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Talking Great UX at EBN's Design Innovation Conference
- Oct 2016 -

Zinc was invited by the EBN (European Business Network) to speak at their major Design For Innovation Conference in Portugal. The EBN has a network of about 150 organisations including business & innovation centres that focus on supporting and guiding innovators, entrepreneurs and SME’s all over Europe. Zinc was invited to give a talk on the importance and best practice of designing great user experiences, with a specific focus on startups.

Co-Founder of Zinc, Blake McEldowney, gave the presentation, referencing some examples of where we had partnered with startups to think through and implement complex user experiences in a compelling way. That complexity is often heightened by the integration of both physical and digital elements in one experience, something that Zinc specialises in.

The talk began by highlighting some key factors and trends we are both observing and pushing forward in the field of UX (User Experience) design:

-       UX is usually associated with designing digital interfaces but actually user experience is just as important in the physical world as the digital world.

-       When physical & digital merge, UX is a more complex process to get right, and one has to break down the user journey into detailed sequential moments that will involve managing the physical and digital worlds simultaneously (eg. Wearable tech / Internet of Things etc)

-       Sometimes UX will depend greatly on who the user is, and sometimes those users may be very different, so how do you design for all types of users?

-       Great UX is not necessarily great design. Context is crucial! Sometimes, you can create a great experience for users without considering the bigger picture / society at large. For Zinc, great design is NOT just thinking about the users, but anyone / anything else that might be affected by the new product / service. Think about broader context, not just the defined “users”.

Blake used two specific examples of Zinc collaborations with startups to help explain our approach to designing great user experiences.

When we collaborated with Bloom.Life to bring a wearable system to market for helping mothers track their pregnancies, we went and interviewed a whole range of mothers in the US from different regions. The key difference here was that we were really thinking about UX in a physical & digital way simultaneously. We delved deep on the ergonomics, on what women were comfortable to wear in different situations, and how it should attach to different parts of the body (eg. the belly), what material it should be etc. But most importantly, we needed to understand the emotional reaction to wearing and using technology during pregnancy.

User research and concept evaluation sessions with pregnant women and care experts.

We were also going deep into how we should design the accompanying mobile app. What kind of data was useful in any given moment, both in the larger journey of pregnancy, and on a micro level, at different moments during the day? How should we communicate that information in the easiest most relevant way possible? Ultimately, we broke down the user experience into very detailed sequential moments, analysing the physical & digital at the same time. It was a challenge, it was complex, but it gave Bloom huge credibility when telling their story to potential investors.

They were able to show a fundamental knowledge of their users and the challenges at hand to provide an amazing experience. They have since raised a lot of money, they beat over 3000 applicants to get crowned by Richard Branson as the best startup (Extreme Tech challenge) at CES this year, and their test market product is gaining ever more traction.

When we collaborated with another startup called Tyba to design the UI for a new device that controls the ambience (lighting, temperature, curtains & blinds etc) of connected homes, there were other key UX challenges. They had a small device with an interface about the size of a ‘Smart Watch’ screen with a considerable amount of functionality.

The additional challenge was that the owners and users could often be very different people from different backgrounds. The owners would probably be wealthy educated people, where as the users would often be less educated staff and helpers working in luxury environments.

Therefore, we had to design a UI that was so intuitive that it could be used by completely different types of users, with very different motivations, often speaking different languages. With that in mind, there is no text at all, the entire UI is based on simple elegant icons and feedback dials to enable a user experience that works for everybody.

To summarise: At Zinc we are always thinking about how to create better experiences for people and society. With physical & digital worlds merging, this makes UX ever more challenging, but ever more important. We were delighted to have the opportunity to share some of our thinking at EBN’s fascinating conference.

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