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Hegle Sarapuu-Johanson

Where is UX design headed?

Tiina Nuum

The impetus of UX (user experience) is stronger than ever, and emerging trends show that brands and organisations have no intention of stopping the development to create more user-friendly solutions. Where is UX design headed? What can we expect to see more of in the coming months and years? Are trends even important or maybe even counter-productive? These are some of the questions I asked from Hegle Sarapuu- Johanson just a couple of weeks before World Usability Day Estonia conference. Hegle is a consultant and a teacher of user experience methodologies, accessibility, and interaction design. She is one of the first UX specialists in Estonia and a co-founder of Trinidad Wiseman. 


You are one of the pioneers of usability research and methodological UX design in Estonia. How did it all start?


It was around millennium. I was a technical person, which means that I used to work in a help desk. What I came to notice, was that people very often felt that whatever problem they had, it was their fault, but it wasn’t. Most of the times it was just a misunderstanding. I understood that there must be a correct way to design interfaces. So I started doing some research and I found this discipline, that no one had heard of in Estonia.


What are the trends making impact right now in the UX field?


We are using more and more numbers and metrics that provide valuable insights into whether or not a design is working as it should be and looking for data-driven proof and statistics to help us make design decisions.


Voice recognition software has developed a whole new category of voice user interfaces. It is not just hype anymore. By shouting a command you can turn the lights on at home or play your favorite song. But, it will take more time before we can speak Estonian with our devices. 


In the meanwhile, UX design acquired a more restricted meaning, usually referring specifically to the design of websites and mobile apps. And although we may think of UX and UI design as separate disciplines or different concepts, in the practice of design they are more connected than most people think. Staying centered in what the user really needs and how they feel comfortable interacting with a system is key to staying competitive in an ever changing UX design field. Being able to interact with technology in a natural human-centred manner will accelerate technological adoption and increase user satisfaction. 


Trends are far too often focused on new ways and techniques to solve problems rather than new and better ways of defining them. Of course it is part of our job to also know what’s going on in the world but most importantly- it is our job to understand other human beings and their needs.


Is service design the next big thing or another hype?


It's definitely a big thing, but there is a lot of hype around it as well. More and more, we expect intelligently designed experiences. Comprehensive service design involves the entire ecosystem surrounding a person’s interaction with a brand/service and requires deep consideration and design of every experiential element.


Our physical and digital lives are increasingly connected and intertwined. AI-driven Internet of Things sensors, web-enabled devices, voice UIs, and much more. These must come together to enable more inclusive next generation experiences. I hope that the hype phase will be over soon and we get to the stability and productivity phase- where the methods have become widely accepted and demonstrated and we really start to use these opportunities to make real impact.


More and more organizations understand the value of service design. And also, we suggest a service design approach to more and more clients and for a wide range of digital projects. By taking a service design approach, we have been able to save companies from spending money on something that was already working well (their webpage for example), and instead refocus their investment in the things that prevented their clients to the next step and finally, to the goal. Service blueprint is one of the methods that helps to bring together business executives and designers to learn, analyze and co-create. Sometimes, a redesign can be a matter of life or death for business or organization. Unfortunately, many organizations wake up when it is too late.


How are Estonian digital services evolving?


We are all proud of our digital services in Estonia. But what we all would like to see, is that our physical services would get better. It does not matter in which channel we are providing them. We should move towards the entire service process and not just a few touchpoints. We all should think wider and try to understand better, how things we are providing fit into person’s life. Lets’ find a way how to benefit them, make them feel better with service. We should not create services and force people to use them. We should not force people to change their lives. There must be a way to incorporate things into their lives.


What are the newest methods or technologies that you use?


We are, indeed, integrating new technologies into our method-mix, which help us to become much more accurate and efficient in illustrating user experiences and proving usability problems. The user experience is very much localized in the user’s physical body and already from the user’s body language and expression we can tell if it’s good or bad UX. Right now, we are working on our neuro-UX- services to discover what users’ attention is drawn to and how to enhance the user interface for the best results. Our Neuro-UX architects use brain waves. That combines data and neurosciences to build digital products and webpages. Research methods like observation and interviewing often require the UX researcher to make guesses, modern technologies allow us to study nearly imperceptible reactions and preferences.


Why is it important to study imperceptible reactions?


Simple. Usability and design influence user satisfaction and, ultimately, web success. Ask yourself if you want results. Yes? Then- that is that. Are the elements cluttering your UI? If you have a lot of content, are the elements weighted correctly? With these new methods one can remove subjectivity. Integrating brainwaves into your product or web development helps to validate usability problems. And applying these actionable insights can improve your users' experiences and your website or application's performance.


What is the theory behind neuro-UX?


The human brain is lazy, biased, and prone to shortcuts. It is no secret that much of what drives human behavior is subconscious. In the milliseconds after a person encounters a new app or website, millions of neurons fire and the brain makes hundreds of subconscious decisions. At the root of all our thoughts, emotions and behaviors is the communication between neurons within our brains. By rule of thumb, any process that changes your perception changes your brainwaves. The activity in your brain determines everything you feel and do.


Thank You.

Why do we need World Usability Conference?


We started World Usability Day Estonia 12 years ago to upskill and inspire the community, which, at these days, was really small. WUD is an event in which the entire UX community can always be a part of. It' s an opportunity for industry professionals, students, career changers, influencers, local companies, and the passionately curious, to be part of a celebration and learn more about design, its impact, and usability.

Now we have moved into a bigger venue, but still -sold out one month before the conference. That is a sign that usability as a field has ever-increasing importance in society and economics.

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