DesignTech Summit 2018 Themes

by Danielle Gorman
The 4th annual DesignTech Summit brought over 200 industry professional together for hands on learning, case studies, inspiration, and trends. Here are the 7 themes from the summit:

Theme 1: The struggle is real between customer wants and industry give. Stay intrapreneurial!

Let’s take a $5 billion eyecare industry and insert a company disrupting an industry fueled by the vicious cycle of the healthcare system (insurance, doctors, and big corporations). Now introduce the concept of on-demand services, thanks to the accessibility of technology. This is exactly what Warby Parker is doing with their Prescription Check app which helps you easily test your current eye prescription from the convenience of your home. This on-demand model is the new standard consumers expect thanks to services like Netflix, Handy and Instacart. But man, what a threat to a system like healthcare that is so reliant on old ways to ensure business success. The moral of the story is that customers are looking for new ways to be served, the technology is there and disruptive companies are ready to deliver. However, there are huge industry hurdles and embracing intrapreneurship is the only thing you, as one company, can do to help push the boulder up the hill. Per David Rose, VP of Vision Technology at Warby Parker, here’s how you stay intrapreneurial:
  • Use leadership’s mandate to get buy-in from departments
  • Measure your success weekly and establish the success indicators
  • Encourage experimentation and open ideation.
  • Source advise from external sources (community, customers, peers, etc.)

Theme 2: The customer’s feeling of your brand isn’t as important as the ease of interaction with your brand

This is heavily interpreted, but hear me out. David Ngo, Behavior Designer with Behavior Delta, took us through Behavior Change and the tools to apply this practice. Essentially, the framework they practice follows the thought process that to obtain a desired behavior from your customer, they need to be motivated, able to interact and have a prompt to engage. After taking us through the scientific studies, it boiled down to this: It doesn’t really matter if the customer is extremely motivated to interact with your brand or believes in the marketing jargon. If they can’t get to your website, navigate your website, find your app, use your app, etc. then you’ve lost them and everything else that follows. Don’t get mad at us marketing folks, we like when the story is spot on too.

Theme 3: You’ll never know an idea’s viability until you try it in a real environment, fail, learn from it, and continue on.

Fast failure. Not a revolutionary idea, however a panel of experts from different industries did shed light on how each are using different tools and prototyping practices to improve processes, business efficiency and design, ultimately improving the customer experience. For example, Boston Children’s Hospital is bringing designers into simulated operating rooms (inclusive of all the senses, cue raw chicken breasts to make the room smell like an open body) to improve their processes and technologies. All these resources sound glamorous so know that our speakers provided an alternative solution too. Prototyping on paper is just as successful, extremely efficient, and cost effective to paint the picture to those that aren’t as ingrained in the exercise or industry. The overall theme came back to if you don’t succeed the first time, that sounds right because we aren’t perfect. Try and try again.

Theme 4: How do you know your customer? Materially or do you go deep?

Piggybacking off Theme 2, it’s apparent that psychology or behavioral design is crucial to developing a great customer experience and ultimately achieving your business goals. While there are different frameworks that can help you understand your customer, essentially it comes down to this: you will find that your customer does what is most convenient and what they can get away with (goodbye ethics and social norms – hey, we’re flawed!). Mad*Pow took us through a workshop on the COM-B model through a case study on the injuries of construction workers. Again, heavily summarized, the case study showed that construction workers were willing to risk an injury if it meant getting the job done quicker, staying true to their old ways, not getting caught doing the wrong process or taking the riskier route if it was physically easier. Imagine if each safety vest was closer to their work zone, the culture supported doing the right thing, and there was less emphasis on productivity over safety. Clearly the person that created the ‘Safety First’ sign didn’t study psychology design or they would know that a reminder doesn’t address the route of the problem. Understanding your customer through psychology or behavioral design will solve that problem. Embrace it!

Theme 5: Bring it Back to the Basics.

Many of the sessions touched on the need to not overthink anything. In regards to product design, we heard from Mark Fenigstein, Co-Founder of Alta Motors. He stressed the importance of not forgetting to ask the simple questions that might normally come to mind when you aren’t ingrained in the problem or company. Doing this helped them produce a battery that is 25% more powerful than Tesla’s battery and a lot less costly. Badass. In building design teams, each panelist shared the same theme. To paraphrase, at the end of the day, we are all kids in a sandbox. To operate efficiently on a design team, we need to like each other and know the fundamental rules (no biting, kicking, etc.). We need this basic understanding before we try to do more advanced team skills like strategic design, design sprints, or innovation. Take your pick of words.

Theme 6: AI and Machine Learning are not the sun. We repeat, there is more to the design universe.

This theme was pulled through to many different sessions. From Evan Gerber’s session on ‘AI: What’s Going On Behind the Hype’ to the session on ‘How to Build and Manage Creative Teams’, the main takeaway was clear. AI and Machine Learning are the poster children – the epitome of all the buzz. Yet, there are two important factors to take into consideration. First, there is a huge population that will never be able to afford or access these technologies. And, to add a Part A to that factor, generations that will never understand it (aging population). In the words of Jennifer Harvey, VP of Design at PillPack, ‘AI can’t be the center of design’. Second, AI and Machine Learning are only a catalyst of data, design, and technology. Not the ultimate, end-all be-all. To summarize Evan’s thoughts, these channels are only successful when humans and technology come together. The output of Machine Learning still needs a human’s eye or hand. The perfection of AI comes from the learnings of humans and irritations by humans.

Theme 7: There is a Cost to Convenience and It’s Crushing Our Trust.

Combining the crux of Theme 1 and Theme 6, many speakers touched on the cost of convenience. To have on-demand services like Netflix and the personalized recommendations thanks to machine learning technologies, customers are signing away their souls. Dramatic, I know. However we are signing away all the data that make us up. Scary. To dive one step deeper, it’s clear that the capabilities of technology are eliminating trust. I repeat, how technology is being used by humans is eliminating trust. Let’s stop pointing the finger at the tech! For example, take tools that allow the voiceover of real news clippings or movie footage to be altered. It’s hard to the draw the line between what is real and what is fake. Could design solve this issue? While this was not addressed at the summit, an article from Fast Company is all too relevant to not mention. Design has the ability to increase transparency and move the needle on the data problem. Published today, check out how NewDealDesign fixed Facebook. Wherever you stand, there’s a trade off to personalization and convenience. Acceptance is the first step in recovering from this data hell we are in.


Alright, folks, There are the 7 themes from DesignTech Summit 2018. While there were many more themes that could be added to the list, these were the most recurrent. We hope to see you at the next Design Community event – stay tuned for an announcement soon!