Trans­form­ing Experiences

Interviewer: Tobias Ruderer

Mark, you joined Sensity earlier this year as our Director of Design, Brand and Experience. What drew you to this dynamic field?

Mark Beever: During my career, I’ve been lucky enough to delve into the realms of experience design, partnering with innovation, design, brand, and digital-focused clients and agencies. At the core, I have always been driven by the purpose of crafting seamless, valuable experiences that bridge the gap between people, products and services. My journey has taken me across the globe, collaborating with fantastic teams and iconic brands, in really diverse sectors.

What struck you most in your initial months at Sensity?

Mark: Truly, the breadth of talent within our team, the depth of expertise we possess, and the different scales at which we work. It’s the realization of the collective impact we can make in our client projects that excites me the most.

Steffi, you’re one of Sensity’s Expert UX Designers, have worked on a huge range of digital projects over the past years and advised clients on app development. How did you get into this area?

Steffi Siegmund: I began my career in print and advertising and later joined a colleague in establishing a digital/web department. For me, the digital space had one particular feature that I liked a lot: unlike in the print world, where one mistake could be very costly, in the digital world I could always hit ‘undo’, insert a different picture, optimize the experience. That made me a lot braver and encouraged me to understand a more powerful picture. While studying at KISD in Cologne, I had already expanded my design horizon beyond the visual. My MA studies in Design Management in London completed the 360° understanding of how design also impacts people and organizations: There were so many more questions to answer: how does it work, who’s using it, why, and what’s its purpose? That’s what defined my approach to design and designing.

What is good UX?

How do you recognize a good user experience?

Steffi: In terms of digital interfaces, I would say: If what you want to do is right at hand, for example when you pick up the phone and you open the app, and then you just do it, you might not even notice the interface – this is a good user experience.

Mark: I totally agree. Good UX, in essence, is all about user-centricity. But to dive deeper, beyond the seamless execution of tasks, it’s essential to underscore that good UX Design is driven by a profound understanding of user behaviors, needs, and preferences. It’s not solely about the speed and efficiency of interactions; It’s about ensuring users not only complete tasks effortlessly but also feel content about their journey. Terms like ‘intuitive’ express the idea that an interface should become almost second nature to users. However, the true challenge lies in making this experience seamless and user-focused, where users complete their tasks with satisfaction and ease. This understanding is often derived from our research and user testing processes.

Steffi: And still, good UX has the right go unnoticed. It’s much easier to spot a bad user experience: You can’t find what you’re looking for, you constantly have to go weird ways in order to remember where it was. Where’s the switch? Where can I find a handbook explaining something? Bad UX is when users think they’re dumb, and that they’re doing something wrong – when in fact, the interface is just not working well.

Mark: Striking the balance between effortless usability and a nuanced comprehension of potential pain points is at the core of what we do as UX specialists. Incorporating accessibility into design is vital to design interfaces that cater to everyone, including people with disabilities. Inclusivity is at the core of our UX efforts.

Brand success and UX

UX is frequently associated with digital interfaces. Mark, you believe there’s a more comprehensive perspective that extends beyond the digital realm?

Mark: Yes, I believe that UX and brand are increasingly, and necessarily, interconnected. Products and services are an embodiment of the brand values, or at least they should be. If the user’s experience doesn’t reflect those values, it doesn’t matter if you’ve nailed the brand colors or fonts in the UI. Whether it’s a digital interaction or an offline experience, the user should feel a deep connection with the brand, going beyond the visual elements. It’s about aligning with how the brand thinks and works. UX has the potential to elevate a brand. It’s not merely about creating a seamless transaction.

Steffi: Visual elements play a vital role in branding, but in interfaces, today’s landscape is flooded with standards that make brands look remarkably similar. We therefore look elsewhere for differentiation, because, ultimately, a button is just a button – it can be round or rectangular, but it won’t tell the brand’s story. The visual aspect is just a fraction of the whole.

Mark: It was Don Norman, the famous cognitive scientist, who said that UX is basically all aspects of the end user’s interaction with the company, its services and its products. So UX really does touch all levels!

Steffi UX is about understanding what happens in every situation. The user experience encompasses a wide range of possibilities, situations, needs and perceptions. It’s about what the user feels in the moment.

Integrating an understanding of the user

How do you cultivate understanding of users in UX practice, especially when collaborating with diverse client teams and wider stakeholders?

Steffi: At Sensity, we achieve this by pushing for a common understanding. We build personas and user journey maps, offering a clear picture of who we’re designing for and the phases they will encounter. This approach aligns our efforts with the user’s perspective, serving both the user and the broader project management. It empowers project managers to make informed decisions by providing a rationale for prioritizing certain aspects over others.

Mark: Beyond our technical expertise, Sensity’s consultative approach plays a crucial role. It’s not merely about understanding the clients’ challenges and needs comprehensively, but also about anticipating their evolving requirements and changing needs of the business. This proactive engagement initiates even before the project kicks off, enabling us not only to propose the most suitable team and approach, but also to foresee potential hurdles and devise mitigation strategies. This forward-thinking approach ensures that our UX design is not just responsive but anticipatory, aligning seamlessly with the constantly changing landscape of user needs and preferences.

Does this mean additional investment in research, and do clients always understand the necessity?

Mark: The goal is always to maximize the value we offer for the client’s budget, and to consistently deliver exceptional results. In my experience at Sensity, I’ve observed that our pragmatic approach stands out in the industry. This arises from our unique position of being able to draw from our team’s expertise in UX, UI design, research, language, and branding – all housed within a tight-knit, connected company. This structure enables us to assemble a distinct team for each project, effectively bridging any gaps in relation to client needs, and significantly enhancing our capabilities to meet client objectives.

Steffi: It’s not uncommon for some companies to blindly copy solutions that seem to work elsewhere, as this approach can initially appear cost-effective, especially in the context of a client’s budget. However, it often leads to more extensive work in the long run. At Sensity, we recognize the intrinsic value of investing in UX methodologies, particularly when it comes to resource allocation. Our role as UX Design partners is firmly rooted in a commitment to comprehensively understand the user, rather than relying on assumptions about their needs. This upfront investment acts as a safeguard against potential missteps and costly corrections down the road, ultimately benefiting the project and the client. We consistently prioritize the user perspective at every stage, ensuring that the final product seamlessly aligns with their needs and preferences.

What’s next?

Within the ever-evolving landscape of digital interfaces, what changes have emerged in recent years, and what fresh design challenges lie ahead?

Mark: We’re delving deeper into the areas of micro interactions and fine-tuning the overall user experience. It’s not solely about what the user does but also how we guide them, providing alerts for important information or addressing any errors gracefully. Those subtle intricacies are increasingly an area of focus now, both for clients and UX designers.

Steffi: Yes, with the development of technology and increased data bandwidth, new micro interactions are emerging all the time. So the challenge is not necessarily changing core design principles, but expanding the range of possibilities.

What role does UX play in the evolution of emerging interfaces, such as the recent uptake of voice interactions, the longstanding potential of AR and VR primarily confined to gaming and science, and the recent introduction of Apple’s ‘Spatial Computing’?

Mark: Technology has consistently served as a significant force for change in modern life, reshaping the familiar patterns of our existence. And the changes this creates for users are only getting faster, so there are some exciting possibilities opening up. The biggest and most interesting challenge will continue to lie in understanding the evolutions in user context enabled by some of these technical developments – with the continued aim of creating seamless, valuable interactions. And it is to be expected that ethical considerations will increasingly play a pivotal role: How do we steer this massive influx of information, how will we use AI in a way that aligns with real benefits to humanity? And how do we preserve privacy?

Steffi: And inclusivity! We must ensure that solutions work for everyone, not just from a Eurocentric perspective. Many people, regardless of age or background, can actually remain unseen in the development phase of a product. This results in some people feeling left out by current interfaces and interactions. This issue is often overlooked but deserves more attention.

Mark: And this is one of many areas where UX Design has the responsibility to help make things better.

But how? On practical level, there is a polarizing challenge: to reduce the interface for clearer, but narrower journeys, but to offer more choices, more possibilities …

Steffi: Some users need an overview and the ability to choose, while others benefit from a guided flow based on user needs. The context should determine the approach taken, whether minimalist or rich and immersive. It’s not about one substituting the other but catering to specific needs.

Mark: UX Design should streamline interactions by making tasks easy and engaging for the user, while ensuring every aspect of the user interaction serves a clear purpose in enhancing the overall user journey. As we look ahead, the significance of personalization is on the rise, highlighting the importance of tailoring experiences precisely to each user’s preferences. This signifies a shift from transactional thinking towards an increasingly personalized and individually engaging approach. We are poised on the brink of substantial changes in how we approach design and user interactions, ushering in a new era in our field’s evolution. An exciting time indeed!