Designing For Things You Don’t Understand And People Who Are Smarter Than You

“Building a quantum computer requires a team with deep expertise in about a dozen fields: quantum physics, lasers, optics, electrical engineering, mechanical engineering, embedded computing , high performance computing, you name it. And at least for now, using a quantum computer to do anything productive also requires deep expertise in fields like in discrete mathematics, theoretical physics, and quantum information science.

It’s not all hardware though—in fact, a great deal of the important work to make quantum computing available to everyone is in software: software to coordinate and control complex embedded systems, to schedule and perform calibration, to schedule and run algorithms, to encode and decode the information the quantum processor actually uses.

Of course, all of these interaction patterns, behaviors, and interfaces need to be designed. As I’m aware, there are no product designers in the world that are also PhD-level experts in quantum physics. Which means the job falls to people like me, who like science but have’t formally studied physics or math in over a decade.

All that said, this isn’t a talk about quantum computing (at least not directly). It’s a talk that uses my experience at a quantum hardware and software company (and before, at a large consultancy) to answer a bigger question: how do you design for things you don’t understand and for people that are smarter than you? And what can that teach us about being better designers overall?

It turns out, you design for quantum physicists much like you design anything for anyone, just …moreso. As opposed to a consumer product, where you can fool yourself into believing that your prior experience is enough to inform your choices, being out of your depth in this way can actually be a boon, forcing you into a more inquisitive, facilitative, and research-driven mode; one that we all should spend more time in anyway.

We’ll cover:

* How to identify the things you have to learn, and the things you can leave to the experts
* The transformative power of shared vocabulary
* How to get over your impostor syndrome, and embrace being the resident dumbass.
* Extracting useful information from people who know too much.
* Why it’s okay to let UIs get busy, ugly and weird.
* The challenges (and benefits!) of designing for exclusively expert power-users.
* And we’ll close with some practical, useful tips and methods for having productive working relationships with your stereotypical highly-technical user or SME.

We won’t be covering:
Much about quantum computing itself—I’ll give a basic overview and some details about the engineering of our systems, but more than that isn’t relevant or necessary for this session.”