TALES FROM ISA 15 ARGENTINA - Final Episode : Time to go back

Ricardo Brito • Service Design Lead


The conference had gathered a nice speakers' panel with a variety of backgrounds for the event - from US legends like Jesse James Garret (The Unicorn), Abby Covert, Russ Unger, Stephen P. Anderson, Jason Severs to local ones like Celeste Olivieri. The result was a nice content texture for the last two days.

Ross Unger is an Experience Design Director from Chicago, where he leads teams and projects in design and research. He is the co-author of the books A Project Guide to UX Design, Designing the Conversation. Both the books and the talks are a reflection of his own personal experiences as Project Manager and Design Lead/Creative Director. He spoke about his failures when he was a “dick-tator” overly focused on Excel “spread-shits” as well as KPIs, and suffered from a lack of trust he had in everyone under his umbrella. The biggest takeaway was that Designers and Managers shouldn't focus on the numbers and pixels, but on having an integrated vision of everything. When a team is united and aligned, Project Managers are irrelevant and just create stress on the team in order to achieve (sometimes personal) business goals, but not quality. His message was wrapped up in smart jokes, a bit of teasing and a touch of stand-up comedy.

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Things I've Learned (& Am Still Learning) from Leading (UX Designers) from Russ Unger

Abby Covert, Information Architect and author of the book “How to Make Sense of Any Mess”, gave a talk about how to articulate your thoughts, communication and content in a more tangible way. We as individuals have different perspectives even when we're speaking about the same thing. When I say “the product must be effective.” in ameeting, each person will have a different picture in their mind of what effective means in this context. The picture is based on our perception of the world, our experiences and beliefs, and there’s nothing wrong with that, but… We can’t expect that they will perceive it the way we do.

Communication is essential in all projects. Perspectives on the same thing may even vary within a team, but we tacitly assume other people share ours. Abby gave an example of working for a US company spread around the country, where the same word had totally different meanings across locations, departments and individuals. That simple word was differently expressed through their marketing materials (confusing clients), their internal documents (confusing employees) and so on. It took around 3 weeks for Abby to define a single word across the whole company.

There’s no way to escape the mess. It’s just there. Every minute that goes by, there’s new mess being created or growing: Big Data, a big pile of digital mess, the miscommunication between the team, the rushed client meetings, and phone calls… the list goes on.

We suffer from messes made of information or…. the lack of it on a daily basis. In her book Abby defines four main causes for the creation of confusing information:

- Too much information - Not Enough Information - Not the right information - Some combination of these (!!)

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Modevux 2015 Closing Keynote from Abby Covert

The world is a mess and we all create ways to deal with it. Some prefer to hide the mess, others prefer to approach it more creatively. Let’s think about a digital service, an app that didn’t find success with users and needs to be "fixed". In the middle of the project you discover that the current backend doesn’t allow the changes that are needed to create more user and, hopefully, business value. Due to technical or management issues, you are not able to “fix” the service. Most likely you are pushed into producing some “fluffy front-end solution”, patching and beautifying the backend (to deal with the current mess) and the next time the user opens the app, SURPRISE! A new tutorial to explain in a polite way how to deal with the current service mess.

To illustrate this point, Abby made her audience laugh, by asking: “Remember the Hamburger menu boom?”

Abby Covert

“No matter what our job, our world is full of messes we must make sense of” - Abby Covert

The talk goes on to define that “Information Architecture is the way we choose to arrange the parts of something to make it understandable as a whole.”

At the end of the day, we manage to speak with Abby and invited her for a podcast, but there was a catch. She needed to get into the Speaker’s Bus to go to the hotel and we needed to sneak in too. So… we did what Latins do best: improvised. Ricardo, Abby and Paul snuck into the speaker’s Bus on our way to the hotel. Sorry dudes! At the hotel, we were expecting to record at the bar, but in the end we managed to sneak into a nice meeting room with brilliant acoustics.

High life

Ricardo could not contain his excitement to be interviewing Abby and, like a little child waiting for the autograph of his favorite rock star, he pulled out the book and made Abby sign it.

Check out her book and tune in to our podcast with Abby. We dig deep into the Information Architecture world.

Stephen P. Anderson showed how designers and other creatives can use animation techniques to generate a better understanding of their users and create better experiences for them. As designers, we should create products like animators create characters - with soul, identity and character. It’s not about the flat design trend (will die in the next 2 years), it is not about funny empty states or error messages or the number of features. It's about the whole experience and how a product relates to you.

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Hooked on a Feeling from Stephen Anderson

That’s the difference between a product and an experience. Stephen gives some examples comparing Medium and other publishing platforms like Wordpress or Blogger. Medium has a much more constrained feature set, but it's the incorporated features and the ones are missing that shape the experience a user has with the tool. In a way, it's a benchmark for the community of Medium users. Each one has the same access to the tool, making content, the soul of a publishing platform, king.

Stephen differentiates experience from product: an experience should be meaningful, pleasurable and convenient versus a product that should be usable, reliable and functional. Create, adjust and iterate until it feels right. In the end, a service, the product or the object should feel relatable. It's not just about the functionality. It's also about the feeling; the impression it leaves;how can an experience drives your brain processes in different ways via various constraints.

Saturday, after Abby's talk, we recorded a podcast with Santiago Bustelo and Amiriz Fernandes, two South American design legends. They started the IXDA movement in South America, evangelizing design practices amongst digital businesses.

Their mission was to encourage people to invest on design - not just in companies, but individuals, too. There were no design courses at universities or any other form of “official” education, so they took it upon themselves to help people become designers, pushing forward design education, which was, at the time, nonexistent in South America.

As professors and professionals, they saw there was a gap between businesses and academics, as well as a lot of miscommunication and misunderstanding about what design is and how it's done. A lot of design information was coming from the US - ready-made products and services that look cool on the shelf or your own mobile. The question remained: how is it made? What was the process? That’s what they tried to show everyone through their work.

We could write a whole series of blog posts about them, but we will let you listen and learn directly from them in our podcast. A funny story: recording a podcast at a conference is never an easy task and this was no exception. We changed places 5 times, between cinema rooms, gardens and backstage… Hopefully you will enjoy the podcast and Santiago digital guitar skills.

Jason Severs NY Director for Frog Design, gave a very personal talk based on his experiences as a user and consumer. He stressed the fact that we need to focus more on the whole experience and cover all possible scenarios before we put a service out there. He told us a story about how Delta Airlines treated him badly and emotionlessly when he was trying to buy flights to meet his family the next day after his father-in-law had died. In the midst of this emotional rollercoaster and gripped by a need to be as effective as possible to support his family, Jason was treated like any normal customer by the Customer Care and Sales. The service didn’t have any kind of protocol to deal with this and the service was cold as well as emotionless. To try and recover a potentially lost customer, Delta Airlines gave him back part of the ticket value due to the experience his family was going through... via automated email…

He talked about the cold and commercial experience of buying an urn in a funeral parlor in a mall and how surreal the physical manifestation of that service was: old furniture, a run-down waiting room with chairs and coffin catalogs. Didn't give him a feeling that people understand what you are going through. It was just another service transaction.

Jason advocates that, as creators of something, we need to focus on the experience not just the transaction. If the experience is done right, understands users, knows how to react to different use cases, scenarios and situations, the transaction will follow and probably be as smooth as ever.

If Delta Airlines had understood his situation, they could have been more supportive by sending something like,  “We are sorry about your situation. In this moment of grief Delta Airlines wants to support you. We have special light payment options,” says Jason.

The takeaway is that we need to focus on the service experience, not just on the commercial or service transaction. It's not enough to make it more efficient and fast - it has to be delightful and memorable, too. We are creating products and services that enter our lives and change them profoundly. We are responsible for these experiences. When designingn an IoT Service, we can’t aim for one where devices and services are robotic, artificial and emotionless. They will need to understand our emotions and context, not just our fitness and sleeping data. We need to design for experience, for delightfulness to bring a more lively touch to the world of the future.

During the break before the final talk with Jesse James Garret (aka The Unicorn) from Adaptive Path, we had an opportunity to speak with Jason Severs. We tried to find (again) another quiet spot and ended up in a dark alley in the beautiful campus of Ciudad de Las Artes, an Arts school for Music, Fine Arts and Multimedia.

Jason Saver and Ricardo Brito

We'll release the podcast soon, on our The ThingCast Soundcloud page.

The rest of the talks were good, too, but our time was spent in talks, stalking people for podcasts, podcasting and mingling among the most incredible South American minds.


ISA 15 is a great event. Our thanks to the organization for the trust in our work. The IXDA Cordoba Chapter's event production was great - from the broad and diversified program, including hands-on workshops, and keynotes from big design legends to the venues, catering, communication with the audience and above all… The caring and love they showered on everybody. Amazing guys! Well done!

Going to South America was mind-blowing. We all know the clichés about each and every country and, at least Europeans, have a very Euro-Centric way of seeing the world. And we take a lot for granted.

As we entered the plane from Sao Paulo to Buenos Aires, we understood that Argentina is already embracing the digital revolution: native apps for inflight entertainment, mobility apps to book a taxi and find public transport information, airport apps, etc. We didn’t see many high-end smartphones, mainly low and medium range Android phones. Speaking with the people at the conference we realized that sticky-notes, something that we consider as a given in Europe, are hard to find and expensive. Commercial restrictions or local political choices regarding the importat versus national production force users to buy the local brand.

Apple products are hard to find. MacbookPros and iPhones are available, but will cost you almost double, due to inflation. There are ways to get a product from that range at the real prize, too, but it’s not easy.

Can you imagine your Designer with no MacbookPro, or the latest iPhone? Oh god! And the Post-Its? :)

In Europe, all seems easy: 4G Internet = Default. 3G = “What kind of provider is this!!! We are in the middle of the bushes and I don't have 4G?!?” MacBooks, iPhones? Go to the next Apple Store and be treated like a king. Post-its. Do we actually question their existence?

If you want to develop a project in Argentina (any Argentinian reading this feel free to correct me) seems that you have to consider some important factors. Your product or service will not mainly run in high-end smartphones, but in low and medium range ones. This has implications for design and development decisions. Your UI must be light and fast to load. You might not make use of the latest technology and your business model needs to understand the social and economic context more carefully.

The 30% annual inflation is hard on businesses and people. But they are doing a great job and pushing it in the right direction with inspirational motivation and drive.

At ISA, we learned that the initial lack of educational in design didn’t deter people who had studied anthropology, history, politics, fine arts and engineering from becoming self-taught designers.

These people are driven to learn as much as they can of design. They are excellent at UI, UXs, CX, Service, you name it… Their approach to self-learning and learning from other practices brings a more integrated way of looking at their own profession.

Hanging around and meeting new people at the conference was an insightful experience, teaching us something in each conversation. The crowd was very eclectic, different types of Designers but also Engineers, Backend and Front-End Developers, Business Developers and Academics. There was no separation or any kind of stigma between people of different practices. Hav they mingle on the breaks between coffee and cigarettes, they strongly work together at the workshops bringing a bit of their own specific knowledge supporting and building ideas on top of other’s idea.

This integrated way of work between practices, showed respect between the participants, that was crucial for a successful output that required a solid vision from the Design, Tech and Business perspective. Seeing this amount of professionals, that didn’t know each other, coming from many different backgrounds and practices, working together in this complementary way was very inspiring. And that taught us something:

We need to get out of our silos. We need to raise our head from our screen. We need to work together, stop protecting our safe part of the cake. As professionals, we need to open up from our own shell and be vulnerable in order to grow.

We need to face our individual fears by getting out of the safeness of our pixels, our code, and our spreadsheets. Especially as mainly we work in tech, this close collaboration and integrated way of work is key to the happiness of a team, the success of a project, and the business sustainability.

Speak to your Business Developer, he will not bite you, speak with your fellow Engineers they are not as grumpy as they advertise (True Story!). I know money feels “dirty” sometimes, but bottom end your design decisions are responsible for the success and profitability of that product, and sharing thoughts with your Sales guy will just make you more aware of the market you are working for.

The output will be much more rock solid, much more meaningful and integrated. By teaching each other something of our craft, putting into context, we are expanding the team’s general perception about the project, that will most certainly lead to a success.

On this trip we learned that

The South American design style really matches the Futu way of doing things.

With <3 from Berlin and Helsinki

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