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Config 2023 Recap

Tara Urso

5 min read

Last updated on July 13th, 2023 at 3:16pm

Kion Design was in San Francisco for Figma’s annual design conference, Config. Figma released several new features such as variables, Dev Mode, a VS code plugin, advanced prototyping, auto-layout updates, and more.

We were able to hear from leaders in the design community, such as Brian Chesky (CEO, Airbnb), Ovetta Patrice Sampson (Director of UX Machine Learning, Google), Rachel Kobetz, (SVP, Global Head of Design at Expedia Group), and many more.

Some of the main themes at Config were remote work, designing for the end-to-end customer journey, and AI’s impact on design.

Remote Work

We heard from Andrew Hogan, Figma’s head of Insights, and Kaitie Chambers, a FigJam advocate at Figma, who touched on the impacts of remote work and how to enhance it. Some key points were supported by new research done by Figma in partnership with Forrester. Andrew noted, “The challenge isn’t just that we’re working remotely, it’s also that work is different and it has changed very rapidly.”

Some key challenges:

  • The shift from in-person interactions to shared virtual spaces has changed the way teams create and collaborate.

  • As remote work and the tools to facilitate it have become ubiquitous, there’s been an increase in participants, stakeholders, information, and workflows.

  • The gap between cooperative mess (ineffective collaboration) and collaborative magic (effective collaboration) is challenging to bridge.

  • In the current work environment, products are considered “never done” and go through continuous rounds of iteration to make them better based on feedback. Teams are continuously researching and iterating, which creates more cycles, and makes it easier for information to slip through the cracks.

  • For remote teams, async communication and synchronous video calls are essential, but a long document isn’t always the best way to communicate and during calls, people often get bored and stop paying attention.

Some key takeaways for enhancing remote work:

  • Be clear: Create mutual understanding of goals across teams by talking about them more frequently. Share knowledge, make it clear what is already known, and who's responsible for what.

  • Be intentional with time: For example, determine whether a meeting is about a shaping review - deciding what we want to work on and what we’re trying to accomplish, or a Gavel review - deciding on what to move forward with.

  • Communicate appropriately: Be thoughtful about how you’re structuring meetings, how you’re summarizing and using appropriate communication methods (for example, Live Zoom vs. Async Video).

  • Improve participation: Find ways to engage people through more visual, collaborative, and interactive activities.

Watch Andrew Hogan and Kaitie Chambers - FigJamming your rituals—adding fun and structure to your planning practices.

Andrew Hogan and Kaitie Chambers presenting, "FigJamming your rituals—adding fun and structure to your planning practices."

Designing for the End-to-End Customer Journey

Another theme that emerged at Config was the importance of the end-to-end customer journey. Rachel Kobetz, SVP, Global Head of Design at Expedia Group discussed how they reoriented their process to be more holistic and end-to-end. Brian Chesky, the CEO of Airbnb, talked about how a customer’s experience begins the day they start thinking about their trip.

“ Great design comes from a deep understanding of the problem. ”

– Brian Chesky, CEO, Airbnb

Chesky talked about the importance of understanding the end-to-end user journey and every customer touchpoint. At Airbnb, they storyboarded out the entire journey so they could have a bird’s eye view of the entire experience. Chesky also noted the importance of talking to customers and “becoming the user,” saying “great design comes from a deep understanding of the problem.”

Watch Brian Chesky - Leading Through Uncertainty

Brian Chesky presenting, "Leading Through Uncertainty."

AI + Design

AI is currently a hot topic for most industries so it wasn't surprising that Config addressed the imminent role of AI in the design landscape and how it is shaping the future of creative processes.

Ovetta Patrice Sampson, Director of UX Machine Learning, Google addressed the fact that many people are scared of or hesitant to accept generative AI by pointing out that it’s really just a souped up MadLib or a system that’s really good at recognizing patterns.

“ Skynet, not yet! ”

– Ovetta Patrice Sampson, Director of UX Machine Learning, Google

One prominent topic was the concept of AI as a "design assistant," capable of reducing repetitive tasks and enabling more efficient completion of design tasks in a conversational manner. This approach not only streamlines the design workflow but also holds the potential to make design tools more inclusive by "lowering the floor" and allowing a broader range of users to participate.

“ Relentlessly seek to save people a step - this is the promise of AI. ”

– Ethan Eismann, SVP of Design, Slack

Another topic is how AI could reshape both what and how we design. The emergence of a dynamic, conversational computing paradigm driven by AI suggests a shift from an app-centric world. This new approach envisions users being able to input questions and receive relevant answers, revolutionizing the process of moving from intention to action.

Lastly, AI has the potential to empower designers by automating certain aspects of the design process, freeing up time for deeper exploration of flows, strategy development, and refining design aesthetics. By facilitating faster pattern recognition and leveraging design systems, AI allows designers to focus less on individual elements and more on strategic thinking.

Watch Ovetta Patrice Sampson - Generative AI and Creative Arms Race

“ Generative IA is a souped up madlib. ”

– Ovetta Patrice Sampson, Director of UX Machine Learning, Google

Ovetta Patrice Sampson presenting, "Generative AI and Creative Arms Race."

Overall, Config was a great time. We had the opportunity to hear from design leaders, get a first look and deep dive into awesome new Figma features, all while getting better connected to the design community. Check out all of the Config 2023 talks on the Figma YouTube Channel.

About the Author

Tara Urso

Tara is the Design Team Lead at Kion.

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