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Digital Assistants: Will Privacy Concerns Stand in the Way of Improving Voice UX?

Following on from our previous team roundtable on the UI/UX techniques behind the success of Amazon (read that here), we held another to gather hot takes from the team on the perils of privacy concerns to voice UI design.

Digital assistants are being welcomed into an increasing number of homes, yet the apparent loss of privacy inherent in housing always-on microphones creates challenges for UX designers in this space. Not afraid to use their voices, the ExperienceLab team tackled three questions on the topic:

Does adopting voice mean the inevitable loss of privacy for consumers?

Emily Hudson, Senior UX Researcher:

Not necessarily. Consumers now have a right to know what data is being collected, why it’s used and how it’s stored thanks to the GDPR. Designers and manufacturers all have a responsibility to ensure the services and products we create (voice or not) are created with integrity and that consumers are aware of it.

Megan Kurtenbach, UX Consultant:

We don’t have the legal systems in place to deal with the rate that technology grows, nor do these systems adapt quickly enough to deal with the rapid and immense changes to user context that come with new technology.

Meaning, there’s little way of knowing exactly how a new technology advancement will actually end up being used by the public at large, or the kind of long-term impact it will have on how users interact with technology and each other. This means legal guidelines and standards are often a step behind – and that to some extent there’s a need for technology companies and their users to manage the broader ramifications of using a technology. So it’s a yes and a no.

Richard Len, Senior Consultant:

I don’t feel the privacy question is as black and white as we think, look at the prime areas of voice’s deployment: inside cars, homes, and other contained areas of trust where voice has flourished.

How can developers and designers deal with privacy concerns while preserving the quality of the UX?

Emily Hudson, Senior UX Researcher:

Testing the voice experience with real users! By testing the voice controls with actual people, regularly and in-situ. Then adapting the voice commands/responses based on what you learn.

Megan Kurtenback, UX Consultant:

People generally seem to think that they should be concerned about their data privacy, but asking ‘why’ often tends to generate vague responses.

The pattern seems to be that users are concerned about their data privacy with new technology until they find value or delight from their data being used. Then it doesn’t seem to be so much of a concern and actually becomes more of an expectation. I suspect that voice UI will follow this pattern.

Richard Len, Senior Consultant:

In the public space the design of voice needs to consider context and execution much more carefully. Simple, neutral, single-word responses that do not have private or secure content currently seam to be the design trend. Technology is also allowing more subtle ways of using audio, with better embedded microphone technology (in glasses!) and headphones. These will be key moving forward.

Will privacy fears deter users from enjoying the full experience?

Emily Hudson, Senior UX Researcher:

 Not if the voice-based experience solves a problem the user previously experienced. If it doesn’t, they won’t use it; it if does, they will probably thank you for it.

Richard Len, Senior Consultant:

It never has before: websites track us across social media to offer personalised discounts, social media shares are used as marketing research tools or inducements to buy, while freemium mobile games require access to contacts and other private data to access different in-game benefits.

Pratheep Chandrasekhar, Lead Interaction Designer:

Privacy concerns will always be a hurdle for innovation!

However, they’re constantly evolving and the hurdles we see today will not necessarily be the ones we tackle tomorrow.

The privacy fears of baby-boomers are quite different from those of Millennials and Gen Z. Having a device that listens and monitors you 24/7 is barely a privacy concern now for perhaps the majority of people. Those consumers are also being given more control over their data and more ways to protect it via policies like GDPR.

At the same time, we as designers should create products that are transparent and makes the consumer feel empowered about their data.

ExperienceLab is a research and design agency specialising in helping organisations understand their customer needs and creating innovative solutions that are designed to succeed. Want to get in touch? Contact us here.

7 maxims for multi-market UX research

In our global economy multi-country research is becoming a necessity for an increasing number of brands.

There is a fast growing appreciation of the huge value in understanding both geography-independent factors and those vital for impact in particular markets. At ExperienceLab we are specialists in undertaking research across the world – below, we’ve assembled seven critical guidelines, our multi-market maxims.

In our experience, adhering to them can mean the difference between success and failure for this type of research.

1) Ensure you have excellent local knowledge to guide you

Working to forge and nurture partner relationships with UX agencies around the globe is critical to accessing the local knowledge essential to making a multi-market project a success.

We don’t tend to use our partner agencies to directly undertake research, but instead work with them at the earliest stages of projects, prior to commencing planning, and discuss the brief and its implications for their market in detail.

Critically make no assumptions regarding local markets and check, clarify and confirm with them all aspects of the research prior to commencement.

2) Keep your research options flexible

Any agency used to UK research might find themselves surprised at the variations amongst participants, behaviours and cultures within a single country elsewhere. The US is a good example, where the differences between the East Coast, West Coast and Midwestern or Southern states are significant enough for these almost to be considered different international markets.

Keeping a flexible approach to your research is critical to adapting to unforeseen variances even within what appears to be a single market.

3) Know your participants

Selection and recruitment of participants for non-UK research is a specialist skill. Ensuring you have the right person for the brief means going beyond the standard question set usually used for UK-based candidates, particularly with a view to exploring their personal situations in greater depth.

Make no assumptions about your participants’ predilections in an unfamiliar market – even when receiving the guidance of local agencies.

4) Stress test how your insights are captured

Create a concise, relatively bounded format for the participant’s evaluations to be recorded within – then perform a full dress rehearsal with your translator and moderator to ensure that they have a comprehensive understanding of how the insights are recorded.

Multi market research often involves multiple parties, and ensuring your insight capturing process is bulletproof to avoid insights getting lost in the layers of interpretation between the participant, the translator, the moderator and the researcher.

5)  Ensure your translator understands the technical terminology

Create a brief but precise glossary of the key terms to be used in the research – particularly terms such as ‘dashboard’ or ‘main navigation’, which might become ambiguous in translation.

For the total avoidance of doubt, use visual methods such as labelling screenshots. This gives translators and participants the latitude to use the phrasing they feel is most appropriate, while the meaning remains consistent.

6) Triple check your tech spec

For projects in which participants are testing websites or software on their own personal hardware, put in place a system to guarantee they are meeting technical requirements – and don’t rely on third parties to verify this.

Require participants to submit proofs that they have the correct software and hardware, and guide them through the process of doing so.

7) Ensure contingencies for technical mishaps

In technology-reliant projects, ensure every research team member – especially third party translators and moderators – are briefed on what to do in the event of technical problems.

Draw up contingencies for problems such as connection loss, software crashing or hardware failure, and ensure that all research team participants know the exact steps to undertake if they occur.

In short, for international research the devil really is in the detail. It looks seductively easy until you try it and then the importance of experience becomes evident very quickly.

ExperienceLab are experts in multi-market research, having conducted live technical research simultaneously in multiple markets for a range of blue chip clients.

Contact us to find out how we can discover your international customer insights.

Robo-advice: in the wake of the FCA review, here’s the problem that no one is talking about

This week’s FCA review of Automated Investment Services (“robo-advice”) emphasised once again that debate on this topic is still yet to mature from the regulatory and technical phase i.e. what the product is and what it does. But for those investing in robo-advice – and relying on it finding popularity with end users – the focus now needs to shift to understanding how those end users feel about the experience of actually using the product.

The gap in the understanding of robo-advice

As far as I can tell, there has been little in the way of in-depth analysis of real customers’ moment-to-moment experience of using robo advice tools. This is an issue that will only grow larger as we move forward – and if robo-advice is to be the robust and long-term solution to providing cost effective advice to the mass market that businesses are seeking, then understanding what works and what doesn’t about the experience of using it is critical.

The current focus on regulatory, service and technical models will undoubtedly resolve the delivery issues and make the offerings FCA-proof – but this will have no bearing on whether individual consumers will actually engage with the tools.

In other words – the operation could be a success but the patient could still die!

Why this matters

Customer experience is now more vital than ever to a product’s chances of success – a study of 10,000 US consumers by Tempkin Group revealed that 77% of customers who were likely to recommend a product would need to consider the experience of using that product as ‘Excellent’, while 79% would need to consider an experience ‘Excellent’ in order to be likely to trust a product.

It’s important to note that customer experience isn’t to be confused with user experience, which focuses simply on the interaction with the system. Customer experience is more holistic and encompasses customers’ cognitive, emotional, social and physical responses to using a product – taking into account aspects the provider can control (e.g. service, interface, results etc.) and those they can’t (e.g. influence of others, environmental factors, moods, etc.).

Why no one is talking about it

For these reasons, customer experience isn’t simple, and it’s not easy to do well – so it’s perhaps little wonder that the current robo-advice focus tends to be on more quantitative and regulatory aspects.

The trouble is, getting the customer experience right is critical to robo-advice becoming genuinely mass market, and we are fast approaching a point where those investing in and promoting the use of robo-advice cannot afford to sideline it any longer.

The solution

For those building, investing or promoting the use of robo-advice products, how can they ensure they’re on a path to a product which provides a positive user experience?

The answer is to ask the users themselves, by conducting direct customer research. Not just in terms of usability, but by observing, interviewing and interacting with consumers before, during and after the product experience, exploring not only what they do but why they do it, and understanding why their perception of the product is good, bad, or indifferent.

Such research has been proven to be hugely effective and reliable when undertaken with small groups of participants in similar fields, and the results provide clear insight on what the consumer actually experiences – as well as how any potential issues can be resolved.

Next steps

In time I hope the FCA will move on from the technical aspects and begin to take a view on customer experience in robo-advice – but in the meantime those who are relying on its success might wish to consider how much true understanding of the customer’s experience they really have.

But customer experience research is not an amateur activity – our team of psychologists, anthropologists and ergonomists are highly skilled in creating the right interview question sets and establishing the correct environmental setting in our labs.

Get in touch with us to discuss how we can assist with testing and improving your robo-advice product and your customer’s experience.     


4 reasons millennials don’t engage with personal finance (according to millennials)

Part 2 of a series on millennials and personal finance. You can read Part 1 here

We’re currently conducting research with a group of twentysomethings – our Millennial Cohort – to find out why millennials aren’t engaging with their personal finances in the same way as previous generations.

They’d already told us that they felt underserved by current budgeting and day-to-day financial management tools, so we challenged them to create their own. We asked them to visualise their personal finances however they wanted, using a variety of pens, paper and physical tokens (oh, and glitter and Play Doh).

What we discovered should be of interest to banks. Our four key takeaways were as follows:

1) Millennials distrust financial services companies, and struggle to care about their personal finances

“I don’t trust investment companies or insurance or that kind of stuff and I don’t really care about those issues”

This is what one participant told us, and the same sentiment was expressed by others. Millennials’ distrust of financial services companies is likely to be one reason why they are less loyal customers – and more willing than older generations to switch to neo-banks or potential services by firms such as Google and Amazon.

2) The ‘one size fits all’ approach to personal financial management is inadequate

An inflexible approach to digital person finance services is also restricting banks from building loyal, engaged relationships with millennial customers. One participant commented:

Usually with financial stuff it’s very restrictive. This was all completely under my control – the paper and everything was completely blank and I liked that.”

What they produced is below – and it’s certainly unlike any of the digital interfaces available from major banks today. Aesthetics aside, its focus on goal setting and future spending is in contrast to the historical transactions emphasised by most major banks’ personal finance tools.

Participants found the ability to personalise their ‘interface’ helpful

The current statement- and spreadsheet-based personal financial management tools that banks offer are impersonal, one-size-fits-all approaches that provide plenty of raw data, but little in the way of interpretation or analysis. For a generation which are already disengaged with their finances, the need to do the heavy lifting in terms of translating data into actionable strategies is a major barrier.

3) Budgeting is hard, scary and emotionally difficult to deal with.

Whilst millennials want to be able to financially plan, these are still a source of stress for many in this generation. Participants commented that they are “scared that [they’ve] spent more than they ought to” and that in the future they’ll realize “[they] should have been more careful”.

Reflecting this, some participants used the project as an opportunity to simplify the process of keeping track of their expenditures. Below, a box of beads gives an at-a-glance view of how a participant’s money was spent, with each colour representing a different type of purchase.

There was a common consensus even among those who professed not to currently care about their finances that they were aware that understanding and managing them would be important for the future. But finding personal finance, in the words of one participant, “a complicated, tangled thing”, full engagement often felt out of reach.

4) There are no associated specific ‘real world’ goals with personal financial planning.

 A struggle to make the personal data provided by their banks feel tangible or relevant to everyday life was a common thread among participants.

Several used the research project as an opportunity to start planning towards both long and short-term spending goals, such as trips abroad or reducing the amount they were spending on incidentals such as coffee.

One participant commented that bank data “is quite bland, because it’s just digits” while another added that the project’s visualisation challenge “made me more creative in thinking about my finances”. These insights are borne out in how participants approached the project, choosing to focus on representing specific goals rather than dealing with their financial data in the aggregate.

These four learnings indicate banks are missing the mark for millennials – and in world of open banking and booming fintechs, that’s bad news for those unwilling to change. Find out why banks should be worried about these findings.

If you’d like to understand how our research techniques can help your business understand its customers better, contact us at

What Is Co-Design? We Demystify It

“People don’t know what they want until you show it to them” – Steve Jobs

Steve Jobs didn’t always get it right. While the iPhone showed that the ideas of a single visionary can be revolutionary, most of the time it’s counterproductive – even dangerous – to assume that as a service provider, you know better than your customers.

Co-design is the antithesis of the paternalistic, board-room-knows-best approach to service design. Part brainstorm, part market research, part evidence gathering session, it’s a method of placing the user at the centre of the development of how a service is delivered.

How is this done? Businesses bring customers into the boardroom – not metaphorically, but literally. Co-designing assumes the customer is the expert, while the decision making and project delivery apparatus of the business are facilitators, there to extract and action the customer’s insights. 

Customer-centricity is a well-worn buzzword, but co-design makes it actionable. Here’s how.

How Does It Work?

  1. First, some customers will need to be recruited. A fairly broad cross-section is usually best – what that will look like will, of course, very much depend on the business’s product.
  1. With a group of participants chosen, the first step is to have participants self-reflect. This is to gather the initial insights which will inform the co-design session. In order to best discover participants’ impressions of the service, a range of techniques can be employed. Participants might be asked to keep a diary of their use of the product, or complete a daily or weekly survey.
  1. With self-reflection complete and the data gathered, it’s time to invite participants on-site – for a session that usually lasts 1.5 to 2 hours.
  1. The session is often split into two halves. The first might be an extension of the self-reflection exercises set prior to the session, and focuses on interviewing participants on their current experiences.
  1. With that data gathered, part two focuses on the co-designing itself. A mix of the company team members and gathered customers participate in a range of exercises – these will very likely be physical, tangible, and creativity focused. If it’s not fun, you won’t get the best out of your participants.

Here’s an example – say our co-designing firm is looking to understand its key customer groups better. We might invite our customers in, and have them craft Facebook or Instagram profiles for imaginary customer archetypes – cutting images out of magazines to create visual personas with glue and craft paper. It’s fun and interesting for participants, but it also provides crucial insights to us as a brand. The key with co-design exercises is to keep them open-ended, but give participants enough constraints that they aren’t overwhelmed.

  1. Once participants have completed the exercise, it’s key to capture the insights and debrief everyone. This final step lets them know what they’ve helped you understand with the exercise – and ensures that no learning from the session is lost, by capturing it when its still fresh in participants and researchers’ minds.

Why Co-Design Is Needed

You might be thinking that this sounds like a lot of effort. Why go through the steps necessary to run a co-design session, when you already gather insights from your customers via regular feedback forms and surveys? 

Surveys can be helpful – they’re often a key component of the self-reflection stage – but as a fire-and-forget method that focuses only on gathering data, they can’t effect business change in the same way as co-design. We’ll leave you with three reasons why:

  • Co-design provides the crucial, actionable evidence that businesses need to make big decisions. The executives or consultants who lead change within a business often feel that they ‘should have all the answers’. In reality, they probably don’t. But their customers do, and co-design is a much more powerful method of extracting them than surveying.
  • Teams within a business are often siloed. What one might see as an issue, another might see as an essential part of the service. Talking to the people actually using the service can bring clarity to these internal disagreements, and bring teams together to work cohesively on a problem.
  • As companies scale, executives can naturally lose touch with customers, who find themselves buried further and further behind layers of customer service and account management. Co-design reconnects the people designing the product with those using it, cutting through the bureaucracy and making customers happier.


Ready to start your own co-design session? Talk to us

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