The UX of Agriculture

At the UX South Africa conference in Johannesburg I presented a talk on the UX of Agriculture. I’m interested in the future of food production, urban farming, and how digital technology can disrupt aspects of mass agriculture. This talk is the outcome of researching new developments and thinking in agritech and urban farming.

I originally studied biochemistry, genetics, and plant physiology, with a little bit of aquaculture, and lately I’m seeing opportunities to combine my interests in science and design, which I find very exciting. I’m also interested in the future of work debate, and as work gets automated the question becomes: What is meaningful work for humans to do?

For me, the future of food production and how we live in cities is part of the answer.

View my slides here:

The human hand in the manufacture of high-tech products

I enjoyed Isabel Mager’s talk at the Design Indaba 2017 festival, she investigated the role of human labour in the manufacture of high-tech products. A discussion sorely lacking in the design community. Check out her film, 5000times:

5000times _ manual tasks from Isabel Mager on Vimeo.

Our smart high-tech devices are made by human hand. How often though do we realise – as we sit swiping – that somewhere, someone is testing the image quality of such devices by doing nothing else than taking thousands of selfies each day? 5000times investigates the extensive, repetitive and even absurd human labour that is essential to the creation of our smart devices. Kapton tape, which is used along assembly lines for electronics, acts as narrative evidence of the human trace within.

Humans are the most adaptable machines and the idea of a total automated production process remains fictive; development, purchase and maintenance of machinery are far more expensive and complex than human labour.

Revisiting Lean and Agile

I discovered my notes from The Machine That Changed The World. It made me think about about the differences between Lean and Agile. A good place to start is to think about the different ways we make things.

Lean came first to address waste in manufacturing, Agile came later as a response to managing complexity of software development. From the Agile Insights Blog:

Conceptually Agile is a subset of Lean principles and practices which are in turn a subset of Systems Thinking.

Once an organisations starts running Lean or Agile principles the whole nature of the organisation starts changing from a static hierarchy to a fluid learning culture. Not all organisations are ready for it, and implementing it in practice can be hard because the consequences of implementing Lean or Agile threatens existing functions and job roles.

Read more on the differences between Agile, Lean, Kanban, and Scrum.

The role of technology and empathy in creating a sustainable world

At the Design Indaba 2017 festival my highlights were Joe Gebbia and Luis von Ahn. Their talks challenged two assumptions that I hold. Listening to them speak made me realise that I’m not as optimistic as I should be.

Assumption 1: We’re becoming more racist

Brexit and Donald Trump are indications that the West is becoming more inward looking and racist. But Joe Gebbia talked about Airbnb’s Disaster Response and Relief program. It gives me hope that things are not that simple. There are people who care. In my work as a UX designer what has changed me most is talking to people, listening to their stories, it is easy to forget that we all share the same hopes and dreams for ourselves and our families, regardless of race or culture. If we learn to cultivate empathy the future may be less troublesome than we’re assuming.

Assumption 2: Languages are going extinct

Luis von Ahn told the story of DuoLingo. People learn languages for economic reasons, but that is not the only reason. There is interest in smaller languages, like Irish, DuoLingo gives those languages a chance to grow. The platform will be launching Swahili and Zulu in the near future. It may be that nature abhors homogeneity and the future may sound more diverse than what we are assuming.


It is all too easy finding evidence to support a pessimistic view of the future. I don’t want to be that person. There are bright spots and we need to keep them in view. Solving the problems we currently face cannot be done without technology. But we need to help technology understand it’s role in creating a sustainable world. This is what Airbnb and DuoLingo are doing by using technology to serve the needs of people. It is time that other industries start to follow.

UX South Africa Cape Town 2016

At the UX South Africa 2016 Conference in Cape Town I delivered a talk on the future of UX design in South Africa, and I facilitated a workshop on design critique. The UX South Africa Conference is in its third year and has grown from its base in Cape Town to an annual Johannesburg counterpart. The conference is growing in popularity and for the last two years international speakers has been added to the list. The popularity of the conference bears testimony to the growing local awareness of the value of UX design. The audience includes developers, designers, agilists, marketers, and content editors working across the tech industry.

My talk was inspired by conversations I’ve had in the past year with people interested in learning more about UX design. Themes running through the conversations were people’s desire to do meaningful work, and the future of UX design in South Africa. This raised two questions for me: Firstly, how can an industry with empathy at the core of its practice ignore the problems facing South Africa? And secondly, in a rapidly changing design landscape will UX designers be relevant in the future?

UX design exists at a unique interdisciplinary juncture and with the maturity of design thinking, social innovation, and lean startup, UX designers are well placed to re-apply their user-centred-design skills in new areas to make greater impact. In my talk I explored the new mindsets, skills and attitudes UX designers need to adopt to shift from merely doing design to becoming design activists.

Earlier in 2016 I gave a talk at a UX masterclass meet-up titled ‘The Lost Art of the Critique’. The talk was inspired by observing that many design teams that I work with lacked a process for discussing design critically. Feedback after the talk confirmed that many people experienced this in their organisations and they wanted to do something about it. So I designed a workshop to meet that need and presented the first version of workshop at the conference.

The best thing about doing talks and workshops is the hard questions that come from the audience. By exposing the canon of your knowledge in public, you get to grips with what you actually know, and how much more there is to learn.