SXSWi: Critical Thinking for UX Designers (or anyone, really)

Session: Monday 14th March 2011
Speakers: Christina Wodtke @cwodtke (Zynga) and Russ Unger @russu (Happy Cog)

Hashtag: #critthink

This was great session on critical thinking by Wodtke and Unger of Zynga and Happy Cog! I apologise in advance, the notes are a little lean, as I was too engrossed by the speakers.  What’s most interesting to note, is the fact that much of what is being done in business, is very similar to what we do in UX. I believe this is the ever-present cross over from UX to service design. Personally I think this has much to do with convergence (creating a consistent experience for your product/brand across a myriad of devices). Happy reading!

Deliverables are just communication tools. It’s more about the thinking that got you there.

Defining critical thinking

You need to take a look at a problem, chunk it into pieces and find easier ways to solve it.

Unger uses the example of house, walls, windows – you have a house with four wall, four windows, all windows face south — what colour is the bear? This is an example of a critical thinking exercise (see end of post if you can’t figure it out ;) ).

If I would have asked people what they wanted they would have said a faster horse - Henry Ford

This example was used to explain that:

People are not experts in features or solutions. They are experts at their experiences

Dr Steve Julius says with a bit of training and through some brain stretching exercises, we can be effective. We can slow down, and find alternative solutions.

Critical thinking

  • Is not biased
  • It’s not prejudiced
  • Partial
  • Uninformed

It is self directed, self monitored, self corrected.

What does this mean in business?

Christina Wodtke takes us through what this means in Business:
Designers can make great leaps forward, but tend to leave the business behind.
Critical thinking can also help you with client’s or bosses ideas.

When your client or boss has an idea, you say

yes, and….

Stop, think, organize thoughts, and then proceed.

Tools for thinking

  • Clarification
  • Understanding
  • Context
  • Evidence


For clarification, try active listening.
Repeat, paraphrase, extend.
Let them feel heard.

The five why’s – dig until you get the real intent.

Do I understand the world in which I’m going to design this?

Three reality checks for business

  • Size of market – this is the total available market . It’s different from…
  • Served available market- that’s the market you can actually meet.
  • ROI – return on investment is all the CEO really cares about.

Types of market

There are three types of market:

  • Existing
  • Resegmented
  • New market

Existing market

You can try be better than an existing product, or try going somewhere else.

The 9x effect:

You tend to overvalue your service by 3x, but the customer undervalues it by 3x. So in effect, your product has to be 9x better than you think it does.

Resegmented market
Competing by resegmented. E.g. Entering a niche, or making it cheaper

New market
Something that doesn’t yet exist.
e.g. Twitter, Pay pal

Choose your idea wisely - Can we really provide something unique and how important is it to the consumer?

The business world is talking about stuff that is simply the things we are already practicing in UX.

Ask the users
Some businesses use a paper prototype and ask their users to move features up and down the roadmap.

How do you get evidence that you are right about your ideas?
Proceed together: Tech, business, and product

User/ browser role play
Wear a different hat.
Hold a funeral for your product – it really helps you understand what winning looks like.

(The bear is white, as it’s a polar bear because we are in the north pole)

  • Russ

    Hi Sheryl!

    Thanks so much for making it out to the session–I know you had a surplus of options at SXSW this year, and I really appreciate that decided to come and see us, and that you enjoyed the session!

    I truly appreciate you taking the time out to write your blog posting, too!

    All the best,


    • Sheryl Soo

      Thanks Russ, I really enjoyed the session – only posted notes to share with everyone, from the ones that really stuck with me :) Hope to be able to see you speak again in the near future!