EUX16 – Summary

In June 2016, I attended the second annual Enterprise UX conference.  I was energized both by the presenters and by the ensuing dialogue!  I met many people leading teams and/or doing work that was very similar to what my teams do, so I am looking forward to attending the conference again this year.  It is scheduled for June 8-9 at the Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco, in the Innovation Hangar.  Workshops will precede the conference on June 7th.

Following the 2016 conference, I shared a seven-slide summary of my EUX takeaways with colleagues here at work, and I thought there might be value in sharing them more broadly as well.  This one was stuck in WordPress drafts for some reason, so consider this post a gentle reminder that #EUX17 is only six months away.  🙂

Opening keynote speaker Greg Petroff reminded us that new technologies are rapidly changing what is possible; we have to be cognizant of these shifts as we imagine new solutions.00 new tech changes what is possible

Petroff went on to say that the growing momentum towards component-based architecture should enable us to turn our attention to what we build and why.

01 what we build and why

Fredrik Matheson reminded us that in an effort to get to market quickly, we often make solutions harder for our users than they need to be.
02 don't lose sight of the people

Multiple talks (by Nathan Curtis and Dawn Ressel, among others) focused on the need to create sophisticated design systems that enable consistency and establish cross-functional understanding.03 growing focus on design systems

In the past few years, a growing number of design firms and UX consultancies have been acquired by larger companies.  The only way we’ll acquire and keep talent is by providing the right internal culture, and by ensuring our teams have the right work and opportunities to keep them engaged as they grow.  I found the approach shared by Adam Cutler from IBM (shown below) to be particularly thoughtful and compelling.04 the ux talent war

A number of speakers spoke of the importance of measuring the value and impact of the work we’re doing.  Only 23% of companies who are committed to a better Customer Experience can do that today.
05 demonstrate biz impact

UX and Design are increasingly associated with innovative growth.  Thus, as leaders we have the responsibility to enable that growth by amplifying awareness and understanding beyond the borders of our own teams.  Maria Giudice’s presentation along these lines – specifically her focus on amplifying our collective impact – was the most compelling one of the conference for me, based on where I am with the evolution and maturity of my current team.

06 collaborate to amplify
I hope you enjoyed this brief summary of the 2016 Enterprise UX Conference.  The program website has a link to presentation videos and the official sketchnotes.  The videos are on the Rosenfeld Media YouTube channel, and you can also find and download all the slides on Slideshare.

I’d welcome your feedback on my reflections, and hope to see you in San Francisco later this year.

AAA16 – Design Anthropology

This year, the Annual Meeting of the American Anthropology Association was held in Minneapolis, MN.  Our session on Design Anthropology was organized by Christine Miller and Emilie Hitch, and sponsored by the National Association for Practicing Anthropology (NAPA).

Innovation, Human Understanding, and Design
in the Software Industry

Presentation Abstract

The software industry today is still largely imagined and led by male engineers, but over the past 20-30 years, there has been a growing awareness of the need for a more balanced view of the world to both build and bring those technologies to market.  As a result of these and other trends, the ‘end-user’ has been problematized in the technology industry – an unknown and unpredictable entity who needs to be understood in order for products to succeed.  In this context, social scientists have a unique role to play in helping technology-focused engineering teams to both understand people and the context in which technologies are being used. However, social scientists alone are usually not sufficient in this case; a partnership with specialized designers enables the team to bring research and concepts to life in a way that is consumable by everyone – including the engineers.  This paper explores one such collaboration, and how each cross-disciplinary team member (and ultimately, the product itself) benefit from the varied perspectives of the team.


Session abstract and panel participants are below.

Design Anthropology: Discovery and Evidence of Emerging Pathways in Anthropology

Session Abstract

Design anthropology is an emerging transdisciplinary field that brings together design’s fundamental orientation to change and critical anthropological perspectives in a radical approach to future-making characterized by “inclusive, collective, and public approaches” (Ehn, Nilsson, & Topgaard, 2014). Design anthropology is practiced in many different ways depending on the purpose of the study or project, the client, the composition of the research team, the context, and the community or “users” who are the subjects of the study. Design anthropology reflects a shift from stasis to process that extends the ethnographic gaze (Halse, 2013). This shift is at the heart of design anthropology practice and key to capturing the position of the anthropologist as both an observer of the transformative process while simultaneously being an active agent within it.

The diversity of design anthropology praxis is broadly evident in two main streams, one represented by the EPIC community (Ethnographic Praxis in Industry Conference) and the other as it has evolved in Europe and Scandinavia with strong ties to the tradition of participatory design. The EPIC community is rooted in business anthropology and strong business and corporate affiliations. The locus of design anthropology as it is evolving in Scandinavia and Europe tends to be centered in academic institutions, for example, The Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts Schools of Architecture, Design and Conservation (KADK) which hosts the website of the Research Network for Design Anthropology (

In spite of this diversity, design anthropology embodies an emerging set of principles that define design anthropological practice. These principles include commitments to transdisciplinarity and collaborative process, participatory design that includes a wide range of stakeholders, ongoing methodological experimentation and design for social impact. Design anthropological projects are characterized by rigorous critique and iterations that take into account both intended and unintended consequences of proposed designed artifacts. The explicit aim, to achieve transdisciplinary collaboration, challenges team members to articulate and demonstrate how their individual contributions add value to the project. It requires thinking beyond disciplinary boundaries and subordinating individual disciplinary biases, focusing instead on the dynamics of whole systems and what other disciplinary perspectives can contribute and how they can add value.

Presenters will explore various forms and traditions of practice within design anthropology.

Panelists included Natalie Hanson (ZS Associates), Siobahn Gregory (Wayne State University), Tamara Hale (University of Colorado Boulder), Christina Wasson (University of North Texas), Rebekah Park (ReD Associates), and Martha Cotton (Fjord).

Lessons Learned at the Lost & Found

[This article was originally posted on ZS Associates’ CX Factor blog.]

I lost my phone at the airport on Friday night. In a classic story arc, I had a brief adrenaline rush followed by a wave of despair, and then a whole lot of frustration before things were set right. Once I was done being completely stressed and exasperated, I realized that it was a moment to reflect on how we deliver experiences both large and small.

lost and found - journeyThe Opening Scene

I was at the Enterprise User Experience conference last week, and when I landed at O’Hare on Friday night, I was still feeling that warm, happy buzz that you get when you spend time with your tribe. For the three days of the event, I had woken up early and stayed up late. I had been engaged in complex, energizing and thought-provoking conversations, and I was writing and blogging like mad about all of the exciting things that I learned, so it’s probably no surprise that by the time my plane landed back home, I was definitely running on fumes.

Once I landed, I stopped at the ladies room and then headed straight to the baggage claim, where I immediately realized that I must have left my phone behind. Yes, the phone is expensive, yes, it’s covered by insurance and yes, it has a ton of data on it, but there was also the feeling of shame and stress about explaining the situation to my IT group and my insurance company. And how was I going to call my ride home from the airport?

The Crisis and the Climax

shutterstock_248743552With that first spike of adrenaline, I ran all over the airport looking for help.  There was no one at the customer service or information desk when I arrived (of course), and it felt a little over the top to ask the Chicago Police, so I asked my airline.  After two unsuccessful attempts to get help in the luggage area, I found a service representative who traveled back through the secured part of the airport to check the ladies room for me. Twenty minutes later, I found her back at the service desk—with no phone, of course. I’m not even sure if she checked the right place, but at this point, I was realizing that I had to let it go.

I did manage to use the airport wi-fi to log into iCloud, use the “Find My Phone” feature, and confirm that my phone was off. It wasn’t off when I left it, so I knew the chances of recovery were already pretty slim. Now I became acutely aware of the loss of valuable data, including copies of my taxes, my mortgage paperwork and the not-yet-synced photos from the conference I had just attended.

The (Long) Denouement

While I was panicking about that, I used my computer to text my partner, who called my ride and got me home (an hour later, but otherwise as planned).  When I got home, I looked up the lost and found services at O’Hare, but it wasn’t clear whether I should have contacted the airline or the police. It was pretty clear, though, that even the adorable dog from KLM Airlines wasn’t going to save me now. And given that my phone had been turned off, it seemed extremely unlikely (even with a few days of phone calls) that I was going to get the help that I needed.

So I gave up. My best bet, at this point, was to erase the phone completely to protect the data. Now I needed to get a new phone, figure out if I was liable for it (and if so, how I was going to pay for it), and reinstall and reconfigure all of my applications. Needless to say, I didn’t sleep well on Friday night.

I muddled my way through the weekend—phoneless—and on Monday, I headed to AT&T. Given the trajectory of the story so far, you can imagine that things didn’t go exactly as planned. Yes, the AT&T staff was helpful. Yes, they had my phone in stock. And yes, they charged me a fortune to replace the phone outside of my contract period. But no, they couldn’t replace my phone with (what I knew to be) my current model because their records still showed my earlier phone. After some wrangling with IT, the store representative and AT&T customer service, I walked out with a replacement phone, and our IT guy blocked the old phone hardware to prevent re-use by the person who had it. He then activated my new phone and reinstalled all of the work software. Let the ringing begin!

Lessons Learned

Traveling while tired is pretty much unavoidable, and making mistakes when overtired is tough to avoid, too. No, this isn’t a call to mindfulness or for better work/life balance (though those are great goals, too). The lessons learned, for me, are really about the challenges of designing an experience.

Through the process of getting “re-phoned,” I realized that my frustration had mostly to do with the wide variety of organizations involved. I came to appreciate, in a whole new way, how extraordinarily hard it is to design an experience with so many organizations and actors involved. The airline did, in fact, provide some help, the AT&T staff was friendly and helpful, and our IT team was great, but while each individual they did what they could, no one organization or individual was able to fully address my problem. In the end, I realized that most of the breakdown in delivering a positive experience occurs at the interstitial space between organizations and actors. Delivering an improved experience requires that we consider and address the experience from end to end, or for one group to voluntarily work across those boundaries in the best interest of the customer. Both are expensive propositions, though with the former, at least the burden is distributed across a broader group of stakeholders.

Working on these types of customer experience issues is challenging—but extremely rewarding—if you have the right team in place. And if you want to chat about what that might look like, call me anytime. My phone is on, and by my side.

EUX16 – Closing Keynote – John Maeda

The closing keynote was entitled Making Sense of Enterprise UX, presented by John Maeda

John Maeda is a modern renaissance man.  He is merging technology, business, and design – as well as art.  In addition to his dual degree from MIT in engineering and computer science, he has a PhD in Design from Tsukuba University in Japan, as well as an MBA.  As part of his work at the MIT Media Lab, he founded the Aesthetics and Computation Group at MIT.  Later, he was named the President of the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD).  In addition, he has won the National Design Award, and he is the author of numerous books.  He currently works for a venture capital firm, and as part of his work there, he is the author of an annual report called DesignInTech.  He has evangelized our space in a way that has opened up executive-level conversations for many of us. 

John Maeda decided to run an experiment during his keynote, because, apparently, he likes to try new things.  He wondered, how much better could his presentation be if he could answer questions in real time?  So he installed an app and gave us his cell phone number.  And then he watched for questions on his phone and answered them during his presentation.  It was disruptive and funny and somehow he managed to make it all work.  It truly felt like he was just having a conversation with us, in spite of the fact the audience numbered around 450 people.

Maeda admitted that he knew nothing about Enterprise UX until he arrived at the venture capital firm (where he works now) three years ago.  He was in his first meeting, and people were talking about Consumer versus Enterprise.  He didn’t get it – he was thinking about the Starship Enterprise.  What is it, really?  So, he has been on a search to understand what enterprise computing means now, in part beause he came from an era when there was only enterprise computing.

Someone from the audience asked him about his work at eBay.  Maeda explained that he took two jobs after RISD, not realizing how far apart they were in Bay Area terms.  Besides the VC work, he worked with the CEO of eBay companies.  His work was around aligning roughly 350 designers.  As part of that work, there was a moment in San Jose when he was meeting the design leads.  He had to tell them that he was working with them because the CEO cared about design – but he wasn’t yet walking the talk.  A year later there was a big design and product event, and people were leaning forward while the CEO.  Following that presentation, he was mobbed by designers, because they were struck by how much he cared.  But leaders like that can’t help but lead someone who seek someone to lead them.  It was amazing.  Followers believe they don’t have power, but in actuality they have power with a leader who wants to lead.

Another person asked what he has learned by working in venture capital.  He said the influence of design is increasing.  After his most recent Design in Tech report (linked above), one of the partners said “You know this design stuff, it’s important.”  The partner had just been pitched by three engineers, and he told them to find a designer and co-founder.  But another team of two engineers delivered strong UX.  So we have to see the designer definition very openly.  That is important.

The main topic of his talk is about how to make the transition from individual contributor to a leadership role.

Maeda launched in to the main part of his talk by saying “A lot of you have wrinklies like me.” Everything we could imagine twenty years ago is coming to pass here.  There is a well known paper by a Carnegie Mellon professor that describes the history of Human-Computer Interaction (HCI).  It is an incredible history of people that have imagined things … many of which have since come to pass.  However, that paper misses a lot of women researchers.  How do we record the history of computing?  Of people in design and tech field?  He told us about a few key people, like his mentor Muriel from the Visual Language workshop.  She wanted to put Helvetica on the screen.  And Red Burns was a radical who believed that technology doesn’t matter so much as how we craft in technology.  And Gillian Crampton-Smith – almost every innovation in IOT came from her group.  And Joy Mountford, ex-Apple, who was influential in design education.  That was his revision of history for today, but there are surely many others.

His started by summarizing his key points:

  • In Enterprise UX, we have high job security.  The stuff we do is hard, and it’s material to technology.  We are not making another photo-sharing site; we go deep into complex problems, and we are playing an important role in the way things behave at scale.
  • Design as a discipline is meaning too many things.  He suggests that we should use the three definitions of design.  This was covered in his most recent DesigninTech report, but it brought out the haters (he didn’t discuss it in detail).
  • Finally, money is a medium of expression, and shouldn’t be feared by creatives.  He said that when he was the President of RISD, some alums were reticent to come back to campus because they were making money, and not doing their art any more.  It’s ok!

He is making a book.  He had a hard time, but right now it’s cards in a ziplock bag.  The key idea behind it is to share how we think about design in the business world.  What is computation in relationship to design in industry?  It is working at a scale and speed that is unimaginable.  Everyone doesn’t know that yet.  It’s not about UX or a specific type of design.

On December 6th at 4:30 am, he was jogging down El Camino Real, which he had been doing for two years.  It had been totally safe and ok.  But the sidewalk was uneven, and he tripped, and got crunched.  He was lying there, and it was bad, he was bleeding, and he passed out at some point.  He got up, when he thought he was going pass out he would lie down.  And he finally got home to his AirBnB (he stays in a AirBnB to “experience the millennial life”).  He called an Uber for a ride to the hospital; fortunately it was dark so the driver couldn’t see what a mess he was! The desk needed him to fill out a clipboard.  An hour later he got to see a doctor.  He said “you look bad”, and told him he was lucky he could move his neck.  “Man, I am lucky”.  And a nurse said “and lucky you weren’t hit by a car”.  As a result of all that, he has been in rehab, and he can see the world much more clearly.  He knows what his body will feel like in 10 years from now.  🙂  When he got the job as the President of RISD, he was in his forties.  His mentor called him, and said “you are only in your second quarter”, meaning that his life would be broken up into 0-25, 25-50, 50-75, 75-100.  Maeda pictured four lightbulbs.  And he realizes that most people don’t make it to the fourth quarter; even if you do, your mind and body have deteriorated so that you can’t do as much as you would like any more.

So, as a result of his awakening, he is trying to build a start-up called  It is like a Second Life era building, and it was something he had intended to do by 2010.  He is searching for this design meaning.  In Italian, it means to designate, to name. But in English, something is lost.  In Japanese there are two words for design.  One means planning, it’s more of an engineering view of the world. And then there is the other word, which is much more about the heart, not focused on engineering.  Sort of like the difference between Spock and Kirk.  EUXy <—> Consumery.  There is no school where you learn this stuff.  In engineering school or design school.  So we are all technically mutants.  He was summoning unicorns and ninjas to MIT in the 1990s.  We’re the Island of Misfit Toys. It hurts, but it’s great.  As mutants, our job is important.  We embody the ability to go across.  Whether in design school or engineering school for those who are more design-minded.  These things don’t change.


At this point Maeda fielded another question from the audience.  The question was, “When the C-suite says design, what do they mean?”  He is trying to get them to say Experience more, but it’s going to take time. In his first week at the VC firm, a junior associate asked him to design a certificate to welcome people.  He tried to be calm, but later he did speak to the associate and said “How would you feel if someone asked you to create a spreadsheet?”  We have to make change one person at a time.

He got a physical letter, in pencil.  It was from an art teacher on the Cape, about a young woman in her class who is good at computer science and art.  Her father won’t let her study design.  He called the student and talked with her.  She got into RIT, where she could do UX.  She didn’t know what it was, but when he described it, he could hear a big sigh of relief.  She had just learned that she could do both what she wants and what her parents want.  There are young mutants out there who need to hear about us, and learn that our work exists.

During his design training, he had professors who would put him in his place. It’s good to have people tell you that you might suck at something!  His teachers told him that he would not know if he was good or not, until he taught people who could destroy him.  A very Japanese way of looking at the mentor / mentee relationship.

One project at MIT research group was called Processing.  He told his students to stop doing this, but sure enough he was wrong, because it ended up being important.  He had earned tenure at MIT, so he couldn’t be fired.  But he got bored fairly quickly.  He read the Audacity of Hope, and it inspired him to do something different, even if he didn’t look like other Americans.  He wanted to do something important for America.

He hasn’t been a department head or a dean. But he heard “yes we can!” in his head.  So when he was offered the job at RISD, he took it.  All the books written about the first 90 days of a new job recommended the same thing.  As a new leader, you shouldn’t have a vision, because the vision needs to come from the people.  But the first question people want to know is “what is your vision’”?!  In his first week he was presented with an ideal opportunity.  He addressed the fierce, t-shirt wearing students of the summer program.  He shared ideas, and they applauded the ones they like.  Building a justifiable case for creativity in the world scored off the charts.  An hour later he was in the alumni shop, and spoke with a student who had been part of that meeting.  She was moved because “you would fight for us”.  He was an active president, he hung out in cafeteria, helped kids carry boxes into dorms.

They had wanted Maeda in part because they knew they needed to integrate the digital into their curriculum.  But a few years later they wanted to kill him!  He made some mistakes, in particular around change management.  Among his many favorite mistakes, he called the top 100 acceptees to RISD.  As he was finishing the calls, he realized that 90% couldn’t come to RISD because there was no financial aid. One potential student got on the line.  She had wanted to go to RISD since she was 12, but another school gave her a full ride. So he focused on scholarships.  A few years in, he recieved a ‘vote of no confidence’ by the faculty.  He one of only very few to survive and thrive after that.  In retrospect, he realized that he had treated the students as his  customer, and parents as the investors.  But many other college and university presidents look at the faculty as the customer, and the Board as investors. The faculty union heads wanted to show him that he could fail; instead he needed to adapt.  In the end the faculty and the institution were all with him, and they were able to make bigger change together.

One of his other concerns was that art classes were disappearing, in part to fund STEM programs (for things like chemistry labs).  He was very involved in how do we turn STEM into STEAM.  Part of the reason that was possible is because Rhode Island is a tiny state, but it has two senators, so he was able to get to know them and get involved.  President Obama signed Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) last year.

Another realization he has had is that design is attached to ego, because designers are risking failure with every decision they make.  So they have to have some confidence, and believe that they have something important to say.  But that not necessarily what is needed to be a leader:


How to supplement design education?  He got an MBA so he could understand what people were saying to him.  It is extra work, but recommended.  Alternatively, hang out with more business, product people.  It’s a new set of terminology, you can learn the symbols.

Why is he in the money world today?  The graphic design profession wouldn’t exist except for the law that requires publicly held companies to product annual reports.  The paper industry wouldn’t have grown, nor would have the field of graphic design.  He is interested now in where we can plant these ideas.  We are true, powerful, mutant leaders.  Things will change in part because of the insights we plant in the ecosystem.

I thought attendee Dan Romlein did a nice job capturing the main ideas from the presentation in his sketchnote:


Maeda’s presentation is one of those where you know there are layers of meaning, and it will take time to absorb them all … but I valued his broad and deep perspective on the role of design, and what he is doing to build “a justifiable case for creativity in the world” which will improve executive understanding of what we do, and pave the way for the generation to come.

In spite of the humor, the SMS experiment, and the wide variety of topics he covered, this closing keynote presentation was an inspiring and humbling view of our space from John Maeda.  It was a wonderful end to a beautiful curated conference!

EUX16 – Opening Keynote – Greg Petroff

I’m so glad that the Enterprise User Experience Conference blog posts that I’ve written so far have gotten some good visibility.  It was a great event!

But for those that actually attended, they may be wondering why I haven’t blogged the keynote addresses.  I will confess that I had intended to sketchnote them!  I did, indeed, sit in the very front row (UX nerd alert!) and take good notes while Greg Petroff was presenting the opening keynote.  But there were too many ideas and not enough paper, and very quickly the whole thing became frantic, disorganized chicken-scratch … and not anything I’d post here.

But that gives me the opportunity to commend the amazing official sketchnoter, MJ Broadbent.  Once I figured out that there were tables (and, thankfully, charging stations) in the back of the meeting space, I moved out of the front row.  I had the chance to sit near her and see her set up:

OriginalPhoto-487185875.396882.jpgHere is her summary of Greg Petroff’s opening keynote, entitled Everything is about to Change: Software as Material:

Greg Petroff GE Digital Opening Keynote.jpg

Hopefully this will provide a nice reference as I summarize what I heard, below.

Greg Petroff was initially trained as an architect, and from there found his way to UX.  He helped to found the IXDA, and he currently serves as the Chief Experience Officer at GE.  He was at SAP for a number of years prior to that.

Petroff told us that it’s an exciting time to be in Enterprise UX – there is an ascendant community, and it something to celebrate!  However, we are embedded in a fast-moving environment, where technology and business conversations will change the way we work. If we want to contribute to our full potential, we need to be attuned to those changes.

He started by providing a backdrop on some of the big changes emerging in the technology that will affect us and our work in the years to come:

  • Machine learning.  There was a tipping point in the Artificial Intelligence (AI) space not that long ago, where the Google AI beat a Go (strategy board game) master.  What’s fascinating about Go is that there is no way to win by brute computational force.  On a more humble scale, the Amazon Echo is learning extremely fast from it’s community of users.  It’s critical to not lose sight of the fact that things may be complex, but they can still be automated.
  • Internet of Things (IOT).  Cisco predicts that by 2020 there will be 50 billion devices with IP addresses talking to one another.  Given the growing sophistication of those devices, they will be able to describe potential futures based on scenario analysis.
  • Security.  The reality is that, under these conditions, the chances of something really bad happening grows.  Not necessarily “nefarious behavior, just dumb behavior”.  This context will require appropriate interfaces and experiences so people can feel comfortable.  And, of course, our lives will also become more transparent.
  • Edge computing.  In lay terms edge computing means that “applications, data and computing power (services) [move] away from centralized points to the logical extremes of a network”.  Today, the Edison Intel chip has the computing capability of a personal computer – in something the size of an SD card.  What happens when we can interact with machines that are so much more capable?
  • Block Chain.  Services such as BitCoin leverage block chain, which is “is a distributed database that maintains a continuously-growing list of data records hardened against tampering and revision”.  It allows for secure, peer-to-peer transactions (which includes devices).  This is a further accelerator along the trajectories outlined above.

There are also some trends that we need to be mindful of – and much of this is already here:

  • Disruptive platforms.  These allow increased speed to market.
  • The new tech stack.  It is increasingly componentized, and each contributing member of a team (e.g. product management, engineering, UX) is affected by these changes:


This has implications for how everyone works.  The work that many of us are doing on design systems fits well into this way of working.

  • Dev Ops culture.  The Dev Ops culture moves engineering further away from requirements documents; it encourages small, incremental changes and hypothesis-driven design.
  • Systems inversion.  We have moved from the idea of Systems of Record (e.g. on premise HR and Finance systems) to Systems of Engagement (e.g. means for connecting people such as CRM or Facebook), to Systems of Assets which are made possible by AI, IOT, and other conditions described earlier.  These assets are also relationship-based, but they are time and location (e.g. context) aware as well.  This asset-based approach is a recent one, as not all the necessary building blocks were even available five years ago …


All of these changes have implication for our work in UX; we must understand context first before we can begin work:

  • Algorithms will have a significant role in shaping experience
  • Future solutions will integrate disparate systems and data
  • We should leverage location and temporal services in our work
  • We must have a clear behavioral model of the users we’re designing for

The reality today is that no-one understands these new ingredients yet – not even he and his team at GE.  There is ambiguity and uncertainty, and our typical prediction frameworks don’t work any more.  petroff

What Petroff said is that a time is coming when how to build is solved.  At that point, what to build and why will become much more important.  Although we’ve been moving away from technology for technology’s sake since the dot-com crash, I would still like to hope that he is right.  He believes that of our abductive thinking skills, we are skilled at asking the “what if” questions, and that a result User Experience, will become increasingly core to strategy.

Greg closed with a series of three slides which depicted how he believes the role of User Experience professionals will evolve in this new context:


In reflecting on the curation of the Enterprise UX event as a whole, I thought the opening keynote presentation was a superb backdrop for the presentations that followed.  In particular, the progression from a session on Design Systems to one on Innovation beautifully reflected the trajectory Petroff articulated for us.

Additionally, for me, it was interesting to think about this framework as a maturity model both for the field, and for the teams I currently manage.  In fact – even though the technology backdrop Petroff describes is still emergent for us – over the past few years we have made some conscious decisions about where we’re spending our time in order to move to the right.

While we value our role as craftsmen within the organization, we have had some concerns about people focusing on wireframes and mock-ups as our primary value proposition to project teams and clients.  That is, in part, what prompted my earlier post entitled UX as Art & Science.  With our more mature clients (or in areas of the business where we’re better established), we are seen as a business partner.  And that is possible, in part, because we’ve committed the time and effort to establish UX patterns that accelerate our drawing work, leaving us bandwidth for dialogue with our clients, stakeholders, and project teams.  Finally, as we gain a deeper understanding both of the industry we work in, and of the users enabled by our solutions, we are able to contribute to a stream of innovation by providing ideas and inspiration that were not possible when we were mired in the day-to-day design work.

For me the most compelling part of Petroff’s presentation were the ideas that in the future, (1) our ability to consider and contribute to thinking about complex contexts will be critical, and (2) as the path to build in a component-based way becomes more clear, what to build and why will be of foremost concern.  And UX, fortunately, is well placed to support answering those questions.  In principle, that will enable us to play an increasingly strategic role, and finally give us that seat at the table that we’ve been clamoring for.

Let’s hope he’s right!