Speaking at DevFest 2018

Eric at DevFest

By Eric W., Lead Product Designer

I was recently invited to speak at DevFest MN 2018, [https://devfest.mn/] a Google Developer Group’s local conference intended to bring members of the engineering community together to learn and share. As a Product Designer speaking to Engineers, I was excited to represent my discipline and share some advice on how to improve the ways we work together.

Great Product Design requires great relationships, and few relationships are as important to the success of a product as the one between design and development. Both parties need to understand each other, challenge each other and compromise effectively to build the right things, at the right time with right level of quality.

Most of us however, have never been meaningfully introduced to the other’s world nor felt what it is like to walk in their shoes. So the relationship between Designers and Developers can often strain under the weight of assumptions and abstractions.

My journey toward empathy began with a simple goal of wanting to better understand the Developers I worked with every day. I wanted to be a better partner to them and communicate more effectively. So I learned to code. I didn’t do this with any intention of submitting pull requests, but simply to increase my awareness.

I watched Stanford lectures on Computer Science, listened to coding podcasts and did tutorials and coding puzzle games. As I became more immersed, something surprised me. I was struck by the sheer variety of ways I could solve any problem. Often times the goal was clear, but there were so many ways to get there.

This experience reminded me of something familiar…and then it hit me. I was using the design process. Coding was a form of creative problem solving. I was pushing code rather than pixels but just like Product Design, coding was a craft. It could even be an art form. I had far more in common with my Developers than I ever realized and I wanted to tell the world. DevFest was a great start.

Speaking at DevFest was about highlighting what we have in common and leveling up the audience’s understanding of the world of User Experience. If you peel away the jargon and tools, Designers and Developers want to make great things, and make things that matter. In a high-level but comprehensive way I built up their context by defining UX, demystifying titles like “Information Architect” and “User-Interface Designer,” describing the tools Product Designers use and the challenges we face.

I left them with a challenge:

“On Monday, when you get back to work. I want you to ask the Product Designer you work with to coffee. Ask them ‘Why did you become a Product Designer? Why do you do what you do?’ and then listen graciously to what they have to say. I think you will find you have much in common and let that be the beginning of empathy for one another. The beginning of a stronger working relationship. A relationship that leads to better products and more enjoyment in our work.”

I give you the same challenge.

Lessons from South by Southwest Interactive (SXSW)

I believe that education is the cornerstone of progress. It has the ability to propel us forward with intention and precision. Undoubtedly, we are all lifelong students.  Although, the way we process and use information may differ. For me, immersive educational experiences result in critical thinking and a higher propensity for retention. I’m fortunate that my leadership team at Target recognizes and appreciates this.

Last week I had the privilege to attend the South by Southwest (SXSW) Interactive Conference in Austin, TX [insert yee-haw here]. If you’ve ever attended, you can attest to the fact that SXSW is the epitome of an immersive educational experience. I attended the conference to fuel my professional development and digital acumen along with over 20 other Target team members. Over the five day festival I attended several sessions ranging from topics centered on leadership lessons from a jazz band to real-time marketing in social media. Now, I pass on to you 3 thought-provoking lessons I picked up at SXSW:

1. Be an active learner. Engage in experimentation and learning while simultaneously seeking reliable performance. This will allow you to grow and innovate more rapidly.

2. Master the art of spontaneity. Explore the edge of your comfort zone and create situations that demand action, where passivity is not an option. Learn to act without a plan. (As a hardcore planner, the thought scares me but I appreciate how it could create the structure to spur an elevated end product.)

3. Better is the enemy of done. Sometimes good is good enough. You can always make something better but the key to success is knowing when to stop. (As a self-proclaimed perfectionist, hearing this was an ah-ha moment for me and something I will need to continually remind myself.)

The intent of sharing my takeaways from SXSW is that it may make you pause, even if for a brief moment, to reflect on what you are doing to fill your knowledge library and how you are creating opportunities to drive innovation.

I returned full of insights and inspiration that I look forward spreading within my team and throughout the organization. Not only did I learn a lot about leadership and digital innovation but I had the pleasure of learning more about my fellow team members. We are now bonded by this crazy experience called SXSW and have formed even closer relationships that will continue to enhance our collaborative culture.

Target is committed to the development of our team members and my personal experience at SXSW is just one of the many examples of how this is coming to fruition behind the bullseye.

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