Exploring the Future of UX at the World Usability Congress ‘19

In October, the Screenmedia planning team attended the World Usability Congress in Graz, Austria to hear all about the latest trends in the industry.

Held over two days and hosting over 600 delegates, we attended talks, breakout sessions, and workshops over a broad range of themes and topics including UX in AI, autonomous driving, robotics, eCommerce, healthcare, and more.

Now we’re back in the studio, inspired and excited to apply what we learned at WUC to our clients’ products and services. We’ll be writing much more about the topics and themes we explored in future labs, but for now here’s our team’s top takeaways from WUC 2019. 

Practical Futuring

One of the most fascinating keynotes of the conference was delivered by Alex Wright of Instagram, who detailed how looking at alternative economic models and strategic planning as a design function can help us identify opportunities for innovation and change. When looking for opportunities for innovation, he offered the following tips:

  • Rethink capital: while most businesses have historically focused on commercial transactions over digital platforms, we are now experiencing a societal shift where other forms of capital (intellectual, experiential, social, and more) are being exchanged online. Identifying new types of capital that add value to your business and building strategies around how you can create, nourish, and transform these is fundamental to developing product strategies for the future.
  • Move beyond the user: no product exists in a silo, and that’s especially true for digital. In order to identify areas of opportunity and fully grasp the context of a product’s peripherals, we must move beyond product thinking towards a more systems-based design approach.
  • Design for the long term: to plan and design products for the future, we need to pull the functions of strategic planning and design together. By following cycles of scanning, framing, planning, prototyping and testing; we can ensure strategic planning and design work hand-in-hand and products are designed to last.

The State of Self-Driving Vehicles

We learned a lot about the emerging UX challenges Autonomous Driving is facing as the underlying technology becomes more sophisticated. Some of the core issues self-driving vehicles face today are:

  • Abusability testing: while we would all love to assume people wouldn’t misuse autonomous vehicles, there will always be schoolchildren who think its funny to try and jump out in front of a vehicle to make it stop. How can we not only test the experience of autonomous vehicles for usability, but abusability?
  • Trust and perceived safety: there are still significant reservations amongst the general public around how much autonomous driving vehicles can be trusted and if they are safe to use. For UX designers working in this area, these biases and emotional reactions are a significant barrier to adoption and must be tackled for the industry to grow.
  • Localised driving conditions and behaviour: some of the greatest challenges facing autonomous vehicle designers today are around the limitations of autonomous vehicles to handle everyday variables we take for granted. Ice, grit on the road, potholes, jaywalkers, or localised driving behaviours (such as the Pittsburgh left) can all cause experience problems the industry is yet to solve.
  • Physical experience: there is also work to be done to resolve some fundamental challenges for users when physically inside an autonomous vehicle, including attention retention, entertainment, and motion sickness.

Avoiding Uncanny Valley in Future Tech Interfaces

A concept that was touched on in many of the talks and keynotes we attended was the ‘personalisation’ of technology and how this translates to product interfaces. Attempts have been made across multiple industries to enhance the user experience by making products or services more ‘human’, giving them anthropomorphic characteristics or personalities. However, instead of making products more trustworthy and engaging to use, making your products too ‘human’ can have the opposite effect, appearing untrustworthy or even sinister to users. There is a fine line between using visual and behavioural cues that help us relate to a product, and falling into the depths of the uncanny valley.

While trust and comfort are hugely important emotional factors we must design for, it's clear that our industry still has some way to go in defining what ‘best’ looks like for the next generation of automation, voice, and bot-oriented interfaces.

Creating a Culture of Product Excellence

Lastly, we really enjoyed Gülay Birand’s keynote around fostering a company-wide culture of product excellence. In addition to an interesting exploration into how we approach metrics, we found her definition of the pillars of product excellence - people, measurement, ops, and landings (instead of launches) - particularly resonant. Product excellence is everyone’s responsibility, and we left the keynote buoyed by how much of Screenmedia’s processes and values aligned with the best practices being used in Silicon Valley. 

We’d like to extend our thanks to all of the organisers, speakers, and delegates we met at WUC - we had a fantastic time, learned a lot, and we’re excited to start applying our newfound knowledge to improve our client’s products and services. See you next year!


If you want to hear more about what we learned at the WUC, or how we can put our newfound knowledge to work for you, get in touch.


UX Planning Lead

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