WillowTree sent a small team down to Austin, TX for the South by Southwest 2018 conference last week. Here are the best, most inspiring events and talks we took in, starting with one of our own!
WillowTree spoke at SXSW twice (!!) about the importance of App Accessibility
Ayesha Zafar, our Senior Product Researcher and head of Accessibility at WillowTree spoke at two events about how to make native apps more accessible. The first talk was part of the SXSW Ignite® series where, to a packed room, she dispelled a number of popular myths of mobile accessibility: blind people really do want to use your apps, that it’s not as hard as you think if you plan for it ahead of time, and that you actually CAN win design awards while being accessible. She also spoke at the Google SXSW Agency day on the issues that agencies need to consider as it relates to accessibility.
Ayesha’s passion and expertise in accessible design practices inspired attendees to recognize that prioritizing such standards isn’t just the right thing to do, but the smart thing; there are major opportunities to serve the 253 million people in the world with visual impairment while standing out as a leader in the industry.
Crafting Conversation: Design in the Age of AI
Daniel Padgett leads Google’s conversation design team, saying that he “teaches robots to talk.” As he designs Google Assistant interactions, he considers the 4 maxims by the language philosopher Paul Grice to model conversations for efficiency:
- Quality - truthful
- Quantity - no more or less informative than required
- Relevance - pertinent to the discussion
- Manner - clearly or without ambiguity - get to the point And as voice app designers, we should consider the same in the results we present.
Assistants will continue to get better. For example, we know in natural conversation, it’s not just what you say, it’s how you say it—the ups and downs of voice carry meaning. By using a tool called Wavenet, Google is continuing to improve the rhythm and melody of speech even closer to that expected from humans. Google also showed off their new smart display - a Google Home assistant with a display built in.
—Peter Centofante, Director of Product Strategy
Accidentally Making the Most Popular Podcasts Ever with Ira Glass
Glass focused on the power of storytelling and how This American Life is able to take the most minute stories and make listeners care about them by the way that they tell the story. To do this, they edit the story down to its core and give the interviewer the freedom to interject their feelings into the story. Glass says, “If you are in the story business you are in the feelings business.” As researchers we are storytellers, telling the story of users and their needs and desires, what they like and dislike.
It is our job to understand the user and empathize with them, and make sure that our empathy is conveyed to others on the team to ensure that the user is always at the core of our products. This can be done through storytelling; Glass describes a good story as “a sequence of events and its forward momentum, no matter how banal.” Our User Journey Map is an artifact that lends itself beautifully to this format of a story and the sequence of events the user goes through as they use our products.
Finally Glass said, “An interview is a party that you are throwing. If you are a stiff, they will be a stiff. If you tell your stories, they will tell their stories.” This is something I will keep front of mind as I walk into my next interview.
—Ayesha Zafar, Senior Product Researcher and Head of Accessibility
Elon Musk is the kind of crazy we all need
Why does Elon do crazy things like shoot a Tesla into space? To inspire. He wants us all to believe that everything is possible again, like when we saw the space shuttle for the first time, and reduce cost for access to space. He almost went bankrupt trying to make a reusable, sustainable rocket.
But now with the the success of the Falcon Heavy, and the “BFR” (big rocket heading to mars) ready to test at the end of next year, he’s much closer to his vision. Elon wants a space station on the moon, and a city on Mars…in the next few years. So why all this investment in space colonization? For one, to protect the species. Musk firmly believes there will be another dark ages, perhaps sparked by WW3, that may reduce our planet to radioactive rubble. He wants to take action to support humanity in the future. He also sees massive economic opportunity in creating this new civilization for those who can imagine it.
Depending on where you sit, talk of such imminent apocalyptic crises might seem histrionic, the stuff of Hollywood, but on chance we need to colonize the cosmos sooner rather than later, it’s inspiring to see such imaginative work being performed to get us there.
—Peter Centofante, Director of Product Strategy
SXSW keynote speakers aren’t having companies’ excuses for lack of diversity in the workplace
Diversity in the workplace was a strong and frequent topic this year at SXSW, led by powerful and inspiring speakers such as Bozoma Saint John and Melinda Gates. Through these talks, there was a consistent underlying message: the lack of diversity in your workplace is your issue - own it. It’s not a Silicon Valley issue, pipeline issue, or any other external force that just so happens to be out of your control.
Bozoma calls for everyone to be an advocate in diversity and inclusion, not just those who are discriminated on. Gates adds that the workforce has changed in the past generations, but the workplace has not. Change your recruitment process to limit unconscious bias, and look for talent without a pre-existing mold. Whether you’re managing a small team or entire company, you live in a world of making tradeoffs for your business or project. But it’s becoming more and more clear that fostering teams of people with different backgrounds, experiences, and ideas is invaluable, and cannot be traded off.
—Jason Ye, Project Manager
All in all, another great year at SXSW for the WillowTree team. We brought back a lot of new inspiration for continuing to create beautiful, useful products for our clients. More thoughts to come as we continue to process the week!