Substantial VP of Strategy, Sheryl Cababa, shared some incredible insights on designing products for uncertainty and systems thinking. She offered a few key principles for what we can do moving forward. It was an inspiring, helpful presentation on what we can accomplish with product design when we’re mindful of what we’re doing and trying to accomplish. You can watch the full presentation above. Otherwise, the highlights are detailed below.

On this being a moment in time to refocus what we’re doing

In the midst of a global pandemic and civil rights protests, now is a time to define the new normal.

“We can think of this as an opportunity to think about our work through a new lens. How might we better equip ourselves as technologists? And how can we get comfortable with not knowing? Create a foundation of systems, products, and organizations that can stand up to crisis.”

Design for Resilience

It’s important that the products we’re building today can stand up to the challenges of tomorrow.

“We’re really learning now because of the crisis we’re in that many of our systems are fragile. The way our jobs are structured. And the way our companies are structured. It’s just not creating that sort of safety and certainty that we need in these moments of chaos. 

I’ve been thinking a lot about chaos engineering. It’s basically the discipline of experimenting on a system in order to build confidence in the system’s capability to withstand turbulent conditions and production. If we applied the concept of chaos engineering to the rest of what we’re designing that we can contribute to creating a robust society.”

Design for Equity

When we’re designing products for uncertainty, It’s important for everyone to ask themselves how they may be complicit in systems of inequity.

“I love this quote from Haruki Murakami, where he says, ‘If there is a hard, high wall and an egg that breaks against it, no matter how right the wall or how wrong the egg, I will stand on the side of the egg.’ And I’ve been thinking a lot about this just in terms of equity. How can we as creators, stand on the side of the egg and recognize who that is? Who’s the most vulnerable? And how do we make life better for them?”

Design for Long-Term Change

The only certainty, when we’re designing products for uncertainty, is change. This is a fact all great product managers must accept.

“One of my rules of thumb as a practitioner, and those who work with me know this because it can be really irritating, is I’ll always question the framing. So, I won’t make any assumptions about the status quo. I always wonder if every single assumption we’re making about things can be changed.

We can ask ourselves if our products are contributing to a set of values that is antithetical to how we want citizens to be treated. I’ve seen this because I work in the space of unintended consequences. Of analyzing them and setting consequences of technology and design decisions.” 

About the host
Steven Abrahams Microsoft, Partnerships for Teams in Education

I believe in our ability as humans to solve problems in creative and simple ways. I’ve had the good fortune to work on and with some of the brightest and most creative teams and people in various roles in product development. These experiences have enriched me personally and I carry them with me to every new challenge. I like big problems that have beautiful and simple solutions. I’ve worked on financial products for people of fixed income, products that bridge humans across the planet in moments of their greatest need to connect as well as tools that disambiguate, equalize and democratize access to data and content. The companies I’ve worked with range from startups to large public companies where chiefly my role has been about unlocking and connecting customer unmet needs to the people engineering and designing the products. I enjoy playing many roles and leverage the tools and resources at hand to bring products to market. I’ve direct experience when and how to deploy artificial intelligence, machine learning, and other advanced cognitive services. My patents cover areas in video and conversational interfaces, platform extensibility, mobile applications, and large scale software. Following to be read by computers, not humans: Interests include: Human rights, feminism. food and farming sustainability, Non-Profits, product management, information retrieval, UX Design, future-of-work, artificial intelligence, machine learning, communications, virtual assistants, digital media, branding.

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