Designing the Design in Tech Report (2017)

This piece is a mash-up of general advice and a high level chronicle of my personal experiences while designing the 2017 Design in Tech report. —Fatimah Kabba

Start with the Content

I was certain that a balance of human and technical qualities would be important to the final piece.

When designing a report, start by establishing an understanding of its general purpose , don’t get lost in the minutiae of what the exact content will be early on, if you’re working with a combination of written content, sourced imagery, and data points, you’ll need to keep a wide perspective in order to wield it all effectively. Create a living document that will serve as map of how your ideas evolve over time, you’ll be able to see patterns in your thinking, and more quickly vet and narrow your concepts.

_notes

When this process began, even though content wouldn’t be pinned down for months, I knew the team was working with particular themes such as inclusion, diversity, automation, and acquisitions. I wasn’t certain where the months would shift the content, but I was certain that a balance of human and technical qualities would be important to the final piece.

Early on I started an Evernote doc, to keep a running log of the conversations I was having with the team and capture any sporadic ideas. I filled it with links, quotes, and word association brainstorms. I didn’t over-analyze what I wrote, I simply wanted to create a foundation that I could return to when I was ready to begin.

Build a Visual Language Toolkit

It’s hard to design without content and it’s often just a really bad idea.

Establish a visual toolkit, even if you have no content yet, using a few key descriptors. Take into consideration how you want the document to feel, and run with those intuitions. Choose your font, have your reasoning, make sure it scales. Choose a color palette and make sure you can live with your choices in the secondary palette, they won’t show up often, but you don’t want to be slowed down a few hours in when you realize your charts have low contrast and the data looks indistinguishable. Design a variety of headlines, body, and CTA lockups, they’ll likely evolve in implementation, but they’ll serve as a solid foundation.

It might not seem like a lot, but it’s enough to get started, the important thing here is to have something you can reach for when the work begins so you’re not slowed down by rudimentary decisions.

_toolkit

_covers

It’s hard to design without content and it’s often just a really bad idea, however in this case because I knew I wouldn’t be getting a real first draft of the deck until a few days before showtime, I had to put some stakes in the ground in terms of visual language.

John was a great sounding board for all of my many design concepts, he gave thoughtful feedback and was only adamant about a few key things including: don’t let it feel over-designed and don’t let the aesthetic overshadow the content and message. With that in mind I created a very basic and flexible framework that I knew I’d be comfortable quickly iterating with once I got started. Clean and simple with a definitive pop of color. I kept in mind a few of those adjectives I mentioned earlier: open, informative, warm. I continued iterating on cover designs, and I waited.

Relay Race

It will be a little bit like jazz now … it’s a collaboration.

If you’re creating a report with a group of people with varying skill sets, ask a lot of questions, the only way you can create a solution that resonates with readers is if you understand the content well enough to translate it. Once you have a strong grasp on it, you can create a system that is digestible.

As the designer of a report, it might not be your job to write the content from scratch, but it is your job to see where there are gaps in logic that may cause a breakdown in comprehension.

_translation

The few days leading up to SXSW is when the work truly began. As John began sending me portions of the deck I dug through the content, and focused on comprehending it, I wasn’t being handed wire frames, but rather they were more like a conglomeration of various notes, a screen grab here, a digital post-it note there, and a few links everywhere. The overarching concept was there in each page, but now it was my job to understand it, pull out the salient points, determine the proper hierarchy informed by perceived narrative, and create a visual system that would make the whole report read as consistent and whole.

In process it felt very intensive, I was sludging through a lot of content, and at times I worried that I wasn’t allowing myself time to step back often enough, but the thing about deadlines, especially as one as big as SXSW is that they don’t have time for perfectionism. So I worked thoughtfully, but I raced ahead. Towards the end as we volleyed version after version, John sent us an email that ended with this, “It will be a little bit like jazz now … it’s a collaboration.” And that is perhaps the truest summation of this whole process. A collaborative team effort of researching, conducting, and defining, up until the very last minute. Working with Jackie, Aviv, Justin and John, was one of the more unique challenges and best collaborations I’ve had thus far, and I’m grateful to have had the experience.


Fatimah Kabba is a designer and brand writer focused on the interplay of design and technology. She’s previously worked as a senior creative at companies such Walker and Company Brands, Isobar and R/GA. She is currently working as an independent contractor on projects between Boston and NYC.

Twitter: twitter.com/fatimahkabba
Work: Teemah.com

Design in Tech Report 2017 (Video)

Hi, here’s a video recording from my delivering the 2017 Design in Tech Report at SXSW together with Jackie Xu to an enthusiastic early morning, standing-room-only crowd that had gathered an hour before the report was released (unfortunately, the SXSW folks stopped letting people into the room). The audio was captured from my own Sennheiser headset microphone that I taped to the venue’s handheld microphone — so the sound quality is NOT professional-grade. I’m so sorry for the sound quality! This video version is something that I made to put the slides in sync together with the audio track — you can easily 1080p it and see the teeny-tiny type to your heart’s content. If you’d just like to  listen to the audio only, please visit here. Thanks! —JM

sxsw_panorama

You can pickup the slidedeck for the 2017 Design in Tech Report right here.

Design in Tech Report 2017 (Audio)

Hi, here’s an audio recording from my delivering the 2017 Design in Tech Report at SXSW together with Jackie Xu to an enthusiastic early morning, standing-room-only crowd that had gathered an hour before the report was released (unfortunately, the SXSW folks stopped letting people into the room). It was captured from my own Sennheiser headset microphone that I taped to the venue’s handheld microphone — so the sound quality is NOT professional-grade, but I think it works to give you a sense of what it was all like. Sorry for the sound quality! A video version that combines this audio track together with the slides is available here. —JM

sxsw_panorama

You can pickup the slidedeck for the 2017 Design in Tech Report right here.

Design in Tech Report 2017

Download the Full 2017 Design in Tech Report (3Mb)
Listen to the 2017 Design in Tech Report on SoundCloud (1hr)
Watch the Full 2017 Design in Tech Report on Vimeo (1hr)

Key Observations this year:

  • Design isn’t just about beauty; it’s about market relevance and meaningful results.
  • At top business schools, design thinking is moving into the curriculum — driven by market demand.
  • Both McKinsey & Co and IBM have recently made appointments at their most senior levels for designers.
  • Adopting an inclusive design approach expands a tech product’s total addressable market.
  • Computational designers remain in demand at technology companies of all sizes and maturity levels.
  • Chinese design in tech principles and practices are leading the world, but are often overlooked.
  • Design tool companies and design community platforms occupy new positions of value for tech.
  • Voice- and chat-based interfaces are grounded in mental models that don’t require a visual representation.

VentureBeat’s Ken Yeung frames the new 2017 report in his related piece asking, “The tech industry needs more designers — are hybrid designer-developers the answer?”

Fast Company’s Katherine Schwab highlights the value of writing in the design process asserting, “Forget coding: writing is design’s unicorn skill.”

WIRED’s Liz Stinson posits, “When ‘design’ is no longer distinguishable from ‘tech,’ someday, design might not need Maeda’s 50-page reports to extol its virtues.” I agree!

áccent’s Anna Savina summarizes, “Designers’ role will be to support the social conscience of the product.”

Designer of the Design in Tech Report, Fatimah Kabba, tells the story of how the report came to be. And she also provides useful advice on how to make a report.

An executive summary of the main points of the Design in Tech Report are up on LinkedIn Pulse if you’re looking for an as-simple-as-possible format.

 

2016reportDesign in Tech Report 2016


View the 2016 Design in Tech Report which framed the three kinds of design you need to know about to be successful in tech today.

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View the inaugural 2015 Design In Tech Report which has received over 1M cumulative views to date, and was one of SlideShare’s Best of 2015.

Design in Tech Report 2016

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Last year, John Maeda published his inaugural #DesignInTech report to reveal the impact Design has made in Silicon Valley. Now, in his second annual report, Maeda doubles down by delving deep into design trends revolutionizing the entrepreneurial and corporate ecosystems.

Continue reading “Design in Tech Report 2016”

Design in Tech Report 2015

Download 2015 Design in Tech Report

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