Design / Events

UX designers share tips on collaboration

Highlights from the New York Tech Council's "Collaboration in UX" event.

Jason Tiernan, cofounder of Honey, speaking at Huge. (Photo courtesy of Huge)

As technology companies get bigger and problems get more complicated, it’s taking larger and larger teams to solve them. How teams get organized is a very hot topic among startups, especially as they grow.

We hear a lot of bigger companies often talk about how they keep teams small, but even then, the small teams are teams of teams. How do you make it all work. In a partnership with Huge, the New York Tech Council (NYTECH) organized “Collaboration in UX” in Dumbo this last week.

NYTECH has been doing UX events for a while, but the host, Charles L. Mauro said he hoped to keep them in Dumbo for the foreseeable future. He described the group’s approach to user experience conversations this way: “We produce events that have, generally speaking, a science or research component that is laid against UX overall.”

Four different speakers presented. Mauro began by discussing some of the science around collaboration and then the next three speakers showed off products they were working on that were relevant to collaboration. A lot of information was presented, but here are a few standout points. You can see it all in the Livestream below.

  • Those thinking about user experience at high levels now are talking about “Total User Experience,” or TUX. The masters of this, Mauro said, are Apple. Apple thinks about user experience through the retail level and is far and away the most popular retail company per square foot in the world. No one is even close, he said, but No. 2 is Tiffany & Co.

    Christopher Mauro presenting on the science of collaboration, Huge, Dumbo, Brooklyn

    Christopher Mauro presenting on the science of collaboration. (Screenshot via Livestream)

  • Research into brain activity during tasks reveals that the part of the brain that appears to be the default state is the part that’s devoted to working with others. In other words, Mauro says, we are hardwired to collaborate.
  • “The Excellence Myth” has come to be known as “The Google Myth,” as well. When elite companies make it a point to only hire superstarts, it creates a negative tension, Mauro said. How can anyone be a superstar when everyone is? But that was exactly Google’s approach in the early days.

    Collaboration in UX at Huge

    The kinds of “collaboration technology” found in most conference rooms, according to Prysm, creators of Synthesis. (Screenshot via Livestream)

  • Brandon Fischer of Prysm presented the company’s Synthesis product. “Looking at the traditional meeting room that still exists today in corporate America, we have all these different disparate technologies,” Fischer said, from speaker phones to post-it notes to white boards to slide decks. Prysm specializes in large scale video walls, and the company invented Synthesis as a way to pile all of those technologies into one screen, onto which multiple people could drive multiple kinds of content at the same time.
  • Synthesis was inspired by the sort of collaboration technology you see Tom Cruise using in “Minority Report” or any of the people at S.H.I.E.L.D. using in any of the Marvel movies.
  • Existing collaboration or white board technology is cluttered with functions few users try. Time and again, Fischer said, he’d visit Fortune 500 companies with expensive electronic white boards that were never turned on, because no one could handle learning to use them.
  • Jason Tiernan, who still works at Huge, is also a cofounder of Honey, an intraoffice product for team collaboration. We’ve written about the product a few times before. Tiernan said the product arose from Huge’s own experience, saying, “Huge was a very small company when it started ten years ago. Now it’s an enormous company. And the communication breakdown when you go from a team of 20 to a team of 600 is vast.” Also: inboxes, etc.
  • Huge’s internal standards can make updating a product challenging. “We’re designing for designers. We’re picky. And we’re also jaded.” So they evolved a new philosophy to counteract that hesitancy: “Fuck it, ship it.”
  • LayerVault is version control for designers. It brought in Matthew Achariam to create Designer News to go with LayerVault, so that designers would do their work with LayerVault and spend their free time on the news site.
  • “You’re never not going to hear about it if something is wrong, so creating a product for designers is extremely difficult,” Achariam said.
  • One tool Achariam has found powerful for the community is implementing shadow bans or “hell bans.” To the user, it looks like you’re still part of the community, but no one can see your comments — except for other users who have been hell banned. If you actually ban someone, they just create new accounts. If you hell ban them, they think they are still in.

    Collaboration in UX at Huge

    Cover photos made in Designer News for users, with the most difficult possible UI, coloring each pixel one by one. (Screenshot via Livestream)

  • The general thinking for most products is to make things easy for users. Designer News took the opposite tack with its user avatars, however. You get 20-by-20 screens where each pixel must be colored in one by one. Designers got so into it, the company went even more demented and gave them giant cover photos with the same non-functionality. A LayerVault founder said it was like Microsoft Paint without the tools. It proved that designers thrive under constraint.
Companies: Honey / Huge
Series: Brooklyn

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