Hey, I wonder what UX Designers in Europe are doing right now?
So I went over there to find out.
If you are curious about something, the best way to get answers is to go see for yourself right? I am a UX Designer originally from Australia but have been living in Los Angeles since March 2014.
One day I just decided that I am going to take some time off work to immerse myself in some popular European start-up communities .
The intention of my whole my trip is to attend as many ‘Meetups’ as I can in 2–3 weeks in order to get a quick and dirty experience of life as a UX Designer in Europe. I joined as many ‘Meetup’ groups as I could with the word ‘UX’ in their title so that I could crash their events whenever I roll into town.
I want to engage in regular and popular ‘Meetup’ groups to understand more about:
- what type of projects they are working on?
- what clients they are working for?
- what new or emerging technologies are they implementing that I am not aware of?
- how broad is their community knowledge sharing and collaboration?
- how is American life and culture perceived from the experience of a European designer?
- what do they strive for each day in terms of success or contentment in their work?
- is there is a bias toward creating start-ups and agencies over working for established agencies and corporations?
- does their government support the new tech industry with buy-in, funding and/or promotion?
- what cultural problems or challenges are they designing for based on their geography, ethnography and history?
I anticipate that I will discover a lot more than I intend to about UXDs in Europe which will open up many new ideas, opinions and comparisons for me to ponder and share upon my return.
What I can bring to the table
I hope to be able to also share my own experiences, in return, so that the people that I meet can understand the progress of UX in LA and how the tech scene is evolving. To be honest, I am new to LA so it will not be as beneficial to them to be hearing the reports from me, however, I hope to shed some light on their queries and curiosity. All in all, I hope that by the end of each event, I have made some new friends and contacts while sharing similar experiences with nice people living on the opposite side of the globe.
Cities I intend visiting
- London (went to but didn’t document event)
Meetup event #1
City: Berlin, Germany
Event: Talk & Networking for Designers 2
Date: Monday June/06/2016
This was my first time in Berlin. In general the people here are amazingly friendly and approachable. It is a big melting pot of people and divided into districts with their own character and center. I stayed in Alexanderplatz to be near the event and in my short 2 day visit I met some very friendly, creative natives and expats. Gabriela Tamara Cycman gave a very interesting and personal talk on how she turns darker days into creative output. Katie R who was presenting the event also kindly lead an audience based Q&A base around topics that the group were facing in their work process. This was very insightful and became a great forum for people to delve deeper into finding solutions to specific UXD challenges.
- A lot of the UX Designers work remotely or freelance for companies or agencies that bolt their skills on to a project.
- The design teams are often dispersed across other countries keeping the core Berlin team small but in demand of fast and effective communication.
- I didn’t witness any major cultural differences in the types of projects or solutions they were designing for. In a large international city such as Berlin, digital touch-points tend to bring nations together easily and as a result, culture and ethnicity is replaced by a default common international etiquette. I was expecting to hear about design challenges being specific to Germany and it’s culture and history, however, they seem to be working on the same solutions as us in the USA such as Event Management Apps, Digital Banking, Photography Rights Management etc.
- One major challenge that I did discover about German design is that they always have to consider and incorporate multiple language support into their deliverables.
- They are hard to find hanging around the office after 5pm which made me smile since we all know that back in the USA we are still working and holding discussions until much later.. lol. There public transport is amazing and accessible which probably rules out the consideration of staying around after work to avoid traffic congestion. The are also very prompt to work and make the most out of their 8 hour day.
- They seem to be very innovative in Berlin with new technologies but in contrast seem to have a lot more resistance from Stakeholders when implementing UX practices. I am sure this is not completely indicative of every UX Design team in Berlin, however, from the 70 people I met at the event, the implementation of User Experience Design practices seems to be still isolated to those who are lucky enough to be able to practice the process in their jobs. They were very interested in implementing Geo Fencing, Beacon Tech, Advanced Search and other new technologies and I believe Berlin will be a very effective and inspirational design community once their implementation of these products melds tightly to the consumer’s needs in the marketplace. User Experience is not seen to be a new role to the agencies that I met at the event, however, the transition from historical design practices to a user centered approach is a challenge that I discovered they were facing. User centric design is still developing momentum worldwide and Berlin is one of the cities pushing hard to adapt their design methods to this approach. One major challenge that they mentioned in this respect is the adoption, by Stakeholders and Product Owners, of a user centered design model working in tandem with Agile Development. This is also a pain point in the USA where evangelizing UX Design with the intention of implementing the user-centered design model is an ongoing challenge. It looks as though Berlin’s rich design history, creative startups and a relatively lower cost of living will continue pushing them out in front as one of the leading Experience Design communities. With such nice people involved I think that will be well deserved.
Meetup event #2
City: Brussels, Belgium
Event: Digging deeper into Design Thinking: Empathy
Date: Tuesday June/07/2016
This was a very well organized and led event. Not only did Marlies, the organizer, do a great presentation, she also led us through workshop exercises to ensure that we understood her concepts. This event was based around assumptions, personas, empathy maps and user interviews. It all tied together nicely with hands-on group exercises and discussions. The group is not too large, so there was always a chance for everyone to speak and share their experiences on the topics.
- About 80% of Belgium’s trade is with fellow EU member states. Services account for 74.9% of GDP which means that when interviewing UX Designers here in Brussels, 74.9% of them solve user related challenges in the service industry. This is also a product of the responsibility of being the de facto European capital. UX evangelism plays a big part in these industries where UX Designers do their best to introduce new concepts and methods of defining information architecture to a generation who are hearing about user centered design for the first time. Ouch!
- The tax rate in Brussels is 55%, however, they believe that with 5 weeks paid vacation, a good health system and well maintained roads, they don’t feel it is a burdon.
- Unemployment is quite high at 17% but I didn’t hear anyone complaining about not being able to find UXD work in Brussels.
- I would recommend this group to UX Designers who would like to know the best practices for the UXD process.
Meetup event #3
City: Brussels, Begium
Event: Moving the mobile user experience into high gear
Date: Wednesday June/08/2016
Oops…. I got mad jet-lag so I slept through this event and missed it. I would have liked to have gone but my body was saying, ‘Nope’.
Meetup event #4
City: Berlin, Germany
Event: Up.front 68
Date: Tuesday June/14/2016
Ok, I got over my jetlag, went to Amsterdam to check that place out.. awesome.. then attended this amazing event. Of course, I would have done anything to say I attend the Up.front ‘69’ event but missed out by one number dammit ;)
So first up was Frederic Marx who talked about CSS and Web Font Strategies. He structured his presentation really well with minimalistic slide content and a great story arch. He called the talk, “Pragmatic Webfont Strategies”. One of the biggest take-aways for me was his clear explanation of how the ultimate web font stack could be used to cover all possible browsers, OS and devices:
font-family: -apple-system, BlinkMacSystemFont, “Segoe UI”, “Roboto”, “Oxygen”, “Ubuntu”, “Cantarell”, “Fira Sans”, “Droid Sans”, “Helvetica Neue”, sansserif;
This is a slightly amusing but very practical way to ensure the right font is loaded to cater for all native webfont requirements. He also covered his concerns with using icon fonts, rules to selecting responsible typography and the performance budget of web fonts. On top of this he was nice enough to chat with me after his talk and seemed like a genuinely great guy.
Michael P. Pfeiffer was the second and last speaker and he presented a really funny and emotional video of his trip to Antarctica. He relates his freelance CSS and Development career to icebergs and penguins in a presentation called, “Traveling The World With CSS”.
I didn’t really get an insight into the way in which these Berliners worked since I couldn’t stay around to chat for too long, however, I can summize from the speakers, that the virtual office is a common place to be doing work. It seems that after many years of experience in both the digital space and personal character building, these presenters were able to build a skill set that allowed them to work remotely and travel the world. From what I have experienced, Germans are very fond of finding the next level to launch from into the unknown and discover new concepts both personally and technically. I had a great time meeting Berliners and hope to see them all again soon. Nice people :)
Meetup event #5
City: Stockholm, Sweden
Event: Design Thinking
Date: Wednesday June/15/2016
I didn’t get much time in Stockholm as I arrived just before the event and needed to leave very early the next day.
There were 3 excellent speakers who were all very experienced in Design Thinking:
Annika Sundqvist — ‘UX thinking in “traditional” companies.’
Opening talk, giving a good idea of the principles that Comprend and many of us believe into.
Parag Deshpande — ‘Design thinking: principles before process’. The idea is to go beyond how design thinking is seen currently (i.e. as a process) and bring in some of the design traditions/principles, informed by design thinking, that are commonplace within traditional design disciplines.
Jaan Orvet— From ’I know best’ to ’I don’t know everything, and that’s ok’ — How to evolve from traditional business focus to design focus in four not-so-simple yet incredibly important steps.
I had some time to chat with people after the event and managed to get some great insights from one of the presenters, Jaan Orvet.
- Swedish people don’t disagree in meetings. They find it rude and counter-productive and possibly disrespectful. This is obviously a generalization but I found it interesting all the same.
- The design work that they produce is commonly for public services over consumer apps.
- Going back to print and older technology to solve design challenges rather than always turning to new technology was another interesting discovery. For example, there was one project mentioned for a financial company where full page typography spreads were used for their publications instead of the digital medium. I think traditional design mediums help people identify with the human component of the solution especially for certain demographics.
- There seems to be a low level of entry into UX Design. I think the fast adoption of UXD in Sweden has lead to people from all facets of design incorporating user centric design practices into their workflow and there has not been much hinderance.
- Another great advantage that designers in Stockholm have is the willingness of larger companies to sponsor smaller startups with very little resistance or concern.
Although I didn’t get nearly as much time that I would like to hang out and chat more to this group I found them to be very welcoming, smart and friendly people.
Meetup event #6
City: Copenhagen, Denmark
Event: UX Happy Hour CPH Summer Edition
Date: Thursday June/16/2016
The format for this event was simple. Drink beer, eat chips and hang out with awesome designers. Bjarke Daugaard was a great host and made me feel welcome and introduced me to lots of interesting people.
One person in particular that I thought was very interesting was Jesper Wille. We talked about all facets of User Experience Design and beyond. I found the Danish to be very free-thinkers and very accepting of new people.
As with any new practice there is some resistance to adoption by the people that make decisions for the stakeholders. I found it interesting that a few designers at this meetup stated that getting a client or CEO out of their comfort zone when accepting allocations of the budget to UX research and design was difficult. We discussed options and agreed that if the CEO was to assume the role of the user in a hypothetical scenario they would see how important and vital research, interviewing and testing with empathy is to success of a product or service. Another option is to include them in the observation of contextual enquiry. This way they could see for themselves how a user’s mental model drives their behavior which would most likely be different from how the CEO had expected the user to interact with the product.
This was the last UX Meetup event. In conclusion I guess the state of UXD in Northern Europe and the USA is very similar. I was expecting the design challenges in Europe to be gravitating around specific cultural considerations but as the western world gets perceptively smaller and connected, it seems that the needs of western communities become identical. It would be interesting to see how this changes if I was to visit UX Meetup groups in Eastern Europe and Asia.
All in all I had a great time briefly getting to know some amazingly talented people and everyone was courteous, friendly and welcoming. I honestly couldn’t have asked for a better experience. I think that Northern Europeans love the ideas and innovations that come out of the USA as well as the people who create them. They stated that they often rely on the USA as a go to for new ideas and love their enthusiasm and dedication to design. It’s good to know that the feelings are mutual and amicable between Europe and the USA and as a collective community we are all supportive and accepting of each other.
I’m proud to be a part of this positive and nurturing collective that stands as a good example to the world of how collaboration can be sustainable, indiscriminate and humble.