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Engaged for Engagement – the World Usability Day 2014 in Rapperswil


Good User Experience promotes user engagement. The World Usability Day 2014 looked at how the UX spark can be incited, fed and used to create engagement.

Engagement combines fun and usefulness

Engagement is not easy to define. Opening the World Usability Day 2014 at the HSR Hochschule für Technik Rapperswil, Roland Siegenthaler showed that engagement is not mere enthusiasm, but motivation for an interesting, relevant and meaningful cause – a cause like User Experience. But how can we excite people so that they want to engage with a product? How can we create better products by engaging the user in the creation process? How can we create engagement for User Experience in an entire company? The event in Rapperswil shed light on different aspects of “engagement” and its intertwinement with User Experience.

Good products engage the user

Creating engagement through game mechanisms

Gamification is not simply a matter of offering an advertising game. As Janina Woods from Ateo explained, gamification is the application of game elements and mechanisms in a new context, with the goal of enhancing the engagement of the user.

In order to motivate the user, gamification adds value to an activity. This value may lie in the activity itself, for instance if the user is motivated to exercise more, but it can also be added on top, an example being the collection of points. The surplus value motivates people to use a product, which in return can support loyalty and popularity or promote the learning of skills. The key element motivating users is a reward. Since dopamine release, leading us to experience positive feelings, is not caused by the reward itself but by the expectation of the reward, the time span between task and reward may be prolonged. Take collecting customer reward points such as Cumulus points as an example: the positive anticipation of the reward is re-incited with every purchase. To realise gamification, Janina proposes five guiding questions:

  • Who are the users?
  • What is the goal of the activity which my users are supposed to complete?
  • At what point of the activity do I loose the users?
  • Which game mechanisms can be used to motivate the users to carry on with activity at said point?
  • What reward should the users receive?

For instance, if you want to use gamification to improve an internal process in a company, you should clearly identify which part of the process needs improving, and then find a suitable mechanism which make the process more pleasant, interesting, and in the end more efficient. Gamification is more than making something a fun game. Its a targeted use of strategies and elements to re-incite engagement at that stage of an activity where people lose interest and need to be re-engaged.

Engaging users to co-create content: the case of Social TV

Nowadays, most people do not simply watch television but are using a smart phone or tablet at the same time. Mathias Menzl, former Head of Digital at joiz, showed how this split engagement with more than one device can be used for something new: social TV.

The co-presence of television and phone offers new possibilities: users can react to, comment on and interact with the content shown on tv through new content which they create on the second screen. A communication loop between broadcaster and audience members emerges. Social TV makes use of the content which is created in these interactions. The viewers’ comments become the content of new stories, so that the audience co-creates the content of social TV. The interactive content creation can happen on different levels, from off-screen communication between audience members to comments being discussed live in the show to feedback which directly influences what is broadcast.

Buzz topics and topics with a long-term fan base, casting shows for instance, are more suitable for social TV, as they spark communicative exchange. The new user-generated content is then used to create new broadcasting stories, which can be told through a combined use of platforms. A story may start with an interview on tv, followed by an online voting poll which also offers a comment section, with the poll results plus individual comments being taken up in a concluding video blogpost. As Mathias pointed out, social tv is still a new phenomenon: Processes, workflows and practises need to be optimised to find the best way to engage users in the immediate co-creation of the product.

Engaged clients help create better products

Understanding your users: ask, listen and observe

“Making life easier!” is the overall motto of the World Usability Day series, as Michael Richter, Head of the Zühlke Academy, reminded us. To simplify our users’ tasks, we strive to reduce them as much as possible. But reduction only works so far: In order to pin down what “simple” means, we have to identify the superfluous and the essential aspects of a product.

Michael worked on developing a new remote control for hearing aids for Phonak, striving to create a simple end product which meets the users’ needs exactly. The key to this was to involve the end users early on in the development of the product, using a simple method: listening and observing. The project team conducted face-to-face interviews with the users, which allowed them to uncover not only what users claimed they do, but how they indeed interacted with the product. The difference between how users present themselves and how they actually behave can be striking. Asking is not enough – if you want to obtain useful feedback, careful observation is called for!

Asking, listening and observing should be used throughout the stages of the project. Thus, Phonak’s new remote control was tested, evaluated and improved in many testing cycles. Form, operator control, functionality and interaction elements for instance were tested with prototypes. To understand how users would interact with the product, a reality-near situation was simulated: Using video and headphones, the users could experience the new remote control in situ, which prompted them to react naturally and spontaneously.

This approach of close involvement of the user may seem familiar. It’s called ISO 9241-210: human-centred design for interactive systems. Understand your users’ requirements, develop a solution base on these and test the solution with the users. It’s not only experts which should be involved in the production creation, the user should be engaged as well.

Migros as an example: customer involvement as a win-win

Is it the users or the provider who benefits from customer involvement? Cristina Mauer, co-author of the Migipedia blog, showed that Migros uses crowdsourcing in such way that it entails advantages for both sides.

To develop products which meet their customers’ needs, Migros uses various ways of crowdsourcing. Their main communication channel is the Migipedia platform, which allows Migros to publish information but also offers customers the opportunity to communicate their views on products. The latter already allows customers to influence products: If there is significant feedback, Migros for instance (re)adjusts products or introduces new products. Migros can also use the platform to create polls and let customers vote on products. Finally, Migipedia provides a channel for doing organised crowdsourcing – for if the dialogue with the customer is taken seriously, a clear process is needed. At Migros, crowdsourcing always follows the structure appeal – idea workshop (with customers) – application/ tasting (with customers) – voting – product launch.

This way of including the end user bears advantages for Migros and their customers alike. The customer not only receives the desired product but is taken seriously and, by getting to glance behind the scenes, can sympathise with the provider. Migros, on the other hand, can promote an innovative, client-oriented image, gets to know the customers and can gain new product ideas. Furthermore, Migros’ crowdsourcing opens an opportunity for storytelling, which creates visibility in mass media, so that crowdsourcing is also financially worthwhile. Thus, thee involvement of the customer creates a win-win situation forth both parties.

Engagement for UX in the company

Swisscom as an example: Human Centered Design in a large company

Though large companies change slowly, even a company like Swisscom can embrace and apply User Experience, as Christina Taylor, Head of Human Centered Design at Swisscom, showed. Without a culture of innovation, companies cannot survive. Technological changes, such as the evolution of the internet, demand change, yet adapting to these isn’t enough. Top-notch technology does not create market success - client centricity and user orientation do.

To animate people to become a fan of a brand or a product, it is essential to understand those human beings, put them in the centre and create an experience specifically for them. Using the example of a cup of coffee, Christina showed how we regard raw materials and experiences differently: Nobody wants to pay much for coffee beans, yet we are willing to buy an expensive cup of coffee at Starbucks, because Starbucks combines this coffee with a brand experience. In the same way, Swisscom does not only sell network access but satisfactory infrastructure experiences – we all, who are working in UX, do not sell raw materials but refined experiences.

Experiences are created for human beings. At Swisscom, the customer is thus central to every department; be it in marketing, development or even the legal department, each step in a project is evaluated from the user’s point of view. In an iterative development, Swisscom focuses on creating not a tool but an experience, which entails sense, value, emotion and function for the user. On the management level, decisions are influenced by business plan, technology and client. While profitability and sustainability are important, ideally, the client needs would outweigh them. After all, Christina concluded, every project starts with the client.

Anchoring UX in a company: a three-tier model

User Experience should not depend on a single person but be engraved in the DNA of the company. Christian Hauri, CEO and coach at Hauri Ergonomie und Coaching, explained that it’s not enough if a few specialists are engaged, instead, the general interest in and engagement for UX has to increase: From project team to middle management to executive floor – everyone must be involved.

Inscribing User Experience in the corporate culture takes time, as it will demand changes in the entire culture. This in mind, a long-term perspective which considers all people involved is necessary. After all, nobody likes reorganisation without knowing why. Christian showed that change in the social system happens in three stages: Unfreeze – Move – Refreeze; First, the entire company has to be convinced that change is necessary, in a second step, new concepts are introduced, which can then become standards in the last phase.

For change to be successful, all tiers of the company must be involved in all stages. Project team, middle management and top management have their own concerns and hopes regarding UX, understanding these is the key to changing the corporate culture. An improved image may sound convincing to the top management, while the middle management is much more interested in improved project planning. Anchoring UX in the company will require the involvement of everyone: UX should be engraved throughout the company, from the strategy down to the processes and tools.

Engaged speakers and an engaged audience

“Engagement,” the motto of this year’s Usability Day was omnipresent at the event in Rapperswil. Not only did the speakers show great engagement, they also engaged the audience with questions and small tasks. A trading card game encouraged the participants to engage with collecting design principles, making us experience engagement in a playful manner. An insightful day lets us look forward to the next World Usability Day in November 2015. And thanks to Michael Richer, we will keep in mind the overall motto of the event: “Making life easier!” – let’s make life simple for our users.