What I learned at the PixelUp2019 — Day 1

2 days, 16 talks

Day1 | Day 2

Day 1 speakers:

  1. Amy Thibodeau — Break your design: Strategies for improving your work by embracing chaos and mess
  2. David Farkas — Improvised UX
  3. Catt Small — Ship it sooner: how to get more done in less time
  4. Ismail Chibgwe — 10 things I learned during 2 weeks at Facebook
  5. Guidione Machava — World-class attitude: When all the odds are against you.
  6. Ian Bach — Shaping creative formats
  7. Dan Brown — IA Lenses: A new tool for designing digital structures
  8. Nadieh Bremer — Data sketches: a year of exotic data visualizations

1. Break your design: Strategies for improving your work by embracing chaos and mess

Amy Thibodeau — UX Director at Shopify

Talk summary posted on PixelUp:

In the tech industry we talk a lot about failure. Fail fast. Move fast and break things. Perfection is the enemy of the good. Yet if you spend any time on Dribble or looking at portfolios, most of what you’ll see is beautiful, pixel perfect, orderly, and calm. This Instagramization of product design ignores the messy, chaotic, and often unpredictable humans and circumstances our work is meant to serve.

In this talk, we’ll explore a set of strategies and frameworks UX practitioners can use to improve the user experience by breaking their designs.


Amy started by describing how she caused heartbreak with Facebooks “Year in Review” project. This was caused by working in a bubble. This video animation was a summary showing what yor year looked like. This resulted in inadvertent algorithmic cruelty with happy illustrations on a sad memory, it asked people to celebrate their worst moments.

Experienced people make mistakes, algorithms are subject to our biases, and bad design has consequence… How does this happen?

Problem 1: We design for ourselves

  • We are not our users, but we think we are
  • We simplify based on our experiences
  • The myth or the minor user, we ignore these users, which can end up being a very large number
  • Its hard to design for variables and scale
  • We confuse empathy with sympathy

Strategy 1: Practice divergent thinking

  • Explore ideas, plot against impact vs effort
  • Idea validation — what we know vs. what we assume
  • Convergent thinking
  • Build in time for exploration — it saves time and effort; protects the brand; give a competitive advantage

Strategy 2: Design for the edges, not averages

  • Don’t underestimate the impact of edge cases
  • Designing for the edge, means it will work for the average, but it doean’t work the other way around
  • Constraints enhance creativity

Problem 2: We think the value of UX is in the solution

  • How do we solve the problems vs the solutions
  • We communicate the value of pixels vs the solutions
  • Be the architect, not the decorator

“Don’t bring a paintbrush to a gun fight”

Strategy 1: Measure and drive design performance

  • Build confidence
  • Ask questions, identify opportunity
  • Tell the data story

Strategy 2: Make UX everyones responsibility

  • Open critiques
  • Co-design sessions
  • Share the customers pain and the research

2. Improvised UX

David Farkas — Associate Director of Experience Design at EPAM

Talk summary posted on PixelUp:

The need to adapt and be flexible within product research has never been greater. Research is planned and then reality sets in with real-world variables, participant needs, and unforeseen hurdles. Flexibility is a requirement. This flexibility starts with an ability to read your audience’s body language and to pivot as needs shift. Yield to the highest offer. Always say YES. Always raise the bar. These are three of the core components to improvisation in theater. They are also three pillars to a good design.

While improvisation is a muscle best learned and practiced over time, this primer introduces the fundamentals and starts a conversation around how might we be more engaged and flexible in our process. Part discussion, part activity, attendees will gain:

An introduction to the principles and guidelines of improvisation Exposure to warm-up activities to broaden and expand our thinking An awareness of how improvisation can be adapted throughout a project lifecycle An awareness of how body language affects team collaboration

This isn’t a session to learn to be funny, or even how to perform. It’s a conversation around expanding our toolkit.


Improve is similar to design. What is improv? Story telling; not comedy; it is reacting

Rule 1: Everything is true
Like in design, welcome all ideas

Rule 2: Try not to make funny happen
Find the strange, find opportunity

Rule 3: Failure is OK
Talk about it and learn

Rule 4: Listen to the scene
what are people tellings us? It builds better products

Rule 5: Support your players
Step forward and help, we don’t all have the answers

Rule 6: Location, location, location
… details matter (personas, experience maps etc)

Rule 7: Raise the stakes
eg: Reframe loosing a wallet vs loosing a downpayment on a house
Go big or go home

Rule 8: Yield to the strongest offer
More details = more commitment

Rule 9: You are not the star
Its about everyone; empower people (stakeholders and customers)

Rule 10: Remember everything
Tie back to initial motivations, it builds report.


  • Act like grandma is watching
  • Play with the best intentions
  • Play to the highest interllect
  • I’ve got your back
  • Stop anytime

Replying with “yes and” vs “no instead” — “no instead” stops divergent thinking

Collaborative improv — How do I?

  1. Requirements gathering
  2. Communicate findings
  3. Sales presentations
  4. Presenting concepts (the motivations)
  5. Affinity diagram, Taxonomy and Structure
  6. Participatory design (let others sketch the solutions)


1. Improve Product validation

  • Technical issues
  • Participant variables

2. Remember body language

  • Open body language (Open)
  • Closed body language (Defensive)
  • It communicates our mental state

3. Secrets of improv

  • Don’t call it improv
  • Do it in small doses

3. Ship it sooner: how to get more done in less time

Catt Small — Product Design at Etsy

Talk summary posted on PixelUp:

Tools help us create beautiful, usable experiences for devices. However, they can also get in the way of creativity: designers and developers sometimes spend more time thinking about process, software, and tools than making. In this talk, Catt will discuss reasons we get distracted by process and tools, why stepping away from process and tools can be helpful, as well as methods to focus more on getting things done.


Less about how, more about who, what, when, where and why

Why can process help? (Positives)

  1. Guidance
  2. Efficient
  3. Self-improvement


i. Lacking clarity
ii. Feeling frustrated
iii. needing communication

Don’t expect them to always work as expected, adapt a dynamic approach. Design your process.

Process can be distracting (Negatives)

  1. Right vs wrong
  2. Hierarchy (which is the best approach)
  3. Cookie cutter self help

Beware perfectionism

The loop: Perfectionism → Failure → Anxiety → Perfectionism → Failure → Anxiety → Perfectionism → Failure → Anxiety…

Problem 1: Poweshifts and vacuum

Problem 2: Abiding to a perfect process — leads to burnout

Combat perfectionism

  1. Define objectives — focus on why and what
  2. Meditate and breath
  3. Make your own process — try something new


  1. Communicate upfront
  2. Ignor trendy hotness
  3. Share knowledge and learnings
  4. Be flexible — there’s no right or wrong way to do something
  5. Celebrate wins — remember the positive aspects, what did you learn?

“Process is a double edged sword”

Presentation deck:

4. 10 things I learned during 2 weeks at Facebook

Ismail Chibgwe — Lead (UX) Consultant at Mantaray

Talk summary posted on PixelUp:

My experience as a UX specialist has reinforced the fact that design methodologies exist in their purest form as texts and seldom perfect when applied in practice, to actual product design processes. I also learned that the key to a successful project is the team and how well that team collaborates is the glue that holds the project together and guarantees success, whether the methodology was executed perfectly or not. Put differently, great teamwork and adherence to best practices assure best results, while methodologies do not necessarily guarantee them. During my short talk I’m going to be discussing 10 key differences in team dynamics between teams I have worked with in various companies in South Africa vs Facebook. I will cover how these dynamics have impacted the product design process negatively and positively as well as provide case studies and key recommendations and takeaways.


Culture — safety, mindfulness and collaboration manifests in culture

1. Safety and trust

Team members are open, transparent, and have each others backs.

2. Mindfullness

No one judges you for taking a break, this allows you to recalibrate.

3. Convenience

Food is available all day, conveniently.

4. Collaboration and Autonomy

There is a flat structure. Decisions are made at a team level.

“When individualism supersedes teamwork — autonomy dies”

5. Collaboration and Adaptability

The organisation needs to empower leaders who can enable teams

6. Collaboration and Mindset

Mindset is a predicator of success. Be persistent, accept challenge.

7. Collaboration and Tools

Tools help teams execute work, but to many tools can lead to burnout and confusion. Focus on how tools support culture and collaboration rather than the tool.

8. Collaboration and Workspace

9. Collaboration and Basic Values

Respect; Empathy; Humility — focus on the contribution

10. Safety.

Mindfulness, Collaboration and Improvement — creates a polished culture

5. World-class attitude: When all the odds are against you.

Guidione Machava — UX Designer at Lepsta Inc.

Talk summary posted on PixelUp:

In my talk, I will share with you how the right attitude can lead us to a completely different destiny. By comparing the life of a regular young man from a third world country such as mine, and that of someone from the same background but with the right attitude, I will show you how a difference in mentality can change someone’s destiny and inspire other people.


“Rejection and failure is not part of the process, it IS the process”

“It doesn’t matter where you start, what matters is where you want to go”

6. Shaping creative formats

Ian Bach — Senior product design lead at Spotify

Talk summary posted on PixelUp:

Designing user generated content experiences throws up a host of unique challenges. How do you prototype and validate creative formats that promote conversation, creativity, and connection when you don’t have any content yet? How do you leave space for diverse expression, without fostering a chaotic UX? How can you be confident that anybody will even make content once you launch?

In this talk, Ian will provide a window into a product design process that embraces real content from day one, and engages both sides of the creator/consumer user base. Told through the lens of his work evolving the music format at Spotify, Ian explores an evidence based approach to developing two-sided content experiences, and the lessons his team discovered along the way.


At Spotify, the designers where tasked with building an app for artists. Artists had lost the ability to communicate with their audience in a modern streaming world.

This felt very different to the other products they had done. How do you test when you have no content?

Building Canvas — an open content format for artists

(Basically, looping visuals linked to an audio track)

1. Pilot — based on 3 principles

  1. Embrace Constraints
    Mistake: Getting lost in boundless opportunity of creative formats
    Learning: Human, not software (managing people not software)
  2. Get close to your users
    Uncover real needs and motivations
  3. Write a simple brief
    … in one simple sentence. Find the simplest good solution that satifies the brief — simplicity

2. Real content

To much time was spent playing with fake content — you are not suppose to test if you are a good content producer.

i. What is the MVP?
ii. Source content manually
iii. Get content in-front of users (Do we have content/market fit)

3. Get hard evidence

The content is so cool, so it must be working

Can we prove it? (Brief and MVP)
ii. Proxy metrics
iii. Hard evidence
iv. Content proof
v. Look at the data
vi. Content is data too
vii. How are creators using our format?
viii. Content hypothesis (storytelling, visual identity, moments)

It needs time. Be patient.
Now we can build an end to end beta.
Keep an eye on the data.

7. IA Lenses: A New Tool for Designing Digital Structures

Dan Brown — Principal at EightShapes

Talk summary posted on PixelUp:

After doing this for 20 years, I realized that on every project I was using little IA heuristic evaluations with every structural decision. Most recently, working on the navigation for a large institution’s public web site and intranet, as well as a handful of esoteric web-based applications, I was able to articulate these little tests. With each decision, I would ask myself questions like, “Does this set a dangerous precedent?” and “Does this prioritize one user’s needs over another?” and “Will this inappropriately challenge the company’s status quo?”

Each of these questions is a lens, through which I examine the structure. I choose a label for a category and ask myself, “What’s missing from the implied contents of this label?” I nest one category in another and I ask myself, “Even though this belongs here, does it bury an important concept?” I develop a set of top-level categories and ask myself, “What story does this tell about the organization?” The purpose of these lenses isn’t so much to determine correctness, but more to look at my decision from all angles. They let me dig deeper into my decisions to make sure my thought process is robust.

In this session, I’ll share some of the lenses, how they’re used, and how you might apply them to different IA challenges. As a consequence of articulating these lenses, I’ve also spent time developing a small vocabulary to talk about IA challenges. Since the lenses are new, the intent here isn’t to be prescriptive, but instead to get feedback from the IA community, and to gauge their broader applicability.

This session will review:

1. A framework for talking about IA problems

2. An introduction to IA lenses

3. Three examples of IA lenses

4. An exercise for using a lens with an IA problem

It’s been 20+ years since the advent of IA, isn’t it about time we had more tools for our work? Enter IA Lenses, a new tool to help IAs evaluate and interrogate their concepts by looking at them from unique perspectives.


Definitions for the purpose of this talk:

  • IA (information architecture) — the design of visual structures
  • Lens — a perspective from which to consider (a set of questions)
  1. Lenses give us questions to ask ourselves
  2. Lenses don’t give us answers
  3. Lenses are a new tool, not a replacement
  4. Lenses help me reexamine what I do

Social handle: @ailenses

8. Data sketches: a year of exotic data visualizations

Nadieh Bremer — Data Visualization Designer at Visual Cinnamon

Talk summary posted on PixelUp:

“data sketches” was a year-long collaboration between Nadieh Bremer and Shirley Wu, both freelancing data visualisation designers. Each month they chose a topic and visualised it in an overly elaborate & geeky manner. But besides sharing the end result, they also wrote extensively about the creation process. In this talk, Nadieh will share her most important lessons learned in the fundamental areas of data, sketching & coding. About how some months became favourites, what mistakes were made, and how they were overcome. She’ll highlight that many visualizations had humble, ugly duckling beginnings, but that through many (embarrassing) iterations they were turned into unique and, hopefully, compelling results.


  1. Data can be found in a myriad of places and ways
  2. Get a feeling of accuracy and completeness of your data
  3. It’s ok to pre-calculate fixed visual variables
  4. Design with code
  5. Sketch the rough visual shape to catch thinking errors
  6. Try to add extra layers of detail to catch thinking errors
  7. Remix whats there already
  8. Embrace your tools and advanced functionality
  9. Learn to love Math
  10. The other stuff matters to increase delight and engagement

I’m focused on creating meaningful experiences through design. Passionate about design, tech and all things digital. Digital design specialist. UX/UI