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Track Changes

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Jul 17, 2018
How does systems thinking influence design thinking? How much of shipping new design is about coping with anxiety? What do designers and basketball players have in common?

From Abstract Theory to Capitalist Practice: This week, Paul Ford and Rich Ziade meet with designer Robyn Kanner to discuss her journey from a tiny art school to a UX designer at Amazon to the founder of MyTransHealth. We talk about the conversations designers should be having and the complex systems that inspire Robyn’s design practice. Robyn also reveals the surprising turn in her design journey that taught her how to throw a literal punch while Paul and Rich wrestle with the idea that, much like a basketball team, different designers do different things.

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Paul — 2:15: “That is a very empowering moment when you go like, ‘I can make my own reality,’ and as you get better you start to look like a better and better musician regardless of how your music is.”

Paul — 5:30: “When you create something and there’s a lot of heat and light, and you’re making that new thing, your life is really tumultuous at that point. Then it goes out — it’s very emotionally tiring to go back to it.”

Robyn — 5:55: “I think my identity was a ‘bad thing’ for a while and then all of a sudden became a good and popular thing, and never really having the time to process that while trying to ship an actual experience — that was sort of the experience of it.”

Robyn — 6:25: “It’s not that they weren’t understanding [my identity], they just didn’t know how to have a conversation about it. They weren’t able to separate me from the work that I did and it was a deep UX problem to solve that kind of stuff […] It was a lot of patting me on the shoulder like, ‘good job, kid!’ and I was like, ‘if this was a shoe company you would think I was the freshest shit. It’s because it’s like a healthcare company you’re devaluing me right now.’”

Robyn — 7:35: “[Design thinking] is a methodology. I think designers think very highly of themselves for something that’s remarkably simple for the most part. I think design thinking is like, ‘great, you know how to work post-its, cool!’”

Robyn — 8:15: “When I think of systems, I think of things that already exist. I think music is one of the most perfect systems ever because everything has a time signature, everything has a rhythm and a melody. They all work together at the same time which is to me the most wild shit in the world… It’s all harmonious.”

Robyn — 11:00: “What’s interesting in-house is that you have to deal with politics. I think if you take the sprint at face-value it’s really cool. Once you introduce company politics it gets a lot hazier. I think when it comes to that approach you need a person in the room who can balance feelings.”

Robyn — 14:00: “Everything has a legacy, right. Every time I touched a product at Amazon, I knew I might be messing with code that’s at least seven years old.”

Robyn — 15:40: “[The goal of Amazon] is to try to naturally be in your life.”

Robyn — 16:05: “If you use time as the success metric, then you start having questions about where does this person need me, or where can I be more effective in their life?”

Robyn — 18:20: “If we think about the classic definition of design, it’s the solution to a problem within aesthetic constraints. For some unknown reason, people got it in their head that that meant type and color. For the life of me, I don’t fucking know why, because for me it means so many different things, and those different things are the conversations that really excite me.”

Robyn — 22:35: “Yes, I’ll get you the rectangle but we’re gonna talk about it first. That’s it. If we have a conversation about it first and we can figure out that the rectangle does X, Y and Z, then I’ll get you the rectangle.”

Robyn — 24:00: “If somebody is asking me for a rectangle and they’re more frustrated with the fact that I’m asking them a question about the rectangle, I don’t think I’m the problem in that situation. I think the problem is you can’t tell me why you need a rectangle.”

Paul — 24:35: “So your goal is to back people into systems that they can then use to do better work in the future.”

Robyn — 25:05: “A basketball team is made up of many people that do different things. There’s a center, there’s a point guard, there’s a small forward — they’re all basketball players. ‘Designer’ is just an umbrella word that includes a lot of different people.”

[A full transcript of this episode is available.]

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Track Changes is the weekly technology and culture podcast from Postlight, hosted by Paul Ford and Rich Ziade. Production, show notes and transcripts by EDITAUDIO. Podcast logo and design by Will Denton of Postlight.

 
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