Ben Holliday: I'm Not Really Here

Orde Saunders' avatarUpdated: Published: by Orde Saunders

Ben Holliday (@BenHolliday) was speaking at Refresh Edinburgh, these are my notes from his talk.

I'm not really here.

Once we mark the system out for the first time we never change it.
When we always know what we're doing, we always do the same things.
People buy into this as your experience and portfolio.

I don't know what I'm doing [beginner's mind]. This forces us to talk to the users.

The value of uncertainty

We don't know how people will interact with what we design.
Refocus on what's next, not what we've done before.

"'s the next note that makes it good or bad." - Miles Davis
Creativity is making things obvious.

Can I make this better? Where next?
Every piece of design is part of a story.

Connecting things

If the system is broken the design is broken.
See the spaces between things.
When design isn't working it is often the business model behind it.

All design is experience design - someone has to experience it.
Curiosity is the key - understand people better.

Design research

Insight, not proof. Finding what we don't already know, not validating what we already know.
There is no formula for empathy.
Problems we are working on are all unique, think about your methodology.

"The intuitive mind is a sacred gift" - Einstein.
We all have potential, how do we connect to it?
We use it all day every day - getting dressed, picking lunch &c.
We could analyse which shirt to wear but would we gain anything?
If picking for someone else we need more information about them and their preferences.
In cricket it is impossible to think about hitting the ball, has to be instinct.
The conscious mind is like a CEO - if they got involved in everything the organisation would not function.

Take a walk and relax.
there's a reason we have good ideas in the shower.
Leave a problem in your subconscious for a while.
Focus less to see more.
Learn to give things our full attention.

Curiosity - find sources of inspiration

Don't get caught up in the meanings of things.
When we draw the mind becomes deeply, intensively attentive - we think by drawing.
"Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up." Picasso
Six up sketching:

  • five minutes to draw six ideas
  • four ideas normally come quickly, the last two are more creative.


  • mood boards
  • put everything on the wall, immerse yourself.
  • capture ambiguity and imperfection - the best camera is the one you have with you.
  • keep research open or even absurd and you'll get surprising results - if you ask defined questions you'll get answers you already know.

Embracing the value of uncertainty

"Making the strange familiar and the familiar strange" - Jon Kolko

What we carry in our bags or pockets defines who we are.
Empathy is subjective and seen though our own perspective. it moves, it's never a fixed point.
Our experiences shape who we are.
Design is about people - understanding people is hard and takes time.
What we do and what we say are different.
Find ways to talk to your users - remotely, what are others in your company who talk to customers saying.

Design research

Problem seeking, not problem solving.
Usability isn't enough on it's own - we miss out on insight.

Personas - developing a shared understanding and encapsulate how archetypal users think.
Personas have to grow and change.
Writing reports doesn't work.
Make up your own rules for research.

Find a space to work outside the constraints of what already exists.
Find processes that help you experiment.
Be flexible about your processes.
We have to be willing to fail.
It's always what we do next that matters.
We spend our lives trying to look like we know what we're ding but we do our beat work when we're out of our depth.

Trust yourself as you probably have many of the answers.

Comments, suggestions, corrections? Contact me via this website