Applications, Week 2: Designing for Humanity

Last night’s Applications class was the first in which the student teams presented.  By far the most interesting part of it was an exercise where the entire ITP ’13 class stood in two lines facing each other.  You would get a hand’s width apart from the person in front of you and stare in his/her eyes for 1-2 minutes.  Not only is this task an exercise in choosing which eye to stare at, but it also gets right down to the core of your own insecurities.  Are you intimidated by another person because it’s someone of the opposite sex?  Is it intimidating because it’s someone of the same sex?  I ended up laughing with the guy I was staring at, while the girl I was with couldn’t do the staring, though she tried to make me blink.  I’m glad one of the presenting groups’ members used the well-known axiom, “If you’re staring someone in the eyes, you’re either about to have sex or are about to fight.”  The exercise would be improved by removing the people who clearly have no inhibitions about staring others in the eye.

Part of me couldn’t stop laughing, because I was thinking of these Will Ferrell outtakes the whole time.

After the presentations, our class got to listen to a lecture from Margaret Stewart (@mags), the User Experience lead at YouTube for Google.  The woman really captivated our class.  What I found great about Margaret (an ITP alumna, back in the day), was that she handled every single question from our crowd with poise.  She is clearly a well-read person who reads outside of her own subject area, the mark of any boss that you’d ever want to work for.  She was also curious, seeking fun, and intensely interested in the public good that YouTube provides the world.

She talked about not making a design too flashy or too cute or whatever, because that can alienate smaller subsets of users who may feel like the design is uninviting, at which point they’ll look for another video-hosting site.  She cited people who might be posting videos looking for kidney donors not wanting really cute-sy things in the user interface.  She was happy with the displaying of top comments as one of the initial steps in trying to get through the infamous comment troll Hell that is YouTube comments (the worst dredge on the entire internet).

Mostly she implored the women in the class to seek mentorship from other women, and to provide it when it would be their turn.  I think this is crucial.  Clearly the women in my class thought Margaret was amazing, as did I, since she has been a successful female in a male-oriented world (Google) on her own terms, even stopping to have children, and yet she is still curious, fun, feminine, and intelligent.  She advised us not to be an ass in life, but what she was showing us was to be a badass.

My final comment is that I love that women are on a trend to dominate.  Three out of my four professors this semester are women, and my class is 55% female.  Women are reaching higher levels of management, which I think is required to topple the glass ceiling that exists at the CEO/executive level.  I have had tons of female bosses, even in the Army, and they are always responsible, caring, thoughtful, and good for building a work tribe or community.  Surely there is some stereotypical infighting, but if you’ve ever been around a bunch of dudes, it’ll usually come down to a lot of wasted time (but good chummy behavior) unless there’s a true alpha dog that knows how to motivate and inspire them.

So…thanks, Margaret.  Here’s to a future of more women like you!