from Intentional Futures fanned out at the Seattle Interactive conference and came back inspired. Here’s our recap of a few notable sessions.

How UX Can Help Make a More Inclusive Environment for the Tech Industry

Speaker: Todd Bennings, Product Designer, Starbucks

Todd Bennings’ talk started with a story about volunteering at The Red Cross, which highlighted his own limited experience with diverse populations. Bennings acknowledged that the only way to design for diverse audiences is to “take stock of your bubble,” since you can’t create for people you don’t know. He encouraged the crowd to leave the tech industry better than they found it (the “campfire rule”) and suggested conducting user research on company culture, just as you would for your products, in order to design an inclusive work environment. He pointed to company culture as one of the most important products companies create as they “determine who gets hired, who succeeds, employee behavior and how individuals interact.” 

Bennings explained that company culture starts at the C-suite and sets the tone for the rest of an organization. For example, the Monday following the White Nationalist Rally in Charlottesville, Starbucks executive chairman and former CEO, Howard Schultz, got the company together to denounce racism and violence and allow employees to speak about their feelings following the events. He explained that this type of leadership and willingness to take a stand illustrates why employees are proud to work at Starbucks.

–Alex Grinberg

Back to Nature: Curing Open Office Noise

Speaker: Beau Wilder, VP of Innovation Waves and New Products, Plantronics

While open office spaces are aesthetically pleasing, they can be harmful to both employee happiness and productivity. In 2014, 85% of workers were dissatisfied with office noise levels, losing 86 minutes per day due to distractions. However, the cost savings of open offices compared to traditional offices is too big to ignore. So what’s a company to do? First, it’s important to understand what’s causing distraction. By and large, speech is the top offender. However, it’s not the volume that matters, but the intelligibility of the speech. Imagine being in a library when someone decides to take a phone call. Despite how quietly that person talks, chances are you’ll still be distracted by the one-sided conversation because there’s no other sound in the library to mask it.

A common solve for noise pollution is to play music on the office’s sound system, but a better fix would be to play sounds from nature. According to the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, natural sounds enhance cognitive functioning, optimize ability to concentrate, and increase overall worker satisfaction. Of the various nature sounds, water is the most effective and comfortable speech masker (Finnish Institute Occupational Health). So if you’re looking to optimize your productivity, check out these Spotify playlists: Natural ConcentrationRain SoundsNature Sounds.

–Kristenelle Coronado-Kaiser

Writing for Doing, Not Reading: The UX Writer’s Role

Speakers: Elly Searle, CrowdStrike and Torrey Podmajersky, OfferUp

A crucial yet often overlooked component of user experience (UX) design is language, like the text in a button or an onboarding flow. Without clear language, companies risk negatively impacting the customer experience. Effective UX writing starts by identifying a company’s voice and tone. As a company, who are you to your customer–a mentor, or their best friend? However you answer that question, make sure the language you use throughout your product reflects it. Once you’ve done that, focus on the Three Pillars of UX Writing:

Be purposeful: Focus on what matters to your customers and offer useful paths. Help customers understand how to fix a problem, instead of simply stating what’s wrong. Say “Enter your email,” instead of “An email address is required.”

Be concise: Make every word and punctuation mark audition for placement in your product. Eliminate filler text (“Save changes?” vs. “Would you like to save changes?”) and use essential punctuation only.

Be conversational: Help customers grasp everything on the first pass while staying true to your company’s voice and tone. If your voice is that of an encouraging personal stylist, try something like, “It’s on sale–high five!”

–Kristenelle Coronado-Kaiser

0.5 Billion Reasons Your Company Needs an Augmented Reality Strategy

Speaker: Andy Sheppard, CEO & Cofounder of 8ninths

In the recent past we’ve witnessed three revolutions: desktop computing, internet, and mobile computing. Andy Sheppard, co-founder and CEO of 8ninths, says the next revolution is augmented and virtual reality. Business analysts agree with him, with many predicting that VR & AR will constitute a $108 billion dollar industry by 2021. AR is predicted to take the bulk of these profits: $83 billion (2016 Digi-capital).

So why are so many people betting on this technology? There have been some success stories like Pokemon Go, which brought in $1B and garnered 40% of users’ time for top Android apps. The proliferation in AR and VR devices in the past few years also helps; companies like Apple and Google are releasing developer tools to make building AR apps easier.

According to Sheppard, the reason for widespread adoption for AR is that it gives you super powers:

  1. Super Sight: Integrated sensors will allow you to see new wavelengths such as infrared and UV light. Sensors will provide better wayfinding
  2. Super Memory: Everything can be recorded, indexed and stored. Your website can be integrated with mobile cameras, like drones
  3. Super Hearing: This is already here: Google’s New ‘Pixel Buds’ Offer Real-Time Translation
  4. Super Learning: People can see through your eyes, opening new doors for real-time collaboration and rapid learning
  5. Super Bodies: Prosthetics + exoskeletons
  6. Super Presence: You’ll have the ability to be in many places at once. Control avatars. There are real implications for the notion of truth with this one: Radiolab – Truth Trolls
  7. Super Empathy: Real-time analysis of your emotional state. Real-time lie detection through pupillometry
  8. Super Knowledge: Using AI to recognize objects, patterns

There are many open questions around how this technology will work and also what implications it will have. Will you be even more bombarded with content and ads? What new data will we collect and how will we make sense of it? We’re excited to see where AR is going.

–Lyle Klyne