How Not To Have Sex With Geese: UX Perspectives with Peter Jin Hong

Peter Jin Hong, a graduate of the digital Design program, has carved out an incredible career for himself since leaving VFS. His resume includes the highest profile agencies, such as Blast Radius, Tribal DDB and Organic, and currently sees him holding the title of User Experience Designer for Google+ Photos in San Francisco. As part of his artist in residence visit, Peter gave a presentation to the students. The content was riveting. But what he did after the presentation ended was even better.

Peter is a humanist. He designs from the perspective of enriching the human experience. This came through in every aspect of his presentation. He chose to stand away from the podium, presenting in front a black background with minimal images and text behind him. He simultaneously unraveled a mystery about his own personal experiences (including a horrible but life-changing motorcycle accident) while providing interesting and relevant information regarding the science of how people interact with and react to the world around them. The presentation culminated in showing us how these narratives apply to the work that he does on a daily basis as a user experience designer.

Peter was honest and open about his experiences and adventures as a marine biologist, a geneticist and an explorer. He advocates travel, experiencing life and has a love for street food. One of the more fascinating stories he told was about an odd job he once had to catch geese who had strayed from their migratory pattern and sort them by sex so that they could be safely shipped back to where they belonged. He went into colourful detail of the process of “sexing geese” talking about how the process would both terrify and arouse the geese simultaneously. He related this to a collection of statistics and observations about how we, as humans respond to things. That we become rationally and irrationally predictable. And that the science of the world has proven that our interpretation of what’s around us is based on illusions. He empowered the room full of designers by telling us that we are the illusionists. That we can create dreams, magic and storytelling though our understanding of the human experience. Designers can make changes to and improvements upon how people interact with the world. He talked about the thrills and responsibilities of his current role, that working for Google allows him to create positive illusions for millions of people. How so? For example, he demonstrated how a seemingly insignificant change that was made to the placement of the URL in the way Google presents search results, can alter the trust factor and reliability in the mind of the user. He showed us how the user’s eye scans for the familiar to build trust and that, with the right visual reassurance, he will decide which link to click. The new positioning of the URL made for a faster positive perception, shaving microseconds off an already lightening fast judgement process. But for Google, those microseconds are multiplied by billions and billions of interactions.

Peter then talked about how important it is to give back. To find what makes us happy. He presented some of the design work that he has done for, showing how design can be a path to pure joy. One of the best moments of the presentation was when he talked about the response in Malawi to the completion of a well, bringing fresh clean water to an entire village. The celebration came to life through something unfamiliar to many of us who were in the auditorium — ululating. Unable to recreate the sound or the joy on his own, Peter showed us the following video to help us understand.

And with a genuine thank you, Peter closed the presentation and took some questions from the students. His answers provided incredible guidance. What he did next was what made this presentation a standout that I will never forget. He took us step by step through his entire presentation explaining the User Experience design considerations for every detail of his presentation. He showed how he had tucked small notes to self on the screen, how he used humour and what appeared to be non sequitur stories to create a relationship with the audience, in particular talking about how the story about “sexing geese”, although relevant, served the greater function of making the entire presentation stand out and be memorable.

Thank you so much Peter for sharing your time, your experience and your gifts as an illusionist.

To learn more about Peter’s Artist In Residence visit, stay tuned for his blog post and his video interview…

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