29 April 2019
Selena Starcevic
Selena Starcevic

Researchers looking back and forward

UXinsight 2019 trip report

Who are the user experience researchers and what is their role? Is research always necessary? Is any research better than no research? How do we measure the influence of research? The questions Steve Portigal (@steveportigal), principal of Portigal Consulting (San Francisco) raised during the opening talk of the third edition of UXinsight were echoing among the walls of the popular industrial terrain De Fabrique in Utrecht. This way a perfect stage was set for the speakers to debate some of the burning questions in the growing UX research community. Together with a few of my colleagues, I was there to witness this international event mainly for UX research professionals, but also for designers and all the souls curious about UX research.

The central theme of the conference “Looking ahead” implied looking forward into the future of UX research, focusing on inclusiveness and collaboration (WHO), role and purpose (WHY) and technology and data (HOW). While we could recognise this thread woven into the inspiring talks, the more striking message we got was actually “Looking beyond”, the idea underlying all the stories. We do have to look into the rousing future of user research, but also explore further, deeper and outside of the things we already know.

Kick-off of the UXinsight 2019 event by Brian Pagán

Including the ‘invisible’ ones

During an eye-opening presentation “A brain unlike yours”, Anniek Veltman, experience researcher at Robo-advice platform Aiden, made us aware that our research paths and designs might not always be as inclusive as we might think. Though nowadays we do take into account the physical disabilities more responsibly than before, we often leave out quite a significant group of people. People with cognitive disabilities learn how to hide their differences and participate in society quite normally, making themselves quite invisible as a distinguishing group. That is why we have to dig deeper, find the ‘insiders’ who are working with them on a daily basis, choose our methods wisely and go outside of the usual techniques (for example, do ask steering questions during a face-to-face interview). Emphasizing that the researchers are in the right position to help these people, besides the obvious WHO, Anniek profoundly touched on the WHY, the role and the purpose of the UX research vocation.

Balancing technology and ethics

In an interview-like setting, Aryel Cionflone (@AryelCianflone), UX researcher at LinkedIn, also known for her podcast and Slack community Mixed Methods and Raz Schwartz (/raz-schwartz), UX research manager of the Facebook Social VR team, discussed the role of AR and VR technologies in people’s lives. Raz’s research projects on the cutting edge of technology are focused on HOW the rapidly developing technologies could influence our social interactions in the near future. Impressive? Yes. Ethical? Not quite sure.

The case study ‘Show me your face’ conducted within Zalando by Franziska Roth (/dr-franziska-roth), senior user researcher, effectively illustrated how looking beyond the remarkable possibilities of moving forward levels the WHO, WHY, and HOW dimensions. Using Amazon Rekognition software as a facial recognition tool and putting a lot of effort in humanising the data during the analysis process, Franziska and her team have come to remarkable results. They could tell the subconscious preferences of buyers, leaving them amazed after sharing the research results. Though they could put this into the use of making more profit, but they felt like pushing into very private space of the people was not the right thing to do. A user quote “My face belongs to me” was like a wakeup call highlighting the importance of the balance between the researcher’s curiosity and protecting the user from too much of it.

Following the clues

Definitely the most striking presentation of all, leaving a part of the audience even with teary eyes, was Jack Morgan’s story of Duolingo. One shocking finding initiated an extensive research journey around the world and showed the significance of going further, deeper and broader. We often associate language learning with education, self-improvement and better life quality. Noble mission of Duolingo to make education available for everyone was tilted to the next level after an unusual research discovery: the most learned language via Duolingo in Sweden was Swedish! Following the leads of a number of Syrian refugees Duolingo researchers team started an expedition around the world to connect the dots and moreover, to recognize the human stories behind the data points. Realization that learning a language for millions of people was actually a survival tool was a mind changer. The way research, the work of the UX researcher and the responsibilities are seen within Duolingo will never be the same.

Taking responsibility

Not even nearly mentioning all of the attention-grabbing speakers, I would like to conclude this glance at the event seminar with some essential concerns Karen Cham, professor of Digital Transformation Design (University of Brighton) presented during the conference closing talk. At the dawn of the fourth industrial revolution, inclusion of measurable insights into our design of user interactions with the product or service is essential. Otherwise, we risk development of unwanted personal and social consequences and unethical behaviours. Digital transformation is inevitable. We should look on its fruits as an extension, an additional layer of our lives, and not as the purpose of the life itself. So let’s look beyond forward.

About the author

Selena (/selenastarcevic) has been working as a visual and interaction designer within Informaat since 2012. She loves to get people involved and to work together in an engaging team. Keywords for her are: simplicity, beauty and creative communication. The essence of life for Selena is in finding balance, which she pursuits on and off the yoga mat.

Events (26), Research (4)