Events
min read
January 22, 2024

Beyond Pixels, Into Purpose: Stories from UxNow

Beyond Pixels, Into Purpose: Stories from UxNow
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There I was, ready for a wild ride into the UX/UI community at the UxNow Conference on January 12th and 13th. Despite the cold Delhi mornings which can confine even the most motivated people to their beds, some odd hundreds of enthu-cutlets made their way to this convention. This shindig brought together design gurus who shared their design secrets in talks and workshops.

The conference talks were like a buffet of design wisdom. From decoding user-friendly designs to understanding the secret handshake of design tools, it was a rollercoaster of ideas. Imagine a TED Talk, but with more funky design slides and fewer formalities.

Setting the Stage in Chilly Delhi

With a warm welcome from Aakash Kumar, the design captain steering the ship (puns for their industry) at MakeMyTrip and GoIbibo, UxNow 2024 kicked off on a frosty Delhi morning (we're talking 6 degrees Celsius, folks!). The chilly weather did nothing to dampen the creative fervour as Sameer Bhiwani, Google's design luminary, took the stage.

The conference unfolded as a tapestry of insights, with Sameer Bhiwani emphasizing the importance of a clear purpose, human judgment, and enthusiasm in the creative process. Indi Young delved into fostering diverse thinking styles, highlighting the significance of deep listening to uncover individual perspectives. Akanksha Singh shared the art of emotional design, urging designers to view personas as challenges and craft 'job stories.'

A power-packed panel discussed AI's impact on design, dispelling fears and emphasizing its role as a trusty sidekick. Dharmesh Ba shed light on AI as a lifesaver for MSMEs, transforming workflows and enhancing efficiency. Niyam Bhushan meditated on privacy design, advocating for designs that empower consent. Ananya Mittal explored the multifaceted aspects of successful careers, urging designers to transcend skills.

The day concluded with a fireside chat on "Beyond the Pixels," revealing insights into negotiating design-led changes, the influence of design education, the impact of AI, and the importance of understanding intent and purpose in design.

But there were a couple of talks that stood out for me. I am describing those in a detailed view.

Juhi Chitra: Preserving the Spark While Surviving in Design

Juhi Chitra, from Studio Sense and ex-head of Design at Zomato, took us on a journey of preserving the spark in the design realm. I highly resonated with her talk as I have often faced the topics in my life which she illustrated with her talk, some of them being the imposter syndrome, creative blocks, lack of motivation, and inability to start something new.

Her experiments with illustrations, typography, and several other design experiments urged us to embrace seemingly pointless indulgences for the perfect design-life balance and newer inspirations. Try everything; you never know if a small engagement might bloom into a full-time marriage. If someone with such a breadth of creative ventures asks you to follow a certain path, you do it!

Rasagy Sharma: Riding the Data Wave

This was another talk that grabbed my interest.

As the AI wave approached, Rasagy Sharma, Capital One's design maestro, dove deep into the ocean of data. Unveiling the layers of the data pyramid, he showcased the transformation of raw data into visual wonders. He showed a variety of data visualisation examples and how a seemingly boring piece of data could be presented in creative and fun ways.

From books read in a year, TV shows binge-watched, to the different hometowns of his various students, the creativity poured into the visualisations gave a new perspective to how data can be visualised. Rasagy also iterated what design could do with data — Exhibit, Explain, Explain, and Experience, emphasising the multi-dimensional representation of data and information. Each of the visualisations that he spent merely 10 seconds explaining could be a whole case study in itself.

The Second Day

The second day unfolded a treasure trove of workshops, each a unique exploration into design facets. Rasagy Sharma explored the 'Art of Data Storytelling,' Akanksha Singh guided on 'Defining an Experience Vision and Strategy to Execution,' and Aakash Kumar, alongside Kshitiz Anand, navigated 'Careers in Design.' Other workshops delved into 'Designing Brand Identity for Startups' facilitated by Sneha Sankar, 'Generative AI and No Code Tools’ by Madhuri Maram,' 'Pixel Type by Hand’ by Pooja Saxena, and 'Improv for Designers’ by Ankur Sardana & Anshu Daga. offering participants practical slices for their design journey.

I was fortunate enough to be a part of ‘Art of Data Storytelling’ and ‘Improv for Designers’ and delved into activities I wouldn’t have imagined or attempted if not for these workshops.

Art of Data Storytelling by Rasagy Sharma

Owing to the chilly Delhi weather (no time management fault of mine, obviously!) I was a little late to the first few minutes of the workshop. Rasagy dived into how data storytelling engages the viewers with a multi-dimensional representation of information instead of mundane corporate bar graphs, pie charts, and line charts.

We also partook in activities that taught us to read and derive conclusions from creative representations that may not be so obvious at first look. For example, how by looking at the frequency of births across a year in India, you can tell a lot about the way people think and statistically approach something as beautiful and pure as their child’s birth (hint: school admissions).

As part of the activities, all the attendees engaged in drawing as many creative variations as they could to show the relations between the numbers 3 & 7. Few drew clocks, pie charts, or shapes, while someone just drew a simple line and a line to divide the line in the ratio of 3:7. This exercise helped us understand how a simple piece of data could be visualised in numerous ways. Philosophically, don’t feel like you’ve lost when you run out of options. Keep on trying and something beautiful may be just around the corner.

As part of the main exercise, the participants were divided into pairs. Each pair had to scour their phones to gather a piece of information that could tell a story through visualisations. For example, the number of apps on a phone, calls received in the past week, or screentime across apps in a given time.

My partner, a fellow UX designer, and I chose to track our expenses from UPI apps. The amount, day of the week, time of the day, and category of the payment would help us segregate our data to study our expenses. We made a table with each column representing one factor associated with the payment as described above, while each row would represent the payment made.

This exercise soon turned into a series of insights we got from the data collected. Surprisingly (not so much, though), I had spent the most amount on food delivery apps. A close second was my travel expenses. While I would have never cared about it enough, with a simple exercise of about 30 minutes, I could see that I should cut my food orders by a great margin. This exercise while being fun, also told me how great data visualisation can be as a story. I am now thrilled and excited to nail the next visualisation task that comes my way.

Improv for Designers by Ankur Sardana and Anshu Daga

I was pretty lethargic after lunch and didn’t know what to expect from the Improv workshop. However, little did I know how much more my already full stomach could still take. As soon as we entered the Improv workshop, we knew that the next few hours were going to be full of energy and experiments. The kind we’d never done before.

Ankur and Anshu illustrated for us a brief history of Improv and what we could expect. They also demonstrated a brief act which was witty and hilarious.

The workshop comprised many activities which would pull us into interacting with our fellow designers and escaping our comfort zones. I’ll try to describe the few activities I remember and thoroughly enjoyed —

ABCD

Each sentence should start with a letter and the next sentence should with the next letter, and the show goes on to produce hilarious conversations. This exercise forced us to be in the moment, be creative and work with our fellow actors. For example,

Person 1: Are you a magician? Because whenever I look at you, everyone else disappears.

Person 2: Because they're running away from your cheesy pickup lines?

Person 1: C'mon, I thought you'd fall for my charm like a well-cooked spaghetti.

Person 2: Don't flatter yourself; even spaghetti can be too saucy for its own good.

Emotional Roller

A pair starts conversing on a random topic. They have to improvise and keep the conversation engaging. However, the audience can change the theme of the conversation anytime they want. It produces hilarious stories and challenges the actor to adapt to the ever-changing mood. Pretty important for designers, wouldn’t you say? For example,

Scene: Romance

Person 1: You mean everything to me. I want to be with you, always!

Person 2: Aww! I like you too.

The scene changes to Horror

Person 1: Wherever you look, I’ll be there. Looking at you.

Sentences

Random chits are given with the most absurd and funny lines. And actors have to enact a scene that the audience decides on. Every once in a while, they pick a chit and say the line they’ve got. The absurdity of the exercise leaves both the actors and the audience in a laughter riot.

For example, a conversation between 2 ghosts set in a graveyard.

Ghost 1: Boo! You scared?

Ghost 2: Nah, I've seen scarier things than you. Like living people trying to assemble IKEA furniture.

Ghost 1: Well, they say, "For men may come and men may go, but I go on forever."

Ghost 2: Forever, huh? “My mama always said life was like a box of chocolates. You never know what you're gonna get.”

Ghost 1: True, true. Especially when you're dead and haunting a graveyard.

There were many more activities, some 6-8 of them packed into the 4-hour workshop that left us speaking our minds and acting our hearts out. An activity that I was dreading due to sheer lack of energy had turned into something beautiful that I wouldn’t have ever experienced. The engaging hours also made me a lot of new friends in the UX community. I will cherish this day for a long time to come.

Networking

Networking was like speed dating for designers. Imagine a room full of design-Tinder profiles, but instead of swiping left or right, you exchanged LinkedIn profiles. I connected with UX designers, UX researchers, product designers, team leads, and people who lead whole companies. I don’t believe I have ever added as many LinkedIn connections in a whole month as much as I did that one evening.

Ready to Paint the Design Town Red

As we conclude our exhilarating journey through UxNow 2024, let me share a personal anecdote that mirrors the essence of our design adventure. Picture this – a young designer, armed with enthusiasm and a touch of imposter syndrome, navigating the bustling UxNow conference. Amidst the sea of talks and workshops, a revelation struck: design is not just about crafting visually appealing interfaces; it’s a journey of understanding human stories.

One session, in particular, resonated deeply, echoing my struggles with creative blocks and the constant battle against the infamous imposter syndrome. Juhi Chitra’s narrative about preserving the spark amid the challenges of design felt like a guiding beacon. The encouragement to embrace seemingly pointless indulgences for the sake of balance and inspiration struck a chord – a reminder that sometimes, it’s the seemingly inconsequential pursuits that lead to groundbreaking creativity.

Fast forward to the workshops, where I found myself immersed in the ‘Art of Data Storytelling.’ Struggling to interpret the patterns in my own expense, it dawned on me – design is not just about pixels but about deciphering the intricate tales hidden in data. The journey was more than just a series of lectures; it was a transformative experience, a reminder that every designer’s path is unique, filled with unexpected twists and turns. As we step out of the conference halls, let’s carry the torch of innovation, fueled not just by pixels and codes but by the narratives we unravel and the human stories we understand.

So, fellow designers, let’s innovate with purpose, speculate with curiosity, introspect with humility, and design not just for today but for a better, more inclusive, and user-friendly tomorrow. The power to transform digital experiences lies in our hands – let’s wield it responsibly and weave stories that resonate with the human soul. Happy designing!

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