Recently, I’ve been saying designers should be thinking more like product managers but continue to solve problems through the work of design. I‘ve extended this to learning, because as designers we seem to be tackling increasingly complex problems.

I coined this phrase because there’s something powerful about expressing learning, thinking and working in simple terms — particularly in the context of solving complex and risky problems counterintuitively fuelled by curiosity and learnings from a diverse range of topics.

The need to expand on Learn like a teacher-scientist, Think like a product manager, Work like a designer led to this article, which I’ve framed by breaking down the phrase into whys. …

In my travels, I’ve been equally confused and inspired by strategy. By strategy, I mean:

  • Roles and departments with the word “strategy” in them
  • The need and ask from organisations/leaders for a “strategy”
  • Strategies of all kinds – brand strategy, marketing strategy, design strategy, experience strategy, corporate strategy, technology strategy, social strategy, product strategy, operations strategy, content strategy, and so on.

There’s probably more, but the above items are a good start.

For strategy to be effective, it helps for more people to understand it. This might include people who have no reason to know about, care for, let alone be involved in strategy. …

2020 has obviously been a very different year—I’m grateful my situation has been largely uneventful, somewhat repetitive throughout. I’ve cherished working from home and not missing the daily commute, learning how to bake sourdough bread, spending more time with my family, and gradually doing up the house.

I did break up the monotony by attending several conferences and workshops this year, namely SofaConf and Primer (my post-event ramblings here), then Interaction Design Day, which I helped co-organise with many other talented local leaders. The two workshops I attended during Primer conf—SystemViz and Layers—opened up new perspectives for me on speculative design and systems thinking. …

The shadow of systems thinking looms over everything I do, partly because I really enjoy learning and understanding complex things, but more so because the nature of our problems—and thus, solutions—avail themselves very differently when viewed through this lens.

…systems thinking is also a sensitivity to the circular nature of the world we live in; an awareness of the role of structure in creating the conditions we face; a recognition that there are powerful laws of systems operating that we are unaware of; a realization that there are consequences to our actions that we are oblivious to.

Systems Thinking: What, Why, When, Where and How?

This is an aimless ramble about virtual conferences in the age of COVID.

In a surreal twist, lockdown has enabled me to attend 2 conferences at the same time — Primer and SofaConf—remotely. Strangely, intentional or not, the way the sessions are sequenced across the two conferences enabled me to watch them back to back without that much overlap.

That being said, I am finding myself engaging more with SofaConf than Primer, and it has to do with the more-practical content, and engaging Q&A follow-up after. …

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Local leaders @ Interaction 20

Last week in Milan, I attended my 8th Interaction conference. If I could count Boulder as my first, then Milan would be by 9th, but it was a partial attendance because I was following tweets and updates remotely from my loft in London. The coverage was so amazing that I was able to sketchnote several talks and one workshop, and some people even thought I was there.

But I was smitten from that moment, and over the years, IxDA has become a professional home for me and many others.

I won’t be posting my thoughts on the talks I attended—they were all very high quality and I urge you to watch them when the recordings come out. I also recommend what Jason Mesut and Aleksandra Lazovic have both posted from the week. …

What I learnt at the final week of CIID Summer School 2019

Last week, I attended the “Change Management through Design” summer school course at CIID. The course was facilitated by Mary Wharmby and Grace Ascuasiati of Design Transformation, and formerly from Spring Studio and BBVA, where they led the design transformation change across the BBVA organisation.

Photo banner for CIID Summer School in Copenhagen in partnership with UN’s sustainable development goals — 8 July to 9 August
Photo banner for CIID Summer School in Copenhagen in partnership with UN’s sustainable development goals — 8 July to 9 August
Hello, CIID

It was exhausting, but I got a lot of out of it. It renewed my optimism for design thinking approaches as a counterpoint to traditional top-down, management-driven initiatives, by balancing it with human-centricity, creativity and experimentation, iteration and learning.

The main takeaways for me was about maintaining focus on people, having the right attitude, making incremental impact and trusting the process. I’ve tried to document my reflections from the course here. …

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Last weekend, I was in Berlin for my annual trip for the European IxDA Local Leader’s Retreat and UXCampEurope. I facilitated an informal discussion session on “learning from each other’s backgrounds”, and captured some notes.

This session has inspired me to be bolder at embracing and driving a pluralistic way of working and seeing the world. This means less beating each other up about who’s-doing-design-better-than-X, complaining about other fields… but being more open to different ways of working, learning from others…

Disclaimer: I know I’ve complained about other domains / approaches before. If this was you — I’m really, really sorry. …

Experiencing and observing failure at work is highly undervalued skill for a designer to have. It’s priceless to have gained hard-earned professional insight, and almost all expertise and maturity depends on how to manage the risk of failure of all shapes and sizes.

Consider what your response might be to the following situations:

  • A development team that’s so focused on project delivery it ignores fundamental errors informed by user testing that requires additional effort to fix
  • A massive disconnect between what consumers and providers want, with your product providing value for both audience groups.
  • A misalignment between your product and technology leads about priorities and overall objectives for the…

I attended a fringe event of the User Research London conference on Friday this week, thanks to the lovely team at STBY.

It was an intimate evening of discussions and camaraderie, as I took the opportunity to briefly rekindle with Jo Wong and Dan Szuc from Apogee HK, as well as other friends I haven’t met in years. But there were many new faces I got to know that evening, and we were sharing and debating and, well, reflecting on the idea of reflective practice.

The woke designer

Reflective practice, or more appropriately — a reflective practitioner — is someone who actively integrates aspects of learning, awareness, and savvy intrinsically to their design practice. …


Boon Yew Chew

Principal UX designer at Elsevier. IxDA local leader and board alumni. Strategy. Systems. Visual thinking. Design. Has a brain in his stomach.

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