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Product Management Blog

Canvas Conference - An Emotional Rollercoaster

I popped along to a conference for product people in Birmingham last week. Canvas Conference was brimming with great stories from people working in the product space. It included speakers from companies such as Thriva, Microsoft Research, Starling Bank and Monzo this year.

However, I’m not sure I was prepared for one of the presentations - nor were quite a few others whom attended.

Emotionally, it was a bit of a rollercoaster.

Haiyan Zhang is an Innovation Director at Microsoft Research. Haiyan works with people to identify where technology could improve or enrich their daily lives, where medical conditions put them at a disadvantage.

Haiyan talked about quite a few things, including a new platform for participants, and the need for making solutions financially viable further down the line.

Parkinsons is a disease affecting 10 million people worldwide, and leads to a loss of motor control. There is no cure.

I know first hand the effects that this disease has on a human being. It’s been close to me since I was a young boy. It has the ability to strip back all the things you cherish.

So, it was getting into Project Emma that was the most striking for me. It’s ambition was to help Emma, a women diagnosed with early on-set Parkinsons, write and draw again - giving her back a little of what had been taken away.

Haiyan and her team spent vital time sitting with Emma to better understand the importance drawing plays in her life, and more widely how Parkinsons has affected her daily life. Haiyan and her team worked day and night for months to better understand the problem and explore a solution to help Emma.

Remarkable, right?

It’s helped remind me that we all have a role to play. I guess most of us shape solutions for the majority of people, however people and their needs are heterogeneous - with all the complexity that brings.

We have a responsibility to those who have different levels of ability, or who need support to see the benefits that the things we build bring to people.

It’s why research, analytics and how we build things are so important to do right by our users - whoever they are.