Every year at SXSW, clear themes seem to emerge and they are woven into the fabric of the entire event. In my experience this year, there were two very strong themes that stood out to me: culture and inclusive design.
The importance of having a good team culture was mentioned in almost every session that I attended. More specifically, a culture that embraces brave people making brave choices – knowing that failures will inevitably happen and we must celebrate them and learn from them. Everyone makes mistakes, but integrity, honesty, and transparency are non-negotiable. Turn pain into purpose. A productive and powerful team needs people that live and breathe their culture. The result will be a happy, motivated, and creative group. You should never get too busy to focus on what matters most: your team!
In my opinion, one of the more interesting aspects of creating a solid team culture is the concept of radical candor. This approach is about caring personally and challenging directly. It is everyone’s job – from VPs to staff level workers – to have a free exchange of feedback to/from other team members. It is important to challenge the team for growth and success – and when it comes sincerely, it is much more likely to stick. A few tips for receiving this type of feedback include soliciting criticism and embracing the discomfort of its delivery. Listen to others with the intent to understand, not to respond. Don’t get defensive and always reward the candor. When giving feedback to others, offer it helpfully, give it immediately, and do it in person. If your observations are critical, deliver them in private – if you are giving praise, do it publicly. Make sure to speak without personalization – in order to be successful, it must be clear that you are speaking about the action and not the person. Having a work environment where everyone feels empowered to speak truthfully and critically without fear of punishment creates a strong and invested team.
Inclusive design was the other central theme that I encountered frequently this year. Inclusive design is about generating ideas that go beyond just what we know – making great products for the largest amount of people. Intentionally designing to be inclusive has not been a goal historically as the users of the products typically mirrored the makers. With the expansion of mobile phone and computer users – it is now imperative to design for everyone. Every. Single. User. Matters.
As I dug further into this design methodology, what I found especially fascinating was the crossover effect of being more inclusive. For example, you might roll your eyes to hear that a designer made a particular decision based on consumers that only have one arm. I know exactly what you are thinking… how many people could that possibly benefit?! Why don’t they just design for the majority? But the interesting part is the ripple effect that takes place. Designing for someone with a permanent disability can also benefit those with situational limitations or temporary injuries. By making a product easier for a person with one arm, you can also make it more usable for those with a broken arm/wrist/hand or even a new parent who is holding an infant. Being mindful of the diversity of human beings and stepping outside of our natural biases results in designs that benefit more people universally.
More info about inclusive design here.