The future of UX: What I learned at World Usability Congress 2017

Last week I was honored to be asked to speak at World Usability Congress in Graz, Austria. I spoke on Managing Agile Research to a fabulous audience eager to learn how we have adapted agile to User Experience Research at BeyondCurious. And I had the opportunity to speak with and listen to an incredible group of global UX leaders.

Hearing people like Intel’s Bruce Horn, Autodesk’s Maria Giudice, HTC Vive’s Jonathan Faunce, and WeWork’s Tomer Sharon share their perspectives on key issues facing UX makes me pause and reflect how much I love my job. And not out of tech optimism. But because we have BIG challenges in front of us that are meaty and interesting. Facing these big problems touches the missionary in me who believes that we have the opportunity and even the privilege to solve these problems with design. Some conference highlights addressed both design problems but also solutions! For example:

What does User Experience look like in a world of Intelligent Agents

Bruce Horn, Intel Fellow and one of the original members of the Macintosh design team, gave a thought-provoking keynote speech on how Intelligent Agents with “multiple intelligences, working as one” have the opportunity to be the next user interface. He presented the mind-blowing array of contextual inputs, outputs, and interactions that intelligent agents of the near future will process.

In his keynote presentation, Horn laid out a vision for personal intelligent agent of the future that has “no agenda other than yours” and is “not trying to monetize you.” This presents a radical shift from the dominant commercial models that fuel tech platforms like Facebook and Google today. I loved his vision of the ethical, loyal, secure personal Intelligent Agent of the future as it challenges us to think differently not just about interaction design, but also about commercial transaction and monetization models.

IOT and VR and AR are killing UX as we know it

Both Jonathan Faunce, who leads the Vive team at HTC, and Alexy Kopylov from Kapersky Labs, asserted that UX as we know it is about to radically change, or even become extinct. Kopylov argued that IOT will kill current interaction design. His presentation showed the mathematical impossibility of designing UX the way we do now through persona or user-story driven scenarios because of the multiplicity of nodes in IOT systems. Interestingly, Kopylov thinks stories will help us design for this new world. He advocates creating non-linear customer journey maps with cycles, branches, and triggers to help design for these new future systems.

Similarly, Faunce urged attendees to ditch 2-D design tools when thinking about designing for AR/VR. He asserts that rather than competitive technologies, AR and VR are simply different screen types that in the near future will be part of an ecosystem of multiple screens that includes the ones we are familiar with today. He suggests that there will be no silver bullet for input in the new continuum.

How to Scale Design

In a company that makes design tools, yet has a ratio of one designer for every 100 engineers, how do you scale design? That was the challenge that Maria Giudice signed up for three years ago when she came to AutoDesk as VP of Design. Her engaging talk was full of useful advice. For example, she has created a four-part pyramid for scaling design.

  1. Build community
  2. Focus on customers
  3. Connect experiences
  4. Ship quality

Part of her argument for good design is based on sobering research that found “negative emotions from bad product design can last three times longer than positive ones and are harder to overcome.” Giudice believes in shipping the “minimum lovable product,” or (MLP) instead of the sub-par minimum viable product that perpetuates bad user experiences.

Make user research available to everyone

User-centered design means nothing without the user. Yet, too many companies struggle with siloed research efforts, poorly archived results, or decks that are too dense and not cross-indexed for secondary findings. Tomer Sharon of WeWork has attempted to solve this problem by developing a research archive tool for WeWork that breaks research down to the “atomic level.”

Polaris, the proprietary data tagging tool that he has developed with WeWork, eschews reports, analysis, and even researchers, asking everyone in the company to take on the mantle of insight gathering and data tagging. My immediate thought was it’s too bad that Polaris is proprietary! I know many large organizations that would benefit from a tool that helps to organize and distribute user insights across the organization.

Agile research has been transforming how we design and develop products and services which is putting a lot of pressure on researchers to do things in new ways. At BeyondCurious we think this is a good thing! We’ve seen again and again how Agile helps clients and teams understand what’s important and meaningful to their users and then use that research to quickly pivot and make things that matter.

About the Author

Carrie Yury, Senior Vice President of Experience Research & Strategy at BeyondCurious.

As part of the leadership team at BeyondCurious, my job is the help build a great company. In my role as SVP of Experience Research & Strategy at BeyondCurious, I oversee all research, both quantitative and qualitative, to understand users, develop original thought leadership, develop experience strategy, and ensure great product design. As a researcher, ethnography deeply informs my approach to user-centered design. Whether conducting ethnographic research, participatory design, prototype testing, or usability studies, all of my user experience research is based in a contextual understanding of user needs. My background as a visual artist and university lecturer informs both my process and approach to problem solving. I love design research because I believe that what I do makes a difference in people’s lives.