Front Utah Conference '19

This week I attended Front Utah. I chose this conference because I’m growing more interested in the business and product management side of being a product designer. Going to a product management conference seemed like overkill, so I was happy to find Front’s mix of user experience and product management. On top of that, the case study format showed what each concept looks like in practice. Each presenter talked about things that actually happened on their teams. Super tactical.

☝️ This is how I approach conferences, to learn what I need to learn. Here are a few things from Front that tickled my brain:

Letting go of process and accepting controlled chaos

Wade Shearer, Workfront

Embrace the chaos. If everyone knows what success looks like, it doesn’t matter if the path to get there changes.

My main takeaway from Wade’s talk focused on vision. If everyone knows (and remembers, which is the hard part) what they’re working towards, the team can usually figure out the path to get there.

Some process is good, but too much is lethal. Team alignment > process.

Think more about how to create a north star that doesn’t get lost in docs or presentations.

Your product is only as good as your teamwork

Maggie Crowley, Drift

My main takeaway from Maggie’s talk was to learn when to stop iterating and take a big swing. Periodically ask “What would it look like if your product worked differently?” It’s hard to know when to take a big swing. Maggie’s team looked at their OKR data, but in their case the data didn’t help them build a case. Instead they noticed that everything they built added complexity to their product and used compelling customer stories. Combining that with a sizzle real (a visual representation of what could be) helped reframed the conversation to execs and stakeholders.

Think more about creating a framework that informs when to take a big swing.

Radical collaboration and trust; breaking down silos and building products at scale

Kim Williams, Indeed

It’s important to know yourself (your super power and achilles heel), but equally important to know your partners and what matters to them.

+ Clear roles and responsibilities
+ Speak the same language
+ Be inclusive and respectful
= Alignment, empowerment, and positive morale

Think more about how to create an environment where everyone feels supported, empowered, and does their best work.

Who will build the next million products?

Vlad Magdalin, Weblow

Every other creative industry uses a GUI to create something without touching code. Think 3D artists, video, graphic design, special effects, music. But product and web folks still write code manually. That needs to be challenged.

Just 1 in 400 people worldwide know how to code. The “No Code” movement is coming. It enables more people to create working websites without writing code.

Think more about this “No Code” movement and how to adapt.

Designing Change

Matt Ström, Bitly

We encounter four challenges when designing change:

  1. Institutional immune system. It protects company from foreign invasion (of new ideas). To overcome this, start small and build trust (avoid alerting the immune system).
  2. Infinite possibilities, how do I align? Address this by creating a north star and using it as a compass, not a map. There are more wrong directions than right ones.
  3. Doubt. What’s the plan? Overcome this by realizing the map is not the territory. Complicated (many known parts) is not the same as complex (lots of unknowns).
  4. Diminishing returns. How do I keep going? To maintain momentum and enthusiasm, ship small and fast, constantly adjust course, update feedback loops.

Think more about keeping the north star in plain sight, so we even see it even when we’re in the weeds.

Blind spots and bents: Designing around your product biases

Samantha Warren, Adobe

Assumptions often lead to bias, and even small biases can add up to a big impact over time. For instance, being a brand champion can lead you to think the product is built for you (when it’s not).

Historically Typekit was designed by type nerds for type nerds. At some point the Typekit team realized the spectrum of user was much larger, so they interviewed folks and reviewed the data. As a result, Typekit changed its roadmap, its business model, and even its name! Becoming aware of your biases can change your POV and mission.

Think more about how to stay close to customers and avoid designing for myself.

Designing a modular onboarding system

Cindy Chang, Intercom

The best onboarding is like a white glove service guides a user through a product and listens to their intentions. Understand the customer “aha” moments, work across teams to learn what users care about most, remember how important each user’s first experience is with your product.

Intercom’s on boarding efforts were spread across teams and time zones, and without an owner it deteriorated over time with different patterns and tones. In response, they formed an onboarding product team, implemented an onboarding home that all products use, and created an onboarding design system that scales to every product team.

Think more about what an onboarding design system would look like at Stack Overflow.

The incumbents dilemma: How large organizations are being disrupted by their own assumptions

Thor Ernstsson, Alpha

Incumbency is a state of mind, not a size or age. Incumbents find it easier to follow instinct than insight. But what got us here won’t get us there, so assumptions must be challenged. Whoever learns the fastest will win, so throw out your five year plan.

Customers are divinely discontent. You can’t rest on your laurels, your customers won’t have it.

Think more about who could overtake Stack Overflow and why we are (or are not) doing anything about it.

The business value of design

Mark Rawlins, Vivint

The business of design sells. Customers care about experience and will pay for it. If you’re not the Nest of your industry, you’re the Honeywell.

10x an experience: If you have a vision, see it through. Even during the low points. Intuition is imperative in design.

10% an experience: A more iterative approach, but there’s still room to build delight by understanding a user’s intent.

Think more about taking a big swing on something, the 10x experience.

I also enjoyed listening to Nate Walkingshaw, Frank Yoo, and Emily Campbell, three great storytellers whose presentations were very inspirational.

Wade Shearer talking on stage.
Wade Shearer on stage.

Many thanks to Ben and Front team for organizing and executing a wonderful conference. They created a great environment and I’d highly recommend for designers interested in leveling up their product and business acumen. It’s definitely worth the trip! Utah’s beauty only sweetens the deal ✌️

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