Lilly Smith | Interviews

Chain Letters: Richard Ting

LEFT: Nike’s Run Club has helped millions of runners unlock their potential. RIGHT: Richard Ting.

This interview is part of an ongoing Design Observer series, Chain Letters, in which we ask leading design minds a few burning questions—and so do their peers, for a year-long conversation about the state of the industry.

In January, we examine the intersection of design and tech.

Richard Ting
leads R/GA’s global Experience Design team to strengthen and bolster R/GA’s​ ​portfolio of capabilities. His team is responsible for the overall user experiences of every​ ​project that R/GA launches into the marketplace. In his nearly two decades with R/GA, Richard has worked with a range of clients​ ​including Nike, Samsung​,​ and Google, earning the agency nearly every major industry​ ​award. An avid follower of emerging trends, Richard drives R/GA’s FutureVision​ ​program and is cofounder of the acclaimed R/GA Ventures Studio.

Richard is an executive member of the International Academy of Digital Arts & Sciences and an AIGA national board member. Richard taught at NYU’s Interactive Telecommunications Program and has been a guest lecturer at Brown University, Parsons School of Design, Miami Ad School, and Howard University. He’s served on numerous award juries, spoken at leading conferences, and published multiple articles in top-tier publications.

With every passing year, technology becomes more seamlessly intertwined with the human experience. In your role, how have you seen this affect human behavior?

Yes, we see this everywhere. Technology and the human experience have always been intertwined, and technology has certainly impacted human behavior in both positive and negative ways.

On the positive side, there is so much great “learning” content available these days, including cooking videos on YouTube, training apps like Nike Run Club, Machine Learning courses on Coursera, and design podcasts such as High Resolution. I think users today believe and expect that they can “learn” just about anything through content that is made easily accessible online. There definitely is an inherent “can-do” attitude that digital natives naturally possess.

On the negative side, technology has enabled such rapid news consumption that the half-life for a news cycle has completely collapsed. News stories are constantly being fed into our social media feeds, email alerts, push notifications, and slack channels that it has created a behavior where users are now trained to quickly jump from one news cycle to the next. Unfortunately, that type of behavior doesn’t always allow for the right focus and discourse to be placed against the news that really matters. For instance, when Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico in late September, which was catastrophic for the island, it didn’t register on the media radar. That story was quickly bumped from the news cycle by other less impactful stories.

What is a new challenge UX designers will have to address in 2018?

Data. The biggest challenge for UX designers in 2018 is to spend time really understanding how data can help improve and drive some of their design decisions. As more and more products and services leverage data to drive their machine learning and artificial intelligence algorithms, we as designers have a responsibility to re-insert a heightened level of humanity into these experiences and to make sure that the needs of the user always remain at the core of what we do. UX designers need to make sure that they leverage data to add value to the experience rather than abusing your information to over-sell a brand’s products.
UX designers need to make sure that they leverage data to add value to the experience rather than abusing your information to over-sell a brand’s products.
The tech industry is known to have a high barrier to entry, which can skew the demographics of the designers making interfaces we all use. If the people making the interfaces don’t necessarily represent those using them, how can designers ensure that the end product is inclusive and accessible?

R/GA has always placed a tremendous emphasis on diversity and inclusion. We understand the importance of it. Diverse and inclusive design teams are better positioned to create inclusive experiences for the users of our products and services, and generate more creative results. At R/GA, this philosophy also drives our hiring practices and how we curate our design teams.

However, for design teams that may not represent the demographic of their end users, there are toolkits like the Microsoft Inclusive Design toolkit that can help teams test their work against unconscious bias. Our very own designers will sometimes reference this toolkit to ensure that we are designing for inclusivity.

Microsoft Inclusive Design Toolkit helps promote diversity in design

Let’s pretend you had the funding to start any project you wanted. What would you develop?

Education is a big problem these days. It’s not universally available and not everyone can afford a top-tier education. I would develop a Blockchain-based online education platform that makes quality higher education universally available for free. The platform would incentivize and recognize anyone that completes the necessary coursework with a proper accredited degree. Records of every student’s educational achievements would then be stored on the blockchain to allow employers and companies to verify a student’s educational background.

From Netflix product designer Jessica Gaddis: The number of trends, tools, and technologies in the design industry can be overwhelming. What can designers do to keep up with it all?

At R/GA, we help to keep our designers informed through the R/GA University continuing educational program. We started the resource nearly a decade ago by offering internal courses to all our employees, including designers. We recently launched the program externally to share with anyone that might be interested.

Additionally, the general company culture is to embrace change, innovation, and knowledge-sharing. Our designers are constantly sharing articles, links, and tips through our various slack channels and this essentially creates a hive mind for the design team.

R/GA also has a digital magazine, FutureVision, focused on technology, design, and innovation created by our internal editorial and trend scouting team. The publication tracks new trends, tools, and technologies and shares the information publicly (in addition to all our global offices).

But for designers that don’t have the support of a company like R/GA to help keep track of everything, I’d recommend setting up a Twitter list that follows some of the top UX-ers, visual designers, and brand designers in the industry. (Here’s a list that I found of the top 20 UX-ers to follow on Twitter.) If you follow the right people, your twitter account can be a daily digest of every new trend, tool, or technology out there.

Next week Richard Ting asks UX designer and product strategist Sarah Doody: "As a UX Designer/product designer, what criteria do you use to assess which product ideas should be designed and developed further versus being left on the cutting room floor?"

Posted in: Chain Letters, Technology

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