Winter 2017 newsletter: embrace your unspoken truths to design for meaningful impact.

I write quarterlyish updates and share them in a newsletter. Here’s the latest. Let me know if you’d like these in your inbox.

If we want to design for impact, we should get cozy with our unspoken truths.

China is growing at such a dramatic pace. Often the cost of growth is our own humanity. Those of us who don’t live there may picture air pollution, broken plastic junk, skyscrapers endlessly on the horizon, insert your image of China here. It’s sometimes too easy to forget that there are human beings thinking deeply about living with the products and services we create. And if there are human beings behind the experiences, then there are also unspoken truths and tensions. Unlocking those can be a powerful way to identify what really matters.

I was teaching a group of early- to mid-career experience designers recently in Suzhou, outside Shanghai. The workshop focus was intentionally charged: how to create briefs that result in talkworthy products and services, with the premise being that our unspoken truths can be fertile territory for problem solving and innovation.

After my overview, each person had to share an unspoken truth that they wished to address. Here’s what I heard from the first four teams:

“We have so much stuff hanging in our closets that we can’t even figure out what to wear.”

“As women, we have more professional opportunities than ever, but wearing bras is uncomfortable and should be unnecessary.”

“We make these digital devices, but they’re stripping us of our humanity. Our phones are dumbing us down.”

“We’re all for progress, but the air pollution is killing us. That’s not progress.”

I’ve taught this workshop in a few different countries. Never have I seen any participants go this deep this quickly.

If you’re tasked with designing for impact, and have to answer the question “what do we make next?,” why not invest in exploring the unspoken truths amidst your client’s lives. This may be the least safe place for organizations not ready for change—it’s the opposite of head-in-the-sand thinking. That’s the point.

PS: as with life, some of my own perceptions were true and most were wildly off. But if you’re interested in your own first-hand experience, Christina Li leads the “UX Tour of China,” and it looks incredible. Next one’s in April. More details: China UX Tour

Healthcare: appreciate the help, but…

Millions of people care for loved ones on at least a part-time basis. These people are everyday heroes. Unfortunately it’s care that may be killing the givers (paywall).

You’ve probably seen articles like this before, but if you’re like me (my 16th 30th birthday is coming soon), these issues are surfacing in very relatable ways. And the more time I spend working with care executives, caregivers and clients, the more clear it is there’s no one-tap Uber for healthcare on the horizon. There’s no manual for dealing with aging parents. And understanding what to ask or where to begin when a loved one needs care is daunting. Many of us are working to solve some of these concerns, but in the meantime it may pay to start reading up. we’d like a word with your lawyer.

Good news: now in its fifth year, is now its own independent 501c3 organization, rather than a fiscally sponsored project. All of which makes it easier for our team to work with brands, foundations and providers of in-kind services like Google for Nonprofits, etc.

With the help of many amazing volunteers, we’ve inked 175 survivors and given many more the tools they need to reclaim the mirror again after a mastectomy. Now, a request: can we tap into your network? We’re seeking part-time counsel from the most qualified US-based lawyers and accountants we can find. It’s critical to our growth. Contact me if that’s you or you know a smarty who wants to contribute.

Scan this: a Dream Academy, 100 standups, Interaction 17 and two people you really want to work with.

Innovation: the Right to Dream Academy in Ghana is shifting the football world on its head. They’re funneling so many players abroad that they decided to buy their own parent club in Denmark.

Performance: Louie Anderson’s interview with the Nerdist’s Chris Hardwick is uncomfortable, inspiring and hilarious. And instructive: listen to Anderson explain why it takes at least 100 standup performances to be a decent comedian. (Also: his voice is a national treasure. Vocal envy.)

Conference: I’ve enjoyed my time co-leading the IXDA Student Design Challenge the past two years. This year I’m taking a break, and I won’t be in NY for Interaction 17. I’ll miss catching up with many of you. Meantime, keep your eye on the finalists for this year’s challenge
(led by Ana Domb and Ahmed Riaz) and have a look at the Interaction Awards finalists. Bonus: if you’re going, don’t miss Steve Portigal’s User Research War Stories. It’s This American Life meets ethnography. While you’re at it, grab his book Doorbells, Danger and Dead Batteries.

Connections: two friends are itching for a new challenge. One is managing director at a well known digital consultancy. Another leads digital growth for a much beloved CPG brand and has extensive agency leadership experience. I can personally suggest most of us would kill to have people like this on our teams. You’re up to great things, and you know people, so if you come across any exec-level opportunities, let me know and I’ll pass the word. (This is a confidential search—shareable details are limited.)

Workshops: Chalet Sessions in the Rockies.

 Photo by Max and Dee Bernt: Creative Commons liecense: Photo by Max and Dee Bernt: Creative Commons liecense:

You say “workshop,” I say “stunning mountain retreat.” I’m selecting intimate, overnight locations here in the Colorado Rockies for something new: Chalet Workshop. And you’re the first to hear about it. These workshops are focused on helping good researchers, strategists, and experience designers become leaders. Limit of 25 people each. Curious? Grab your skis and contact me for more details:

APRIL 5-6, 2017

You’ll learn now to map the moment-by-moment interactions that your organization has with its customers and employees; gain clarity into the strengths and weaknesses of your current offerings; prioritize future offerings; and create internal alignments that can help make your initiatives a success.

MAY 1-3 , 2017

Every brand has its truth. Few are comfortable with the unspoken truths that are abundant within culture, and that’s where the most interesting opportunities lie. You’ll learn how to create a product- or service- focused brief that taps into those unspoken truths; answer the brief with impactful ideas; and prepare those ideas for prototyping.

Don’t be shy. If you know someone who might be interested in the above, I’d appreciate it if you passed this along.

Consulting: let’s work together.

You are: looking to grow your digital impact through the creation of new platforms, products and services. I am: here to help with three specific things…research, strategy and design.

I’ve been seeding and crafting profitable, loyalty-building experiences with agencies and brands for 20 years. I live in Boulder and collaborate with clients everywhere. Learn more at and let’s talk.

The end.

TLDR, amirite? Unspoken truth: you have a thing for really long emails. (This can be our little secret.) Regardless, you and I should connect more often. Let’s grab a bite or a Skype session soon. I miss you.

— Noel

This note originally published January 2017.