User Experience Design - An Interview with Regina Bernhaupt

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Prof. Dr. Regina Bernhaupt is a professor for quality measurement and analysis of dynamic real-life systems in the "Industrial Design" department at Eindhoven University of Technology in the Netherlands. In the summer semester of 2021, she will take on a lectureship for User Experience Design at the University of Paderborn. For several years, she has worked closely with SICP Managing Director Dr Stefan Sauer in leading the IFIP Working Group 13.2 on Methodology for User-Centred System Design and organising the Human-Centred Software Engineering conference series. He spoke with her about her research and upcoming course.

Regina, you have been involved in empirical research in the field of human-machine interaction as well as industrial and game design for many years. A particular focus here is the topic of user experience, or UX for short. How did this develop and how would you characterise your current research and its impact in practice?

Regina Bernhaupt: User experience has always been prominent in software development. In 1988, researchers mentioned in an article that it would make sense for users not only to interact quickly and efficiently with software, but that fun and enjoyment should be a central element. It then took another almost 20 years until this term also became more central in research in the early 2000s.

Today, user experience is a central design element and we have evaluated some core concepts in research that are central to a positive user experience. User emotion - let's take the example of games, it's easily explained there: this ranges from the anticipation of the new game console, to being completely absorbed in the game with all the emotional ups and downs when we win or lose, to long-term effects that can influence our sense of well-being and balance. Another factor is aesthetics, not just because a user interface is beautifully designed, but because all my senses are satisfied. Products have to feel good and interaction has to be pleasant.

And what are you particularly concerned with at the moment?

Bernhaupt: For the past five years we have also been looking at people’s values and how different values lead to different demands. In the past year, this research has become much more important because we are all confronted with massive shifts in values: How do I stand to support society, even if it limits me individually? Personally, I’ve spent the last 365 days in the same place – compared to years when I spent no more than five days in the same place. So can I live sustainably much easier than I thought I could before the pandemic? These major shifts in values will be central to user experience design in the coming years and will be reflected in new applications of technology. Here in the Netherlands, we are currently seeing a massive reinforcement of “digital twins”, i.e. digital images of real systems, even entire cities. These digital variants will make it possible to increasingly control productions online and to simulate new designs, such as measuring systems in cities for CO₂ emissions, in advance and try them out with residents before they are expensively built and implemented.

My work currently focuses strongly on these value shifts and how we can develop the necessary methods to implement value-oriented services and products and then also measure their success. However, my central goal will continue to be to make people happier when they interact with technology.

What is typical of your teaching at TU/e and does it differ in a Department of Industrial Design from what we are used to in Computer Science?

Bernhaupt: The Faculty of Industrial Design at TU/e has prepared new forms of teaching over the last 20 years with its unique "squad" concept. Currently, all of our design students from the second year of the bachelor's degree work in squads - i.e. subject areas in which students work on problems from industry or research. Today, this is used extensively under the term "challenge-based learning". The skills we teach students in industrial design are of course different from those in computer science. Central skills such as creativity and aesthetics or business and entrepreneurship are often less common in computer science. Design today, however, has technology and the ability to use and implement it as a central focus, which means that our design students also have to deal with Arduino prototyping or databases and AI methods. Personalised service design requires a good understanding of machine learning or recommendation engines.

What can students at the University of Paderborn expect in the "User Experience Design" course?

Bernhaupt: The course will be oriented towards challenge-based learning and will provide the knowledge to successfully manipulate and implement user experience in a service or product. If a course has User Experience in the title, then of course the experience of the students is important. Even if in academic circles "fun" is rather frowned upon in a course - I believe that learning should be fun and that we have to deal with fun and joy in order to develop products that have a positive experience. For teaching, students can expect a "flow experience". We will develop students' skills together and test them on challenges. And as it is the case with games - the balance between challenge and skills is a key element to trigger different emotions. So we will use many small examples to gain insight into central user experience design elements and the students will have to face a challenge.

What do you have to do differently because of the COVID 19 pandemic than you would have done without the associated restrictions?

Bernhaupt: The virtual version of teaching continues to present us with challenges even after a year of online courses. One example is the practical exercise on the flow principle: students had to play a game on a sheet of paper in the classroom, like "City, Country, River" or the famous "Hangman". And then the game was to be modified to make it more fun, for example. It took me weeks to find examples here that also work virtually with many students in front of the camera. The emotion in the classroom when people rediscover and play their childhood games is something that can't really be implemented virtually. This limitation is very easily communicated and felt by everyone - and we will simply face it in the course: How can we implement user experiences even if the social connectedness in physical space is not there. Or as the saying goes: everything has its advantages and disadvantages.

In addition to your professorship at TU/e, you are still research director at Ruwido Austria. What do you do there and how does it go together with your university work?

Bernhaupt: Ruwido Austria is a manufacturer of interaction solutions, especially remote controls, which are also produced in Austria. Ruwido is central to my research work because I can really try out and implement my methods and approaches to user experience here. In the past years, the central topic here was language - and how voice interaction changes the control in the living room. Today, it is mainly the values that are changing in society and how new entertainment offerings should be adapted to these values.

As you know, the SICP is essentially about cooperation between science and business for the research and development of digital, data and software-based innovations. You know both sides. What tips can you give us from your experience?

Bernhaupt: My central tip is to always have a "translator" in the team, a person who translates between technology and user requirements. Graduates with a focus on human-machine interaction are ideal here. In this way, innovations can be pushed forward, but also new design ideas that are otherwise often considered unfeasible.

 In my projects, we give a central role to the design and evaluation of user needs, thus we have been able to implement many products in a much more user-friendly and innovative way than others.

More information about Regina Bernhaupt:

(Image: Bart van Overbeeke) Prof. Dr. Regina Bernhaupt will take on a lectureship in User Experience Design in the summer semester of 2021.