EUX17 – Opening Keynote
Exploring Cadence: You, Your Team, and Your Enterprise
Elizabeth Churchill (Director of User Experience, Google)
Abstract from the EUX website:
Time is always on our minds in very practical ways—apportioning it for various projects, creating and prioritizing tasks, calendaring, and tracking deadlines and deliverables. Time does, however, have more abstract qualities that require our attention. It drives how we imagine future worlds, set our organizations’ visions, track technological trends, manage our enterprises, plan our careers, roadmap our products, and choreograph our people. Each of these activities vary in scale and size, and each has its own cadence. Some focus on years, some on months, some on weeks, some on days. In this talk, Elizabeth Churchill will discuss ways of thinking about time in UX beyond classic, practical notions of “time management”. She’ll share personal stories from the enterprise and the academy, and invite a conversation about personal journeys of personal life long impact in UX.
This talk is a bit more of a provocation than a set of things to do. Elizabeth wants us to think about time in a different way – and not just personal time management. She moves between academy and industry, and time moves differently in each …
A cadence is a flow rhythm of events – a pattern in which things are experienced. In your role, consider how many cadences you are managing – not just professionally, but also at home.
We create a human-centered experience in the enterprise. We sponsor and run studies, communicate results, co-create tools, and then foster collaboration for dessemination and uptake of those tools. Yes, the power structure within enterprise decides what gets used, but it can still be resisted. We manage cadences at many scales, and with shifting expectations. You see people who are excellent, and their careers move them up and away from you. We also manage the cadences of our industry, our tools – both within the enterprise, and also globally.
Ultimately, she wants to explore with us how we manage cadences, and what happens at those friction points.
One of the unspoken soft skills we have as user experience professional is weaving together these different timeframes. We have the “can I have it now”, can I have it by tomorrow, by next week, by yesterday (!) … or by next month. The conversation this conference allows us to have is how do we use that to shape the future. The introduction of AI into tools is changing everyday practices – and it will change the work we do in UX. How do we augment that?
You’re heard the terms reactive, proactive. Summative, formative (whats next). Iterative, generative or foundational. We do reviews, and we have to do future forecasting. We are asked to be tactical or strategic. How do we respond to that?
Often, what looks like a tactical, reactive deliverable is actually profoundly strategic for where we go in the future. We have to narrate our deliverable accordingly, to shape the future.
Within any apparently tactical, responsive study are the building blocks for the future. We should converse with each other – how do we position insights, keep them alive.
What is urgent is not always what is important. She has her to-do list. She is juggling the different cadences. And she is always trying to build relationships and collaborate with others.
From Collabo-poster to Google Jam Board
When you are building a tool internally, the social dimensions are so important. When building productivity or collaboration tools within the enterprise, establishing the socio-technical skillsets and communications for that community will be perennially critical. And they are often missing – but working together effectively requires trusted relationships.
This project started in 1999, but she is sharing it now because the ideas are still playing out. At the time, she was at Fuji-Xerox, and the goal was to improve collaboration on the between their teams in Tokyo and Silicon Valley. The CEO was concerned that there wasn’t the cross-fertilization of ideas, or progress, and the goal was to productize solutions for the Japanese enterprise market.
When they started to look at what was happening, it quickly became clear that collaboration and communication were not great. As part of the solution, they installed interactive boards to see what colleagues had posted. It was a conversational thing to get to know each other. Elizabeth was curating it. The goal was to create a sense of shared experience, and it was designed iteratively to establish a sense of mutual ownership. For example, there was a space for colleagues to post in Japanese, so they didn’t always have the burden of writing in English in order to engage.
It was intentionally physical, because an app doesn’t create the same interaction with the content or curiosity with each other. But this solution became a foundation to establish trust and exchange of information. That in turn led to an increased use of other productivity tools. They collected a baseline of email traffic, tool usage, etc. There was a significant uptick in use of other channels for several months after creating this physical way of getting to know each other.
They called the solution Collabo-poster, and it was later productized as a service, rather than a product – the main offering was the organizational work of getting people to collaborate, and guiding the social dynamics of what lead technology getting used.
The idea of having public displays and spaces is both old and new.
There was an earlier solution with similar goals called the Xerox Life Board, It was $49K in 1993. And now we have Google’s Jam Board ($5K), which was just released. It enables teams to collaborate in real time. You can leave things there, too. It is an old idea to build social capital and trust to create connections in other channels. It is also an old idea to create public spaces to drive engagement. But what is possible now (which wasn’t in 1999) is that the Jam board is integrated with Google’s G-suite and cloud services. So ir brings together embodied social sharing with distributed sharing and integrated work products. So much more is possible now.
It also brings up a whole new set of questions – how do old observations still apply, and where they don’t apply any longer. How does culture impact the take-up of any new technology?
In enterprise work, we often don’t publish reports, but a lot of our knowledge gets codified into the tools we build. Material Design is Google’s design framework, and Elizabeth is engaged with them at the moment.
Material Design started in 2014, and it was based on classic design and cognitive science principals. The goal was to create web and mobile experiences for both iOS and Google / Android. It is also a service, through the online specifications document. And there is also an online community. In other words, it is a technology with principals of good design embedded in it.
Material Design traces back to Alan Kay at PARC. Telling the story of that is really important, especially within enterprises – especially when what were doing is seen as prosaic tools for productivity.
It is suggestive (not imperative) at Google. Many teams come for reviews. But there is also a huge community that uses and contributes to the framework. In this way, they are bringing the best of what we know from consumer into the enterprise. Now they are looking at the performance of certain components, as well as the uptake – to see what is working or not. They are also looking at the consumers and their experience. In other words, they are looking at the full range of consumption and use.
She has several projects in flight at the moment, which represent these cadences.
- Where does a text field start, when you are clicking around, and can’t find it? Michael Gilbert came up with the different alternatives for text fields. for example, something vaguely grey that might require reading glasses for some of us, or perhaps a field that only has a faint link around it. Using Mechanical Turk they got many people to try the variations. What version performs best? That seemingly simple text field recommendation has impacted multiple product groups, and has resulted in discussions with accessibility folks. While those conversations unfold, the findings have also been published on the external specification.
What is important here is that what was initially reactive is now formative. That is super interesting for her, because as a manager, she wants to track that legacy, the provenance of that impact. User Experience is actually proactive – leading the way for a lot of things. But if you look at the ask around a single component, it might not appear that way at first.
- How do we improve text legibility when it is placed over an image? What recommendations can we make in the Material Design system? How do we test within our enterprise and beyond? That research was intended to answer a specific question, but it is a longer-term issue, so they are keeping their eye on how it will impact the standards. They are considering many things, including contrast ratios for text legibility. If we do this well enough, rigorously enough, we can have an impact on those standards. Which affects / benefits many more people in the long run.
- How do we create trust through better collaboration tools for designers and developers? Elizabeth is working on this with two members of her team, Sarah Cambridge and Tao Dong. Using ethnographic-style interviews, they explored how to make things better in a meaningful way. Because the reality is that our own work and our own tools require better engineering and experience as well. There is a new tool called Gallery (now available online) – how to build that, and codify what we’ve learned into technology. We’re solving a very immediate problem, but the legacy, or the long tail is to help us shape the future.
Material Design crosses all the product teams, including internal ones. So it is an important service, and a way to make connections across organizational silos.
This conference is a social setting in which the exchange of ideas can happen, and silos can be broken down. We should be talking about time pressures, dealing with proactive and reactive pressures, and learning from each other.
But Elizabeth also invites us to also think about time in different ways. Think about time as calendar. Or time as task (how long will it take, getting cadences together). The third is this idea of time as deep coordination and collaboration with others. Because the conversations are where the work is really happening (whether online or offline). Time or timeline management is a trust exchange that we are leaving for the future. And finally, this idea of time as a material for design strategy, for collaboration and communication strategy. Time is not necessarily being actively managed or co-managed. Being aware of what you’re doing may shape a legacy for the future.
Q – Timeboxing – how does that affect the more strategic conversation?
A – This is about managing your own time or the time of the group. It reduces anxiety, and it creates a check-in moment. It can motivate, it also helps everyone understand the objective. It provides a means for cognitive switching, too. These are all good psychological reasons. But none of that precludes having the bigger perspective. Did we achieve our goal, and what was that meeting for – did I get closer to the bigger goal? We do that with personal time management, but this creates a manufactured endpoint for work activities. The challenge in our work is that it’s always a work in process – like our own professional development. Things shift. Timeboxing is good for psychological reasons, but if you’re a slave to it, you don’t focus on the bigger picture.
Q – Time is money. Really interested in the collaboration poster – how were you able to convince your management (or whoever) to allow you to do that? Because it’s not something that goes the door to clients, it wouldn’t be prioritized? What were the conversations like before?
A – In her case, the CEO came to her saying that no collaboration is happening but we have all these tools. He was looking for rapport – the teams were productive but not necessarily creative. In her situation, she wanted to try another solution – creating knowledge and social capital. And having Japanese colleagues write in English wasn’t going to get them there, either. She believed that conversation would lead to rapport, and ultimately to other collaboration tools. But how to persuade someone to do something that is not going out to the customer? That is a significant problem. Internally, if teams are not working effectively together … offer a tool that enables better work across silos. And then provide relevant business metrics. Use internal productivity metrics to make your point. The CEO declared project a success, and wanted to turn off the displays – and yet she knew it was part of the fabric. She wrote to 60 people in US and another 60 in Japan, telling them the system would be shut down, and then shared all the responses to the CEO. To build a business case, you need to find measures and metrics that are important to the business, and to show progress. We have to be creative, honest, and persuasive about how we do that.