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Krakow’s World Usability Day in 11 points

A few weeks ago, over 200 people with a passion for UX Design gathered at Krakow’s third edition of the World Usability Day. This year’s theme was ‘Engagement’, and no doubt they all have a lot of it – tickets to the event were gone in a matter of minutes. What attracted all these people, and what made them so engaged? I decided to check it out.

WUD is a global event that has been organised by volunteers on a given day since 2005, all around the world. So far it has been organised in over 40 countries.

I was lucky to receive one of the last two tickets. As Making Waves was one of the sponsors and our UX Manager Diana Sarlińska was one of the organisers, I knew who to ask.

“WUD is organised by volunteers all over the world. Anyone can decide to hold the event as long as the theme is usability and participation is open and free”, Diana explained.

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Making Waves was a golden sponsor of the event – can you spot our logo in the picture?

Wow. You mean you organise it for fun, in your free time? “Yes, and it also means we rely on the generosity of our sponsors: We hired the conference venue for an insignificant amount compared to the normal cost, and one of our partners lent us comfortable poufs for the event’s chill-out space. Making Waves provided the meeting rooms during the preparation. All these little things allowed us to create a professional event for over 300 people on a very limited budget”. For the sponsors, it is a way to promote themselves as potential business partners and to recruit new specialists.

Not being a UX nerd myself, the volunteers’ level of engagement caught my attention more than anything. Who are these young people who sacrifice their evenings and Saturdays to organise a conference for free? The time had come to meet them.

The people of WUD KRK

It was confusing to have the alarm going off early on a Saturday, but I managed to get up and found myself at the entrance of the WUD conference on time.

“We volunteered because we love everything that involves the geeky IT community and we wanted to meet other people like us. It was also a great opportunity to see how conferences are organised and gain some experience in that field. It was definitely worth the effort!”

Kasia and Monika at IT Berries

A cheerful team welcomed me and the other 215 participants with a programme, a badge and a nice surprise – a free tote bag with the WUD logo. Thanks guys! Whilst enjoying a coffee and biscuits I meet Kasia and Monika from IT Berries at the University of Technology in Krakow. They explain that they volunteered because they are passionate about IT and wanted to gain some experience of organising a large event.

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I also spoke to the assigned event photographer Ola, who tells me she has been to WUD every year as she wants to keep up with the latest UX trends. After speaking to a few more volunteers, I was starting to get a clearer picture: they simply enjoy organising a big event and meeting like-minded people who care about usability.

“I have been here every year since the beginning. As a front-end programmer, I try to keep up with the latest UX trends. This year’s agenda is more relevant for me than last year as it concerns digital usability, and I think that the premises are much more enjoyable – and easier to catch on camera.”

Ola, event photographer

The programme revealed a day packed with no less than 11 presentations, and it was now show time. First out was Making Waves’ Chief Experience Office Anna Kirah.

1. Opening Keynote

I have seen Anna in action before and knew that I could expect an inspiring and meaningful opening speech. After stating that nobody wakes up singing “Allelujah I’m a user”, to emphasise the danger of the concept “user” rather than people-centric-design, Anna continued with her definition of innovation. Innovation, she said, begins when we remove our blinders, such as the use of (fake) personas.Personas that come out of our heads are full of assumptions and only real people in real life can tell us how something should be designed. This means that we have to observe and listen to people, and try to understand the difference between what people say they do vs what they actually do. And finally, in her last slide: remember to love the humans we are designing for!

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Anna Kirah says that she likes to speak with her hands

Anna’s speech set me up for the day; I felt ready to do some fieldwork and try to understand why all these wonderful humans have come here. Next session please, the agenda is pretty tight.

2. After measuring, they noticed that…

Joanna Jażdżyńska-Motak and Paweł Śmietana shared some interesting examples on how to measure engagement. As a content editor, I found it interesting to learn that politics generate more comments in social media than health issues. One of the largest Polish information portals managed to generate a community of contributors who were ready to fight for their political views, right under the latest published news. Then Joanna talked about their engagement funnel and how A/B testing of small changes can lead to the best e-business decisions.

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An engaged audience asks a lot of questions

This was a short presentation with concrete good-to-know examples, and a recruitment invitation at the end. Time for a break.

3. Personalised services

My colleague Tone Nordbø from Oslo shared her insights from her UX work on a shopping app for the Norwegian grocery chain Meny. If talking directly to your end-users is not an option, how do you listen to their needs? In this case, the main sources of information were feedback by email and comments in the app store. One of the engaging factors was that every customer received a sales coupon, tailored according to their shopping cart and frequently bought products. The shoppers cared enough to share their thoughts and thanks to their reviews and ideas, the app won several prizes, including the IGD Award for Digital Engagement.

4. 25 reasons why engagement is…

…evil. Lukasz Tyrała shared some common mistakes and misinterpretations when measuring and trying to define user engagement. With plenty of amusing examples, Lukasz showed us that engagement may be a necessary evil but it can also be a lot of fun. He also demonstrated how attending an engaging presentation can have a concrete effect – after listening to Anna Kirah’s opening speech, he actually changed his definition of the term engagement.

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Participants were encouraged to use the hashtag #wudkrk on Twitter and Facebook during the conference, and there was a prize for the best quote

Having learnt to be careful with metrics, the next agenda item was about entertainment.

5. The online community of one of Europe’s biggest music festivals

Karolina Rojek from WOŚP gave us a lesson in what it means to trust your web editors, and that the editors’ own engagement is a key factor. At the same time we got to see how passionate volunteers managed to keep a web audience of 2,5 million people engaged in different social media platforms.

After that, her colleague Marcin talked about creating a successful app for a fixed-term short event, stressing the importance of making sure the app is simple and on time.

6. The future is analogue

After lunch, Lukasz Piekarz shared his experience of engaging a very young audience to use an e-learning platform. A tough task, no doubt. The solution went way beyond the digital world to a simple sheet of paper that was used to plan real rewards in real life. The future is at least partly analogue, it seems.

7. Trust before engagement

Radosław Taraszka presented why we are so willing to give away our private data when registering on Facebook and similar services, without worrying about the consequences. If you are looking to build a trusted brand with an engaged audience, Radosław can most definitely help you with his expertise. He also mentioned the importance of consultants trusting their clients, who have the insight and industry knowledge. Again, listening proves to be the winning strategy.

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Socialising was a big part of the conference with plenty of opportunities to make new friends and meet business partners, or even a future employer

8. Engaging user journey

Robert Boguszewski had some inspiring stories where the users were made up of his employees, kids and even the WUD attendants. One interesting idea is to use beacons to motivate attendees to be on time for a meeting (by checking them in through their mobile, the minute they enter the room). I can also relate to the importance of establishing clear goals before measuring anything.

No matter how engaging the presentations had been so far, a break is most welcome. It is at 16.30 and my body tells me that this is a pretty intense day.

9. Igor’s mistakes, and a few lessons of humility

Igor Fafaranov is an energetic speaker, so it was easy to get back to focus after the break.  He happily shared some of his biggest fails as a designer, some of which everyone in the audience can learn from. One particularly valid point is to remember that engagement is not constant – user interaction of a new product will vary with time. Therefore, there is little point in designing a mature product from day 1. An application can be created and released quickly, even if it is not perfect. At Making Waves we are used to an agile approach, so I found it easy to agree.

Igor also underlined the fact that UX principles are hypotheses, not standards – the business value must be taken into account in design. In other words, before you decide to shorten that registration form, make sure you test it. Perhaps your users are not discouraged by that extra field that gives you the business insight you need. Igor left us with two final pieces of advice: be ready to fail and continue to design awesome products.

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Being a UX geek is definitely more than a job

10. How to engage your team and client into UX – is it worth it?

Iga Mościchowska held a great presentation about the importance of cooperating closely with the client when designing a new platform. Invite them to a workshop, even if they end up saying “hold on, we are here at your workshop doing all the work for you”. In the end, an engaged customer is a happy customer.

11. Are we all collectors? Gamification in your company.

Closing the event, Anna Migas showcased an internal reward system designed and used at the company she works for. It was fascinating to hear about grown-ups using a badge collecting system, similar to the stickers we all had when we were kids. This was another effective example of the link between the analogue and the digital world, used to create engagement.  It was also about engaging the users during the process of creating the app. And when someone in the audience asked Anna if the tool had an effect on their efficiency at work, her answer was “huh, work? [what’s that?]”, followed by 200 people laughing out loud.

This was the perfect ending to the World Usability Day in Krakow. These UX Designers are so enthusiastic about their jobs they don’t even think of it as work. It’s a passion. A passion that attracted 236 people to spend the best part of their Saturday at a conference. Some have attended every year, others were here for the first time and many said they will come again next year. One thing is for sure: I think we all deserved a good time at the after party!

You can learn more about the event and see all places where it takes place at worldusabilityday.org.

WUD 2014 Video (in Polish)

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