Delighted to Experience Design Week in Portland-Delight Conference 2014

Jason Caws / Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Earlier this month I had the opportunity to travel to the West Coast to take part in Portland, Oregon's Design Week. Among other independently organized events, ISITE Design’s Delight Conference was hosted in the Portland Art Museum along with workshops and interactive breakout sessions. I joined over 400 attendees at the ten-year-old conference to learn about creating experiences that “delight” customers.

To kick off the two-day Delight conference, Genevieve Bell of Intel gave the opening keynote presentation titled, “Being Human in a Digital World”. Her talk initially focused on five unchanging factors that make us human (friends and family, community, something bigger than ourselves, our objects, and our secrets), arguing that success emerges when technology caters to these themes. After labeling friends and family as the driving force behind most technological development, she then focused on how the need for community makes us human.

This topic was also touched upon by Dinovember’s Refe Tuma. His presentation took the audience through the story of how his family’s creative hobby became an overnight internet sensation, gaining massive online exposure after only twenty-four hours. Tuma explained how the newfound community of delighted fans that came rushing in shared and expanded on his original idea in an organic fashion that he stressed should not be forced, but rather allowed to take on a life of its own.

At the top of Bell’s second list (five things that technology changes about humans) is our reputation and how we worry about it. She argued that over time technology has changed society’s views on what should be private versus public knowledge. Even in this digital age where we freely share the details of our lives, we still worry over the judgments made based on what information is in circulation.

The Delight conference’s second speaker, Perry Hewitt, found herself dealing with this same issue. As the Chief Digital Officer at Harvard, she was tasked with transforming the elite university’s online reputation. She outlined the challenges she faced as the brand known historically for inaccessibility and prestige pushed to design its online experience in a more friendly and relatable fashion. Through revamping the news platform and leveraging social media, Hewitt helped create an atmosphere of collaboration on Harvard’s website, putting a new spin on their reputation.

Another human characteristic that Bell touched on was our desire to be different. She described the dilemma of wanting to stand out and have a sense of individuality, while simultaneously leaning toward the current trends. When this theme is applied to emerging technology, it can lead to the misplacement of innovation. Golden Krishna’s well-known presentation titled, “The Best Interface is No Interface” pointed out several cases where the latest touch screen technology is implemented in unreasonable ways, often times detracting from the overall experience. Through several examples, Krishna posed a strong case for allowing a typical process to replace an interface, and while slapping a screen on a product or creating an app with endless features may make it seem more intriguing, a seamless experience that serves the user’s needs is what makes a product truly delightful.

Anyone with a career in design or UX is constantly looking for simple ways to add delight to the experiences they create, and going in to this conference, I thought I had a general idea of what delights me as a human and a user. After hearing the shared stories of innovators who thrive in unique pockets of the design world, I found that there are countless ways to embed delight in a customer’s experience, even if it means removing something we view as a progressive step. It is important to remember that as new technologies aim to cater to our most fundamental human needs, to quote from Genevieve Bell’s closing statement, “what makes us human is what is delightful".