From the IKEA Effect to the perfect UX - a look back at Refresh 2017

On the 8th of September, product, design and front end conference Refresh brought together over 500 industry specialists in the hipsterish Telliskivi Creative City. Truth be told - if you didn't make it to the event, you were really missing out. Lucky for you, we're happy to share the best bits of inspiration and insight we gained at the conference so sit back, indulge and book the next year's dates to not miss out again!

This year, bigger than ever, Refresh was sold out a week before the conference. 14 international speakers got ready to spread their product, design and front end knowledge to 500+ participants. After a delicious breakfast and first rounds of networking, it was delightful to see that the local product, design and front end community was ready to rock the day.  

Optical illusions and "The IKEA Effect"

The day started off strong when keynote of the day, Chris Linnett, based on his experience from Nokia, Spotify and Typeforms, guided the audience through the rocky road of creating a great user experience. Chris kicked off by showing pictures of optical illusions and comparing it with the ever-so-familiar ‘’the feature is right there, why can't the user see it?!’’ illusion that many product people create for themselves. At the same time, he did admit that the process of finding a user in the experience is a fairly difficult one - often times ethnographic research, contextual inquiry, usability testing, prototypes, use metrics and analytics, competitive research and much more needs to be conducted to fully understand it. 

While designing the perfect user experience, it is also important to go beyond the usual persona creation and customer journey models. Chris gave a great example of putting your work out there and letting different people give feedback and contribute - his message was that if we work together, we can create better experiences. All successful companies who have designed great user experiences have the ability to work together not only inside the specific team but also to collaborate across teams. The best way to bring people together within a company to collaborate is to organise company-wide hackathons - letting people come up with and work on their own "passion projects" boosts productivity, creativity and helps to develop new great features. For example, Spotify's Discover Weekly and Facebook's like button were thought up at such company-wide hackathons! 

Sean Li,  an ex software engineer turned into designer, continued on the same path and stated that human experience is what we should be thriving for. As an example, he said that while dealing with errors, negative keywords such as ‘’incorrect", "oops" and "error’’, which would make the users think and feel like that they were walking on thin ice, should be avoided. Instead, they should feel supported and secure by being offered possible causes and solutions to the errors they've encountered.

Sean also introduced the audience to ‘’The IKEA Effect’’, which basically means that if you have a good product that takes relatively little effort to assemble, it leads to high perceived value and happy customers. This works as long as you show them the end results first, just like IKEA does with their showrooms. Of course, the physical showroom can be replaced with a video or an interactive demo, and step by step tutorials as well as feature intros should be avoided. As a conclusion, Sean left the audience with the following thought: "Do the hard work for the customer because design is only obvious in retrospect."

Don't forget the fun factor

‘’I wish my significant other understood me as well as my Spotify Discover Weekly!’’ started her presentation Inca Chen, Product Manager at Squarespace, cracking up the whole room. She talked about Machine Learning and how it is good for helping to make decisions with many inputs and outputs (e.g ‘’Who will win the election?’’). Among other things, Machine Learning can also be used to predict stock prices, optimise pricing, detect fraud or fake news, discover trends and automate (boring) human tasks. 

In order to leverage Machine Learning, product people should identify the right problems and make sure that they have the appropriate data. Although Machine Learning can be really effective in the design and decision process, non-Machine Learning alternatives should be considered beforehand as well. Still, the time to use Machine Learning has never been better - the algorithms are maturing and huge amount of open data is accessible to everyone, not only to corporations and other large companies.

Design plays an invaluable role in another rising sector - EdTech. John Galea, Lead Product Designer at Lingvist, shared his insights on creating an effective educational experience. First off, he emphasized to the audience that stating that your product is educational is a massive responsibility. It is important to fit in with your users lifestyle - for example, in EdTech it is all about making daily goals achievable in short bursts of activity and looking and asking for the reasons why some users become inactive or stop using the product. While achieving and maintaining trust, it is also important to keep things simple and efficient - time spent mastering the application is time wasted for the user. 

Even though the main idea in EdTech is to learn, the fun element shouldn’t be forgotten. As he pointed, the main reason why engaged customers leave is due to boredom. Most importantly - with products in industries like EdTech, it is important to create a thriving community as users tend to learn more when they engage with others, since we are used to learning in classrooms.

The program proceeded with jovial Willie Tran from Dropbox, who by his own words gets paid ‘’to mess with people’’ by running A/B tests. While experimenting, there are some things one should always consider. Although experiments are the fastest way to learn about your users, you should be ready for a whopping 80% of the experiments not to prove successful. This makes the handling of failure a key factor while running experiments. But with an 80% failure rate, when should you stop testing and experimenting and call it quits? Willie had the answer: You stop testing when you stop learning. Another word of advice from him was to not blindly follow best practices of other companies as their users are not your users.

Willie didn’t seem to have a problem with creating new ideas for experiments. He suggested talking to users more and reading support tickets for first-hand information and insight into the users' joys and concerns with the product. While experimenting, be thoughtful of what and how much you tweak and change - the more you change the less precise your analysis will be.

The User Experience of Refresh

As the night continued with dinner and an afterparty, we had a chance to chat a bit with some of the participants. Kristiine Kukk, Talent Hunter at Pipedrive was attending the conference for the first time and especially enjoyed meeting other product managers and designers with similar mindsets. She adds: ''Refresh is special and one of a kind in Estonia. Additionally to the innovative topics, it is a meeting point for product people from different companies in the region to share their experiences.'' 

Tajo Oja, Designer at Fraktal, visited Refresh for the second time - last year as a speaker and this year as a participant. Tajo also thinks that that there are no other conferences like Refresh in the region. ‘'With this level of speakers, Refresh can easily compete worldwide. Every year the organisers manage to find new interesting presenters - this can not be said about a lot of other conferences.''

Refresh continues to be a unique conference in the region, maintaining high quality of the speakers and providing great networking opportunities. Next year, Refresh will be back in the Creative Hub and Super Early Bird Tickets are already on sale. Alvar Lumberg, one of the main organisers of the event promised that thanks to this year's audience of 500 people, he feels ever more confident to be able to increase the quality and variety of the programme and the speakers for next year. But for now, stay tuned - the video recordings are about to be uploaded HERE in the near future and pictures of this years conference can be found HERE.

See you all at Refresh 2018 - our team is definitely excited and ready!

Photos from the official photo bank of Refresh 2017.

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