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When I was 5, my mom gave me my first diary and was taught to write in it every night before going to sleep. To this day, I haven't stopped handwriting my personal thoughts, stories, and self-reflections in my journal. 

This is a place for me to share what I find beautiful in my adventures, what makes me excited and passionate, and all the lessons I learn along the way. 

Speaking at Google I/O 2017(!!)

Fiona Yeung

Prototyping to Production: Bridging the Gap with a Common Tool

3 years ago on May 19th, I started my first day at Google as a design intern. This year, I got to speak at Google I/O, an annual developer conference designed to engage and celebrate the developer community  with 7,200 attendees at Shoreline Amphitheatre.

My colleague David, a UX engineer and I gave a talk on how to bridge the gap between designers/developers through a prototyping-centric workflow using a UI framework called Flutter. In this talk, we covered the existing workflow between designers and engineers, 4 mindsets that help bridge this gap, the power of prototyping, my journey to learning how to code, and a live demo using Flutter. 

The 3-day event was as exciting as I thought it would be. It felt more like a festival than a conference. The Shoreline Amphitheatre parking lot was transformed into an exciting summer tech festival with a 'Main Street' boardwalk with sandboxes spread out across the venue to demonstrate different products to explore. There were street performers, live music, and even an after-hours arcade. I met a ton of people through Women Techmakers, XX+UX, and Flutter office hours that made me proud to be working at Google where education and openness is so highly prioritized. 

It was dream being able to speak at Google I/O. I'm grateful, humbled, and very blessed to say the least. I'm excited to continue growing at Google, pursuing bigger goals and dreams as a designer.

My Visit to Taiwan

Fiona Yeung

Back in Feb, I took a trip to visit my extended family in Taiwan. I grew up going here in the summer every few years but after university started, it was a lot harder to coordinate with my family. I finally took a trip to Taiwan with my parents after not having been back in 6 years!

My trip started off on a great start 'cause my parents surprised me at the SF airport as their layover stop from Toronto! My dad even managed to switch my flight seats to be with them. The flight itself was 14 hours so I pretty much watched an entire season of Breaking Bad.

Growing up, I had a love/hate relationship with Taiwan. It was always extremely humid and hot, dirty, and I was always being attacked by mosquitos. This time around, I felt like I was really seeing the country for its true beauty. It felt different. Maybe because I'm no longer a teenager and have also learned how to be a great traveler. I really fell in love with the country this time and felt proud to have Taiwanese roots (I'm half Taiwanese for those that didn't know!).  

During my week in Taiwan, we stayed with my grandparents in Keelung, a port city Northeast of Taipei. Every morning we would walk outside our home and order soy milk and an onion egg pancake all for $1.50 per person. There was also a farmer's market every single morning too. 

We revisited several scenic spots on this trip like Jiu Fen Old Village and Shi Fen's gorgeous waterfall.  I also happened to visit Taiwan during the Lantern Festival which is the celebration of the first full moon after the Lunar new year. It was epic! My parents and relatives took me to light lanterns which was a really cool experience. We were given a big red lantern where we wrote wishes and fortunes before lighting it into the sky. The next day (the official Lantern festival day), my dad and I were exploring Taipei when we took a visit to Long Shan temple. It was really crowded with people paying their respects especially because of the first full moon. It was a really eye-opening experience as someone who's not religious. We also stumbled into the Ximending Night Market which coincidentally was where the big Lantern festival celebration took place. It felt like Times Sq! The crowd was amazing and I felt so grateful to truly experience the Lantern festival the proper way. 

I have to say, the best things in Taiwan is definitely the food, culture, and night markets! If you've never been to Asia, please do yourself a huge favour and explore this side of the world. The amount of history, cheap good eats, and culture in these cities are worth it. :) 

FAQ: Tips and tools for getting started in user experience design (aka UX)

Fiona Yeung

This piece was originally published on Medium with Google Design. 

As an interaction designer on the Material Design team at Google, I often receive emails and questions from people who are trying to transition to UX or who simply want to learn more about the ins and outs of the industry.

“I want to get started in the field, but being a [insert unrelated major] student, I just have no idea on where to start. Do you have any advice on what I can do to break into the UX field?”

User experience design is one of the most in-demand jobs right now. It’s a field that has grown and evolved so fast that it places new demands on its practitioners every day. UX designers work on a vast range of products and services from websites, mobile apps, and the Internet of Things, to VR and AI. There’s constantly new tools, new trends, and new technologies that we’re required to keep up with. As a relatively new designer in the industry and a former intern at Google, I wanted to share what I’ve learned so far, and start a repository of the most frequently asked UX questions that land in my inbox.

1. What is UX design?
UX design stands for user experience design. It’s about finding the sweet spot where human needs and business goals meet, while giving users a delightful and seamless experience with a product or service. Good user experience design is often invisible because it’s not just about how something looks, but instead about how it works. My friend and colleague Drew Shimomura helps distinguish between visual design and UX this way: “Visual design says ‘make it clear and simple’ while UX says ‘don’t make me think.’” As a UX designer, I try to help users reach their goal in as few steps as possible. UX is constantly working in the background, presenting information and functionality that makes sense to the user, while reflecting their needs.

2. I want to become a UX designer. Where do I begin?
Start with the fundamentals. Understanding how line, color, texture, shape, form, value, and space work together is useful if you want to develop an eye for good design, and necessary in helping you become a better designer. If you need a primer, I recommend reading Graphic Design: The New Basics by Ellen Lupton and Jennifer Cole Phillips, or Meggs’ History of Graphic Design. Both teach the fundamentals and are informed by contemporary media, theory, and technology. Don’t forget about typography basics too, I love Ellen Lupton’s Thinking with Type.

At Google, we created a design language called Material Design which is a design system that combines theory, resources, and tools for crafting digital experiences. You can explore the system at, and our Material Design Guidelines are a great resource for learning on your own.

Moving beyond these basics, we need to incorporate design thinking. Good UX requires us to understand people and behaviors. Consider reading up on The Design of Everyday Things by Don Norman as well as’s Design Kit to dig deeper into Human-Centered Design. This goes into the research phase of the design process which is especially important in understanding the problem you’re trying to solve. For more information on the design process, I’d take a look at the sprint process created by Google Ventures to get a sense of what a (condensed) design process looks like.

3. Do I need a design degree to become a UX designer?
You don’t have to have a design degree to be a UX designer. I formally studied graphic design and found it to be useful, but many of my colleagues and friends in the industry are either self-taught or have non-traditional backgrounds. For example, my intern manager at Google studied cognitive science and a former colleague was a psychobiology major.

There are pros and cons for both formal training and being self-taught. Design school provides you with a structured learning environment and on-going guidance. There’s a well-planned curriculum with instructors, mentors, and people who are obligated to provide you with feedback. (UX bootcamps are a good alternative form of design education and typically run for 12-weeks or so).

If you decide to learn on your own, you may have to create your own environment, projects, and lesson plans. You can focus on exactly what you want without the constraints of a semester timeline, and you get to choose your own mentors (as long as you put in the work to find them). While it’s great to have more freedom with the types of projects you take on, this may come at the cost of structured guidance.

4. How important are internships?
Internships are a great way to learn about the industry. However, they usually require you to know a bit about UX and have a substantial portfolio already. If you’re currently a student, I highly recommend taking advantage of internships during the summer since many companies only accept students. Internships allowed me to try new experiences without a long-term commitment. It gave me time to figure out what I really wanted in a career and what kind of place was good for me. In fact, being an intern at Google is how I ended up here as a full-time designer! (Psst! Design internship applications are out now for summer 2017!)

5. What tools should I spend time learning?
A designer’s toolkit is large and relies on many skills and tools: physical, digital, and emotional. I like to design with Illustrator but other colleagues use Sketch, or Photoshop. There’s no “right” tool to use, but whatever works for your own process. I’m a bit old-school so I always start with pencil and paper. No matter how advanced our software is, my team and I rely heavily on sketching as a starting point. For prototyping, there’s Framer, Principle, and Origami. I’m still very new to prototyping but my team uses Flutter which is an open-sourced framework for building cross-platform UIs—learning how to use it has been challenging because it’s my first programming experience but extremely rewarding. If you have zero to little experience with these tools, I highly recommend Skillshare and Lynda for video tutorials. You can also create simple prototypes with InVision and Marvel (I used these in school), by uploading pngs and creating hotspots linking your screens.

6. What technical and non-technical skills should UX designers have?
Being a great designer also requires soft skills; everything from being a good listener and communicator, to having empathy and self-awareness. You have to understand and empathize with what your users want. We can’t assume we’re designing for people who live just like us. Take YouTube for example. In their efforts to target the next billion internet users, the research team gathered field studies from India and learned that data was costly and slow. This resulted in YouTube’s offline mode feature, but that was just the beginning. Most recently the birth of Youtube Go, a new Youtube app designed to be offline-first and work even when there’s low or no connectivity. When you think broadly for your users and from their perspective, designing effective solutions becomes easier.

7. What kind of UX projects should I work on independently?
Work on projects that allow you to solve problems involving UX thinking. It can be in the form of an app, a smart device, or even something like the redesign of way-finding at the airport! Take a look at your environment and find something that you are dissatisfied with, then figure out how you can improve that experience. Merge something that you’re passionate about with design and you’ll find your niche.

Your perspective is what makes things interesting. For example, I travel a lot and always want the most authentic experience instead of visiting the tourist-y or must-see spots. That’s hard if I don’t know any locals, which is how I got the idea (while in school) for project Loco, a concept app that connects travelers with local guides for tours or custom itineraries. Let yourself play creatively and you’ll find that your imagination is a great tool.

8. What UX resources do you recommend?
Read, watch, and listen to design articles, books, and videos by design leaders. There are tons of great interviews, podcasts, and blog posts that detail designers’ success stories and explain how teams operate at different companies. Learn about the future of design but also the history. Devouring as much as you can will expose you to how designers really work.

Here are a few of my favorites:

Virtual and in-person bootcamp design classes are also a great way to learn. I’m currently taking a class on Javascript with Codecademy! There are so many different types of classes, you’re bound to find one you’ll like. See: General AssemblyCooper UBitmakerCourseraSkillshareLynda.

Also, don’t forget to reach out and meet real designers! Attend design events run by local organizations, or conferences (like 99U and FITC), and participate in community groups like Designers Guild. I’ve met so many great designers from attending Dribbble meetups and co-hosting XX+UX happy hours. When I was just getting started in UX, I learned a lot by attending Startup Weekend and volunteering at FITC since I couldn’t afford the tickets. Just by attending, I learned a lot more about the UX world and how designers think and communicate. It’s likely that you’ll end up meeting others who are in a similar boat, and who you can learn together with. Continue putting yourself out there as you continue to learn and grow as a designer. Good luck and keep creating thoughtful design work!

If there’s something you’re still wondering about, feel free to add your question in the comments below or email me directly. And if you’re a designer about to graduate, you might find this article that I co-wrote to be more useful: The First Steps to Landing Your First Job.

Hello 2017!

Fiona Yeung

Time; probably one of the craziest concepts of life that I will never understand...but here I am again writing a reflection for 2016. Here are some highlights: 

  • I travelled every single month on a plane (!!) managing to visit 5 different countries and ~9 different states to satiate my travel urges. 
  • I watched the Northern Lights in Iceland with my best friends and it was beyond magical 
  • I gave a design talk at 4 universities (Berkeley, Duke, York University, and Sheridan College) 
  • I learned a lot about self-love and tried my best to practice it
  • My boyfriend graduated from college and moved to D.C! 

As mentioned in last year's post, I'm not a huge believer in new year's resolutions but I do believe in setting a theme for the new year. 2014 was self-discovery, 2015 was letting go, and 2016 was to have trust and faith.  Trust in the way that everything in my life is exactly the way it needs to be. To have faith and trust in my actions and decisions. It was hard not to doubt sometimes which is how I ended up choosing my theme for 2017. The lessons I learn each year with a intentional theme make it easier to accept myself, to be okay with solitude and discomfort, and allow me to see inward. I'm starting to believe that if I can truly excel at all of these themes I've set over the years, I can handle anything that life throws at me.

For 2017, I'm setting the theme as confidence. To be confident in myself as a designer, friend, daughter, girlfriend, and person overall. To know my own worth believing in myself, pushing beyond what's uncomfortable and to be courageous and confident especially when I become nervous, doubtful or insecure. I'm proud of all the accomplishments I've had thus far but a part of me is never satisfied. Confidence has always been a weird on/off thing for me so I'm striving to believe in myself more and to not worry so much about how I'm perceived by others. NTS: Stay true to you! 

Some things that I plan on doing this year to work on my theme is to take dance classes, and to speak at 2-3 events on top of campus recruiting ones. I also want to fully embrace alone time and solitude; focusing on more me time and being fully present and in the now

Stefan Sagmeister on "Why Beauty Matters"

Fiona Yeung

Last week, Googlers in Mountain View had the privilege of seeing Stefan Sagmeister give a lecture on "Why Beauty Matters". If you don't know already, Stefan Sagmeister is one of my all-time favourite designers so I was beyond ecstatic when I found out he was going to give a talk at my office. 

“This whole idea that beauty is skin deep and surface-like is kind of stupid. That’s a very deeply stupid idea. There is an unbelievable function in beauty.” - Sagmeister

I find it really interesting that a lot of designers are 'trained' to believe that the answer "...because it's more beautiful" isn't a valid or good enough reason to why we choose to design something a certain way. However, Sagmeister argues that it is a completely valid answer. He uses the airport safety card as an example saying without beauty, people don't pay attention to things thus it cannot communicate or be functional. 

Modern day airports is another example Stefan brings up . Today, the interior of airports look universally the same so much that the only way you can really tell where you are (aside from looking at the language) is by the power outlets. Is it due to globalization and technology that we've become so unified and the same?  When you look at what the presidents and kings wore throughout history, every decade, every culture is drastically different but fast forward to the 60s to today, suits is all we see. 

Key Takeaways

5 rules that Stefan talked about:
Beauty is part of being human.
Even the oldest tools humans created such as the stone ax were made to be symmetrical even though it didn't add any intrinsic function to the tool other than to simply be more beautiful.

Beauty changes our mood.
Grand Central Station and Penn Station are two train stations in New York City. Looking at the different tweets from riders in each station, it was apparent that those were were in the beautiful Grand Central Station were in a significantly better mood than those at Penn Station. 

 Grand Central Station

Grand Central Station

 Penn Station

Penn Station

When we lose our mind, we can still recognize beauty.
A test was conducted for people with Dementia where they were given 5 paintings and were asked to put them in order from the most beautiful to least. Not only did all the participants rank the paintings in the same order, but they repeated this a few months later even with no recollection of already having done this. 

Beauty improves functionality.
Airplane safety cards were ugly. Nobody ever looked at them thus they weren't functional. Stefan showed an example of Virgin America's safety video which was clever, entertaining, and beautiful, and people actually paid attention therefore improving functionality. 

We agree on what is beautiful.
Sagmeister showed the audience two pieces of painting; one an authentic Mondrian piece, and another was a fake. In each example, the audience was able to guess correctly which was the real Mondrian painting. 

A Conversation with an Uber driver

Fiona Yeung

It was a Saturday afternoon outside the SFO airport. I had just landed from Houston after spending 4 days there for the Grace Hopper Conference (thanks Google!). I ordered an Uber so I could head home, unpack, and unwind for the evening. As my Uber driver pulled up, I got into his white Toyota Corolla that was so new that he didn't even have his own license plate yet. The car ride started off pretty quiet which I enjoyed since I was too tired to really strike up a conversation. Somehow, we ended up talking and having a conversation that really stuck with me today as a good NTS reminder. We started off by talking about my flight. He asked me how long it was so I told him it was around 7-8 hours including a layover in Dallas. He then tells me that he used to be a truck driver where he would drive for 11 hours before sleeping in the vehicle before completing the average 15 hour drive...back to back for several months. He told me it was a rough job and almost impossible to have a life since you were never actually home much. In the last 4 months, he was only home for 14 days..the rest were spent on the road around the country. I don't know much about truck driving culture or what the job is like, but he said it was rough. He hated it so much that he finally quit and that's when he became an Uber driver. In my head, I was trying to figure out why he even decided to take that job in the first place.

I asked him about family which turns out they were all back home in Nigeria. Since none of his family were here, I asked him why he was in the United States. He told me he's been here for 3 years now and this is where the opportunities are. Based on his facial expression and tone, it occurred to me that he didn't seem all that happy. I asked, "So, do you like living here?" and immediately, he shook his head and said "No" with a chuckle. He also seemed to really despise Silicon Valley and techies from the way he was talking about how expensive San Francisco was. Since he didn't like living here, didn't like his job, and didn't have family here I didn't understand why he was here at all. Instead, I asked him what his dream place to live would be, and he said Dallas, Texas. I was surprised, but immediately said, "so why don't you go there!". He didn't have much of an answer. At this exact moment, I realized how fortunate I was, and also how much I took for granted even though I always tried to be very conscious of the tech bubble. It's not always easy to "just go there".  Back home in Canada, I grew up in a city where kids attended after-school programs, clubs, sport teams, back to back. It was a city of opportunities and well-developed education programs. It was a very well-off city. I have never seen a homeless person on the streets in my city of 350,000 people... I didn't even realize how well-off my hometown really was until I googled it one day. 

My point is, I am reminded today that I have to actively try harder to see the full picture. Working in Silicon Valley is a luxurious place. Yes, we work hard and the companies like to treat us very well...but my Uber driver also works hard too, and most Uber drivers work two jobs. Working in Silicon Valley doesn't make us any better or any smarter, or harder-working. I want to remind myself (and all of us) that sometimes things are easier said than done and that making money is not easy. As a foreigner in the states, almost all of my friends are from tech since all my friend groups were formed through work friends or design events. Because of that, it means I have to expose myself more to the world beyond tech and design. I think it's incredibly important to have a diverse group of friends and interests so that we don't end up be blinded to our first-world lifestyle. And quite honestly, there are bubbles everywhere...the Tech bubble, Hollywood, the fashion industry, cities that are less diverse...these are all examples of places with a high concentration of a type of lifestyle making it easier for us to become immune to it.

The conversation I had with my Uber driver today helped snap me back to reality. We say that everyone has a choice, and that's true, we do...but sometimes it's really hard and taking a job you don't like but pays well is what ends up winning. For my Uber driver, he did it for 9 months before quitting. It's easy for me to switch jobs or move if I'm not satisfied but I have to remember it's not that easy for everyone. To be humble also means to accept your reality and know how that lifestyle differs from others and to always be compassionate and empathetic. For this exact reason, I volunteer regularly at the Girls and Boys Club in Redwood City so that I can give back to our communities.

It was a short 15 minute conversation but one that will be used as a constant reminder.

I hope you make it to Dallas one day :) 

The Land of Fire and Ice | 10 Days in Iceland

Fiona Yeung

A few weeks ago, I took a trip to Iceland with my best friends and family. I flew out alone from San Francisco and met up with them in Reykjavik since they were all flying in from Toronto. 

 Our  10 day route  across the country!

Our 10 day route across the country!

We started our 10 day cross-country road trip heading Eastward with Reykjavik being our final destination. Our first day was spent in the Golden Circle which is the most common tourist route for people that are visiting for a few days. We visited Þingvellir National Park, Geysir, and Gullfoss. The Geysir is a geothermal field featuring spectacular hot springs such as the powerful Strokkur which erupts every 5-10 minutes.  We also learned that any place that ended with 'foss' was a waterfall. 

The real adventure really started after leaving the Golden Circle when the roads became emptier and the drives longer. We saw how defined the country is by its dramatic landscape with volcanoes, geysers, hot springs and lava fields. Throughout our trip, we would go to Netto or Bonus (grocery stores) and stock up on food so that we could make sandwiches in the car for our meals. Our daily routine went a little like this: Wake up, make breakfast, make sandwiches for the drive, drive a few hours, visit a waterfall (or three!), stop by a hot spring, visit glaciers or whatever was unique to that region of the country, and then arrive at our accommodation for the night. Each day we stayed in a different place since we were moving across the country. It was really amazing seeing the diverse terrain and landscape as we drove along Ring Road. It almost felt like we were driving through different seasons and countries. What surprised me the most about Iceland was how little ice there was, and how much sheep this island has!  

On our 6th day, we were lucky enough to catch the Northern Lights. It was around 10pm and I noticed the the sky being completely clear. I definitely had a good feeling and low and behold, we were blessed with an incredible show. We didn't even have to drive anywhere to see it. We literally stepped outside our "hotel" to watch it. It was truly magical. It started out being a faint green which became brighter and brighter gradually taking over the sky. They were literally dancing in front of our eyes as it flickered and swirled above. It was actually my first time even attempting to take a photo of the sky at night so I was definitely no professional photographer.

Some of my highlights included visiting Skogafoss, Jökulsárlón Glacier, Namajfall Hverir, Grjótagjá Cave, Godafoss, and catching the Aurora Borealis in Northern Iceland near Akureyri. Jökulsárlón was our first glimpse of glaciers here. I was starting to think Iceland was mainly waterfalls and farmland! Namajfall Hverir was probably one of the coolest places ever. It felt like I took a day trip to Mars. This volcanic geothermal was a orangey-brown colour with tons of boiling mud pots that are literally bubbling and are acidic enough to break down rocks. It's also surrounded by sulfur crystals making this place smell like a thousand eggs. Out of the millions of waterfalls we visited, my favourite is probably Godafoss. It was during golden hour when we got there after exploring Namajfall and the cave. We were tired, cold, hungry but man this place was so pretty. We walked right next to the top of the falls and soaked in how beautiful everything was. That day was als the same day we saw the Northern Lights so it's pretty easy to say it was one of the best days ever. 

During our trip, we also ate really delicious lobster in Hofn (a fishing town), and also tried whale steak, Arctic char, and lamb hot dogs in Reykjavik. I even got to celebrate my early 23rd birthday in Iceland with my closest friend which meant a lot to me. 

For the majority of this trip, it really felt like it was just us and the gorgeous nature. It was so beautiful and untouched. In the 10 days that we were in Iceland, I was really surprised by a few things: 

  1. There's not that much ice (not in Sept anyway)
  2. There'a TON of sheep everywhere, like literally everywhere
  3. Together with the sheep, there is a ton of farmland 
  4. Eat lots of Skyr. This yogurt gets an A++++ in all aspects
  5. Gas is really really expensive 
  6. Geothermal hot springs everywhere and it is awesome 
  7. The locals dress really well in Iceland 

Overall, Iceland was a dream come true. I feel so grateful and lucky to have spent so many days with my best friends and family from home doing a road trip around the entire country. We saw the contrasting landscapes of Iceland change over a few hours each day from wet waterfalls to fields and fields of farmland, to lava fields and volcanic craters to a mars-like world. We picked up a backpacker from France, made some new sheep friends, relaxed in several natural hot geothermal pools, and even witnessed the most surreal northern lights show. It wasn't a glamorous trip to say the least with our lack of clothes (lol!), but it was one of those really special memorable trips.  We embraced spontaneity and just explored the hell out of this country.

Go visit Iceland, just do it. :) 


Fiona Yeung

“Creativity is paradoxical. To create, a person must have knowledge but forget the knowledge, must see unexpected connections in things but not have a mental disorder, must work hard but spend time doing nothing as information incubates, must create many ideas yet most of them are useless, must look at the same thing as everyone else, yet see something different, must desire success but embrace failure, must be persistent but not stubborn, and must listen to experts but know how to disregard them.” Michael Michalko

Learning to Surrender

Fiona Yeung

“Always say “yes” to the present moment. What could be more futile, more insane, than to create inner resistance to what already is? what could be more insane than to oppose life itself, which is now and always now? Surrender to what is. Say “yes” to life — and see how life suddenly starts working for you rather than against you.” - Eckhart Tolle

On an emotionally rough Sunday, I could feel my mind becoming more cluttered and noisy. I decided to read one of my go-to books The Power of Now by spiritual teacher Eckhart Tolle for some guidance and mindful help. The meaning of surrender is to simply accept the now. Surrender means letting go and allowing what is natural, instinctual, back into this moment, but with awareness. Surrender is to yield to life versus opposing the flow. When things aren't going right, we have to learn to accept what is, and to focus on the present moment. If we catch ourselves being anxious about the future, or a specific outcome then we won't be able to find stillness or a peace of mind. 

The only place you can experience the flow of life is the Now. We have to let go of resistance from what is. In other words, surrendering means to let go unconditionally. If something awful has happened, it doesn't mean you can't make any changes or improvements, but firstly we must accept the current situation mindfully first before we can move towards the next step. 

“Don’t look for peace. Don’t look for any other state than the one you are in now; otherwise, you will set up inner conflict and unconscious resistance. Forgive yourself for not being at peace. The moment you completely accept your non-peace, your non-peace becomes transmuted into peace. Anything you accept fully will get you there, will take you into peace. This is the miracle of surrender.” - Eckhart Tolle

Eckhart Tolle's writings are fantastic and incredibly insightful on looking inwards. I'm constantly learning and working on letting go and focusing on the present. Check out his books if you find this blog post interesting! 

Insights from Interaction 16 #IXD

Fiona Yeung

Design as a whole is becoming embedded in business, society and technology. The internet is profoundly changing the way the world conducts business and consumes services, and modern computing is taking interaction design to places which we didn’t dare to dream about before.

A few weeks ago I attended Interaction Design Association's (IxDA) 9th annual Interaction conference in Helsinki, Finland  on March 2-4, 2016.  Nearly 1200 design professionals, leaders, students and volunteers gathered together to enjoy three days of workshops and lectures.

Design, Science, and Music

The opening keynote by Marko Ahtisaari was about the intersection of design, science and music coming together. The Sync Project is his company that aims to understand and decode the personalized therapeutic effect of music; to use music as precision medicine to improve health. He started the keynote with a beautiful recomposed rendition of Vivaldi's Spring by Max Richter.

Key points that he focused on: 

From Enlightenment to Entanglement. We’re becoming increasingly entangled in our machines. We once struggled to give new institutions the power to act on our behalf. Now that we have smart devices surrounding us, we’re have a similar uneasiness when handing over power to computers. 

Systems over objects. The ability to manufacture smart machines is now in the hands of not only large companies but also individuals and small organizations. This calls for supply chains and ecosystems to be more transparent and accessible if we want to foster innovation from smaller players.

Participation over user-centric. These new intelligent systems don’t have a center, so there’s no center to put a user. Instead, we’re seeing the rise of complex, adaptive systems. The role of the designer will be more facilitative–more like a conductor than a producer. How can we co-design with machine intelligence? 

Emergence over authority / control. Lastly, we’ll co-design with artificial intelligence. The studio will be a symbiosis of human and machine, so we’ll need to figure out is best meant for humans and what's best for machines. 


Steve Baty gave a fantastic talk on interaction design across scale. Interaction Design looks at the request-response mechanisms and controls - the microinteractions - that make up the fundamental building blocks of technology. As we increase the scale of our efforts, interaction design shifts in focus from microinteractions to screens and tasks; screens and tasks to activities; activities to services; and services to interconnected systems. At the same time, the toolset and perspective of the interaction designer needs also to shift. Steve Baty talked about change in perspective as we design at different scales of interaction, and the accompanying change in method and skill set needed to successfully navigate between them. 

TLDR; The most successful interaction designers simultaneously operate across scales, balancing high-level thinking with detail, and moving seamlessly between the two.

  1. The Plane of Interaction
    • Task activity focus
    • Interaction handling
    • Labels, micro-copy, error messages
  2. Beyond the Plane
    • Cultural identity
    • Consistency and coherence
    • Persuasion, game mechanics
  3. Across Channels
    • Focus on group activities an dynamics
    • Closed systems are easier to design than open systems
    • Wayfinding
  4. In Systems
    • Step out of problem space, reframe the problem
    • Chaos theory and emergence
    • Urban planning, economics
 Sketchnote by  @priscillamok

Sketchnote by @priscillamok

The Dawn of Agentive Technology: The UX of “soft” AI

Chris Noessel's keynote is about the UX of soft AI. "There is a new category of technology that is emerging across the world, in which a system does complex work on behalf of its user. In these agentive systems, a low-level artificial intelligence acts as an agent on a user’s behalf to accomplish some task. It delivers on the promises of user-centered design more than ever before, but will require that businesses, designers, governments, and technologists think of them distinctly and design for them differently. It will require them to master new scenarios and new tools."

Agentive tech is when technologies do things on the users' behalf from robot vacuum cleaner, or a self-driving car to prospero, a farming robot. Agentive tech is the next step from assistive tech. Assistive tech helps, agentive tech acts on your behalf. With agentive technology, users are promoted to managers.

Robot Ethics & the Future of Human-Robot Interaction

Kate Darling was the opener on the second day where she talked about anthropomorphism; the attribution of human form or other characteristics to anything other than a human being. We treat robots like humans to make judgements about our environment when they are suppose to be tools. We anthropomorphize robots because they’re physical, intentional, and social. The ethics of robotic interactions was an interesting area that she talked about. Even though we are conscious that the robots are not alive and are simply machines, we are often feel empathy for them because of our anthropomorphism and strong response towards eyes. There are also a lot of privacy concerns; would robots make people share more resulting in exploitation? 

People increasingly treat robots like animals which also means we are more empathic but also can be desensitized with violence against robots. How does our interaction with robots influence our interaction with each other? Can we change people's empathy with robots? 

  Boston Dynamics' "Spot' dog. 

Boston Dynamics' "Spot' dog. 

Design in a Wiggly World: Of Mirrors, Virtual Reality and Big Data

The last opening keynote of the conference was presented by Tricia Wang, and it was my favourite one  out of all the talks and keynotes. She explores our understanding for 'truth' in visual representations and how we often confuse representation with experience. She starts off by taking us way back to the Renaissance era where Italian painters argued with the Chinese painters over their different understanding of linear and aerial perspective in paintings. Even though we've come a long with with understanding and acknowledging that different perspectives exist, we still have this myth that we can see reality through a single lens and that single perspective is the objective truth. 

3 tools for representation: 

  1. Mirrors
  2. Big Data
  3. Virtual Reality 

The problem with raw data is that it's actually not raw. What we as designers choose to measure and how to analyze it influences the actual data. It's like when we create surveys, what we ask ultimately shapes the answers and the thought process of the users which can create a bias or inaccurate data.  Virtual reality aims to show us the truest reality that we can possible 'live' through...but what's inaccurate is that what's being shown requires a perspective, a well designed storyline which means not everything is shown equally. 

Tricia talks about inclusion and diversity and gives several examples how it's important for us designers to create with more perspective or else mistakes will happen just like when Google Photos  falsely identified some people of color as “gorillas.”  Similarly, Nikon cameras falsely detected blinking in Asian users. The cameras suggested that people in the photo had blinked when their eyes were actually open. These mishaps are called perspective collision which is when the perspective of the designer or creator of the technology clashes with the perspectives of users. 


As part of the conference, there were several design studios in Helsinki that participated in the Open Studios week. I visited Fjord and Nordkapp and got to meet a ton of designers around the world. The best thing about this conference was the coming together of so many passionate designers from all over the world. I had a conversation with a woman who talked about what it was like to first sign up for email and how it took a bit to catch on her for college class. She got to experience the early days of the online world and t's exciting to see where design and technology will be in a few years from now. I'm experiencing the "early days" of virtual reality and artificial intelligence right now so who knows what I'll get to share with the new designers of the next generation!