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UXHI - Oct 2023

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Hi everyone, Thanks for coming to UXHI and this session. Your time is valuable. Let’s get the most out of the next 30-40 minutes. Everything that led up to this moment here, now...let it recede into the past. Everything that is yet to come? It can wait.


I will invite you to pause for a refreshing breath together. But, we’ll start with an exhale, then an inhale, then one more exhale before breathing normally. All right, so...exhale. Push all the air out. Yes, then inhale nice and deep. Then exhale naturally. Breathe normally. Thank you for participating in that. How do you feel? Have you arrived?
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So what’s your challenge?

What brings you to UXHI? Networking? Improving skills? Getting into a new field? And what’s bugging you? Too many meetings? Too much busy work? Too complex? Too fast? Too slow? Please write down one or two.
Why am I here? I believe a practice of remaining aware in the current moment can help with what’s bugging us as designers, creators, and in our professional relationships. Presencing () gives us two super powers...Observation and Release from Attachment to outcomes. What does “presencing” really mean?
Let’s find out.
Hi, all. I am Arthur. Since I was young, I’ve been studying contemplative practices, awareness, and mindfulness in many forms. I share my practice history in my bio (). I think I’ve found a sweet spot between my personal and professional interests that helps me and might help you. I invite you on a quick trip through the six phases of service design as I use them at RVCM, with the US Centers for Medicare and Medicaid. I’ve mapped each phase to a mindful practice. I believe these practices help me be more effective, enjoy my work more, and design better. I wonder what you will think.

We don’t see the world as it is, we see the world as we are.

–Anaïs Nïn
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Good designers, engineers, or business planners all see the world and try to improve it based on who they are and what they know.
Great designers, engineers, and business planners, become better observers learning to see the world as it is. The more they do, the better they are at empathizing, identifying systemic origins, and root causes, thereby finding more compelling ideas, prototypes, and solutions.
When Alzheimer’s patients try to escape their care center, a good designer might create a better fence, or better alert system. Great designers in Dusseldorf created a bus stop. When patients with memory loss tried to escape, most planned to do so via public transit. By placing a realistic bus stop at the edge of the facility, patients would attempt to wait for the next bus, allowing caregivers time to intervene.
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This is an old design lore, but I believe that by cultivating regular mindfulness practices, whatever those may be, we enhance our great superpower. To be better observers. To see the world as it is. When we see the world as it is, it opens up insights and creative solutions.

How might we better see the world as it is, train ourselves to systematically adopt a beginner’s mind to tease out root causes and observe the systems that underly design challenges?

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Earlier, I asked what’s bugging you... What’s bugging me... I crave more clarity in interpersonal work (meetings), and more purpose in my path.

Quick show of hands? Does anyone here keep a regular mindful practice?

Whether it’s for a sport, for cooking, in taking care of a child, driving, making art, work, or music. We can all experience a state of mindful flow. (
) I’m starting to believe it’s as essential as air, water, food, shelter, sleep, touch, & personal space. I would add mindful reflection to that list of essentials.
Close your eyes for a second... When I say the word mindfulness, what do you think of? Maybe you envision Sanskrit-looking, hand drawn, or Papyrus fonts with images of people on mountains or lakes sitting crosslegged?
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Today’s mindfulness to me, is a technology. The same way we use language, math, and the scientific method as technologies to achieve understanding, we may also use active self-reflection and presencing as technologies to help us be better observers and to release attachment to outcomes. And as a personal footnote, this is also not religious or spiritual, although many religions and spiritual beliefs promote mindful and contemplative insight practices.

Another show of hands? With this definition.

Does anyone here keep a regular reflective practice? Would you care to share more about it? Thank you.
Sometimes we do need to go sit quietly on mountains or by water or alone in our rooms to get a habit started. Then, once we have a basis, we can bring that to our daily work.
Attentiveness, alertness, care, consideration, observation, noticing. mindfulness.
And it’s not just for designers. It’s for product owners, project managers, engineers, hr, business development, etc. I am also motivated by how these practices work when adopted by teams, working groups, and organizations.
Let’s experiment with some simple awareness practice skills and link them to design process phases. Everyone is invited to participate to get the full benefit. But no one is forcing. You can also standby and observe if you so choose.
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One minute mindful breathing activity

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In your work you most likely have frameworks you operate with. Agile, OKRs, SMART goals, RASCI, BPR, Business Model Canvas, CI/CD, Scrum, Kanban.
A framework I use for service design challenges is: Frame, Empathize, Reframe, Ideate, Prototype, Validate. So for today, I prepared one level-setting or mindful practice for each phase of service design. No matter what processes you use, I would guess you could do the same.
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At the outset of a design challenge we frame the challenge giving scope and boundaries
Understand the target audience, Describe the challenge, Define the context, Outline what success looks like
We might produce a problem statement, design brief, or How Might We statement. Framing takes meetings. Lots of meetings. Would you agree? So why not create mindful meetings?
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Mindful Meetings

We tend to think of meetings as finite events on our calendar that keep us from doing our real work. But unfortunately to some degree they are our real work. How many of us do something else at the same time? I am guilty.
Here’s something I’ve been trying out...considering meetings as stories, not as events. The story starts with the meeting invitation, the background context. As a meeting happens it is influenced by tone of voice, venue, in-person, camera or not, who’s involved. Then, a new state of the world exists after a meeting with some kind of follow up tasks, or a document to be delivered. Again, treating meetings as stories is still WIP and it’s more work for the meeting host, but I am finding it’s more fun, more productive, and meetings are often shorter.
Lead-up: Even if a sentence or a short list, I include some kind of intention setting before. I set some context reading or visual. I review this reading or visual at the beginning of the meeting. Even if it’s reading together quietly. (
25/5, Play: I ask participants to turn off all the other notifications and screens for a 25 minutes with a five minute break to check in. See the Pomodoro method. (
Follow up: I am following up with meeting notes, a thank you, and additional aspects of the story that came to mind. Usually by the end of the day.
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Depending on where you work, or who you work with this may sound like just the basics. Or a revelation.
How is it mindfulness? First it causes the meeting owner to really set intention, and scope. Next, I’ve seen that by following these three steps repeatedly, I become more familiar with the participants, better at remembering what was said. And been able to offset the number of meetings needed to get something done. I am just more aware.
If anyone has any other mindful meeting practices, please jot them down. I would love to learn about them afterward.
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Observe and Empathize

As designers we empathize with users and observe the systems our users find themselves in. Earlier we took just over a minute check in on the breath. Next we’re going to experience a body scan. Where I find this practice most useful is before or during user interviews, ride-alongs, or any time I am trying to listen and understand. So let’s have a mini interview!
Let’s take two minutes. Pick some one next to you, prefer someone you don’t already know. You have a minute to learn their name, profession, reasons for coming today, what’s bugging them, and something that motivates them professionally.
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Two-minute body scan activity

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Next, pick someone else near you preferring someone you don’t already know. You again have a minute to learn their name, professional career, reasons for coming today, what’s bugging them, and something that motivates them professionally.
What, if anything was different between the interviews? Anyone care to share?
Use the body scan technique with other active listening practices like asking questions, body mirroring, and rephrasing what you think you hear. (
) Ok, let’s move on. In design, after we’ve collected so much relevant data from users and systems we generally reframe the problem. What is the real How Might We that we should have asked at the beginning.
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The “Jobs to Be Done” framework is one many designers use to reframe a problem in a way that they can create insights from the new problem statement or How Might We. While earlier we might have asked, How Might we Develop a better alert system for Alzheimers escapees, after empathizing, we might ask, How Might We Help Alzheimers patients achieve their goal in the context of the health care center.
“Every job people need done has a functional, an emotional, and social dimension. If we understand these dimensions, we can be better at creating meaningful solutions to our design challenges.
While our user soul is our fundamental unit of empathy, their Job to Be Done is our fundamental unit of analysis to ideate solutions that delight and engage our users.
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Harvard marketing professor Theo Levitt famously said, “People don’t want a 8mm drill bit. They want an 8mm hole.” This starts to illustrate functional dimension of a customer’s Job to Be Done.
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Let’s take the story even farther to accommodate for a customer’s hopes, dreams, and aspirations. The person doesn’t actually want the hole.
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They want the hole so they can hang a shelf on it. But they don’t just want a shelf. Actually what they want is a shelf to put a family picture on. The emotional dimension.
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Why do they want to have a family picture? To feel part of something greater than themselves or that they belong. The social dimension. Their place in the world.
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So what mindfulness practice might we use to help us reframe? To really “step back”? Let’s step back. We’re going to walk! Why? Our miraculous minds are attached to these giant multi-million cell networks. The mind resides not only in the brain, but in the heart, the gut, and probably the hair follicles on the skin. So to reframe a problem, discover the jobs to be done, and to can help to move around. Get off the screen, get out of the meeting room! Today, as we move around the room, let’s think about our second interview. What’s bugging them? What are their motivations? What do you think their jobs to be done really are?
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Three-minute walking mindfulness activity

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Thank you for your participation. Next up in the design process we ideate new solutions, based on everything we’ve learned from our user souls, their contexts and jobs to be done.
Ideation, invention, coming up with a new way of doing or seeing is the mystery. This is why I love the design process. But I really have no mindfulness practice I can attach to ideation. Walking or movement mindfulness helps. And I thought this brief reading could be relevant and useful. Inspiration can come from anywhere. New ideas come from a source greater than ourselves. It’s one of the places where The key is to be listening without attachment to outcome. I invite you to take a moment together to read quietly.
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UXHI - Arthur Grau - Mindfulness transforming design methods-Rubin-quote.pdf
739 kB
Once we have what we think are some good or great design ideas, we get to prototype. We can prototype with users, with stakeholders, other designers, or all of the above. The idea is to fail often while the stakes are low. Prototyping should be like play.
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Play can teach us a lot about our designs and the people that use them.
All mindfulness practice is prototyping in a way. The value is not necessarily in the particular practice, but in the continual re-application of the practice itself, finding out what works for you and your team and repeating it. The same could be said of prototyping. Whether you’re storyboarding, using a paper prototype, model, or a wireframe or a wireflow, the point is that it’s not the real thing. Prototyping helps us not take ourselves so seriously. We get a chance to play.
You can use your abilities. Stop and take a deep breath, scan of the body, or listening empathetically. When it comes time to prototype, actively engage gratitude. It’s such a bonus to be working in the field of design, helping people solve problems.
As we approach the prototype phase, being grateful for all we’ve learned so far, and then giving our prototypes as gifts to the user, or the project we may find we become less attached to the outcome of the prototype and more willing to hear feedback, and try more new things along the way.

Gifting, gratitude and play activity.

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So, we’ve come all this way in the design process. Framing a problem, empathizing with users in systemic contexts, reframing to come up with some stellar ideas and even working several prototypes before committing to our final designs...
This is when your designs either work or they don’t. Can be a scary time. Make or break. Validating can tear our work to shreds.
It takes courage to put ourselves out there on the line with our ideas. Fortunately we have a tried and true breathing technique that we can use. You can use this before meetings, during stress, before public speaking, or even to help you fall asleep.

One-minute box breathing activity

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Wrapping up

Thank you all for taking time and attention today. I know it was a lot. We took a look at a six-phase service design framework and mapped some contemplative, reflective or mindful practices to where they might be useful. Hopefully the experience gives you new ways to bring more of yourself to your work and life.
Just like our professional practice, meta-reflex practice is ongoing. It gets better over time, it’s just a matter of continuity of practice and enjoying the process. Maybe find some small act you can do every day that brings you closer to a sense of being present and grow from there.

Join for ten minutes of quiet every day.

You may find benefit in joining such an event or one that matches your preference or schedule.
The value comes in being able to observe more clearly and proceed with less attachment to outcome.

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