21 February 2017
Annemarie Faber & and others
Annemarie Faber & and others

Visiting a conference for UX research professionals

A trip report from UX insight 2017

On February 9th, several of our digital designers attended the first edition of UX insight, a Dutch conference for UX research professionals. During the day, professionals from academia, agencies and companies with in-house research activities shared their views in keynotes, talks and workshops on the current state of UX research and how it’s evolving. In this post, they share some of the trends and best practices they noticed during the event.


Evolving past lab usability studies

The first trend we identified is how UX research is moving on from lab usability studies. In her presentation, Carine Lallemand (University of Luxembourg) emphasized the fact that UX is highly contextual. We need to evaluate UX in a natural or realistic setting to get the most reliable results. Lallemand gave an example of ‘in-sitro’ user testing, where researchers evaluated the understanding of a system that was used by nurses in a simulated hospital room (Kjeldskov et al, 2007). The term ‘in-sitro’ is a combination of in laboratory (‘in-vitro’) and situation (‘in-use’) testing.

In a refreshing new angle, Lallemand described the difference between ‘do goals’ (tasks) and ‘be goals’ (feeling competent, feeling connected, etc.). There is most likely a ‘be goal’ behind every ‘do goal’. Currently, UX research often focuses on the ‘do goal’, but the ‘be goals’ might be the one you actually want to study. A great way to do this is by using card sets with different images of people with certain emotions. You could ask users to pick one or multiple cards which describes their experience best. The images are a great start to ask further questions to discover their underlying needs and emotions.

Survey tools

Another trend is the use of tools to conduct surveys. Some popular tools like Google Forms, SurveyMonkey and Typeform are traditionally used to ask users questions about their habits or opinions out of context. Usabilla is a tool that allows you to ask questions to users in context. This helps companies to get feedback from users in real time at specific places on their website.

One example of how this method can help you gain useful insights was De Bijenkorf (a Dutch luxury department store). They saw a lot of customers discarding their basket at the end of the online checkout process and decided to implement a survey there. From their study, Usabilla found out the users abandoned the checkout process because they couldn’t finish it; there was a problem with the address input field. This example shows how survey tools can be used on different places in the website and be used to discover problems that would otherwise be difficult to find.

Involving users in research and design

A third trend is to involve users not only in testing, but also in the design process. Geke van Dijk (STBY) and Joost Holthuis (Edenspiekermann) worked together on a project for NS (Dutch Railroads) and ProRail. They shared how they interviewed train travellers and did observations on the train station platforms to look for patterns. They filmed their participants to capture these findings and used these relatable videos to convince stakeholders to invest into further phases of the project.

Co-creation workshops are very useful in the ideation process. Van Dijk and Holthuis held several workshops together with train travellers, designers and clients. Seeing what kind of solutions users came up with gave the team a new source of inspiration. However, it’s more important to figure out the need behind these solutions (‘holistic train’). They found it useful to give users the freedom to visualize their solutions and ideas, as long as you keep the question ‘Why?’ top of mind continuously.

Getting the organization involved

A challenge a lot of UX professionals face is how to make sure their added value is clear for the entire organization. The more UX is involved, and the earlier this is done, the bigger the impact is you can have. To achieve this, it’s important to involve the entire organization with UX.

A first step is to make sure everybody agrees on the problem you’re trying to solve. Online shop Coolblue wanted the whole company to believe in the ‘mobile first’ approach. They changed the view of everybody’s desktop screen to resemble a mobile phone. This meant all the stakeholders knew how important it was that their website also worked on a mobile viewport. Everybody could provide feedback with a feedback button about things that didn’t work well on the mobile version of the website.   

TomTom and Usabilla shared their experience with the ‘early bird bonus’. It’s a way to show stakeholders what they gain by involving UX earlier in the process. It is important for the design team to be several steps ahead of the development team. This way it is easy for both teams to prioritize tasks and makes sure all the stakeholders will get a preview of what is coming in terms of UX.

A third method of involving stakeholders is by organizing a workshop with several teams consisting of people with different roles. The teams will each create a design for the final product. This way everybody will understand what the other person is responsible for, and will also create a shared understanding of the task at hand, the problem and different roles of their colleagues.

Ethics are relevant but not top of mind (yet)

Now UX research is evolving to new and more methods of research, new ethical questions arise. With the numerous A/B tests being conducted every day, millions of users become test subjects without being aware of it. With all the acquired data, websites might learn to know you better than you know yourself, in which case they might be able to persuade you to make less rational decisions. This seems unethical at first glance, but Bart Schutz (Online Dialogue) questioned whether that’s the case; in some cases people might even be better off.

Though several speakers during the day mentioned the subject shortly, the UX community doesn’t seem really interested in the topic just yet. A panel discussion about ethics at the end of the day only drew a handful of people. Interestingly, the main part of the discussion focused on whether the government should regulate ethics of research, or if users should be empowered to be able to choose for themselves if and how they want to be involved. The role of research and design professionals was barely touched upon, which might make the topic a perfect candidate to dive deeper into during a second edition of this event, granted there will be one. Judged by how much we learned on the first edition, a second edition would be very welcome.

About the authors

Annemarie Faber (/annemariefaber) is interaction designer. She has a background in Information Science and Cognitive Psychology. Annemarie enjoys learning everything about complex environments and using that information to make designs with the best user experience.

Marjolein Fennis (/marjoleinfennis) is interaction designer. She has a background in Communication & Multimedia Design. She is very interested in all sorts of design, virtual reality and the combination of online and offline experiences. In her spare time she likes to visit museums and concerts.

Beau Hagenaars (/beau-hagenaars) is interaction designer. She’s an energetic creative designer with a passion for people. In her work she likes to make complexity understandable. In her spare time, she likes to visit cities to enjoy other cultures, food and people.

Denny Hurkmans (/dennyhurkmans) is interaction designer. After his bachelor degree in ICT & Media Design, he graduated at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University as a master in Interaction Design. This combination of disciplines not only provides Denny with the capability to take the user’s perspective, but also to assess what’s technically feasible. Based upon his interests in technology, traveling and new cultures, Denny is always on to something interesting.

Peter Vermeulen (/petervermeulen) is interaction designer. He has a background in Digital Media & Communication. He’s creative, analytical, and gets a lot of energy to simplify complexity. In his spare time he likes to play the guitar and to ride his mountainbike.

Events (26), Research (4), User experience (53)