UX Bucharest 2017

Up until recently if someone in digital mentioned Romania, chances are you were having a conversation on low cost development or nearshoring. While until recently Romania indeed was mainly known for exporting code, we’ve discovered that in recent years this country by the Black Sea has become much more ambitious. There is a movement going on that wants to make use of the country’s large number of software engineers and the huge potential they have in creating the services and experiences of the future. If they can keep the momentum, Bucharest might soon become one of the hotspots for UX/CX in Europe.

We handpicked for you some key takeaways from this conference which will help you design more valuable customer experiences and services.

How to Wow

Adrian Swinscoe

What is the wow factor in a design or a service and (how) can you design for it? Adrian Swinscoe provides us with strategies to improve you customer experience. We highlight some of our top picks:

  • Get the basics right
    Contrary to what you might think, wowing your customers is more about getting the basics right, than about doing the little extras. There no point in putting a chocolate on your hotel bed pillow, if your check-in process is terrible.

    keep doing basics brilliantly
  • Don’t sell, help buy
    Consumers now are much more informed than a decade ago; most people already have an idea on what they want to buy when they enter your store or webshop.
    Take this knowledge into account and don’t just try to sell your products: make them purchase process as smooth as possible and don’t make it hard for customers to spend their money.

    As much as 33% of possible buyers abandon their shopping cart when they see registration is mandatory. Research shows that making the registration optional actually boosts customer loyalty to your brand.
  • Think both as a designer and a consumer
    All of us are consumers. If you’re reading this, chances are you are also a UX/CX designer. Interestingly, both of these roles have opposing interests and as a designer we tend to forget the things we hate or love as a consumer and vice versa. As a customer, you probably love the fact that you can leave reviews. At the same time, as an employee at a company, you might be reluctant to provide such a feature for your product. Try to find balance in these roles and use your experience in your consumer role as an advantage in designing services to build trust. Trust drives transaction.
  • Don’t underestimate the aggregation of marginal gains
    Uplifting you conversion rate with, say 10%, is hard. Especially if the foundation of your product is already there and has proven its value. In looking to grow further, do not underestimate the combined effect of small improvements: gaining 1% in 10 domains is a lot easier.
  • Be interested, not interesting
    Companies and service providers like to throw all information on products or services at their customers. The internet is full of figures and statistics on products. But is that what the customer really wants? Facts, figures ... or do they want to have the feeling that you as a company are interested in them, that you understand their needs? So reach out to your customers, get to know them and apply your newly gained knowledge.

    An example:
    A company presented their customers with a simple question: “Is there anything that we do, or have ever done, that has ‘annoyed’ you, however slightly?”

    Imagine what precious feedback they have gathered by asking a seemingly simple question and how those customers must have felt afterwards, knowing that they were being listened to. Dare to reach out to your customers and learn from their frustrations!

Be more certain

Gregg Bernstein

When you think of user research, you might be overwhelmed by all possible types of research you can do: there’s surveys, interviews, contextual inquiries, usability tests, competitive analysis, NPS, brand equity tracking, support feedback analysis, etc.

How do you choose between this vast array of tools and practices?

The job of user research is to help us be more certain in our work. Being more certain keeps us from building the wrong thing, and allows us to design and strategize with a little more accuracy.

Sometimes being a little more certain means being pragmatic, less precious, and more practical. Not every project affords enough time or budget for proper research, and that's okay. In those situations, we can't let perfect be the enemy of good. Some research is better than none at all.

We strongly advise you to keep these best practices in mind when thinking about doing user research:

  • Mindset, not skill set
    Collecting valuable data is a mindset. Don’t worry too much whether you have all the needed skills. Just start by assuming the data exists and work backwards from there.
  • Diplomacy & deputies
    Don’t assume one of the departments in your company knows what kind of data another department has access to. The silo mentality is still much more common than it should be and it might require diplomacy and patience from the user researcher to get things going.
  • Some data is better than no data
    Work with the means you have: there is no budget for doing a usability test with 20 people? Then set up a test with 5 people instead of cancelling the study altogether. Every piece of data is valuable and can provide you with new insights.
  • Small samples are large opportunities
    Don’t focus yourself too much on the number of participants in your study: information richness is more important. Yes, you might have edge cases when you are researching in a small sample, but these cases also show you the boundaries of what’s possible.
  • Stories travel faster than reports
    Share your findings, not only in an executive report, but also to the colleagues you work with on a daily basis. Be it in a slack channel or just informally by the coffee machine, you may soon find out that support within the organization for your user research is suddenly much bigger. And bigger support means bigger budgets.

Service design

Fred Montijn

Simply said, service design is the process of designing services. UX focusses mainly on the digital touchpoints in a customer journey in using a service, whereas service design takes a step back and takes a look at the service as a whole, including before and after the digital solution.

Service design helps organisations work out new ideas more effectively, address customer expectations, break down silos within the company and focus on creating business value. By visualising new ideas and customer journeys, and testing with customers and staff from day one, this approach highlights potential challenges sooner, resulting in bigger confidence in the ideas which will make them easier to implement and accepted.

Service design is an upcoming field because each day, more and more services are created. There is a huge shift from products towards services and there is also a shift towards a valuable, long-term relationship between a service provider and its customers.

Creating a service can be done via a 3 steps process:

  1. Discovery
    Do User Research. Get out there and learn from the end users, see what complaints you get, go and watch the current process happening and figure out what’s is going well and what isn’t.

  2. Imagine
    Translate the experiences into action points and add them in a Customer Journey. See for each action in the map if this is a positive or negative emotional connotation for the end user. These actions together create a roadmap for the future.

    customer journey
    Positive and negative emotional connotations during a customer journey

  3. Design
    Start designing improvements and iterate. Go into the field and try these improvements out on a small scale.

It’s a great time to be a Designer

Jared M Spool

Jared has been working in the field of usability and design since the seventies, even before the term ‘usability’ was ever associated with computers. He is an authority on the subjects of usability, software, design, and research. During his session he showed us what the value of a good designer can be and why it’s such a great time to be one.

Design is the rendering of intent

When talking about design, you have two types of companies:

  1. Companies who are innovative. They spend time and money in trying out new things. Design is heavily valued and viewed as competitive advantage.
  2. Companies who imitate. In these types of companies design is not valued but seen as a commodity.

Take for example the Apple Store: a completely new type of store which generates retail values unseen up until that point. A concept that was so successful, that is was copied by innumerable other companies and brands.

Why is the Apple Store concept so successful? Because everything inside the store is intentional by design.

Business wins when it is intentionally innovative. Business wins when it values designers.

Disruptive experiences

A lot of businesses are facing or faced digital disruption. Think about the well known examples of how services like Zipcar reinvented the classic car rental business or how AirBnB messed up the traditional hotel business.

A striking but less known example is that of Cirque du Soleil. This collective of street performers has its root in Montreal and came into existence in a time when the circus business was in steady decline. People had all the reason to declare their idea to get into the circus business and reinvent it crazy. History however, has proven these people wrong.

Via deliberate design decisions (e.g. removing all animal acts from the circus) they were able to get a specific benefit (reduction of transport costs and animal care costs). This gave them unique opportunities (increased performance budgets, better performers, costumes, sets and music) which resulted in exceptional results (Cirque du Soleil makes more ticket revenue each night than all of NYC’s Broadway shows combined).

Great new business models are designed, which means designers are needed everywhere.

intention pays off
Innovation and design pays off.

The Design Unicorn

Finding a good experience designer can feel like searching for a unicorn.

A specialist has more expertise in one area over others while a generalist has more or equal expertise in several areas. As UX design is a discipline that crosses boundaries, you need UX generalists.

experience design
Skills and knowledge UX designers need

Jared shows us the path to become this mythical creature by following these steps:

  1. Train yourself
  2. Practice your new skills
  3. Deconstruct as many design example as you can to build up experience
  4. Get feedback from others (and listen to it)
  5. Teach others, by teaching you will even learn more

To conclude

During the course of the conference we heard some great quotes and one-liners.
One of our favorites is this one from Jared Spool:

“UX design is about the visual business”

Why do we like this one so much? Because it reminds us of our own creed here at The Reference: it’s more than digital, it’s your business. To make the link we could say:

“It’s more than design, it’s your business”

Like we said, this is just one great quote from many. Feel free to pick your own winner from this pool of great quotes:

  • Be data-informed, not data-driven
  • Better strategy = better products
  • If you’re the smartest person in the room, you’re in the wrong room
  • The first solution is the most obvious one, but not the best
  • Always add a junior to your projects. they often provide fresh insights
  • Never stop growing, make mentorship a two-way street.
  • Always be yourself. Unless you can be Batman. Always be Batman.


Blog post by Bruno Dhont & Xavier Depouillon.

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