Facebook Design

Transitioning to a Career in AR/VR Design

By Jake BlakeleyA couple of years ago, I made a silly prototype that let people shoot virtual foam darts at their friends’ faces in augmented reality. Although it was a small and fun project, it was the start of my transition from designing 2D UI products for advertisers to being one of the first handful of product designers helping shape what is now the Spark AR platform. It was exciting to see such a simple experience spark joy in people when they used it. Working at Facebook, I can bring these types of experiences to scale on a platform that enables creators to build and share similar augmented reality experiences with their friends and followers. Two years later, I’m still designing for augmented reality and virtual reality — AR/VR — at Facebook, but now I’m working on Oculus products and learning how to design for all of the ways our brains perceive the world.This transition wasn’t unique to me, and I see it as an industry trend. Based on the number of people reaching out to me recently, it seems more designers than ever are entering the AR/VR space as people realize how transformational this technology is becoming. Let’s take a peek at some key concepts, the general process AR/VR designers at Facebook use and how you can apply it to your own work, as well as how to choose the right tools to use, platforms to build for and how to mind the skill gap to avoid frustration when taking on this new challenge.Key Concepts to Start Your JourneyIt can be quite daunting to look at AR/VR as a completely new space, with a whole new language and concepts, but I often find myself leaning on knowledge from other fields. Architecture taught me about positive and negative space, visual effects taught me how to create spectacle to delight the viewer and, most of all, the games industry taught me how to think about interaction in a 3D environment. Playing video games for 10 hours a week was actually useful for my career — take that, Mom! Let’s start with what underlies all these fields: 3D.The Basics of 3DIn spatial computing, all modeling and interaction is represented on a 3-axis grid along x, y and z. Here are all the components of 3D modeling visualized from smallest to largest:On top of that, we construct the rest of our object by adding textures, materials and shaders. This is one of the key differences many designers struggle with when learning a 3D design tool. Unlike with 2D design tools, we’re not applying an image against a flat screen anymore. It’s a texture, applied to a material, tied to a UV map, rendered by a shader. That sentence probably didn’t make much sense, so let’s break it down with imagery.Say we want to model the “angry reaction” in 3D. We start with a simple sphere model, then unwrap the sphere mesh to create a UV map. Notice how all the edges of the mesh line up to a part of the UV map on the image so it can be realigned later:Next, we take our 2D image of an angry reaction and apply this to a material on a shader. We then apply this material to a sphere mesh. As you can see, the texture wraps around the sphere nicely.When it comes to 3D, shaders are probably the hardest component to wrap your head around but one of the most fundamental. Shaders are the instructions given to your device to tell it how to render an image. This is based on all the inputs we mentioned earlier: materials, mesh, vertices, color and light, among others. This happens in every frame to create an animation.The easiest way to think about this is to think about your favorite 3D video games. You’ve probably seen a game styled more like a cartoon, such as The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker, and one styled more realistically, such as The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. These styles were determined by the shaders used.Here is the “angry reaction” with three different shaders and the material we applied.Just like in the real world, lighting defines the brightness, shadows and other properties of an object and surfaces. Lighting is very important for AR/VR as it creates grounding, believability and also helps guide users.There’s a lot more to 3D, such as rigging, animating and the use of different material types, but this should be enough to help you grasp the basics before diving into a 3D tool.The Tale of Two SpacesIn a 2D app, everything is tied to the screen position. But in AR/VR, there are (mostly) two spaces. The first is screen space, where an object is tied to the screen, like in 2D apps. The second is world space — it’s an object sitting on your desk or placed in your hand. The concept is simple, but the implications are significant.Let’s look at typography as an example. A 12-pixel font in screen space is generally 12 pixels all the time, but if we wanted to put text in world space, it changes size and readability drastically, based on how close the user is to it.https://medium.com/media/00714068ff59da6fd6cc12c281e7abe7/hrefWhat is AR/VR actually?Let’s break down what virtual reality and augmented reality actually are. Although they are quite similar in underlying technology and exist on a spectrum of immersive technology, let’s simplify and discuss them separately so we can understand the constraints of the systems we’re working in.AR is about recognizing and understanding the world as seen by the device’s camera. It superimposes media onto the user’s view, combining the real world and a computer-generated one.Because the system only understands the pixels seen by the camera, it doesn’t interpret the world like people do. Occlusion is an example of an AR constraint. It means the device doesn’t automatically interpret the depth of the world.In this example, the system first has to understand a face. Then we track a mesh to it to occlude — or mask — the crown so the back side doesn’t show through the head.While AR superimposes a new world onto ours, VR transports us into a digital one. It does this through a stereoscopic display and headset tracking to make your head into a virtual camera for a digitally rendered world.The biggest constraint in VR comes from the fact that we’re tricking our eyes and brain into thinking we’re in a virtual world. We need the rules of this world to match our concept of reality.To simplify, when there’s a disconnect between what our body is feeling versus what we’re seeing, user comfort can be impacted. For example, if you make someone fall in VR when their body knows they’re standing up, this can result in reduced comfort due to the disconnect. Here are examples of how to allow movement while maintaining user comfort.From left to right: Teleporting by pointing and pressing a button in Robo Recall. Pushing yourself through space in Echo VR. Using your hands at a distance to pull yourself in To The Top.A design consideration you’ve probably thought about for mobile but that’s exaggerated in VR is designing for the human body. Spatial interfaces use your head and hands to allow you to interact with the world, which is a magical experience and intuitive if done right. However, our bodies have limitations. Looking down, turning around, keeping our arms up — these become tiring over time.There are numerous domain-specific AR/VR languages and concepts that are best learned while experimenting with the many tools on the market. For example if you want to tackle mobile AR, Spark AR will cover many capabilities and best practices, Oculus outlines concepts specific to VR and whatever video tool you are using will likely highlight how to do compositing to put objects in your real-world footage.While the language of AR/VR is evolving, this outlines the basics. Now, let’s dive into what it takes to do the work.Our Team’s AR/VR Design ProcessAR/VR designers at Facebook divide our efforts into three phases: ideation, vision work and prototyping.If you’re a designer, ideation is probably familiar. It’s a quick and iterative way to generate lots of ideas to address a problem and learn rapidly. We use collaborative brainstorming, storyboarding to tell a narrative and — unique to AR/VR — bodystorming. For storyboarding, our team is fond of Procreate for creating digital sketches in 2D and Quill for sketching in 3D. For bodystorming, we use real-world props and activities to act out interactions and narratives. This is especially effective in AR/VR, because you get a spatial feel for objects and scale while iterating much faster than in digital prototyping.Vision work is the second phase and occurs early in our process. It involves gathering our ideation and combining it in a tighter package, usually a video, to share more broadly within the team or cross-functionally. However, we can share a vision in other ways, such as style-boarding to agree on a visual language, or high-fidelity storyboards to discuss steps in great detail. Vision work helps our multidisciplinary team align around a north star, so we can also work fast and sometimes semi-autonomously toward the same solution. The vision may evolve as we learn more through prototyping and research, but it allows us to work in parallel instead of blocking other team functions.For vision work, we generally use 3D modeling and animation apps, such as Cinema 4D, Blender or Maya, to render videos on top of recorded footage.The third phase, prototyping, is the highest fidelity of the three phases and is usually reserved for smaller, more high-touch interactions or project details. Prototypes are also usually the best artifacts to bring into user research, since they allow participants to test our work and give tangible, direct feedback. AR/VR prototyping contains a couple of key differences compared to other disciplines. First, interactions take longer to build, as best practices have yet to be defined completely, and second, there are significantly more variables to consider when designing in 3D than 2D.In this phase, our team usually uses a 3D modeling app — the same ones mentioned above — to create low poly assets for our real-time engines.We generally do interaction prototyping in the same tool we use for the end product so we can test, learn and iterate fast. This usually means using Spark AR Studio for mobile AR, adding interactivity through either visual programming or scripting with code and using Unity or Unreal Engine for HMD-based AR/VR for products like the Oculus Rift. Whether you select Unity or Unreal as your tool of choice is a hotly debated topic, so I’ll leave it up to you to decide.This may seem like a broad skill set, but luckily I didn’t have to become an expert on all phases. Each of my team members has a strong domain expertise that helps raise the rest of the team up. I have a team member who is amazing at motion graphics and visualizing ideas, a coworker and friend who knows shaders and real-time engines inside and out, a teammate who is a master of design processes and practices, and, of course, there’s me. I’m more a generalist and know these skills more broadly but not as deeply in any one category. A multidisciplinary team like ours shows how broad and open the skill sets are for an AR/VR designer. The real magic happens when we apply our different areas of expertise to the challenge and collaborate to find a solution.Now that I’ve shared one approach to designing for AR/VR, let’s dig into some unique learning methods.The Skill Gap and How to Learn EffectivelyWhen I started in AR/VR, my biggest struggle was staying motivated in an emerging technology that had so many unknowns. I was at the point in my product design career where I was adept at iterating quickly on UI, had the confidence to defend my product decisions, had a strong intuition for user needs and felt pretty secure in my career. But when it came to AR/VR, I felt like an impostor. Making the leap to AR/VR was hard when I knew staying in my old role was safe. I had to persevere, and accept that my AR/VR work wasn’t great yet but that someday I would get there. What eventually pushed me to where I am today wasn’t thinking about *what* I learned but *how* I learned.A great framework for understanding the learning process is the four stages of competence, which describes how we learn and the struggles that come with the journey. My friend and coworker Emilia explored this in depth in her article “How to Feel All the Feelings and Still Kick Ass.” The role of conscious incompetence in learning particularly resonates with me. This is the learning stage where you understand enough to grasp how much you don’t actually know. It’s like feeling accomplished when you learn to play “Chopsticks” on the piano, then suddenly realizing how much more you need to learn before you can perform “Für Elise.” This is the stage where most people give up.The biggest favor I did myself was treating learning as play — taking the pressure off by doing small, fun projects. This meant taking grand ideas, such as creating a fully immersive AR shopping experience, and breaking them down into smaller projects. I started with questions like “How do I signal to users that they can place their objects into the world?” or “How do we allow users to manipulate an object?” or even “How do I get a 3D model into the engine?” There’s a ton to learn from small projects like these, especially in an early industry like AR/VR, where patterns aren’t fully cemented. These small projects also helped me realize what excited me the most about AR/VR, what I excelled at and where I had skill gaps. What’s great about this time in our industry is that we’re all learning together, and people are eager to help and mentor. Especially at a place like Facebook, we tap into each other’s unique skills to help ourselves grow. If you’re looking for a helping hand, I’d be more than happy to pass the baton and help you get started. Reach out!Summing It UpIf you’ve made it this far, congrats! This is only a short summary of the foundational concepts of 3D and AR/VR and the processes and tools my team and I find useful. What makes this industry a bit overwhelming is also what makes it so exciting — it’s evolving extremely fast, and there’s always a ton to learn. It’s a long journey, and the skill gap will be frustrating, but remember to start small, find ways to play as you learn and seek out a buddy or mentor to help guide you. If you jump in now, you’ll be years ahead of other designers once spatial computing is ubiquitous.Is there anything else you feel that designers starting in this field should know? Or is there anything you wished you knew early in your AR/VR career?· · ·Thank you to everyone who helped to compile this, and supported me in my design career transition; Matt S., Matt M., Hayden S., Emilia D., James T.!Transitioning to a Career in AR/VR Design was originally published in Facebook Design on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Hear, There, and Everywhere

Facebook Design in conversation with co-authors Fuchsia MacAree and Scott Boms on their book and the importance of listeningFacebook’s Analog Research Lab is a creative studio for design and art-making operated by a team whose projects explore and express ideas, values, and new perspectives in tangible, physical forms through the lens of the company’s cultural zeitgeist. These projects and the dedicated Analog Research Lab studio spaces dotted across Facebook’s global campuses are built on passion and hard work as a reflection of Facebook’s creative spirit. Scott Boms is a designer, printmaker and the Design Lead of Facebook’s Analog Research Lab based in Menlo Park, California. In 2017, Scott partnered with Dublin-based illustrator Fuchsia MacAree, an alumna of the Analog Research Lab’s Designer in Residence program, on a special project about listening. Fuchsia is known for her direct, expressive, and genuinely empathetic illustrations, carefully chosen color palettes, and an intrinsic curiosity about the world.That project ultimately made its way into the world as a book called Being Hear. Created in response to observed behaviors and questions about the effects of technology, it charts a multi-sensory exploration of what it means to be present and our ability to listen to each other and the world in modern times. One year on and at the end of touring the book to Facebook offices around the globe, we caught up with Scott and Fuchsia to learn more about the impact of this project and their creative and editorial process.Q: Let’s start at the beginning. What prompted this project about listening?Scott: Discourse in general was a hot topic at the end of 2016, as it continues to be today, but there was a particular moment that came out of a poignant question asked by a Facebook employee that I’d call the real moment of conception for the project. The question — how do we give people ears to listen? — although direct on one hand was also one that had many layers to it. In other words, it was the perfect prompt for a project like this. Although moments and prompts in a similar vein often come with a sense of urgency, this one took a while to properly unpack. I knew we needed to create something in response or as a reaction to this, but it was clear that quiet observation, research, and reflection were necessary to do so appropriately. That one question prompted many, many more about the nature of listening, how it impacts us in the physical world, as well as how we listen when we interact with each other online and with the tools we create to communicate with each other.Searching for a quiet moment in a crowded, noisy world.From there, I think you could say inspiration came from how we were able to work together, the research rabbit holes we went down, and the sometimes wildly unexpected connections Fuchsia and I collectively drew lines between along the way. Curiosity is what drove us — and is ultimately something we aimed to express within the book itself. Fuchsia: I had been a Designer in Residence in the Dublin office in 2016, and for me this started when Scott asked if I wanted to work on a project with them in the Analog Research Lab in Menlo Park. The idea of spending time on a project all about empathy and awareness was really appealing to me. Many of us work in such fast-paced environments that it’s easy to be constantly busy and to never take a step back to just be silent and listen — both emotionally and literally. In a broader sense, I wanted to make something engaging that wasn’t too prescriptive, something that elevated other people’s voices, but wasn’t too serious. I also wanted it to be something that could exist at home or in work, to be leafed through rather than read cover to cover — something for people to find their own way through.Q: How did you know where or how to start?Fuchsia: I’m a big believer in research through practice, trying things out and learning from the process. Research and drawing overlapped all along the way, and some of this work made the cut. For me, having access to a Risograph machine in the Analog Research Lab was great for this project because I could make little zines as I went. These served as mini deadlines. When something is printed, it becomes final in a way for me, and I find it easier to move on. Geography contributed to the immersive and social experience of the project. We started in California, but I was also in New York and Dublin over the course of the project, all the while working with Scott. I did a lot of reading and deep dives into articles the Facebook community had written. At the same time, I was also sketching and trying out different ideas. Gradually pieces of the book emerged from all this. Scott: The way this project unfolded was unconventional, at least in terms of how I’ve worked in the past. Fuchsia and I needed a way to work together easily and created a shared spreadsheet as a rudimentary editorial tool for collecting and organizing ideas, especially early on. It allowed us to draw connections and ask questions along the way. By the time we had enough material to pull together an edit of the book in the late summer, we were able to do so quickly while also identifying gaps and the other questions we needed to answer.A game of broken telephone succinctly illustrates the struggle of listening—not just to hear, but to understand.The entire process felt conversational in a way. We took the topic of the book to heart in how we worked together. There was a lot of question asking, quiet reflection and—most importantly — listening to each other. We aimed to make something that gently reflects an ideal of the world where the design and content transitions between moments of activity and rest in a natural way — the way conversations naturally ebb and flow. It ultimately became a collection of narratives and illustrative explorations that rewards observation and patience. The simplicity of Fuchsia’s illustration style and minimizing the amount of texture and detail needed to convey an idea intentionally became an expression of that ideal.Q: How did the process of making the book influence the outcome?Scott: I’ve always tried to be patient, quiet and observant in how I work, but working with Fuchsia on this project helped me understand more clearly why that’s important. Part of listening is knowing how and when to ask questions — not necessarily to interrupt someone, but to help drive a conversation in order to actually learn something. We were only in the same place twice while making the book — at the outset during the first two weeks when Fuchsia came out to Menlo Park and later when I was in Dublin, and we assembled the first edit. It meant that most of our interactions were virtual — over email or VC calls. A spotty internet connection can mean awkward delays and unintentionally speaking over each other, which forced us to be more patient, to listen and reflect without feeling like there was an urgency to respond to each other’s thoughts in the moment. This drove how we thought about maintaining the rhythm and pacing throughout the book — not too fast, not too slow, and leaving room for pauses and quiet moments.We asked ourselves, “How might we encourage presence and listening over speed?”Fuchsia: It has made me slow down a little in my process, in a good way. Sometimes I can blindly fire ahead with an idea for a drawing not thinking about whether it’s actually working. To be aware of this and to work in a more considered manner means I can avoid a lot of frustration. I also think that, since making this book, my personal work has changed and become more subtle. I notice quiet moments more now. Working on a book especially feels like you have a duty to make something which can continue in its next life on someone’s table or shelf. It’s going to have a life span well past the time it took to create, so it’s worth putting all you have into it.Q: What was the most surprising discovery you made working on the book?Fuchsia: Something I hadn’t considered before we started was how linked the subject matter and the working process were. A lot of the content in the book is a direct reaction to my experiences. My normal environment of Dublin, the relaxed feeling of California, and the hectic nature of New York all crashed together to affect different parts of the book. I was in these different environments, learning about the world around me and seeing things from a different perspective, while creating work about observing and listening. This is something which relied on my being present in the situation. One couldn’t exist without the other. Another surprising result was that it changed my perspective of my social situations. It made me a little more aware of dynamics, and some of the practical advice in the book helped me in real life situations. A part of the book deals with being an ally and directing questions to a person who is being talked over — I’ve found this a subtle tactic to make a social situation more diplomatic when one person is being very dominant. I’m lucky that my day-to-day work environment is a freelance studio with friends, so I manage to avoid a lot of office politics, but this kind of domination still happens all the time in the pub and at social gatherings, so I still get a taste of it. There were also so many fun, small and surprising bits of research that went into the book. We were thinking about listening in a very literal way, as well as in an emotional way, but the literal examples had an unexpected link back to the meaning behind the book. For example, I found archive footage of elephants in London being given custom-made earmuffs to protect them from the sounds of planes taking off at Heathrow. This made for a fun and strange image, but it also touched on compassion and empathy. I also looked into what sounds were sent into space on the Voyager spacecraft. This started with the fascination that we literally sent a record into space on the off chance an alien would come across it. But of course the real audience for these sounds weren’t aliens, the audience was us. We were trying to sum up our own existence to ourselves. I was especially delighted to find the recorded messages of greetings for extraterrestrials. Broadcast in the most common languages of Earth, they’re sweetly polite and mundane for our first contact with other planets. They almost sound like having a neighbor over for tea. For example the greeting recorded in the Amoy dialect of Chinese reads: “Friends of space, how are you all? Have you eaten yet? Come visit us, if you have time.” Scott: For me, I think the most surprising discovery might be just how important the idea of listening is in general. Listening is something most of us probably don’t think about too often, yet it plays such an important role in how we experience the world. Not listening means missing out on or misinterpreting critical pieces of information that might affect our life, friendships, or job. Think about how sound can heighten a physical or emotional response to an experience — whether in the real world or the digital one. Think about how you might miss hearing an oncoming car while listening to music or a podcast with headphones on. What about the challenge presented by electric vehicles which are even quieter than their gas-powered counterparts? We rely so heavily on our visual experience and perception, yet sound and our ability to listen plays an equally critical role.Q: What’s missing today to allow people to truly listen to each other and not just hear, but understand the things we’re each trying to communicate?Fuchsia: I think it’s a lot about ego going unchecked. The more everyone realizes we’re all small parts of the same big puzzle, the better. All the social movements happening at the moment mean it’s an interesting time to be living, in terms of empathy. We’re all constantly being forced to examine our behavior and privilege with a critical eye, which can only be a good thing.Listening can also mean being an ally to support or stand up for voices not heard as clearly and loudly as others.Scott: Ego absolutely gets in our way when it comes to listening. We too often listen to respond — to provide an answer, a confirmation, or a rebuttal — and in doing so, miss the point entirely. Maybe we’d be better served knowing when to just be quiet. Sometimes bearing witness to another person as a sounding board is what they need — and enough. It also comes down to making space for ourselves to be present. It’s become very easy to treat our days like a game of Tetris, bouncing between appointments and obligations, watching the clock — or deeply entranced by our phones, thinking more about where we need to go next and what we need to say or do rather than being present to absorb and truly understand what’s happening. Without presence, we fail to listen with the intent to understand. And without understanding, we become effectively lost.Q: What does it mean to really listen?Scott: Listening helps ground you. Stopping to sit and listen to the birds, the rain tapping against a window, or even watching cars whiz past outside for just a few minutes is an easy way to combat some of the anxiety and discomfort that comes with the constant acceleration of the world and our ability to understand our place in it, especially in relation to the experience and perspective of others. Fuchsia: It’s easier than ever to feel a low sense of anxiety from all these screens we’re surrounded with. Taking a moment to recalibrate, step away from screens and just be aware of your surroundings can give you a little bit of perspective and take you out of your own head for a moment.Q: Where do you hope Being Hear takes people?Scott: A place of genuine humility and empathy. Real empathy starts with listening to understand, not to respond. Fuchsia: I gave some copies to friends and family and was warmly surprised by the reaction the book received. Some people said it gave them the tools to be much more aware in the workplace and to be more self-reflective. I think illustration is such a wonderful tool to present ideas to people in an approachable way, and hopefully what we put into the book achieves that.  —  Being Hear features more than 70 curious and delightful original illustrations, essays, and interactive activities that draw from a distinct geographic influence and reflect the journey the authors went on during the book’s creation. Printed copies of Being Hear have been donated to the Design Museum in London, where the proceeds of each purchased copy go to youth-focused design programs. Because of the intentional analog nature of interactive aspects of this work, a digital version will not be made available.Hear, There, and Everywhere was originally published in Facebook Design on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Designing for Virtual Reality: 3 Tips for Content Strategists

The day my mother-in-law put on a virtual reality (VR) headset was the day I realized just how immersive this new technology could be. “I’m on stage! I’m on stage!” She was experiencing the thrill of being on a concert stage for the first time. “Look at me! I’ve never been on stage before, what should I do?” I was seeing how powerful being there could be for someone having a deeply emotional connection. This is what drove me to want to be a content strategist on virtual reality experiences.When I first joined Facebook’s Social AR/VR Experiences team, new paradigms for VR design challenged my role: VR is a fully immersive experience where you can’t simply glance up from a screen. In most VR experiences, you have an avatar and communicate non-verbally with gestures and emotes. Being a UX writer on a product where the audience is fully immersed in the experience and uses very few words can feel like swimming through a stream of ambiguity. It was hard to figure out what content problems there are to solve. To navigate how to guide and orient people in simple, human and straightforward ways through VR experiences, I find myself leaning on my storytelling skills. VR has the power to bring an audience inside the story and connect with the audience on a whole new emotional level — like the feeling my mother-in-law had being “on stage.” This is a new behavior, where the audience is now the participant. For years, our viewing behaviors were limited to watching TV. We’d lean back on a couch and were outside the story as a viewer. Laptops and tablets encouraged us to lean in and interact with content. Chat rooms allowed us to connect with new people and create social experiences, while web pages allowed us to interact with businesses. And now, virtual reality headsets surround us with media and bring the viewer inside the story. VR immerses you in a world that is different from the physical world, and makes you believe you’re there, present in that reality. As content strategists and storytellers, the audience that we’re designing for is now entirely inside the experience. And the real question I have is how do you craft a dynamic narrative when the audience is within and creating their own experience? My first task is to figure out how to guide and orient people. The nature of these experiences is that you, as the viewer, are an active participant in the experience. You decide where to look, where to go and what to read. Since VR is a new medium, without many existing design patterns, I needed to understand how people interact from other experiences where audiences participate, like live theater, location-based visitor tours and first-person video games. From looking at these experiences, I found three paradigms we as VR designers can draw inspiration from to ground our work:1. Bring your audience into the story: Always provide a clear role for your audienceThe nature of live theater is immersive. In most of his plays, Shakespeare would include and address the audience by giving them a role, Sarah Werner writes in her paper: “Hamlet opens with the question, ‘Who’s there?’ The answer is not only Francisco and Bernardo, but also that we (the audience) are always there.” While traditional theater regards the audience as physically present observers, immersive theater pushes the audience further into the performance and uses the entire space as a stage to bring the audience into the play, alongside the cast. The Speakeasy, a long-running immersive theater show in San Francisco, California, brings you into a slice of the 1920s. The audience arrives dressed in flapper-era costumes and is drinking and dancing alongside the actors, who guide you from one room to the next as the scenes play out. You’re truly immersed in the story, the space and the vibe. Immersive theater identifies a clear role for the audience, and you explore the story through that role. Katy Newton and Karin Soukup asked this question in their research: “How do we tell a story for the audience when the audience is present within it?” They identified a core principle that “having a body means being somebody, there is no such thing as a neutral observer.” Your audience always needs to understand where and why they fit into the narrative that you’re telling, which is a core shift from traditional filmmaking where the audience is an observer. As VR content strategists and storytellers, we need to create a clear role for our audience within our experiences. Good UX in VR is making sure that people understand what their role is.2. Use the setting and space to convey a mood: Provide meaning to the space you’re inIn the early 2010s, smartphones enabled people to tell stories in the places where they actually happened. The Westwood Experience by Nokia experimented with connecting a story to unique and powerful real locations. Using mobile devices, they interlaced a narrative throughout Hollywood with parts of the story tied to real locations. Through the device, the audience was able to see buildings transform to how they should look in the story. This type of storytelling technique allows the audience to feel the space come to life and relive history at the site where it happened. Location-based stories allow the audience to explore and discover the environment. The setting in literary storytelling is a powerful way to convey the mood of a story. For example, a cozy house in the woods with a fireplace burning, while raindrops pitter on the roof could make someone feel safe and warm. While a large, industrial-like steel building could make someone feel oppressed and cold. The use of visual and audio cues to further define these environments and influence the narrative is a very important storytelling tool in VR experiences. As VR content strategists and storytellers, we need to think about how the tone of the space impacts the mood of the experience, as well as how to use the space to guide people.3. Ease people into the experience: Let people try things outExploration games invite players to immerse themselves within worlds and further the story line as these interactions happen. Gone Home, a story exploration video game by The Fulbright Company, puts the player in the shoes of Kate who returns home to an empty house after a year of traveling overseas. Kate gets clues about her missing family through everyday interactions that happen in her house. The story unfolds as you pick up scraps of paper, notes, letters, photos, cassette tapes and other bits and pieces around the house. Story exploration video games unfold a story as people interact with objects in the environment. Compared to desktop or mobile phone experiences, VR presents a new paradigm with spatial interactions, and it is important to help people ease into learning how to interact in this new space. Providing thresholds or levels is a design pattern from video games that allows people to try out and learn how to interact in new environments. Using the idea of providing a threshold, you can think about each new interaction as a building block and give your audience one block at a time, so that they can build and understand in a comfortable way. Being able to build on these “blocks” is a good way to lighten the cognitive load that comes with learning how to interact in a virtual space. As VR content strategists and storytellers, we need to find the right moments to help people learn how to interact with the environment and build on those skills. These examples highlight 3 key differences for how we can think about content strategy in VR and start to incorporate these techniques into our work to build meaningful experiences. As VR matures and starts to bring in more content strategists to improve the relevance of content and how people engage with the experience, we can keep these affordances in mind. VR experiences need to be simple, straightforward and human, and we’ll need to guide our teams on how to craft intuitive and natural experiences, as always, even within this new platform. Read more about the Facebook content strategy team’s work in VR in my colleague Brynn’s piece on Medium, “A Content Strategist’s Journey Into Social VR” and check out Facebook.design. Huge thanks to: Carolyn W., Jasmine P., Sara G., and Ali M. for your thoughtful feedback on shaping this piece. Cheryl L. for your artwork and support. Katya K. and Richard E. for your continued input and support in framing VR storytelling. Resources cited in this article:Eckert, S. (2018, September 01). What Is Immersive Theater?Newton, K., & Soukup, K. (2016, April 06). The Storyteller’s Guide to the Virtual Reality Audience.Werner, S. (2017, January 02). “Audiences” in Shakespeare and the Making of Theatre.Designing for Virtual Reality: 3 Tips for Content Strategists was originally published in Facebook Design on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

A Content Strategist’s Journey Into Social VR

My first experience with virtual reality was First Contact: an interactive orientation to Oculus Touch. I put on the headset and my new surroundings snapped into focus. I found myself in a cluttered workshop surrounded by nostalgia-inspiring objects like old computers and game consoles. I spent the next 10 minutes interacting with a friendly robot guide who handed me an assortment of floppy disks. While I had never experienced anything like this before, I knew what to do. I inserted the disks into glowing drives and familiar objects materialized in front of me. I held out my hand for a pixelated butterfly to land on, twirled a noisemaker and launched a toy rocket across the room.Oculus First ContactMy mind was buzzing after I took off the headset. As a content strategist at Facebook, I use language to create clear, consistent and compassionate experiences for the people who use our products. Content strategists often communicate through words displayed on a screen in the form of dialogs, notifications, calls to action and other interface components.What I’d just experienced felt more immersive than any interface I’d encountered before. And, while the experience was a completely new one, it had felt strangely intuitive. It became immediately clear to me that virtual reality represents a new and exciting challenge for content strategists. How do we bring clarity and simplicity to an experience when we move beyond the screen and the interface is all around us?Several months later, I had the opportunity to investigate this question for myself. I worked with the Facebook Spaces team on Facebook’s first social VR app. It’s a virtual environment where people can spend time with their Facebook friends. They can watch videos, capture photos, play games, work on art projects and experience 360 media together. There was a lot to explain and no screen on which to do so. I was going to have to approach this from a different angle.Creating a language systemSocial VR represents a new kind of conversation with the people who use our products. We didn’t want to introduce a lot of text into an immersive experience. We knew we’d have to make the most of the limited opportunities to explain all the features and functionality, like creative tools to make 3D art and media players to experience 360 photos and videos. I felt that the best way to do this was to help people form a clear mental model of the virtual space we’d created by anchoring the experience in simple and familiar concepts. To do this successfully, we needed to make careful decisions about how to label the concepts in this experience.We had a long list of placeholder names and labels for various features. In Content Strategy, one of our core principles is to name things only when it’s absolutely necessary, so I did a quick audit of our list with that in mind. The goal was to choose names that would clearly communicate the purpose and potential of features, and they had to make sense all together. We put together a set of guiding principles to help us identify the names that felt unhelpful, inconsistent or unclear:Avoid names where interactions are intuitive. We decided not to name something if its function or purpose was immediately obvious. For example, when a person was in a virtual space in the app, we didn’t need to explain to them that the surface they were standing on was like a floor — it was intuitive and familiar enough a concept that it needed no explanation.Don’t label design decisions. One important feature of the Spaces app was the ability to show media, like photos, to others in the space. Facebook Spaces supports both regular (2D) photos and 360 photos, and the team had created different designs for each of these. In Spaces, 2D photos look like a flat tile you can grab with your fingers, while 360 photos look like a sphere you can hold in your hand. We’d taken to calling these “photo tiles” and “photospheres” during the product development process, but it felt unnecessarily complicated to have multiple names for what was essentially the same concept. To simplify the experience, we chose to focus on the concept and choose one name (“photo”) rather than name each form.A 360 photo in Facebook SpacesQuestion the use of metaphors. Metaphors can be useful as feature names when they clarify the purpose of an object or the intention of a part of the interface. Prior to the launch of Spaces, we were using a lot of these kinds of names for features to tie features to objects in the physical world. But taken together, placeholder names like polaroid, tool shelf, dressing room, picture frames, props and selfie stick painted a jumbled and confusing picture of the environment we’d created. We needed to make sure that any metaphors we did use were clear and supported people’s understanding of the product. And I felt we shouldn’t close ourselves off to future functionality or localizability by getting too specific with the comparisons we were drawing between real life and this virtual environment. As we started to assign more names to features in Spaces, it felt necessary to clarify additional guidelines around when and how to use metaphorical labels for virtual objects.Governing the use of metaphorsMetaphors are useful as feature names when they clarify the purpose of that feature. They’re a handy way to make a direct comparison between a virtual object and something familiar from the physical world. For example, calling a glowing, blue oval a “table” is a clear and concise way to explain to someone that they can place things on top of it or gather around it, without having to actually say all of that. It seemed wise to use metaphors sparingly, as giving people too many to keep track of could create a confusing experience. I worked with the team to create a set of principles to help us make quick decisions around which metaphors worked and which ones didn’t:Keep them consistent: The metaphors in a product need to make sense together. For example, it’s confusing to mix live theater metaphors with home theater metaphors, or futuristic metaphors with retro analog ones.Make sure they’re relevant: We needed to make sure that metaphors we included could make sense to anyone. This meant avoiding any metaphors that had specific cultural meaning and might not be relatable for people from different locations or backgrounds. In a pre-launch version of Facebook Spaces, people would change the appearance of their avatar in what looked like a room with heavy velvet curtains. Two names that were top contenders for this place were “backstage” and “the dressing room.” These theater-themed metaphors felt problematic for a number of reasons. First, they implied that your space was a place of performance rather than a place where you could spend time with your friends. Second, it was a metaphor that might not make sense to everyone. We eventually decided it was simpler to not to name this part of the experience at all.Maintain flexibility: Because we intended to continue to build more functionality into this new app over time, we needed to choose names that afforded us the flexibility to change functionality as needed. “Projector” was the working name for the feature that you’d use to show photos or videos to other people in your space. The name “projector” drew a comparison between this feature and a specific piece of analog technology. It suggested that this affordance had one specific function: to project images on the walls of the space. This felt problematic because there was a chance that it would eventually do other things, too. We decided against this restrictive metaphor and, instead, focused on explaining how it worked (“Place a video here to display it” or “Show photos and videos to other people in your space”).Testing concepts and labels in conversationWith Spaces, we were giving people a new kind of space in which to have new kinds of conversations. People would talk to each other in real time about what they were experiencing, so the language needed to work in conversation, not just in interface elements. We brainstormed things people might say to each other:“Hey, could you pass me that photo?”“Play that video — just put it down there and it’ll start.”This was a great way to stress test our decisions. It helped us see how a name (or the absence of one) would fit into the conversations people might have in the app.Summarizing the takeawaysHere’s a summary of the guidelines that were useful to our team:Content strategists are often called upon to name and label new features, but we can do a lot more than just assign names to features once a product’s design is complete. A content strategist is uniquely positioned to contribute to the formation of concepts in a new product.Prioritize natural, descriptive language that works in spoken conversation. The stakes are high when you’re naming new concepts and features, especially in an interface that supports actual conversation — you’re giving people the words they’ll use to discuss their experience with each other.While names are necessary sometimes, avoid labeling every design decision or novelty in an experience. In other words, not everything needs a new name. This gets tricky when placeholder names have been attached to features during the product development process. It’s important to discuss which features deserve a name and why, and testing those decisions with examples.Don’t rely too heavily on metaphors as feature names. They’re an easy way to tie a feature to a familiar object or concept from “the real world,” but they can be restrictive or confusing. Choose names that are inclusive and will age well. Make sure you’re thinking holistically about how all of the terms you choose will work together as a cohesive system.Identify the guiding principles that help you make your terminology decisions. This will help others understand the philosophical underpinnings of your decisions and show that they’re not arbitrary. Principles will also help inform future naming decisions and ensure that they’re consistent with your approach.Thanks to Sara Getz and Jasmine Probst for their feedback and support.A Content Strategist’s Journey Into Social VR was originally published in Facebook Design on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

An Unforgettable Valentine’s Day

A product design intern’s resource for design students and romanticsIt was the beginning of my first year working towards my MSc in Digital and Interaction design at Politecnico di Milano. After dabbling in a range of industries — I was a cook assistant, au pair, wedding photographer, you name it — I had decided to pursue a design career at any cost. Even sleep. With determination and a beginner’s portfolio, I landed a job at a small digital agency as a UI-UX Designer Junior, where I could experience first-hand what it was like to be a designer in a digital field. Working and studying at the same time gave me more confidence in myself and in my skills. Conscious of the long path ahead of me, I was scared, excited, and supremely aware of the fact that curiosity and commitment can lead to great things.You’ve Got InMailI remember it was a cold January day when I logged into LinkedIn, seeing that I had a new message.Hi Caterina,My name is ****** and I’m a University Recruiter at Facebook in London. We noticed your resume on the LinkedIn platform which led us to take a closer look at your studies and experiences…Me, remembering Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn.Naturally, a string of thoughts entered my mind: “It has to be spam…Oh My God!…Oh My Lord!…Oh My My!”Then, I picked my jaw up off the floor and replied to the recruiter with my portfolio and CV. After reviewing my materials and determining that I might be a strong candidate, the recruiter suggested we set up a phone call to discuss the Facebook Product Design internship and my experience in more depth.Let’s TalkThe phone interview began with the recruiter sharing more about the internship program, Facebook’s company values, and its design approach. After a brief introduction, it was my turn to share more about my work and what fuels my passion for design.At the final stage of the phone screen, the recruiter asked me to present one of my projects in 10 minutes. I thought it was important to select a project that showcased a variety of my skills and, importantly, my design process. I justified my design decisions and explained the reasoning behind all of my choices. I knew that I wasn’t speaking with a designer, so I avoided using design buzzwords and defined my terms in everyday language.I was pleasantly surprised that the recruiter shared immediate feedback and wanted to schedule a portfolio review.When my heart was about to explode.TIP: Selecting topics of conversationWith limited time to make an impression, consider talking about the following:Extra activities (workshops, hackathons, online courses)Personal side projects (podcasts, meet-ups, design communities)Identity as a designer (strongest skills, depth and breadth, passion areas)Design approach (human-centered design, activity-centered design, system design, genius design)Design interests (typography, user interviews, coding)Show and TellI had a 45-minute conversation with a designer. An awesome one, for sure. There weren’t any awkward ice-breakers, phew. With introductions, the designer put me at ease, and I felt comfortable to present my best and authentic self. We walked through two projects together.Time really flew during the interview. I tried to maintain focus and presence in the conversation, while also thinking ahead and making the most of my time. In my case, preparing what I wanted to talk about before the interview helped so much, especially because I am not a native English speaker.At the end of my portfolio review, I had a short five minute break, and then I was asked to do an app critique.Confused by the feeling of getting evaluated by someone so kind and intelligent.TIP: Picking the best projectA lot of students work on several types of projects, but I felt it was important to show digital products (after all, this was Facebook!).Be sure to have enough material to showcase your interaction and visual design skillsExplain your design process carefully to communicate your product thinkingBe ready to have an open conversation with your interviewer. They might ask you to elaborate on a topic or to walk them through how you’d approach hypothetical scenarios like, “what if you had this other piece of data from the research?”Master the CritiqueA new designer and a new 45-minute conversation ensued. An awesome one, as well. I was asked what kind of phone I had and then to download a popular mobile app — in my case, Spotify — to provide a design review of it.At the end of the app critique, we said our goodbyes, and I was told I would hear back from my recruiter within two weeks. AKA the longest two weeks of my life.Me, aware of my massive unfamiliarity with music.TIP: Starting with users, alwaysWho is the primary audience for this app? Secondly, what is the primary problem this app solves for users?TIP: Compiling a list of criteriaWhenever I have to provide an app critique, I always find it useful to write down a list of criteria to reference while I’m speaking.App navigation- information architecture- menu style (hamburger, tab bar, floating button, tabs)- task flowInteraction- animations- channel of interaction- gesturesUX- page / view layout- onboarding / checkout experience- able to do what’s intended / unintended?Business / Scalability- capture new more users- make current users spend more time and money- potential expansion areas (features, countries etc.)Mastering an app critique technique requires time. Try to put some time in every day to review different apps. Try conducting an app critique with your friends. You can define a time limit, share different points of view, and take notes. Read as many app reviews as possible and take a look at the app store’s feedback too—it can be a great stimulus!London CallingAfter six working days, I received an email from my recruiter. She was excited to catch up with me and asked me if I could chat in 15 minutes. At that moment, I was in my old office on the 7th floor of a big skyscraper in the heart of Milan. It was almost 2:00 p.m., and I grabbed my headphones and sprinted out of the office. On my way out of the building, I ran into the CEO of my agency, who was visibly puzzled by the fact that I was running out of the office just after the end of my lunch break. Once I was outside: Milan had never been so noisy. I was in the middle of the city in rush hour with honking, shouting — the works. The recruiter was calling, so I put on my headphones and to my dismay…I couldn’t hear a single word from the phone call.After a couple of days in total darkness, without knowing if I got accepted and being too embarrassed to ask, the recruiter wrote me again to ask me for some personal information about my university course. “It must have been a positive answer then,” I repeated to myself.Three days later — and fittingly on Valentine’s Day — I had the offer I’d been hoping for. I consider it to be one of the happiest moments of my life.The best Valentine’s Day ever.Extra tips and tricksAlways wear your headphones if you’re on the phone or using video conferenceTry to be in a quiet space, where you can really focusAsk thoughtful questions, preparing them in advance if neededShow your passion and your personalityRead articles online about other people’s interview experiencesLook for resources about Facebook DesignIf you’re interested in designing impactful experiences, you should apply to Facebook. This article is a way to share my personal experience, and your interview process may vary.A special thanks to Elisa K., Harriet P., Kat T., Carlo J. and Amy W. for their incredible support.If you are interested about illustration, please leave a comment below.An Unforgettable Valentine’s Day was originally published in Facebook Design on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Able, Allowed, Should; Navigating Modern Tech Ethics

I want to share a talk I gave on the design track at SXSW in early March of this year. This talk was inspired by a deeply held belief that we are at a critical time in my company and our industry’s history, and to propose some ways in which we can rise to the challenges that go along with these amazing products that we’ve built. As technologists, we are all stewards of some of the most powerful communication tools ever created. These tools have generated a lot of good in the world, but their very power requires a deep sense of responsibility and a commitment to making most ethically responsible decisions possible, every day. While this talk was geared towards designers, the core of it is meant for all of us to broaden the aperture with which we view our responsibilities and to encompass both systems effects and societal impact. This is hard, and we will need to continue to invest time and energy into new ways of thinking, working, and assessing our success to get these tough decisions right. I have full confidence that the challenges we are currently navigating will make us and the industry as a whole stronger, more rigorous in how we approach our responsibilities, and better equipped to navigate the inevitable challenges that lie ahead. Note: If you’d prefer to listen instead of read, here’s the audio recording.This past year has not been the easiest year for Facebook. We’ve faced a lot of hard questions and few controversies over issues like election interference, privacy, social media’s effect on well-being, content policy, among others. When it comes to these issues, there are rarely obvious answers or easy fixes. We support an incredibly diverse, global community who do not all share the same ideas about right and what is wrong, acceptable or unacceptable. to say nothing of the same laws.Pop ethics quizLet’s try an ethics puzzle, and don’t worry, it doesn’t involve a runaway trolley. A natural disaster happens. Could be a hurricane, an earthquake, a landslide. Point is: lives are at stake. An international disaster response organization asks Facebook to provide information about people in the affected area: their location and their movements. What do we do? If we share the data, we might be able to help save some lives. But, that’s a lot of data to share about people, their locations, their movement. They might consider it akin to surveillance and a breach of their privacy. I could travel the world, and I would hear different responses from just about any group of people. This probably won’t come as a surprise, but for us, this wasn’t a hypothetical. In March 2017, Peru faced some terrible flooding. Humanitarian organizations engaged with us to see if we could help. We looked at usage trends on our platform and they reflected where people were located, where they were moving and where they were checking in as “safe”. In June of last year, we announced a partnership with UNICEF, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies and the World Food Program in which we share real-time, but anonymized, aggregated data about people during natural disasters. Working with respected organizations certainly helps some people feel better about the data being shared, but it doesn’t make the privacy concerns go away. It’s a complicated decision with valid points on both sides. That’s just one example. Situations like this arise frequently when you work on products used all over the world. Part of the job is dealing with challenging decisions on the best way to design and deploy new technology. This is true at Facebook, and it was also true when I led design at YouTube, as well as Google Search. I’ve been working in the design and technology for over 20 years, leading design for Google Search, then YouTube, and now at Facebook, and I can tell you that many of these problems aren’t new. But as we’ve learned, with the scale at which we are operating, this work requires a heightened sense of awareness and responsibility. So, I want to talk about that responsibility, and some of the lessons we’ve learned and are still learning. And I also want to talk specifically about how design plays a critical role in all of this. And when I say design, I’m not just talking about design at the surface level, where we make things pleasing and beautiful. I’m talking about the full spectrum of designing useful and usable products end to end, from the initial idea of what we might build to launching it and all the iterations that follow.The intersection of the humanities and technologyAs designers, we sit at the intersection of technology and the humanities. This isn’t a new role for us, even in the modern digital age. Since the beginnings of the study of human-computer interaction back in the late 1970s, designers have been working to understand and ensure that the systems we build are an effective interface for people. And in a world of global, networked, and highly personalized digital products, the stakes for getting things right as designers has gotten a lot, lot higher. Doing right by the people using our products means sometimes asking ourselves hard questions about what we are building in the first place.Able, allowed, shouldDesigners, engineers, and product managers spend a lot of time thinking about what we are able to build. That is, what’s possible, within the limits of our current technology and what we can do with the resources we have. We also spend time thinking about what we are allowed to build. That is, what’s ladders up to our company business objectives, what’s within our policy, and of course, what’s legal. But as an industry, we need to just as much time thinking about what we should build, even though we’re not required to; and in some cases, what we shouldn’t build, even though we’re technically allowed to.“Should we” is the essence of ethically responsible design.As in the case disaster relief, the answers are rarely obvious. If they were, we wouldn’t call them ethical dilemmas. The question of “should we” also gets to the heart of what motivates us.Multiple motivationsThe fact is, companies like Facebook and other large, global platforms often have multiple motivations that drive decisions about what, how, and why we build.A major motivation of ours and most tech companies is innovation. We always want to push the envelope, explore the ways in which science and technology can solve problems and amplify human abilities. Another motivation is profit. Facebook is a public company with a legal obligation to care about being profitable for shareholders. Most of us work for businesses. And there’s nothing inherently wrong with being a business. And there’s often a third motivation: making a positive contribution to society. I work at Facebook because I believe in technology’s power to be in service of human and societal needs. It’s been true of my work at Google, at YouTube and now at Facebook. Facebook’s mission is to “give people the power to build community and bring the world closer together.” I genuinely believe in that mission. That’s why it’s particularly painful for us to see the products we’ve built with this mission in mind used by others to hurt people or society. There’s a tension between these motives to be sure, and if they get out of balance, consequential decisions and unintended outcomes can happen. But the fact is, a well-capitalized business can do a lot of innovative things that are good for the world.We just need to make sure that we keep the long view in mind and are vigilant about making ethical, responsible decisions along the way.Because it’s in the long view of things that these three seemingly competing interests realign.A history of disruptionOf course, we’re not the first technologists to face these questions. Throughout history, whenever new, powerful technologies are invented, they upset existing social norms and systems, and it can be unsettling to live through. From agriculture to the printing press, the rise of industrialization and digitalization — — all of it disrupted existing industries, ideologies and power structures. All of it had unforeseen consequences and its share of doubters. Fun fact: did you know that Socrates warned against writing because people wouldn’t use their memories and that would “create forgetfulness in the learners’ souls.” Now, as a dyslexic, I kinda wish he’d won that battle. But while even dyslexics like me probably agree that writing is a technology we should continue to embrace, we only know that in hindsight. When you are living through disruption, it’s hard to separate change aversion from a well-founded fear of things that might be bad for people and society. And even more challenging, these inventions can simultaneously be both good and bad; it’s all about how they are deployed, used, and managed.What’s new? Speed and ScaleAnd on top of the disruption new technology can cause, there are two things that make Facebook’s current situation materially different than challenges of the past: Scale and Speed. Out of the 7.6 billion people on earth, and the almost 4 billion people estimated to be on the Internet, there are over 2 billion people on Facebook. In 1930, 2 billion roughly was the population of everyone on the planet Earth. The sheer number of people using our products is astounding. While that’s a wonderful thing in many respects, it means our responsibility is that much greater. All this is even more challenging to navigate when things are moving so incredibly fast. Every major technological advancement in the past took generations to reach a mass audience.Understanding the time it took for 100 million people to adopt different products over the course of history.It took print over a century to reach an audience of 100M. Radio did it in 45 years, Television in 20. Facebook & Snapchat reached their first 100M in just 4 years And Instagram & YouTube? Around 28 and 24 months, respectively. Relative to other technologies, we’ve had just a fraction of the time to understand how the interfaces we develop impact people and society. This isn’t an excuse. But it puts a fine point on the challenges we face at keeping pace with the the growth of our own products. But despite the scale and the speed with which these changes are happening, taking into account the impact of new tech on people and society, the good and the bad, must become a more central part of how we as designers approach our work.The Four Quadrants of Design ResponsibilityHere’s a framework for how I’m thinking about this problem. I call it the Four Quadrants of Design Responsibility.The Four Quadrants of Design Responsibility represent a broader view of design’s duties towards people and society.On the X-Axis, you have, from left to right, what we build, at an increasing scale of things, from the pixel to the product to the whole ecosystem in which your product operates. As you move from pixel to ecosystem, constraints, inter-dependencies and complexities grow. And on the Y-Axis, same idea, but the scale is the audience you’re designing for, starting with one individual human and working your way up to all of society. And as the scale grows, the less we can assume about who we are designing for, their motivations, their culture, their needs and wants. As designers, we feel really comfortable in that bottom left quadrant: it’s where we can push our pixels and polish our work to make something really well crafted. And it’s where we can be human-centered, focusing on a particular audience of people that we are intentionally designing for, and a set of tasks that’s we understand is important to them. We feel like we can understand and control things there. You can imagine this as the space of designing a book cover; while you need to make it legible and convey the nature of what the book contains, but it’s a relatively finite design space to operate in. But at the extreme end of the X-axis, we may face unanticipated consequences from network effects. The systems we’re designing are sometimes difficult to model and sometimes we only really see what happens with them when they’re used at scale. Think of a cleaning product that might work exceptionally well for a particular task, but when released into the water system, might have unintended affects on plant and animal life. When you go far out on the Y-axis, designing for the whole world, there’s a whole other set of problems that can arise. For instance, you see how differently Facebook works in different parts of the world, from the way people access the internet, and the kinds of devices they have, to their social norms, political contexts, economic conditions. And as the number of people using your product grows, so does the likelihood that people will use it in unintended ways, which can create both good and bad outcomes. In the digital space, we see this with a product like YouTube being used not only for you and me to capture and share our own personal life moments on video, but also for the Khan Academy to transform ways in which people learn in a highly personalized way through instructional video. Or the ways in which Facebook has been used to organize social change movements like the Women’s March. These uses, by large numbers of people, are impacting how our society functions. Of course, there are less positive examples of these effects: election interference, polarization, or concerns about health and well-being; ways technology might inadvertently cause harm when it scales towards the top of that Y-axis. These quadrants are not a space where design traditionally spends a lot of time. It’s the world of sociology, public health, cultural studies, sustainable design, economics. In a sense, it is a new kind of digital urban planning.Designing for all four quadrants, thinking expansively about the impact of our inventions on people and society, that is the heart of ethically responsible design. In the digital realm there aren’t a lot of examples of products that do a great job of this…yet. It points to both a challenge and a huge opportunity for all us. So where can we look for inspiration? We have to look back in history a bit to see what lessons we can learn.One helluva fish hookThis is one of my favorite design objects.Halibut Hook (USA). Collection of John J. McLean, 1881, Baranof Island, Alaska, Department of Anthropology, National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution, E45990.It’s a hand carved fish hook, designed by a member of an indigenous tribe in Alaska over 100 years ago. I first saw it at the Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian National design museum in an exhibit about tools crafted by humans throughout history. Whoever made this probably didn’t think of themselves as a designer or inventor, but they were. It may look archaic, but the design is more sophisticated than many of today’s fish hooks, and here’s why: it was designed to only catch halibut of a certain size. It left the small fish for future seasons, and it avoided the larger fish that were too big to haul into the canoe, which is a very practical design consideration. Essentially, it allowed the people of that community to practice sustainable fishing, providing them with many seasons of prosperity. That alone makes it a fascinating, inspiring design artifact.But a second aspect of this halibut hook also captured my imagination: in addition to its ingenious functionality: it also has a beautiful carving that depicts the spirit exchange between the Inuit people and the fish in the sea. This community believed that if they showed respect to the fish that they were looking to catch, more would come back the next season.An object like this operates in all four quadrants because it’s not just concerned with catching a single fish, it’s designed to protect and sustain a broader ecosystem. It’s not designed to just benefit one fisherman, but an entire society of people over time, their spiritual life included. All in all, it’s one hell of a fish hook. So what lessons can we apply from this to something like Facebook? We need to excel at that bottom left quadrant to be sure, but we need to also get even more skilled at anticipating systems effects, protecting the health and well-being of our community, and understanding the impact on society when a much larger and more diverse population is using our products. We haven’t always gotten this right at Facebook. And to be fair, this is really hard to consistently do well. But just because something is hard is not an excuse. We, as a company and as an industry, have to always do our best and always strive to get better at it. While we may be one of the most visible examples of a tech company grappling with these issues, we are not alone. So let’s examine a few themes that have emerged for us and ways we are working through them, in case they might be helpful to you in your own organizations.Designing for misuse casesAs designers, we spend a lot of time thinking about the “use cases” we want to support. But as we’ve learned through some very hard lessons, we need to spend more time planning for “misuse cases.” That is, when people take tools that are meant to do good and do bad things with them. This has been a challenge with every global platform I’ve ever worked on, from Facebook to YouTube to Google, and if you are old enough to remember, Tripod and Angelfire. Our industry — the tech industry — is very optimistic. Optimism is a good thing. Without optimism, most of our products never would have been built in the first place. But optimism at the scale we’re talking about needs to be tempered a bit at times. Ethical design demands we ensure the safety of everyone on our platform and the integrity of the platform itself. Here’s an example involving online abuse. In the last few years, we observed, through qualitative research in India, that some Indian women wanted to upload profile photos but did not feel safe doing so. They were concerned that strangers — bad actors — would download their photos, use the photos to stalk or harass them, even threaten their personal safety and do harm to their family’s reputation.Optional profile picture guard on Android.So, in partnership with safety organizations, we released a bunch of safety features to address these concerns. People in India were given the option to add a profile picture guard. When people added just that visual cue, we found that other people were 75% less likely to copy the picture. And to truly block the bad actors, on the Android platform, we made it so that no one can screen shot your profile picture. This is an example of where we were able to see a misuse case in action on our platform; people using our product to hurt other people. We’ve reacted to this problem effectively, but in the future, we need to get better at anticipating these kinds of issues advance of launch and having these protections in place from the get-go. This is very hard to do at a global scale, and we won’t always get it right, but it is our responsibility to always get better at it.Outside expertiseAnticipating bad actors and, more generally, bad outcomes is complicated; sometimes it requires the help of outside expertise. When we’re operating at the scale of billions and engaging in those complex systemic and societal quadrants, we have to confer with external experts who will give us a fresh, valuable critique of our work and a perspective beyond Silicon Valley.Asking for help is not a sign of weakness; it’s a sign of maturity.And it is another foundational tool in ethically responsible design. In our early days, we didn’t always seek outside help to the extent that we could or should have. We’ve learned a lot since then and are increasingly collaborating with outside experts to get things right. Here’s a concrete example: Because people connect with friends and family through our products, Facebook is sometimes in a position to recognize and help people experiencing distress and suicidal ideation. When we were trying to figure if and how we should engage in these situations, we sought outside help, because while we care a lot about the health and well- being of our community, we are not experts in suicide prevention.Using pattern recognition AI to identify suicidal ideation.What resulted was a set of tools co-developed with leading experts in mental health. Now, when we recognize that someone is expressing thoughts of suicide, we provide resources and offer help in connecting them with loved ones and mental health professionals. And we’ve recently started to roll out the use of Artificial Intelligence to help identify suicidal ideation on Facebook Live and connect people to resources to get the help they need in real time. In just the last month, we’ve worked with first responders on over 100 cases based on reports we received from our proactive detection efforts. We also use pattern recognition AI to help accelerate the most concerning reports. We’ve found these accelerated reports are escalated to local authorities twice as quickly as other reports. We are committed to continuing to invest in AI technology such as this example to better serve our community. As someone who has lost two family members to suicide, these efforts are very important to me personally. These relatives didn’t live close to me, and I wish so much that I might have had a chance to understand sooner what they were going through the change the outcome. Of course, this isn’t the only area where we can learn from experts. We’re partnering with journalists in the Facebook Journalism Project to help ensure high quality news on our platform and more sustainable business models for news organizations; we’re engaging with psychologists and other health experts to inform our research about concerns of overuse of social media, and we are engaging with external experts to inform our approach to responsible development of AI and machine learning. I’m grateful to these experts for helping us build products in a way that’s designed to create the best possible outcomes for people and society.Assessing successBut let’s say you get better at anticipating and designing for misuse, and you are consistently seeking the help of outside experts to create better outcomes. You may still not make the right decisions if you don’t have a good way to understand what success looks like. The tech industry uses a lot of metrics. MAU, DAU, ARPU, and more. Facebook is no exception. But, it’s easy to forget when we are looking at dashboards and numbers that metrics are just a proxy for something that’s usually much more complicated than a single number can describe. Figuring out whether your product is good for people and the world is a very complex, nuanced thing. Its easy to fall into the trap of valuing what we can measure instead of measuring what we truly value. When not properly contextualized, metrics can serve as horse blinders, limiting your field of vision and causing you to miss important signals about how your work may be impacting people. Instead of focusing solely on measuring success, we should focus on assessing success, because not everything important can be measured. By the way, this problem is not new and it’s not unique to the tech industry. In 1968, Robert Kennedy gave a campaign speech on the topic of our Gross National Product, or GNP — a metric that measures a given country’s economic growth. And, after describing some awful poverty conditions he had witnessed seen in America, he said:“Our Gross National Product, now, is over $800 billion dollars a year. But that counts air pollution and cigarette advertising. It counts the destruction of the redwood. It counts napalm and counts nuclear warheads and armored cars. Yet the gross national product does not allow for the health of our children, the quality of their education or the joy of their play. It measures neither our wit nor our courage, nor our devotion to our country, it measures everything in short, except that which makes life worthwhile.”Nearly 50 years later, in 2015, the UN adopted a set of 17 sustainable development goals to clarify in a much more nuanced way what it means to have a thriving society. While there are still major challenges with operationalizing and achieving these goals, the UN is no longer trying to assess a highly complex issue like societal health with a single number. Figuring out what success means for Facebook has its own challenges, given the size, diversity, and complexity of our community. For a long time, we focused on time spent as one of our key measures of success. And especially when you are first starting out building your product, time spent can serve as a reasonable measure of whether or not you have created something of value. If people spend a lot of time using your product, it is reasonable to assume it’s meeting some kind of need. The problem lies in looking at Time Spent in isolation of the bigger picture. Maximizing for that goal could create unintended bad effects for people and society. Facebook was created to be, first and foremost, a forum for friends and family to connect with one another. Through research and product changes, we’re working to create a service that supports meaningful relationships in the long term — both online and offline — not just passive scrolling. Recently we announced that we are revising our approach to measuring our success and changing one of our core metrics from time spent to Meaningful Social Interactions, prioritizing the kinds of interactions that create the fabric that is our social graph; people talking to each other and sharing with each other about the things that matter most to them. And as we learn, our metrics will continue to evolve.But beyond improving the quantitative metrics, another key way to can get a richer picture of how things are working, a way to capture important things that are not measurable, is by counter-balancing the powerful quantitative data we have with equally compelling qualitative research.Usage data may tell you what people are doing, but it doesn’t tell you why.It’s critical that we get beyond our office walls and listen to real people, from all walks of life in every corner of the world, as to how our products affect their lives.There’s danger in assuming that wisdom only comes from large numbers. Sometimes, the most powerful learnings come from a single person. Here’s a painful example of something incredibly important we learned that never would have come up in our usage logs: Three years ago, we created a “Year in Review” product for Facebook, that used an algorithm to create a video summarizing people’s year on Facebook. Eric Meyer, a member of the Facebook community, told the story, which he titled on his blog, “Inadvertent Algorithmic Cruelty.” he saw his friends’ videos online, but avoided creating one of his own, knowing the kind of year he just had — a year in which he lost his young daughter. But then, in his newsfeed, he saw a “suggested post” of a video that we created for him. And there it was staring back at him — a photo of his recently deceased daughter. After reading his story, we invited him to Facebook to talk about his experience. His talk deeply influenced the design team and one thing he said was turned into a memorable poster by our Analog Research Lab: “When you say “Edge Case” you’re really just defining the limits of what you care about”.Since then, we have changed our approach to these kinds of experiences, and avoid making assumptions about people, their feelings, or their lives. Just listening and being empathetic to people’s experiences is a critical part of building and designing in an ethically responsible way. It’s harder to scale but that’s no excuse.We aren’t designing for numbers, we are designing for people.With over 2 billion people using our products, it would be irresponsible to NOT use quantitative data to influence our decisions. But ethically responsible design requires us to look broader and more deeply than just spreadsheets. Qualitative research, and indeed, just listening to people with powerful stories to tell about how our technology is impacting them, are critical sources of wisdom, and help us get beyond measuring to truly assessing our impact on people and the world.I’ve shared some of the challenges that our industry and my own company are facing. And while I and many others are carefully considering the impact of what we have created and will create; I want to make one thing very clear: even though we have a lot of work to do in facing these challenges, I don’t regret my role in creating these products.I’ve spent my whole career building tools that democratize systems, tools that have brought unprecedented opportunity to the world to access information, to express ourselves creatively and to get and stay connected to the people you care about most. These are enduring human needs that tech can and should help address. And by doing it at a global scale, we’ve given voice to the most diverse group of people the world has ever heard from. So despite all of these significant challenges, I would not want to go back to a world before these inventions. It’s because I believe they are so valuable that I am committed to making sure we design and deploy them in the most responsible way possible.So how do we do that? We need to design for all four quadrants by:Designing just as much to combat misuse cases as we design for use cases.Seeking outside expertise to handle complex systems and societal effects.And being very deliberate and nuanced in how we assess success.And above all, we must remember that all of us, as designers, as businesses, as an industry, we all have a broad responsibility to ensure that technology is built and deployed in service of humanity and not the other way around.At Facebook, we like to say that this journey is 1% finished. But I am excited and energized by the challenge, and I am hard pressed to think of a more important thing to be focused on as a designer today. There’s a saying, nothing worth doing is easy. And this is definitely, most assuredly, worth doing.Able, Allowed, Should; Navigating Modern Tech Ethics was originally published in Facebook Design on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Designing New Ways to Give Context to News Stories

Jeff Smith, Product Design Lead, Alex Leavitt, User Experience Researcher, and Grace Jackson, User Experience ResearcherAdded context for articles in News Feed.When scrolling through News Feed, it’s sometimes difficult to judge the credibility of an article. As with all information on the internet, if we’re unfamiliar with an article’s source or subject matter, it can be hard to come to an informed conclusion about its accuracy.As the team designing against misinformation on News Feed, we care a lot about giving people the tools to make informed decisions about which stories to read, trust, and share. Today, we’re announcing the US launch of a feature that gives people more background on both the publisher and the article. We want to share the process behind this product.How It BeganThe genesis of this feature came out of our work on Related Articles. We learned that showing other content related to a story — for example, reporting from a certified third-party fact-checker — acts as a strong signal to help determine the credibility and accuracy of that story. We wanted to enable people to get similar context across a number of situations, especially when they came across an article in News Feed.Early concepts for accessing “Related Articles” on any story in News Feed.Our early concepts let people press and hold an article to see related content on that story; with that initial concept, we wanted to take a research-driven approach to developing the feature further.Sprinting to Understand CredibilityPeople make judgments about a story’s credibility through a wide range of factors. Do they recognize the publisher’s name? How long has the publisher been around? Which of their trusted friends and family also read this source?As we began to explore other ways to design this feature, we surveyed and spoke to people about how they consumed news and other links on Facebook. We read dozens of academic research papers and grounded our explorations in studies about “source credibility.”Source credibility is a concept that started in television and newspaper studies in the 1980s and more recently expanded to online content, showing the shift in audiences’ uses of reporters’ style, facial expressions, and choice of topics to judge news content to the ways in which online social systems can provide additional social signals about news-related information.Understanding perceptions of credibility is complex: factors from publisher familiarity to design features, from message language to individual verification skills, all impact how people determine if an article is high or low quality. We paired our reading on this topic with other research covering how people interpret signals or warnings, how people think about news through political biases such as “selective exposure”, “motivated reasoning”, and more. We also considered recent societal trends like major shifts in perceptions of misinformation (“most Americans believe it is now harder to be well-informed and to determine which news is accurate” Knight Foundation 2018) or trust in the media (“in many countries the underlying drivers of mistrust are as much to do with deep-rooted political polarization and perceived mainstream media bias,” Reuters Institute 2017).What has been studied less frequently are the kinds of information signals that might work for people on Facebook. How might people respond to particular signals within the design of News Feed? What unique objective information is Facebook best positioned to provide?We began to explore these questions through surveys, finding that people encountered difficulty with determining the credibility of information (already-discovered in recent academic research) related in particular to unfamiliar websites and highly partisan content. We then took the next step to explore potential design options through a loose Design Sprint process. Early last year, we gathered a dozen designers and researchers, with whom we collaborated on designing a surface for these new bits of information as well as what that information — segmented into modules — could look like.Examples of the module designs we tested with people in the lab and in the field. Participants would be asked to sort the printed out cards for which would help them ascertain the credibility of an article.After designing a variety of options, we immediately spoke to and validated with Facebook users in our research lab and in the field, looking at differences in ways that people assessed the information (whether they were high- or low-news consumers, politically ambivalent or partisan, and of various demographic backgrounds). In particular, we conducted semi-structured interviews to learn more about people’s news reading and evaluating habits and card sorts to determine which information modules could be most effective.Out of Sight, Out of MindWe know that many people are busy and can be distracted when using Facebook. Many scroll through News Feed on the bus, while taking a break from work, or at home cooking. It’s easy for people to miss details, even important ones. Therefore, a critical challenge with this feature was helping people find the entry point and clearly communicating its value. Early on, we tested a static entry point with a relatable icon (identified through early interviews). However, we found that people frequently missed the button. After later conducting in-depth interviews with eye-tracking, we learned that — when evaluating articles on Facebook — the same three areas overall tended to draw people’s attention (ordered depending on the individual):A) The face of the friend, group, or Page who shared the post, B) Faces (if present) in the article’s preview image, and C) The headline of the article.Given this information, we realized that putting the entry point to this feature near the headline would be a more-effective way to engage than on the upper right corner (as originally conceived). We also learned that people adapted quickly, and they were willing and interested in revisiting this space after the first visit, particularly for sources that they were unfamiliar with.When the entry point button was animated, people were more likely to notice it. In an eye-tracking study, the participant sits in front of an interactive prototype, and software tracks their eye movement across the prototype. In the image above, red dots and lines show where one participant looked. Without the animated expanding entry point (left), many people skipped the (i) button and focused more on the headline. With the animation and additional text (the “glimpse” we created), people redirected their gaze.One of the ways we tested making this space even more discoverable was by adding an animation to the entry point, which would activate after dwelling on an article. The animation drew people’s attention… but it had more potential. We conceived of “glimpsing,” or providing a button that:Would animate to attract attention, andCould also provide additional relevant information.The animation therefore served to draw a person’s attention and dynamically inform people that both 1) the feature existed, and 2) that there was relevant information that they should care about within the pop-up. As we explore more opportunities for the glimpse, we are considering providing additional, quick signals about the article (for instance, if the article is trending).https://medium.com/media/7e3dd06e9a1a9c4b1759cbef392ccac7/hrefGoing GlobalWhile we’re starting with just a US launch of these signals, one of the primary concerns we had with this feature was making sure that it could work across cultures, particularly in places where news literacy differed or news ecosystems and markets were more complicated. While this work started with a diverse set of participants in the US, we took this feature around the world to make sure it could work in a variety of settings. In Western Europe, we found that it could play a key role before critical moments like elections, where people were particularly sensitive to the kinds of information that appeared in their News Feed.People want a quick and easy way to evaluate information in their News Feed, especially something that could replace frequent “look it up on a search engine” behaviors without leaving the Facebook app.More recently, we conducted fieldwork in Southeast Asia, showing how different local news ecosystems, news markets, and audience behaviors in Indonesia, Myanmar, and the Philippines led to different ways in which people approached gathering more information (for instance, relying more on social signals and comments). It was promising to find that in every market, people were excited to have a tool at their immediate disposal to provide more information about how they could understand the quality of any article.Testing this feature with people in Myanmar.As we’ve explored the potential for this feature internationally, we’ve found some interesting insights. People care deeply about being able to trust the news they see on Facebook. People want a quick and easy way to evaluate information in their News Feed, especially something that could replace frequent “look it up on a search engine” behaviors without leaving the Facebook app. People could use it to triangulate across different types of information to evaluate the credibility of an article, aligning with recent work on “lateral reading” in information literacy. Finally, people wanted to gain more opportunities — and more confidence — in being able to determine the credibility of information they encountered on their own, and this was true on any side of the political spectrum in every single country we visited.What We’re Launching NowWith all of these research insights, we’re launching this feature in the US with 4 important credibility signals:Page information: Sometimes people don’t know the source of an article in their News Feed. Showing information about the Page that published the original article lets people get further context on who the publisher is. They can then follow or unfollow the publisher directly from this surface.Wikipedia information: Providing context from external experts or third-party organizations is helpful. Wikipedia is a generally trusted encyclopedia with a robust, community-maintained revision process. It also has global recognition, so is a particularly useful feature internationally. Referencing the Wikipedia section about a publisher within the unit gives users a way of getting quick consensus or history on a publisher. Likewise, in our research, the absence of a Wikipedia page was an important credibility cue for users.Related articles or more from the publisher: People want to compare information from the same source to see what style of language/wording or selection of topics a publisher covers. Similarly, people can compare the reporting of one publisher to others on a particular event. Much like how we use Related Articles in News Feed, this unit give users another angle on a story and a way to pivot into similar content if they’re interested.Share distribution from friends and the Facebook community: Who and how many people share an article — especially when they’re your friends — can be insightful into the background (or bias) of an article. We’ve included the number of shares from across Facebook and which of your friends have shared an article. We’ve also included a map showing where the article was shared to break up an otherwise text-heavy surface and in some cases gives a sense of where the article got the most traction.The final designs and what we launched to the US today.There is a lot more we can do with this feature, and a lot more we need to do to roll this out responsibly in other countries. As we continue talking with more people about credibility and learning more about recent research on signals of trust, our focus will be on improving these information modules and integrating it and additional features, into other parts of Facebook.This work wouldn’t have been possible without the help of Tiffany Yen, Sara Su, Maryanna Rogers, Cat Audi, Earl Carlson, Cassandra Jaime, Megan Yang, Rahul Fernandes, and many others for their contributions to this work.Designing New Ways to Give Context to News Stories was originally published in Facebook Design on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

How VR and Facebook Spaces help us stay connected anytime, anywhere

For me, the theme of connectivity starts with my personal story of connecting to my family and friends. I left my hometown in Russia when I was still a kid. I had just turned 18 as I boarded the plane to the United States with lots of dreams and hopes and a heavy heart for leaving my family behind.At first, I had to rely on phone calls to stay connected to family and friends back home. I felt lonely and scared, all by myself in a new country thousands miles away from the world I knew and things familiar to me. To stay in touch, I would buy a prepaid phone card at the local convenience store once or twice a week and call my mom. More often that that would have been too expensive, which meant I felt alone most of the time. Once I was more settled, I was able to buy a laptop and I started using Skype for video calls with my family and friends overseas. For the first time in many years we were able to see each other. We would turn on the video and chat for hours on the weekend while doing chores around the house, or sit down and have a cup of tea. It felt like we were actually spending time together despite being so far apart. I remember when my sister had her first baby while I was away, and thanks to Skype, I was able to be part of the event even though I was miles and miles away from my family.My niece Alena when she was bornI believe Virtual Reality (VR) is the next big leap for connecting people and bringing them closer together. It has the power to connect people across time and distances in a new, powerful way. Similar to how Skype changed the world of telecommuting a decade ago, VR will change how we connect once again. Now, I’m a product designer on Facebook Spaces and Social VR, which means I think a lot about how we can bring people closer together through technology.Because the VR ecosystem is still quite small and not everyone has a VR headset, it may seem like connecting people over VR is a “first-world problem.” However, most of our work is dedicated to building for a future in which VR is ubiquitous, and our goal (as announced by Mark Zuckerberg in 2017) is to bring a billion people into Virtual Reality. We’re not merely designing for our current users, but also for future ones. We work to explore the potential of VR to bring people closer together across time and distance, and envision a future where VR will be a way for all of us to connect to each other regardless of the devices we own.Connect and be present across distancesBringing people together is what drove our first VR product — Facebook Spaces. With Facebook Spaces, you can be with your friends and family while feeling like you’re in the same room, even if you’re thousands of miles away from each other. Everyone is represented by an avatar and sits around a virtual table. That’s the core of the experience: people. Nothing is more important in Spaces than the people you’re with.Thanks to the power of technologies like the phone, video chat, and VR, we can now connect to each other even if we are in different parts of the world. But what’s unique about connecting in VR is the sense of presence you get: the feeling you’re actually there, physically present in a non-physical world. When you’re in virtual reality, what your eyes see and what your ears hear is so real, you might believe it is. Neither phone nor video calling has ever given me a feeling of being this present with someone. VR changes that by providing a sense of presence. There are three types of presence possible in VR:Self Presence — “I feel that I am ME in VR”Social Presence — “I feel that I am with other people”Spatial Presence — “I feel like I am here”Self-presence is your physical and emotional representation when you’re in VR. It’s important that you feel like you and that’s a very individual feeling. When designing Facebook Spaces, we experimented with different types of avatar systems and different visual treatments including: animals, realistic 3D scans vs abstract avatars, 3D vs flat eye textures, blocky heads vs friendlier curves, etc. And what we realized, is that if we try to make an avatar look exactly like you, there’s always a risk of falling into the uncanny valley, where the more realistic you make it the more uncomfortable it can feel. In the end, we landed on a charming and inviting style of avatar. They work really well within today’s constraints of VR systems and still allow expressiveness and self representation so my friends and family can recognize me in VR, without falling into the uncanny valley.Avatar ExplorationsSocial presence is a sense of being with others: anytime, anywhere. It’s the feeling of being present with them.We recognize the people we know in real life through small cues, like the way they tilt their head when they’re concerned or their quirky laugh. As humans, we are experts at recognizing body language, gestures and behavior, so if my friend’s avatar in VR suddenly acts in an unexpected or robotic way, it can break the feeling of social presence, of being there together.Some examples of social presence and what effects it are hand gestures, body movement, eye gaze, facial expressions, etc. They need to feel believable to maintain a sense of presence. For example, in VR, as in real life, maintaining eye contact during a conversation makes you feel engaged and connected. It makes you feel present in the space with that person. Since VR headsets today aren’t capable of tracking your eyes, we had to design a way for our avatars to predict where the person might be looking as accurately as we can. For example, if we know that you are engaged in some type of activity like drawing and your head is pointed in the same direction, your gaze will follow your hand as you draw with the marker.We also quickly learned how important hands can be in a social interaction. We’ve found in research that people could recognize their significant other from other people simply through recognizing their hand gestures. And since today’s VR systems are only tracking the hands and the head, we had to simulate the avatar’s torso and arms, so the bodily movements feel believable and you feel that the person in front of you is real or at least as real as you can get in a VR world. Another key element is spatial presence — the feeling that you’re there, no matter where that may be. The environment you design will affect the emotional state of people and the type of social interaction that can happen in that space. When designing a VR environment, one of the first questions I ask myself is “How do we want people feel in that space?” Big vaulted cathedral with high ceilings will give you a sense of awe, or a small damp and dark basement will can make you feel uncomfortable, anxious or even scared.In Spaces we keep the environment neutral and let people be in control of their space. You can use any 360 photo or video available on Facebook to set as an environment in Spaces. This means you can visit places like Tanzania or explore the jungles of Bolivia. You can really choose to be anywhere, whether that’s a place you’d love to visit someday, or a memory you want to relive. And you can show it to your friends and family, even though they might be on the opposite side of the world from you and you can travel to all of these places together.Connect across timeOne of the most powerful aspects of VR is synchronicity: we can be together at the same time. There is something magical about being with your friends and feeling like you’re in the same room, even if you’re thousands of miles apart from each other in the real world. Once you’re together in VR, you can teleport to different places together, play games, watch movies, and more.Unfortunately, face to face interactions in VR often require advance planning and scheduling. Other Social VR products like Altspace solve the need to plan in advance with events. You have planned events on your calendar and you know that if you join at specific time you are bound to meet some new or old in the VR space. You can also now meet members of your community from Facebook Groups in VR. Through groups, you can continue building your relationships and connections in VR around the topic you all care about in a new immersive way. I can host a group for all my classmates from university in Russia or continue working on my passion architectural project with my friends in VR.Another part of connecting across time is asynchronous connections. We can stay connected even though we might not be in VR at the same time. In Spaces, asynchronous connections can happen through selfies, videos and live broadcast that can help you catch up on what friends have been up to on News Feed and stay connected through shared memories. Because of 11 hours time difference, sometimes it’s hard to connect with my family and friends back in Russia, so I can post my experiences in Facebook Spaces to News Feed and they’ll see it when they wake up and connect with me.Post from Facebook SpacesConnect Across Technological BarriersVR is still quite young and not many people have a VR headset yet. So how can we bring the rest of the world into VR? In designing Facebook Spaces, we think about connections being symmetrical and asymmetrical. A symmetrical connection is when two people are in VR in-person. Asymmetrical is when you use a non-immersive device such as your phone tablet or laptop to connect to a friend in VR.Asymmetrical connection empowers anyone to be a part of VR experience. Through the power of asymmetrical connections, everyone can be a first class citizen and take part in VR regardless of the device they are on.None of my family members have a VR headset so when I am in VR it can feel quite lonely. I wish they were there with me. When designing Spaces, we realized that we need to connect you to your friends and family regardless of the device the have. Everyone has a phone so we built a feature so that you can call your friends and family using Messenger video chat. And it feels so much more than just a video — we watch videos, play games and experience things together.Messenger Call in SpacesI can also connect with my friends and invite them to be part of my VR experience by going Live from Facebook Spaces. They can join me from their phones or computers on Facebook, and take part in a conversation through their comments or reactions. And we designed this experience to be engaging on both sides. Once you grab a friend’s comment in VR it becomes a 3D object. We also had an experiment where you can send an emoji, like a smiley face, a heart or a balloon, in a Live comment and it will become a full 3D emoji in VR, which can be very magical.https://medium.com/media/e9876ecb633fc9e2384d2d1d37388939/hrefLooking forward…From phone calls to video to VR, we all look to connect to people we care about. Through connection with other people, we feel more connected to the world around us and feel loved and cared for, and technology should help us come closer together rather than push us apart. With VR and Facebook Spaces, any distance, technology, or time that separate you from people you care about become obsolete. The next generation should feel empowered to explore the planet while still feeling close to those they care about. I look forward to the time I meet my mom, sister and niece in VR no matter where they or I am in the world. We can meet on the weekends and watch a movie together or I can show them pictures from the recent trip I took to Japan. We’ll celebrate our birthdays and create memories that will bring us even closer together.Chatting with my family on Messenger in Facebook SpacesHow VR and Facebook Spaces help us stay connected anytime, anywhere was originally published in Facebook Design on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Meditation and Design at Facebook

How does a routine meditation practice benefit us as designers? What is it about Facebook that creates an environment that encourages meditation and mindfulness? And how can other companies do the same?“I noticed when I am stressed out I tend to think a lot more narrowly. A lot of mindfulness practice is about taking a step back and resetting your perspective. A more relaxed and open mindset is better for creativity (and having the energy to create), I’ve found.”— Valerie Chao, Product Designer, FacebookA theme with Facebook designers I’ve talked to is that they are hyper-aware of the benefits of meditation not just on their overall mood, but also the effect it has on their work. One of those effects that comes up time and again is improved creativity.In fact, research shows meditation reduces cognitive rigidity and our “tendency to overlook novel and adaptive ways of responding due to past experience.” In less clinical terms, meditation improves creative problem solving and allows us to think outside the box.An unwritten policy at Facebook is no meetings on Wednesdays. What started as a tradition of working late into the night on Tuesday for a software release and then working from home on Wednesday, has turned into a very convenient and creative-inspiring practice. By coming into the office every day, and sitting in meetings most of those days, we form a bit of that “cognitive rigidity.”Much like meditation, having one day a week where you can focus without meetings, or even work from somewhere like a coffee shop gets the creative juices flowing.“As Designers, we’re regularly exposed to feedback from diverse stakeholders. Meditation has helped me be more open and less reactive.”— Jeremy Brautman, Content Strategist, FacebookJeremy went on to say, “As part of a recent project, I was tasked with coming up with new mission statements. It became a running joke that I needed to go to my ‘cave’ to write them. My ‘cave’ is not just a physical quiet space, but it’s also a mental one. That ‘pause’ I get from meditation helped me reflect clearly and then share my work openly, without being defensive.” Speaking of physical quiet spaces, all around the Facebook campus you will find meditation, or quiet rooms. They are non-reservable, meant to be used on a whim, and once the door is closed it is understood that it should not be disturbed. They are a perfect place to sit, breathe, and clear one’s mind.It’s not just specialized conference rooms that create mindful settings, it’s rooftop parks, zen gardens with Adirondack seating, bay-front walking paths and other natural settings that give respite from our taxing, always-on jobs. Meditation teaches us that thoughts are nothing more than electro-chemical bursts in the brain, which have no bearing on us or our reality. Too often we get carried away by our thoughts, reacting to them, often negatively.As Dan Harris, an ABC News correspondent and meditation evangelist, points out, “what mindfulness does is create some space in your head so you can, as the Buddhists say, ‘respond’ rather than simply ‘react.’” This ability to look objectively at our thoughts and our experiences and respond rather than react means as designers we’re less likely to defend our ideas, and more likely to receive and act on feedback.“The Facebook design community has a very meditative approach to solving problems.”— Laurent Nguyen, Art Director, FacebookIn conversations with other designers at Facebook, it was very telling that some folks responded and said that design itself is a meditative practice. Facebook design gives us space and encourages designers to fully understand the problem before considering solutions, let alone designing them.Process aside, Facebook by nature is a very social and connected workplace. A lot of designers, including myself, would self-identify as introverts and therefore require the space and time to disconnect and center ourselves. As previously mentioned, Facebook offers ample outdoor space as well as indoor quiet space.“Facebook has a very strong culture of self-reflection, self-assessment, and self-actualization. The kind of folks we invite to join Facebook are already exhibiting some of these attributes.”— Ruchi Kumar Chand, [former] Product Design Manager, FacebookFacebook’s culture is truly one of continuous assessment and improvement. Every six months we are expected to reflect on and assess our performance and growth and seek the feedback of others. Through this process we learn what impact we have had and what work is personally fulfilling. Facebook is also structured to encourage mobility; the ideal situation is matching passion with projects. After all, we think this will lead to greater investment and results. This process of reflection and self-actualization is actually quite meditative. Meditation is like breaking a bad habit. We live our entire lives allowing our minds to indulge and become carried away with each and every thought we have. And the only way to break a habit is to first identify the trigger. So we begin by observing our thoughts. Soon we are able to reflect and see our thoughts for what they are: just thoughts. This newfound clarity and headspace gives our minds the room to focus entirely on topics that truly matter to us, which opens the door for self-actualization.“Most companies would benefit from investing in more quiet spaces, natural environments, meeting-block-out times, time and space for reflection, intentional project post-mortems, and being okay with taking a mental health break.”— Metro, Product Designer, FacebookThese benefits that Metro pointed out, including the quiet spaces and nature, are just a few of the ways that Facebook has created an environment that encourages meditation. Without them, a company is providing subtle signals that this is only a place to work, and nothing else. But in order to bring one’s “authentic self” to work, work must also be a place to relax. So when it comes to improving ourselves as designers, would we benefit from improved creative problem solving, openness to feedback, and more self-reflection? If so, then perhaps now is a good time to close the laptop, put down the phone, and give meditation a try. Companies like Facebook are encouraging and creating the space for this practice and it is creating a healthier, more vibrant design community.I want to hear from you! Please comment and let me know if mindfulness or meditation has had any effect on you as a designer.Meditation and Design at Facebook was originally published in Facebook Design on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Designing Against Misinformation

By Jeff Smith, Product Designer, Grace Jackson, User Experience Researcher, and Seetha Raj, Content StrategistUpdated treatment for misinformation in News Feed using Related ArticlesScrolling through News Feed, it can be hard to judge what stories are true or false. Should you trust everything that you see, even if it comes from someone whom you don’t know well? If you’ve never heard of an article’s publisher, but the headline looks legitimate, is it?Misinformation comes in many different forms and can cover a wide range of topics. It can take the shape of memes, links, and other forms. And it can range from pop culture to politics or even to critical information during a natural disaster or humanitarian crisis.We know that the vast majority of people don’t want to share “false news.” And we know people want to see accurate information on Facebook, but don’t always know what information or sources to trust—this makes discerning what’s true and what’s false difficult.After a year of testing and learning, we’re making a change to how we alert people when they see false news on Facebook. As the designer, researcher, and content strategist driving this work, we wanted to share the process of how we got here and the challenges that come with designing against misinformation.What We LearnedIn December of last year, we launched a series of changes to identify and reduce the spread of false news in News Feed:We made it easier for people to report stories they think are false newsWe partnered with independent fact-checking organizations that review articles that might be falseWe reduced the distribution of articles disputed by fact-checkersWe launched a collection of features to alert people when fact-checkers have disputed an article, and to let people know if they have shared, or are about to share, false newsDisputed Flags, our previous treatment for misinformation in News FeedOver the last year, we traveled around the world, from Germany to Indonesia, talking with people about their experiences with misinformation. We heard that false news is a major concern everywhere that we’ve been, and even though it is a very small share of what’s shared on Facebook, reducing the spread of false news is one of our top priorities.Our goal throughout this research was to understand not only what misinformation looks like across different contexts, but also how people react to designs that inform them that what they are reading might be false news. To ensure that we heard from people with a variety of different backgrounds, we visited people in their homes, talked with people during their everyday lives, and conducted in-depth interviews and formal usability testing in a lab with people alone, with their friends, or with a bunch of strangers. In conducting this research, we found that there were four ways the original disputed flags experience could be improved:Disputed flags buried critical information: Although the disputed flag alerted someone that fact-checkers disputed the article, it wasn’t easy for people to understand exactly what was false. It required too many clicks, and those additional clicks made it harder for people to see what the fact-checkers had said about the disputed story.Disputed flags could sometimes backfire: We learned that dispelling misinformation is challenging. Just because something is marked as “false” or “disputed” doesn’t necessarily mean we will be able to change someone’s opinion about its accuracy. In fact, some research suggests that strong language or visualizations (like a bright red flag) can backfire and further entrench someone’s beliefs.Disputed flags required at least two fact-checkers: Disputed flags were only applied after two third-party fact-checking organizations determined an article was false because it was a strong visual signal and we wanted to set a high bar for where we applied it. Requiring two false ratings slowed down our ability to provide additional context and often meant that we weren’t able to do so at all. This is particularly problematic in countries with very few fact-checkers, where the volume of potentially false news stories and the limited capacity of the fact-checkers made it difficult for us to get ratings from multiple fact-checkers.Disputed flags only worked for false ratings: Some of our fact-checking partners use a range of ratings. For example, they might use “false,” “partly false,” “unproven,” and “true.” We only applied Disputed Flags to “false” ratings because it was a strong visual signal, but people wanted more context regardless of the rating. There are also the rare circumstances when two fact-checking organizations disagree about the rating for a given article. Giving people all of this information can help them make more informed decisions about what they read, trust, and share.Where we’re goingIn April of this year, we started testing a new version of Related Articles that appears in News Feed before someone clicks on a link to an article. In August, we began surfacing fact-checked articles in this space as well. During these tests, we received positive feedback from people who use Facebook and found that it addresses the limitations above: it makes it easier to get context, it requires only one fact-checker’s review, it works for a range of ratings, and it doesn’t create the negative reaction that strong language or a red flag can have.Updated treatment for misinformation in News FeedAcademic research supports the idea that directly surfacing related stories to correct a post containing misinformation can significantly reduce misperceptions. We’ve seen in our own work that Related Articles makes it easier to access fact-checkers’ articles on Facebook. It enables us to show fact checkers’ stories even when the rating isn’t “false” — if fact-checkers confirm the facts of an article, we now show that, too. Related Articles also enables fact-checked information to be shown when only one fact-checker has reviewed an article. By reducing the number of fact-checkers needed to weigh in on an article, more people can see this crucial information as soon as a single fact-checker has marked something as false. And because many people aren’t always aware of who the fact-checkers are, we’ve placed a prominent badge next to each fact-checker so that people can more quickly identify the source.While we’ve made many changes, we’ve also kept the strongest parts of the previous experience. Just as before, as soon as we learn that an article has been disputed by fact-checkers, we immediately send a notification to those people who previously shared it. When someone shares this content going forward, a short message pops up explaining there’s additional reporting around that story. Using language that is unbiased and non-judgmental helps us to build products that speak to people with diverse perspectives.We’ve kept the strongest parts of the previous experience, including notifications for shared content that later gets flagged by a third-party fact-checkerWhen people scroll through News Feed and see a questionable article posted from a distant contact or an unknown publisher, they should have the context to make informed decisions about whether they should read, trust, or share that story. As some of the people behind this product, designing solutions that support news readers is a responsibility we take seriously. We will continue working hard on these efforts by testing new treatments, improving existing treatments, and collaborating with academic experts on this complicated misinformation problem.Designing Against Misinformation was originally published in Facebook Design on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

An Interview with Facebook Product Designer Debashish Paul

Debashish Paul—or “Deb” for those who know him—is a meticulously detailed product designer whose work over the last three years at Facebook has greatly inspired other designers in the company, including myself. He has a knack for storytelling and beautifully crafted presentations as well as producing work rich in narrative in collaboration with partners.As Ryan Lee, who has worked closely with Deb on the Facebook camera and stories products, put it: “Deb is one of the most generative designers I’ve ever worked with. When working through ideas, he brings in the rest of the design team, product managers, researchers, engineering and other cross-functional partners early. He’s able to iterate with them in an open way, free of egos, which leads to well-informed and thoughtful product decisions.”Tanner: You’ve been at Facebook for three years now Deb, what was it like when you joined?Deb: When I joined Facebook I went in having assumptions about how the company works and the different teams and what they all do. I realized on my first day that it’s a very different world once you’re in.There are so many different products and problems to solve at Facebook, so many different teams working on these problems.Tanner: And you weren’t originally from the United States, you moved here not long before joining Facebook right?Deb: Yeah, just one year before I joined Facebook, my wife and I moved to the United States from Bangalore, India, which is right on the other side of the planet. More than the distance and new home, I was struck by the shift in culture as well as some of the fundamentals of design at Facebook. I was new to the valley, and I’ve learned a lot since joining Facebook and how design here is different than where I’ve worked in the past.Tanner: How so?Deb: At Facebook, it’s different, design is at the front of decision making, designers contribute to the strategy. We’re very much a core part of the whole team.Before I joined Facebook, a lot of my experience—and designers I worked with elsewhere—weren’t included in the first phase of the product process. We were always considered as a second or third layer when it came to building things. Problems would be identified by product managers or other higher-ups in the company, decisions were made and only then designers would be asked to create mocks. Also before I joined Facebook, visual design, interaction design, and prototyping were different roles entirely on a design team in my experience. I wasn’t used to a single role for doing it all. My past experience was a stark difference to what things are like here.”At Facebook design is at the front of decision making, designers contribute to the strategy.”The other difference I’ve experienced since joining is I’ve realized how previous companies I worked with were very tool-centric. At Facebook we’re more focused on problem solving, that was one of the big challenges I faced after coming here.Illustrations by Andrew Colin Beck for this article.Tanner: What do you mean by tool-centric? Because even here we’re pretty easily distracted by the newest, shiniest tools.Deb: What I mean is, here at Facebook designers are looking to make a real difference, not just make something just because the tool allows them to do it. The tool-centric approach only helps designers get feedback on screen-based designs and not the design decisions going on behind the scenes. When you focus more on tools you overlook important questions like: “Why are we doing this?” and “Is this the right thing we should be designing?” That was a thing I had to learn when I joined Facebook: to be more problem-focused and less oriented around just what the tools can do.Working on Facebook Business Manager really drove that concept home. I had to focus on the problems real businesses were experiencing and how our technology might help solve those issues.Tanner: How did you make that shift, from being tool-oriented to more problem-focused in your process?Deb: When I was very young I was into films—I always had a knack for film making and loved following the process of which some of my favorite movies were made—and I relate film making to the design process. If you look into how movies were made 50 years ago and how they are made today, the process has changed because of the tools.At the end of the day, we are still telling these amazing stories using motion pictures, but the tools and techniques that are used today have largely evolved.Filmmakers have a lot they don’t have to think about now. They used to have a lot of constraints, now you can shoot with 50 different cameras and 50 different angles and figure out how it all comes together in post-production. The same thing has happened for designing products. The tools still matter, but it’s when things come together that the work really gets done. Products like the Facebook camera make that more clear: you can do a lot in post-production these days even on something like your phone.“The tools still matter, but it’s when things come together that the work really gets done.”Tanner: Yes! I immediately started thinking of collaboration. Collaboration is pretty critical to being able to pull things together, right? You can’t have 50 different cameras shooting things and try to pull it together if the person running the camera isn’t in-sync with the director.Deb: Right, the way I’m trying to connect product design to films is that there’s a huge team working both on screen and behind the scenes. You have all of these mutually exclusive skills that have to come together to tell a story. And each skill is a specialist in their own way, it’s why actors are often given only certain types of roles.Think of the actor who is always the protagonist, an antagonist, the lead, the comic relief—they know how to act the part. The same is true of design, where you have designers who are exceptional at interactions or motion design and others who are a bit better with visuals.As product designers, we all understand how to solve problems with design. I think that this aspect helps us to empathize about how each other role in a project works. And collaboration only works if there is a good amount of empathy; for those you’re building products for and for your co-workers. You have to be able to build up your ability to empathize by putting yourself in their shoes, see the world through their eyes, and feel what they might feel when they encounter the work you’re doing.At the end of the day, the success of the film or design project comes from the individual’s ability to understand and execute on the script they’ve been given. And if the script isn’t written well the actor can’t do their job. Design is the same. The script in our case is the framing of the problem, the “why” of the whole story. If the framing of the problem doesn’t answer some of the core questions, it is not going to work.The only way to get the work done or improve it is by working as a team—each person must do their job well and collaborate as a team. We do that nicely at Facebook, pulling together teams of individuals that compliment each other.“The only way to get the work done or improve it is by working as a team.”Tanner: Totally, I feel like many designers—particularly those just starting out—want to take a problem and hide away with it in order to produce the work, but that usually backfires. They want to shelter their ideas and designs but end up weakening them instead. Like an immune system that hasn’t had a chance to strengthen itself against diseases. Designers who don’t collaborate well end up seeing things from a very limited perspective and that hurts the designs.Deb: It all comes back to diverse, even specialist, perspectives and then learning how to listen well. You should be the expert in something—visual design, interaction, whatever—but if you want to get better you have to learn to listen to the people you work with and even people you meet out during the day. I’d say try to be a designer who is a jack of all trades but a master of just one. The “master” in you will make you valuable for the team and the “jack” will help you empathize with others.It’s like this: when you grow up you have different belief systems than other people, and we all learn from our own life experiences. People have different ways of communicating their own stories, so it’s important for us as designers to focus on the skill of listening and understanding. What is this person telling me? What is the story they’re telling? How does this thing relate to this other thing? Design and collaborating is much more than just communicating outward.Design is about inward absorption as well. I feel there is a great sense of enrichment when you understand common concepts from different point of views. Ultimately, it helps you tell stories that people connect with more.I think you are made up of your own thoughts and perspectives—there isn’t really anything else which shapes you early on in life. But these perspectives and points of view can grow and improve if you become a good listener. Hearing what someone else says can sometimes change your life.“Perspectives and points of view can grow and improve if you become a good listener.”Tanner: But it’s difficult to learn how to listen. Particularly if you want to really own the design work. You don’t want to get some feedback or hear something that might make the design change, and so you either don’t try to share the work or you don’t try executing on an idea.Deb: Right. This all comes from a lesson from my childhood. I remember traveling to a city for a sporting event when I was young, as I was walking around I met a Sadhoo (Hindu devotees with strong beliefs).The Sadhoo told me about his life. I didn’t really understand anything he said but I listened deeply. Things he said have stuck with me. One of the things he told me though I still think about today. It’s funny how when we really listen we can recall things we wouldn’t ever expect to later on.According to this man, on your death bed your entire life will flash in front of you. And the thing you’ll ask yourself is: what did I do in my life? But you won’t think about the things you did right or wrong, what you’ll think about is everything you didn’t do.You’ll think about the opportunities you didn’t take. Things you wish you could have done. And those are the highest points of your life you’ll be reflecting on.The lesson is this: anything you feel like in life should be done, you should try it. Because if you win, you lead. If you lose, you guide. Whether you succeed or you fail at something, you’ll still have something to offer others as a result of simply trying.“The stories we tell and the stories other tell us shape our work, our beliefs, and that’s what shapes us, as designers and people.”Tanner: So good! That quote gave me goosebumps.Deb: Right? It’s a quote from a great Indian philosopher, but I deeply believe in it. No matter the result of what your actions are, you’re still valuable for someone. But only if you’re open to things, and wanting to learn, and listen and experience. You have to stop and open yourself to others’ perspectives, because that’s what will shape you.I wouldn’t be at Facebook if I hadn’t pursued that perspective of just trying, of just applying and seeing what happens.We have these posters at Facebook that say: “Even busy bees stop and smell flowers.” I think often about that saying, and how it’s at the heart of not only the work we do but also our own life experiences. The stories we tell and the stories other tell us shape our work, our beliefs, and that’s what shapes us, as designers and people.Follow Debashish on Medium or Twitter. Illustrations for this article by Andrew Colin Beck.An Interview with Facebook Product Designer Debashish Paul was originally published in Facebook Design on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

More than Words: Being an Interdisciplinary Content Strategist

People make their way to content strategy in all kinds of ways. That’s partly because it’s a relatively new discipline, which means people have few preconceived ideas of how content strategists are supposed to work. By experimenting with my own workflow, I’ve found that getting comfortable with design and prototyping tools and learning my way around coding environments has not only helped me be a more effective content strategist, but has also made me a more well-rounded UX practitioner and collaborator. I remember installing the design software Sketch for the first time: I’d offered to take a small, content-oriented project off an overworked designer’s plate. To save time, rather than frame the problem in a slide deck or document, she sent me her Sketch files for a new component so I could make the changes myself. I spent the afternoon fiddling with Sketch — trying to draw arrows, figuring out how to edit and resize text layers, exporting artboards to share with others. Writing words in the mockups themselves felt new and exciting—like the rudiments of actual, tangible progress in how I worked. I was hooked.For me, the most satisfying way to practice content-first design has been to work directly within the designs.As a content strategist at Facebook, I’m tasked with maintaining the conceptual frameworks and voice— simple, straightforward and human — we use to talk to our community so that we create experiences that are clear, consistent and compassionate. Everything from the tone we use to the ways we write, demonstrate, and share our work helps to create experiences that are more thoughtful, more human and better for the people using them. I have a lot of autonomy over how I do that work, though. And over time, I’ve found that some of the best methods for creating content and showing others the value of content strategy are in the tools and processes of designers and engineers, not in text files. I’ll share more about what it means to be an interdisciplinary content strategist, show why it’s worth the effort, and offer some guidance for getting started.Learn to design and prototype ideas on your ownLike most content strategists, when starting a new project, my go-to for a long time was a document or spreadsheet. I’d create nicely organized tables, import screenshots and label my columns just so. I got a lot of satisfaction from making these finely tuned documents and still do.But when these documents were my only deliverable, I spent more time giving feedback and catching up to design and engineering work than actually helping build products. I felt stuck in a reactive posture. This led to a lot of redundant effort too. Designs inevitably changed, rendering my content out of date. While I tried to demonstrate rigor and strategic thinking in these documents, it often felt like I was showing my work for its own sake, rather than providing something others might find useful.Nowadays, instead of starting in a text document, I begin most projects by using the same components and design tools as the designers on my team. When a designer shows me something they’re working on in Sketch, my first request is for them to share their artboards with me. When they build a prototype in Framer or Origami, I ask for the files so I can see how they did it. Over time, gaining proficiency in these tools has helped me iterate on existing design work far more effectively.While I tried to demonstrate rigor and strategic thinking in these documents, it often felt like I was showing my work for its own sake, rather than providing something others might find useful.For example, on a recent project, I learned we could add a new piece of functionality that I’d assumed we wouldn’t have time to implement. After talking with the designer on my team about the right solution, I made changes to the designs and prototype myself. This saved both of us time: she could focus on higher-order problems, and I didn’t need to wait for her to mock up the change and address discrepancies between the content and designs. I took care of it at the source. Lately, I’ve started designing and prototyping basic product flows from scratch, addressing the problems I want to solve from the start. Becoming more self-reliant and learning to bring ideas to life on my own has helped me build richer relationships with designers, too; we operate more cross-functionally, and we understand each other better. The designers on my team place more trust in my opinions about product design, and I find their feedback on content more useful as well. For me, the most satisfying way to practice content-first design has been to work directly within the designs. I still write and maintain text documents, which often work better for quick, smaller content projects, or when I need to show multiple options at once. But when I have an idea I feel especially excited about, designing and prototyping it myself has been far more effective at getting buy-in and garnering interest than any document, proposal or brainstorm I’ve ever put together.Update content yourself and get involved in code reviewsMost product content strategists rely on code — and the engineers who write it — for our work to see the light of day. So it’s worth understanding the coding (and code deployment) process, and even more important to become part of it. For me, working in code is all about owning my writing from concept to draft to publication. Being able to update content on my own is empowering, and it’s become an essential part of how I work.I’d argue that true product literacy requires some form of code literacy. And code is, after all, just another kind of language—every content strategist’s natural medium. But if updating your own content or otherwise working directly in code sounds daunting, I’d suggest you start by gaining literacy in how engineers on your team work — the tools they use and how they iterate on and publish their code. If your team uses the software development platform GitHub, for example, consider learning how to create and merge your own pull requests. Learning new skills for their own sake is usually worthwhile, but learning skills that give you a more holistic perspective of your work are even more valuable. They help make you a more well-rounded collaborator and, because learning how your teammates work is a kind of empathy, you’ll build rapport in the process. Plus, if you know how engineers on your team work, you can insert yourself into their workflow and make their lives easier by removing steps from how they deploy your content. Fewer opportunities for confusion are always better.True product literacy requires some form of code literacy. And code is, after all, just another kind of language — every content strategist’s natural medium.I ask every engineer I work with to include me in their code reviews. Inserting yourself in the code review process helps ensure you’re a part of the conversation until the very end and that your team ships the text you specified. Lots of polishing and finessing tend to happen during implementation, and being in the thick of this process means you’ll find and address issues you’d otherwise miss. I’ve caught typos, found better phrasings at the last minute and prevented translation issues. Engineers appreciate that you’re helping to ship a better experience, too. If you want to dip your toe into developer environments or ship your own code, getting involved in your team’s existing code review process is a great place to start.Make the caseIt takes time to learn these skills, and it can feel daunting to change something fundamental about the way you work. It also helps to have a team that’s open to you taking a less traditional approach. If you’re having trouble getting your team on board, start by looking for small ways you can change how you work right now, rather than making an elaborate case to change a team-wide process.If people are accustomed to you sharing documents with them, start incorporating visual examples of your changes in those documents. Build prototypes and link to them. Ask your team for suggestions on how you provide work to them, or how you can help them be more efficient. If engineers aren’t tagging you in their code reviews, follow them in whatever coding environment they use and look for natural ways to join the conversation. Subscribe to their work streams so you can see what they’re up to. Depending on which coding environment you use, it may be possible to add a rule that automatically subscribes you to code reviews that involve specific engineers or content changes. After a while, engineers on your team will get used to you being around, and will start involving you without anyone feeling like they’ve had to learn and adopt a new process.If you’re trying your hand at updating code and need someone to teach you, or need to make a case for getting the right permissions, try framing it as a way to save engineering time. When you’re fixing typos and tweaking error messages, engineers can focus on tougher problems—and you’re helping fix bugs in the process. I don’t want to diminish the difficulty of changing hearts and minds. The good news, though, is that content strategy is so new, few people have a preconceived idea of how you’re “supposed” to work—you get to decide. So if you’re spending most of your time creating perfectly honed spreadsheets and documents, I’d suggest you put them aside for a while, and try using the same tools and processes as the designers and engineers on your team. Learn to speak their language. You won’t be disappointed.More than Words: Being an Interdisciplinary Content Strategist was originally published in Facebook Design on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

One Year Designing at WhatsApp

Thoughts on how WhatsApp and Facebook design at scaleI’ve been a product designer at Facebook close to four years. I’ve worked on a variety of teams such as Groups, Sharing, and Privacy. At this time last year, I got an exciting opportunity to begin work on WhatsApp.Going in, I knew designing for WhatsApp was going to be a significantly different experience than designing for Facebook. It’s been more eye-opening than I expected and taught me to approach problems and my work from different angles than I’d previously considered.I’ve learned a lot over the past year and want to share what I’ve observed designing for WhatsApp and Facebook.Strong principlesWhatsApp designs and builds its product with specific principles in mind. These principles are at the core of the decision-making process. Here are some examples of these shared values:The interface should feel native to the device the person is usingThe app should be lightweight and require as little storage as possibleThe interface should be simpleUser actions and animations should be quick to respondFeatures should provide obvious utility so they require little introductionWhereas Facebook uses a high level mission to drive company decisions, WhatsApp uses these principles to focus product conversations so the majority of the design thinking goes into the minutiae of the execution.Usually every Facebook designer I tell this to recoils. They say things like: I would hate that! Who decides the product direction? Does it feel like you aren’t in control? Can you introduce new ideas?WhatsApp’s decision-making is significantly more top-down than Facebook when it comes to roadmapping. I personally find it brings me more focus to the work I’m doing. I influence the product through my designs, which makes sense to me…I’m a designer.That being said, there’s still plenty of space to propose ideas and state my thoughts on roadmap decisions, but I usually don’t need to. The items chosen for the roadmap also adhere to the shared principles.The main learning I discovered is that if your team can find strong design principles to agree on, it will make your team more efficient. The more values you agree on, the more efficient you’ll become and the less communication will be necessary in order to achieve your goals together.When building a product, having a clear problem to solve for people is half the battle. Having a framework on how to judge the proposed solutions helps make the rest of the process more efficient.Status tab on AndroidUtility driving engagement vs. engagement driving utilityWhen working on Facebook, it’s common for a designer to be tasked with introducing a new feature. This is challenging because Facebook has a lot of features already and the people using Facebook aren’t always excited when those features change. Sometimes a new feature takes time to show its value.WhatsApp approaches this problem in a pragmatic way. We try to design and build features which are obviously useful. If the feature needs explanation, it’s not ready.We also don’t tend to specifically think about engagement in the design work. In fact, we avoid using that word. We assume that if we build features that are obviously useful, engagement will naturally follow. We rarely attempt to squeeze additional engagement out of a feature.One could argue that is a naive mentality to have at our scale. On the other hand, I believe this methodology comes through in the product decisions and resonates with people using WhatsApp.For me, the learning here has been that there’s not a single design formula for growing your product. You can help the user to try new things (NUXs, popovers, etc), but you can also passively encourage the user (discovery, word of mouth, etc). Finding ways to respect a person’s intent in these product decisions is beneficial and creates a respectful product experience.Text StatusDesign tools and design skillsOne thing I really miss about working on Facebook’s product is fully benefiting from how amazing the design tools have become. Facebook has a team that is focused solely on creating great tools to make designers’ jobs easier and more efficient.I use Origami pretty much daily for my prototyping and love it, but many other tools that helped me at Facebook are less relevant to the work I do now since WhatsApp doesn’t have a formalized interface kit or use the Facebook Graph API.Maintaining an interface kit for WhatsApp would probably be more work than it’s worth for our small team. We rely heavily on platform native design patterns, so there’s less need for custom standard components. We have shared Sketch documents that act as templates for commonly used patterns, but it’s all very raw compared to the highly structured Facebook and Instagram systems.One thing that caught me by surprise in my work at WhatsApp is that I often have to design iconography, illustrations and export assets by hand. I’ve had no trouble developing my UX skills working on Facebook surfaces, but I hadn’t been challenged many times with my visual design skills because of the talented illustrators and great tools we have for shared iconography. I’ve never considered myself a visual designer, but on a small team you gotta do everything well — and that includes fine visual design details.The learning here is that tools help you do your job more easily, but I encourage you to take a step back every once and while and make sure you can do the work without the help of the tools. At the very least, it helps you keep perspective on how useful the tools are.Photo filtersUnique problemsSome of the product problems I’ve encountered at WhatsApp have been like nothing I’ve ever dealt with before. For example, end-to-end encryption has many challenging side effects. Messages are stored on the user’s own device and WhatsApp doesn’t store users’ messages once they’ve been delivered.This causes behaviors in the user interface that might not make sense for people who don’t understand the underlying technology. For example, when you log into WhatsApp on a new device, you don’t immediately have all of your old messages. That’s because they’re still on your old device — there isn’t a copy on the server.At Facebook, real identity ends up being a fundamental building block of designs. At WhatsApp, we don’t require people to have a profile picture. We don’t require people to use their name! Identity is something I took for granted in my designs at Facebook, but certain problems become a lot more amorphous when you can’t rely on the benefits of identity.Another interesting example is taking literacy for granted. People can send voice memos, photos and videos to each other on WhatsApp communicating without text. One interesting challenge I had was designing the interface for people logging in to WhatsApp. People needed to know they successfully connected their contacts to WhatsApp and where to begin their conversations, but the design had to work well even for those who might not read the text.Chat Search on iOSMove slow and deliberateAt Facebook, you start with a problem. Then you propose a solution to that problem. If that gets the team excited, you test it in research. If it tests well, you start to build it and you take it out for a small test to see if it solves the problem. If it solves the problem well, you build it out to have a rich feature set and release to a wider audience. The process is iterative and it has a lot of checks and balances naturally built in. It’s a mature process and it works well.At WhatsApp, you start with a problem. You work on a spectrum of solutions. You start to whittle it down to the solutions that seem to solve it best and adhere to the principles of the app. You grind on the best solution until you think nothing is wrong with it. Then you keep grinding on the solution until nothing is actually wrong with it. Developers build the solution and you roll it out to everyone in an app update. The process is also iterative to some degree, but mainly in the design portion. There is additional pressure on design to get it right out the gate.Facebook has the value of “Move Fast.” Getting a project going at Facebook can be extremely fast, but the full process of rolling out a product can actually take quite a bit of time. If WhatsApp had a similar motto, it would be “Move Slow and Deliberate.” We take a lot more time up front in the design phase, mainly because we’re more adverse to pivoting in the development phase. When we hand off the design to engineers, we really try to deliver as much of a finished spec and mocks as possible. The advantage of this is it causes less churn in engineering, which engineers appreciate. The potential downside is that engineers can feel less involved in the process of designing the product and might feel more isolated from the product decisions.There are advantages and disadvantages to both of these methods of working, but the real learning for me is that both methods work. Neither one is particularly faster than the other, it’s more a matter of working style preference. The Facebook style allows for more overlap between the roles and the WhatsApp style has a workflow with more focused roles.Status views and Status update on iOSWrapping upI hope some of these thoughts help you think of new ways to work or come up with additional ways to bring value to your team. I feel excited and encouraged to see first hand that different working styles can be used to create great products at scale. It’s just a matter of what works for the people who are doing the work. I believe finding that way of working is very important.I also wrote this in the hopes of raising awareness of WhatsApp Design. We are a growing team and looking for more people to help out. If these values or ways of working sound interesting to you, you should check out our open positions, especially our Product Designer role.WhatsApp Careers - Product DesignerOne Year Designing at WhatsApp was originally published in Facebook Design on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Fantasy vs. reality: design lessons learned on the job

It wasn’t until I began working at Facebook that I started to understand the challenge of designing products to solve problems for people.I’ve learned that most of my design work has nothing to do with pixels and everything to do with working as part of a team to solve a problem for people.I was initially drawn to design by the big flashy projects I saw online — the perfect animations, the clever logos, an app redesigned from scratch, etc. It all seemed so exciting. As a child I had big plans of becoming an accountant. I liked the structured rules and responsibility of being a historian of the company’s money. It didn’t seem like an enjoyable career, but that didn’t seem possible until these designers online made me think maybe, just maybe, work could be fun.I should have known at the time, but everything I saw online about design was just the tip of the iceberg. I was observing the end result of a long, thoughtful process.Now I’m at Facebook designing products for 2 billion people. A few years in, here are some of the things that surprised me.1. Your design better solve a real problem for a real personBefore I began designing professionally, I’d spend my nights working on little things like apps and websites, most of which never saw the light of day. They were usually silly ideas (like a dating app that matches people based on their search history), but they allowed me to practice my visual design.At the time, I thought I was doing the work of a product designer. I made screens and flows for these fake apps and figured that was 90% of the job. Another 8% would be emailing them to an engineer saying “please build thx” and the last 2% would be graciously accepting awards for the work.Looking back, I realize that what I was doing was far from a product designer’s job. Before working at Facebook, I didn’t spend any time identifying a problem I was trying to solve or thinking through solutions. I just wanted to make something that was “cool” and maybe get some likes on a site like Dribbble or Behance.The work I do now is grounded in solving real problems for real people. I work closely with my multidisciplinary team to identify problems, generate hypotheses, then create designs that test those hypotheses. This is the work of product design.It’s still easy for me to get excited about design trends, but approaching problems at work with a solution already in mind is a disservice to the people who are experiencing that problem. It reminds me of the saying, “If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.”2. Your best friends are product managers and engineersOkay, they don’t have to be your best friends, but most of the time you spend designing will be partnering with them to solve problems.I used to imagine myself working on a creative factory floor with an army of designers. Together we would discuss the important issues of the day like what gradients are in, how rounded is too rounded, and whether engineers should design.At Facebook there are definitely opportunities to work with other designers. I sit right next to some, but since our designers are embedded on multidisciplinary teams, I’m primarily interacting with product managers and engineers.This works out well because the problems we are solving at this scale require us to understand the nuances involved with making decisions. If we were a centralized team jumping in and out of projects, it would require a lot of time at the beginning of projects to bring people up to speed.Product managers often have the best insight into what the entire team is working on. They see all of the projects and help make sure the team is moving towards the appropriate goal. They are my go-to teammates when I need a second opinion about my designs or need suggestions on which problem I should focus on.Working closely with engineers has made me a better designer. They have a way of pointing out the limits of your design that is frustratingly humbling. For example, I used to overlook the roundtrip time from the phone to the server. In my prototypes, “loading” happened almost instantly. An engineer eventually pointed out the expected loading times in areas without fast data networks and I immediately saw how the experience was significantly different than anticipated.Another important part of working with engineers is understanding the technical impacts of your designs. At Facebook, I try to include engineers early in the design process. That way I get feedback from them on the technical constraints I should consider and hear them out on any ideas they have for solving the problem.Here’s Daren — an engineer I get to collaborate with.I sit next to designers, we have critique twice a week, we regularly discuss design principles and best practices, but my primary partners are not designers. Learning this was an important step in understanding how to solve problems at Facebook.3. You design for people who aren’t like youUnless you are designing a niche product, you will likely have people using your product who are different from you.When I was designing on my own, the projects were silly ideas for myself. If something made sense to me, then I accepted it as good enough and moved on. Every flow made sense to me because I was the one who created it.Most people I’m designing for at Facebook don’t speak my language, don’t live in the same country, and don’t use the same state-of-the-art phone as I do.There’s an entire UX research team at Facebook that helps us understand who we’re building products for so we can break out of our biases. They get real people into research labs to experience new features, talk with people in their homes halfway around the world, and measure the impact of a product change with surveys and other methods.I’ve never seen an engineer move faster to solve a problem than when they are observing a research session and see a real person who can’t complete an essential task or reach their goal because of it.Through research, we test our assumptions with reality and are forced to look at scenarios we didn’t consider on our own. For example, a cute little button might work in English, but how does it work when it’s translated to a longer language like German? Does a slow internet connection change the best design solution? The design might look great on a high-end smartphone, but what about the people using your products on lower-end Android phones? Is the problem you are solving actually a real problem for people?Understanding who you are designing for is something that should happen well before you open Sketch or your design tool of choice. It’s a key piece of information you need before you can even get started.4. Your design will be measured“Metrics” is a word that I’ve seen scare some designers away. It’s easy to hear that word and assume it yanks creative control away from the designer and puts all decision making power into a magical chart with a bad color scheme.When I was designing on my own, I never gave much thought to metrics of any kind because most of what I designed was never trying to solve a real people problem. Considering metrics for making design decisions and measuring whether I was doing impactful work was a new concept to me when I joined Facebook.At Facebook, one of the first things I do when solving a problem is look at any relevant data we have about it. This gives me the foundation I need to understand the problem.Who will be using this feature? How many people will be impacted by the changes? How big of an improvement are we hoping to have?Identifying the metrics that matter — and how you’ll measure them — is a crucial step in design. There is more work to do than we have time to do it and getting answers to these questions can help us prioritize where we focus our attention.At Facebook, we have a saying that “data wins arguments.” If you are a designer working here, that’s a currency you need to deal in if you want to be part of the conversation. However, designers are in a unique position to push the conversation further by connecting the metrics back to people and the problems they have.Changing the conversation can be as simple as asking “Why?” I tend to ask this whenever I see a change in metrics to get my team aligned around understanding what’s changed and why it’s changed.Why did people stop going to your help website? Was it because they are less confused or because they don’t know how to get there?Every company has goals they want to achieve that evolve around people happily using their product. Metrics are a way for you and your team to get signal on whether the designs are helping solve peoples’ problems and moving the company closer to their goals.Your job may not be what you think — mine wasn’tI used to think that a large part of a product designer’s work was to make things look pretty. Since joining Facebook I’ve learned that my fundamental understanding of product design was wrong.Visual design certainly plays a role, but my job is to work with my teammates to understand the problems people are facing, translate those into possible design solutions, and consider the ways to measure if we’ve been successful in solving those problems.Fantasy vs. reality: design lessons learned on the job was originally published in Facebook Design on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Evolving the Facebook News Feed to Serve You Better

by Shali Nguyen and Ryan FreitasStarting late last year, we set out to explore how we could make News Feed more readable, conversational, and easier to navigate. As you might imagine, designing for a community that connects two billion people can pose some unique challenges.As managers of two teams of designers that bring News Feed to life each day, we are sensitive to the fact that any changes we make can resonate across the entire Facebook experience. In speaking with people who use Facebook around the world, we’ve heard that they felt News Feed had become cluttered and hard to navigate. Solving this problem meant evolving the News Feed design system, a significant challenge for a highly-optimized product. Small changes, like a few extra pixels of padding or the tint of a button, can have large and unexpected repercussions.https://medium.com/media/40aed7394978004f2dd4a8542a176daf/hrefImproving readability on News FeedOur design and research teams are in continuing dialog with real users, every day. Consistently, our audience lets us know what they care about most:The content itself, such as a shared photoThe person who is sharing the contentHow they can leave feedback (like a comment or reaction) to what they were seeingWith feedback from real users in mind, we took a look at the anatomy of our most common story types. The idea was to break things down into their atomic parts, and make certain the design choices we’d made in the past served the needs of our audience right now.Before: This is what our existing News Feed story formats looked like when we started.We asked ourselves if we were meeting three key objectives:How might we improve News Feed to be easier to read and distinguish key areas of content?How might we make the content itself more engaging and immersive?How might we make it easier to leave feedback?These questions drove our exploration and experimentation in a design sprint, a week of coordinated brainstorming and prototyping of new ideas, across two teams of designers, researchers and content strategists. The sprint artifacts helped shape what became a north star for the future of News Feed.The first iteration of updated story formats from our design sprintWe did a variety of design treatments to find opportunities on improving how each of these content types are displayed:Make the News Feed stories easier to read by improving visual hierarchy, increasing type size and color contrastHelp people better understand and interact with News Feed actions by evolving our iconography and increasing tap target sizesProvide a more engaging content experience by expanding content full-width and reduce unnecessary UI elementsOur design sprints always include an opportunity for research to validate our explorations. With this sprint we made sure to put our work in front of real users to get their reactions.User feedback from our first round of testing.Through several rounds of iteration and testing, we learned that some of our initial design solutions helped to clean up the interface however there were decisions like placing the text on top of photos or removing explicit text labels that caused new legibility concerns. Each round of iteration got us closer to our final designs, with layouts and typography that are easier to consume without sacrificing comprehension.After: Our final round of News Feed story improvements.Making comments more conversational and engagingOur goal is to make it easier to engage in meaningful conversations, make conversation more central to more interactions, and give people more ways to express themselves. Our existing formats were rooted in message board styles, with similarly limited affordances for personal expression. As we started to look at other formats for comments, it was obvious that messaging design paradigms have empowered people to converse better than they could before.Comments before (L) and after (R).Making navigation between News Feed stories easierAnother area that we wanted to improve was how people moved to and from News Feed stories throughout the system. Depending on the content type, we watched people in lab studies open their feed and simply get stuck consuming content. We also saw how people would struggle to find the “back” button because we had been quite inconsistent with our execution on applying consistent affordances over the years.Navigation before (L) and after (R).The team opted for consistent back affordances across all the immersive views in addition to reducing the redundancy between our navigation bar and the title of the story. We also improved the transition from News Feed to story view by making the content expand in place creating a sense of remaining in context. We improved navigational gestures by enabling people to swipe back out into News Feed.https://medium.com/media/dd89d805e790715d32a15a67ce6e814d/hrefWe’re continuing to build on to the system from here and nothing is ever “done” at Facebook. As Facebook designers, we put people at the center of everything we do, so we set out to improve the experience in a meaningful way. This is a unique design challenge because we did not want to just “fiddle at the edges”, but rather make something that billions of people use every day less frustrating. We’ll be continuing to learn, iterate and improve upon our new foundation, but we’re hopeful this is a step towards a better Facebook experience.We’d like to offer launch day congratulations and a big thank you to everyone on the team! This would not have been possible without your tremendous effort and sacrifice. Christopher Welch, Kory Westerhold, Robin Clediere, Brian Frick, Cristobal Castilla, Dan Lebowitz, Crystine Gray, Emily Becklund, Nick Merola, Brittany Lawrence, Kara Fong, Paddy Underwood, Sylvia Lin, Tim Feeley, Davis Fields, Boris Ratchev, Suv Bhadra, Aaron Pang, Adam Bell, Juan Garibay, Jonathan Ballerano, Naren Hazareesingh, Michael Belkin, Zach Ritter, Joshua Wu, SheShe He, Anthony Overstreet, Kai Ding, Brody Larson, Mohammed Abid, Dragan Milisav, James Kao, Mathias Roth, Frank Yan, Patrik Chamelo, Sriram Ramasubramanian, Yohann Richard, Brian Amerige, Ergin Erant, Abhinav Jain, Alan Norbauer, Andrew Truong, Claire Lerner, Eric Guan, Inna Rubio, Jungi Kim, Kaya Tutuncuoglu, Lenino Colobong, Tyler Craft, Yuri Brunets, Wilson Ng, Steven Luscher Also thank you Geoff Teehan, John Evans, Julie Zhuo, Lars Backstrom, Hady ElKheir, John Hegeman, Mark Hull, Adam Mosseri, Tom Alison, Chris Cox and Mark Zuckerberg and the many other people that touched this project for helping support, consult and push to the finish line.Evolving the Facebook News Feed to Serve You Better was originally published in Facebook Design on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Getting Started in Content Strategy

Content strategy is a rapidly growing field dedicated to planning, creating and managing content in all its forms. My fellow content strategists and I care about how information is communicated — and we focus specifically on the role words play in shaping people’s online experiences.Before joining Facebook in 2016, I had done things like graduate in law, work as a music journalist, and write some of GOV.UK’s content on subjects like tax, benefits and immigration. The common strands were communication and simplicity; no matter the context, I realized I got a kick out of cutting through complex information in order to analyze it, develop patterns and communicate it back out to the world.I came to content strategy (or content design, as it’s known in the UK government) by trying my hand at lots of different things. The newness of the field energizes me; I love thinking about what a content strategy role might look like in, say, 5 or 10 years’ time — and who my new colleagues might be in a discipline evolving so quickly.If you work with words on the web or mobile devices, it’s possible you already have some of the skills needed to be a content strategist. Or maybe you’re learning them in school or in a different job. Like me, most content strategists don’t start out in the role: we come from diverse backgrounds like journalism, UX design, technical writing, marketing, library science and a host of others. So what makes our job distinct from those?At Facebook, content strategists are responsible for creating experiences that are clear, consistent and compassionate. We maintain simple, straightforward and human language to talk to our community across all of our products, and to do this we get involved early on in the product design process.As a content strategist, I work closely with product designers, UX researchers, engineers, data scientists, product managers and others to identify and synthesize people problems. Everything from the tone the content strategy team uses to the way we share our work with one another helps to create better, more meaningful experiences for the people using our products.Another part of my role is to apply consistent standards and elevate the overall quality of our work, mixing high-level strategy with hands-on writing and editing.If you’re curious about the field of content strategy and think that it might be for you, I’ve put together some resources to help you see if it’s a good fit — and help ground you with enough knowledge to put yourself out there and get some experience.1. Every content strategist is different — think about your strengthsBecause the field is relatively new, content strategists tend to come from different backgrounds. This means that each content strategist at Facebook comes with their own mix of skills, including UX design, journalism, copywriting, high-level strategy or other communication-focused abilities.2. Start to explore the world through a content strategy lensLook back at work you’ve already done (school, work or internship projects) through a content strategy lens to start framing your skills in that way. Think holistically about the role of communication within the larger system, and consider the implications of seemingly minor choices.Think about things like:product or feature nameserror messagesconsistencytonewhether the content will help guide people through an experience, no matter what they’re going throughwhether the content meets people where they areYou might come across possible improvements you’d make or start to notice patterns. Note these things down, and practice how you might articulate what you’re seeing. When you’re thinking about ways you might improve a particular product, think about how you could articulate your suggestions.3. Home in on people problemsLook again at the apps and products you use every day. Think about the goals of the people who use these products, and whether the user experience is able to meet those goals.This will involve taking a step back from your own experience — and might sound like a huge cognitive leap — but it’s an essential skill in thinking like a content strategist. It’s also extremely empowering as a communication tool once you’re used to thinking about other people’s experiences over your own.4. Enroll in online coursesLook out for UX design and content strategy courses to do in your spare time through websites like Coursera, Lynda or General Assembly.You might also want to look out for courses on subjects related to content strategy like copywriting, business and design strategy, service design and customer experience, agile project management and communication.5. Find your local content strategy communitySee if there are any content strategy meetups in your area. Meetup.com is a great resource for finding communities in places around the world like Singapore, Auckland, Dallas, London, Portland, Seattle, San Francisco, New York and Minneapolis–Saint Paul.Meetups are great ways to get inspired, make new friends, join the conversation and learn from people around you. Because of the breadth of the field, meetups can be focused on different parts of content strategy — be it voice and tone, workflow, UX design, content marketing, collaboration across disciplines or something else entirely.There’s also a Facebook group for content strategists, so if you’re interested in the field, please join!6. VolunteerNonprofits in particular tend to want help with content strategy. It’s a quick, easy way to start getting experience.You could look for opportunities through places like The Taproot Foundation, Craigslist and Gumtree.7. Check our careers siteThe Facebook content strategy team offers two programs for university and graduate students:Content strategy fellowship. Fellows attend Confab Central, a weeklong conference in Minneapolis, to learn more about the field.Summer internship. This is a paid, 3-month summer internship. Interns get matched with an intern manager and work on a content strategy project for the summer.8. Read, read and read some moreFinally, my coworker Jonathon Colman has put together a reading list to get you learn about content strategy. Here are a few great examples:How To Design WordsWhat Is Narrative UX?What Do Content Strategists Do?Reminder: Design Is Still About WordsHow Words Build A ProductThe Discipline Of Content StrategyContent Strategy: The Philosophy Of DataThanks to Valerie Ross and Sara Getz.Getting Started in Content Strategy was originally published in Facebook Design on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

How to enhance mobile interactions with sound design

Photo by Teresa KlugeWhen I talk with people about sound design and the role it plays at Facebook, many people seem puzzled at first.“Sound? Facebook?” they ask.I don’t take it personally. People don’t tend to consciously think about the sounds we hear most of the time. While tens of thousands of people are employed as sound designers across many industries, it’s a largely unknown profession. I’ve been a full time sound designer for a few decades now, so I’ve had a lot of practice talking about sound. A few minutes of conversation usually pulls the curtain back for most people.To sum up what we do: sound designers bring context to your world, and use the sonic realm to do it. The sounds you hear while you experience other sensory input play a large part in how you interpret reality. For people focused on sound, designing in this medium is fascinating, infuriating, and deeply satisfying.This article is focused on interaction sound design, one of the lesser known areas of a little-known discipline. To help you think about this misunderstood and underutilized form of design, I and the sound design team at Facebook are sharing some interaction sounds with the design community along with a few things we’ve learned along the way.I’ll focus on insights we’ve learned around designing sound for mobile products. Sound design is a vast subject, so keep in mind that these tips may not translate to other mediums where sound design plays a role.1. Keep it simpleIf you’re considering sound as part of your product design, I encourage you to keep it simple.Sounds that are harmonically complex or overly long can have adverse effects on your product experience over time. Think about the flow of your sounds as you move through the experience of your product. For mobile products in particular, I’ve found that people are more comfortable with subtle, warm sounds.As an example, listen to some of the interaction sounds in Messenger:https://medium.com/media/8f930f94a112d93f29df907c8a05af13/href2. Make it a family affairYou may notice that these sounds all have similar characteristics, but are distinctly different. That’s intentional, as I’ve found palettes of sounds can create a more cohesive experience when they’re sonically related to each other.I encourage you to design your sounds so they work together as a system, just as you would with visual design components.3. Remember: Less is moreIt sometimes surprises people when, as a designer, I’m the first to ask the question “is this sound really necessary?” Similar to cluttering the visuals of a product, it is very easy to sonically clutter an experience.Ask yourself if a given sound really serves an important purpose for the people using the product. Too many sounds can diminish their effectiveness, and become irritating over time.4. Make your sounds unique — or not…When you are approaching designs for each of your sounds, context is everything. In some cases you may want the sound to be identified with a very specific action, but in others the sound may represent something as broad as a state change in the app.As you craft a sound, think about its use case. Consider when the sound will be used and where. Is the action positive or neutral? Do you want people to hear the sound and immediately think about a specific thing? If so, that’s a good opportunity to create a unique sonic element that doesn’t sound like anything else in the product—and then tie the person’s action to the sound. People will quickly associate this designed sound to the action they’re taking.In other cases, however, you may want your sounds to be very generic and non-specific to any action taken. In this scenario, double down on simplicity in your designs.Develop sounds that fit within the sonic palette of your app, but don’t call attention to themselves by being overtly unique just for the sake of uniqueness. If the purpose of your sound is to provide feedback for a variety of actions, then make sure it satisfies this objective and can be heard often by people without becoming annoying.Speaking of which…5. Repetition, repetition, repetition…A very critical consideration when using sound in products is the concept of “repetitive tolerance.” This is simply how often you can hear a sound without absolutely hating it.Do you remember the first time you heard a backup beeper on a truck? “Wow, that’s neat!” you may have thought. Well, how do you feel about them now?Also, big sonic flourishes are interesting and fun the first few times you hear them, but can become downright torturous the 1,000th time. When you integrate sound into a product, you must consider how often people will hear the sound, and how sonically complex it is.6. Focus on utilityA hidden superpower of interaction sounds is the opportunity to extend the utility of your product. If you use sound to provide people with more value, they’ll love you for it.My favorite example of this is the “post” sound in the Facebook mobile app. We designed this sound to create a simple, yet satisfying moment when people posted content, but we carefully considered its placement in the flow of the action. We saw an opportunity to make the sonic element more helpful by attaching it to the actual publication of the post, rather than just the action of tapping the button.This key decision created additional utility for people. For uploads that take longer to complete, people don’t need to stare at the progress bar. Instead, the “post” sound plays once the post is published. This allows people to move on to other things they’d rather be doing instead of watching the progress bar. It’s the same cognitive shift you make when you use a timer while cooking dinner.7. Implementation is keyThoughtful implementation of visual design work is important to creating a great product experience, so it shouldn’t be surprising that this applies to sound design as well. You might design the perfect sound intended for a key moment or action in your product, but still create a negative experience if the implementation isn’t crafted with care.The smallest details around implementation will make or break a sound’s effectiveness. That’s why it’s so important to pay close attention to the timing of sounds in relation to visual components. Also consider the behavior of sounds in stress cases or uncommon scenarios.One of the most important considerations is the relative volume of each individual sound in relation to all other sounds in your product as well as the overall volume of your sound set in relation to similar products.Perception is everything, so make sure your sounds are perceived as you designed them. For example, the most pleasant, useful sound will be aggressive and cloying if it’s too loud. Unfortunately, it’s all too easy to distort sounds emerging from the tiny speakers in a typical mobile device, so take great care in setting your volume levels.8. Testing, 1, 2, 3…You can never test enough. Once you’ve implemented all your sounds, take some time to experience your product as a whole, complete with sonic cues, just like a person using it would.Test your sounds on all of the devices your product is designed for. Watch for distortion when those devices are set to full volume. If distortion is present, adjust the levels of your individual sounds where necessary.Pay attention to the frequency content of your sounds. Do they feel too heavy in the experience? Remove some low frequencies to lighten them up. Are your sounds feeling brittle or too shrill? Reduce some of the offending upper frequencies.When I test sounds in this way, I listen very closely to each sound individually to optimize it independently of others. You can do this by using a parametric equalizer. As you design and test, keep in mind that mobile device speakers aren’t great at reproducing lower frequencies, and really accentuate certain higher frequencies.A typical software-based parametric equalizer with an applied curve. The X axis represents frequency in hertz, and the Y axis represents amplitude in decibels. Notice that all of the lower frequencies have been removed, and certain narrow frequency bands have been reduced.Introducing the Facebook Sound KitTo help designers explore how sound can impact their work, the Facebook sound design team has created a collection of interaction sounds that you can use in your work.Think of this set as a starting point for your sound design work. Among other things, we’ve included some “polish & feel” sounds, which are useful for high-repetition actions. These moments can benefit from very subtle, almost tactile feedback. Attach them to high-use buttons or switches and make sure they’re implemented at low volume. They’ll bring added depth to everyday interactions in your product and help to shape how people feel about it over time.Wrapping it upVery simple sounds can have a dramatic effect on how people feel about your product, and specifically how people feel at the moment of a critical interaction. Think about the most resonant moments in your product experience, and these are the most likely areas where a sound can bring the interaction to a new level.Like I said before, sound design is “fascinating, infuriating, and deeply satisfying.” I hope these tips and the Facebook Sound Kit help you in your journey toward a deeply satisfying sound experience for your mobile product.How to enhance mobile interactions with sound design was originally published in Facebook Design on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Questions to ask as a new designer on the team

Last summer I switched teams at Facebook. My first project seemed simple enough: redesign the sign up flow for Facebook Lite, an app for low-end Android phones.I couldn’t wait to start the project. It seemed like a textbook design problem. “Reduce confusion and friction for people signing up for your product.” Got it.I did what many of us tend to do when we start on a problem solving exercise as a designer: I went back to my desk and dove in. I read through UX research reports, tested other apps, and eventually put together a very solid proposal, or so I thought.When I met with the team I expected them to be blown away by my designs. Instead I had run to the finish line of the wrong race.My initial designs violated three fundamental commandments of doing work as a new designer on a team:Build on the team’s knowledge from previous projectsHave a strong hypothesisKnow what success looks like for the teamBy ignoring the knowledge the team had learned in the past, I managed to create one of the most context-free, unscientific, and useless designs the team had seen.I wasted time playing in Sketch when I should have been asking questions about how we got where we are today.I didn’t fully understand the goals of the team, which meant that I couldn’t articulate why we should build my proposal in a way that would resonate with the team.As designers, it’s easy for us to jump into the work without fully considering the historical context and what a successful solution should accomplish.Maybe you can relate. You work hard on a project only to be told that you skipped a crucial step, forgot to ask the right questions, or completely missed the goal of the project.It’s like being told you put your belt on, but forgot your pants.Once you know more about the history of your team’s work, you’ll learn about their goals and how they measure success. Every team has metrics that are important and if you ignore them, you might as well be speaking a different language.When everyone is on the same page, the team can smoothly transition to a healthy collaborative environment. Teams produce better products than lone wolf designers.To create a collaborative environment and arrive at better design solutions, I’ve learned to ask three simple questions at the start of every project.1. How did we get here?Understand how your product and team got to this point. Even if you are working on a new product, there is a lot you and your team can learn from asking these questions. Get lunch or coffee with some members of the team and ask them questions like:What are some of the major milestones the team has hit?What project are they most proud of? Why?What projects do they want to work on, but haven’t had the chance to get to yet? Why?There are a lot of factors that shape the path of a product. One of my favorite ways to explore that history is by looking at the visual changes that have happened over the years. Facebook designers share their work on an internal website where you can scroll through the years of work that were put into a product. It doesn’t tell the entire story, but it’s an eye-opening exercise and can give you some good questions to bring back to the team.Document what you hear from the team to help others who join in the future get up-to-speed on the valuable knowledge you glean. People should understand what the project was, why you worked on it, and what the results were.2. What’s our hypothesis?Having discussions about the team’s hypotheses are a great opportunity to align the team and flush out assumptions.Once you are ready to write your hypothesis, answer these questions:What’s the change?Who does the change impact?Why are you making the change?Where can you document the hypothesis so everyone can easily access it?This outline of your hypothesis serves as a guide that you can revisit as you move into a design phase. You can evaluate whether the proposed designs will give you the data needed to make an informed decision.My team happens to communicate through Facebook Groups. This allows us to have discussions in the open where everyone can contribute. It doesn’t matter what tool you use for documentation, but it’s helpful if it’s a common place for collaboration.3. What does success look like?Every goal has metrics that are associated with it. These metrics can range from “decrease the number of error messages” to “increase the number of people who say they’d recommend your product.” As a team, you should be able to answer the following questions about those metrics before starting a project:What metrics will you look at?What magnitude of change are you expecting?If you don’t hit that number, what would the next steps be?If you do hit that number, what would the next steps be?If you wait until you have results back to define success, it’s easy to loosen your definition and launch something because you’ve already worked so hard on it.At Facebook we have a robust set of tools for monitoring metrics. However, interpreting these results is not always black and white, so my team sets aside time each week to discuss the results. These meetings are cross-functional and give people the opportunity to talk about success when results fall in the grey area.Defining success at the beginning of your project ensures that you’re headed towards your ultimate goal: making sure people who use your product are having the best experience possible.Look back to look aheadThe history of a product gives you a chance to see the full picture. It stops you from proposing solutions that have been tested before, helps you understand what design constraints there are, and reveals the decisions that led to the current iteration of the product.Questions to ask as a new designer on the team was originally published in Facebook Design on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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