The Web and Beyond 2012: live report

We bring you a report from The Web and Beyond 2012. This year’s theme was ‘Momentum’, in recognition of the masses of people that are now convinced that User Centered Design is the best approach for designing successful interactive experiences. As well as the speed with which the field of user experience is developing.

Get lucky: How to put planned serendipity to work for you and your business – Lane Becker

Lane Becker started his keynote with quotes from Sergey Brin of Google and Kevin Systrom of Instagram: “the number one factor that contributed to our success was luck.” Luck is not something that ‘just happens’ to you. Luck is really hard work. And not every company pulls it off: it seems that 43 years is the average lifespan of the fortune 500 company. Lane talks about a special kind of luck: the luck in finding stuff you weren’t looking for. Also known as serendipity. For instance artificial sweeteners (aspartane) were invented by a scientist looking for anti ulcer medication. He was accidentally licking his fingers and tasted the sweetest thing ever.

Lesson 1: Generate more change opportunities

My favorite two quotes: “Motion is the raw material of chance.” and “We never stumbled over anything while sitting down.” Lane told the story of the Pixar Studios. Their building has one central area, in the middle. Tasks people often do take place in this central area, like printing or getting a cup of coffee. It makes people leave their office, spend more time together and get in touch with colleagues of other departments.

There are three things that help creating serendipity:

  1. A structure that allows for it;
  2. Rituals that enforce it;
  3. A culture that encourages it.

Lesson 2: Recognize these opportunities

To recognize opportunities you need to look further. It is about the ability to see things differently than others. He tells about two scientists with similar background, working on a similar experiment with a cute bunny. The scientists discover that by injecting a certain enzymes into the bunny, his upstanding ears hang immediately. One scientist experiences this as an exception. He thinks it is remarkable and wants to know everything about it. He was looking for one thing, but found something else: an antirheumatic drug. The other scientist wasn’t open for a change and kept searching for what he was looking for originally.

With this example Lane explains three core qualities to recognize opportunities of luck:

  1. Obsessive curiosity: if you see something unusual, you want to know what was going on;
  2. Arrest an exception: notice a change instead of similarities;
  3. Forget what we know to be true: see things with new eyes.

Lesson 3: Take actions on ones that matter

In most companies we are rewarded to follow you job description and fulfill the tasks you’re hired for. Mostly it’s not encouraged to do things differently. To put planned serendipity to work, divergence is very important. And another thing: figure out what is important to your business and what is important to you. Again he summarizes three important pillars:

  1. Make the things you’re doing big, loud and bold;
  2. Stick to itiveness;
  3. Willingness to say no to things and to stick to the idea.

Tablets and kids: creative opportunities with apps empowering young children – Wouter Sluis-Thiescheffer and Brain Pagán

Designing for kids requires a different approach than designing for adults. We need to step back again and adjust our assumptions to fit the needs of children and get closer to their experience. Wouter and Brain state “Kids are more important than ever, we could be serving them better. So let’s learn about kids and empower them. Let’s listen to them and put them in charge.”

Kids love tablets

For kids tablets are easier to handle than a mobile phone, especially when their motor skills are not totally developed yet. The tablet is also more a ‘family device’. Used mostly at home sitting on the couch. We’re given try practical and helpful design tips to improve designing apps for kids. We highlight a couple of tips for you.

Mostly kids play on the tablet by themselves, without any assistance. Use relatively easy gestures like tap and swipe to control. More complex gestures are hard to understand for them. Accidental finger presses on the edges of the tablet are inevitable with kids. Therefore mind interactions on the edges.

But what about the parents?

Parents want to know if an app is suitable for their kid before they buy it. Make sure the description of the app in the AppStore is specific enough, pointing out the age ranges. When the app is installed, do not trick kids to spend their parents money. And last but not least, make sure the kids can’t reach inappropriate content.

Keep it simple

Try to keep the interaction design of the app as simple and shallow as possible for the kids. Pictures and symbols are better than words, they are easier to recognize. You can even make it blinking and moving, to create extra affordances and attract the attention. Consistency helps kids to learn and understand quickly. Make sure that if he taps something, he get’s the same reaction over and over.

Test, test, test

Making use of these tips will get you far. But to be sure whether your design fits your audience well, you have to go out there and test with your target audience! If you go out to test with kids you have to keep some guidelines in mind. To start, you always need the consent of parents of teacher. If you’re testing with kids, involve kids of the minimum age of 6, otherwise your results will be unreliable. If you test your app multiple times, always user kids of the same age each time, kids develop rapidly around. Don’t mix boys and girls if you’re testing in groups and if you’re interviewing ask ‘what’ and ‘how’ instead of ‘why’.

Check out the full presentation.

Embrace uncertainty: building a UX process for an Agile world – Tom Illmensee and Bodgan Stanciu

This presentation starts with an example of a frozen pizza. Tom asks the public if anyone ever had such a pizza. He continues with a ‘do it yourself’ pizza. It’s is a little bit better than a frozen pizza, but still not the best. He ends up with a traditional pizza, with fresh ingredients and baked in an oven. The three pizza’s go through a different production process.

Tom uses the pizza metaphor to emphasize that a product is a direct reflection of the process it goes through. He gives four factors that are inextricably linked:

  • Product is a reflection of the process;
  • Process is a reflection of the culture;
  • Culture is a reflection of leadership;
  • Leadership is a representation of the company.

These insights and knowledge of the books ‘The Lean Startup’ and ‘Lean UX Communities’ from the basis for the analysis and improvement of the UX design process of Snagajobs, the company Tom and Bodgan represent.

The UX team dove into their own process. They started to map their own process by doing interviews and cart sorting with each designer to reveal the process gaps. It helps identifying patterns around thinking processes and design steps, and highlights dependencies across teams. This way the UX team redefined their practice and tailored an approach better aligned with the different teams, company culture and business goals.As a result Snagajobs produces better products, faster. They use three pillars in their UX design process:

  • Think: Define what and why. This results into a persona;
  • Make: Sketch, create different ways to solve the problem and pick the best wire frame;
  • Check: Validate the results with the users.

It is still work in progress. What’s important cross teams is to use vocabulary all teams use, share findings and present it to each other. But most important is to roll your own process. Each company is different, you have to discover the process that fits your company.

Remote Unmoderated User Testing: Do’s and Don’ts – Lonneke Spinhof

Lonneke’s presentation was a very practical one. She took us by the hand and introduced us to her learnings on remote unmoderated user testing. Her presentation outlined the advantages and disadvantages, but to avoid ambiguity we will explain the different definitions of user testing first:

  • Synchronous testing: the test can be followed live;
  • Asynchronous testing: the test takes place, the results can be viewed later;
  • Moderate user testing: there is an interviewer present, guiding the participant;
  • Unmoderated testing: the participant tests on his own, without guidance;
  • Remote unmoderated user testing: testing at a different time and different place.

The advantages of remote unmoderated user testing

You can test a large group of participants easily. The participants are in their natural surrounding , with all disturbances that come with that. The costs are relatively low and the recruitment of participants is easier because they can do the test whenever suits them. You don’t have to arrange an one to one meeting. The first results are generated quickly. There are tools that present a global overview automatically. This way of testing is ideal to do a relatively small test.

The disadvantages

With this way of testing you miss out on the background of participants. You don’t know their motivations to participate in the test, which can blur your results. There is also no interaction between the interviewer and the participant, allowing you to ask questions about specific choices the participant makes. It’s hard filter out the survey answers. In a live test you immediately see if a participant has a hard time fulfilling a task, while telling was easy.


If you create a questionnaire for a remote unmoderated user test you should also ask open questions. Ask participants for feedback. Because the test is impersonal, participants tend to give their unpolished opinion. For this type of test you can recruit participants on the website they visit. You will find people with a real user intent.

Handy tools

There are a lot of different tools to do a remote unmoderated user test. In the presentation a couple of them are highlighted.

  • Cart sorting: you can use Optimal Sort;
  • Tree testing: you can use Treejack;
  • Feedback on your designs: use Usabilla;
  • Catch the first impression: use User+, User Zoom or Loop.

Designing intriguing interactions – Thomas Visser

Thomas will be defending his PhD thesis next month and during his talk we got a sneak peek. Thomas explains that focusing on usability leads to predictive interactions. A recipe for boring interactions. Think back to the last time you had fun: you were not achieving a goal as fast and efficiently as possible. So Thomas researched what made interactions intriguing.
Thomas found that interactions become more intriguing when performance is more or less user expectation. It works but as a user you suspect there to be more. The interaction nudges people into wanting to know and understand more.

Take the Mona Lisa. It’s a painting full of talk value: Is she smiling or not? Is that sea or not? The ambiguity is intriguing. It plays on the human tendency to attribute meaning. The fuzzy environment gives more room for interpretation and the development of stories. This leads to longer-term engagement and interest.

A fun example was Thomas’ graduation project. He designed a pair of glowing snow globes. They are meant to give two separated people a sense of proximity by detecting motion and showing it on the paired globe. Thomas tested the product with a father and a daughter. The father was really happy. When he saw the globe light up in the morning he commented: “It was great! We started having breakfast together.” His daughter said: “I wasn’t even having breakfast. I was really busy with the kids and I noticed the globe only after lunch.”

Another example is Apple’s Siri. Siri offers more than expected. The most used feature is probably exploring what strange questions Siri can answer. Like: “Talk dirty.” Or: “Where can I hide a body?”.

To summarize this talk:

  • Usability is important, but not intriguing;
  • Design the experience space, not the exact experience;
  • Support users in exploring that space;
  • Design fuzzy goals. Filling in the gaps is fun;
  • Design beyond expectations, but within context. Like Siri.

Making digital experiences more memorable – Mark Zeh

Transactive memory was the subject of Mark Zeh’s talk. He referred to a must-read article from the New York Times. If you want your user experience to be more memorable there are three factors to take into account:

  1. The recall strength is made up by primacy, recency and duration. You remember the first time you did something best: your first love, phone number. You also remember the most recent stuff best: your current phone number, your current pin. And things you spent a long time learning are also memorable;
  2. You can also make things more easier to remember by connecting them to specific sensen, experiences or movement. For instance: a certain smell can bring back strong memories. Or children in the classroom remember more if they write something (more movement) than if they type something. It seems that the human capacity to store memories is not limited, but the capacity to retrieve information is. Information is indexed around retrieval cues;
  3. And then there is transactive memory. This basically means that if there is someone else to remember stuff for you, you don’t take pains to memorize it. After divorces, for instance, people find they miss half of their memory. Like where things are stored in the house or at what time the kids finish school. People only encode information that they will not be able to look up again or ask for. Why memorize something if you bookmarked it, or tweeted it? I wonder if I would remember holidays better if I wasn’t taking pictures.

Science Fiction Interfaces as the Lingua Franca of Future Interactions – Chris Noessel

Chris Noessel had the best speech of the day. The past 6 years he has watched all possible sci-films and focused on the interactions with machines and computers. He compiled his findings in the book Make it So. His motto: “if it works for audiences, there’s something there that will work for users.”

The approach is unique in that Chris uses apologetics as a creative technique. Apologetics is mostly known from theology. If some goofy dogma seems illogical some priest will always find an explanation. The same goes with interactions in sci-fi movies. If you watch closely, most user interactions are broken – at least on the surface. They are overly simplified, or user input doesn’t match output.

For example, when Darth Sidious gives order 66 to commander Cody, Cody looks -down- at the hologram in his hand and Darth Sidious looks up at hologram of Cody. This seems wrong, but why could a smart computer program do a 3D scan and rotate the heads of the people communicating so that they face each other? I have exactly this problem while skyping. My camera is built in to the top of my screen, while I usually see people in the center of my screen. So I always seem to be looking down on Skype.
You can seem more examples at

Another insight I got from the talk is the use of para linguistics for feedback in a voice controlled interface. Para linguistics is the movements and tonality and stuff while talking that is not directly related to the words. Robots in science fiction usually look goofy and have seemingly unnecessary features like eyebrows or moving mouth. They don’t strictly need the for producing sound. Yet as a form of user feedback they are very valuable.

All photos by: Foto / Matthijs & Easetock.

Anton Vanhoucke

Anton is a strategist at Fabrique [brands, design & interaction] in The Netherlands.

Bette Burger

Bette is an interaction designer at Fabrique [brands, design & interaction] in the Netherlands.

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