Impressions: UX Beers at the VRT tower in Brussels

by Despoina

A few weeks ago, I attended the “Secrets and Superpowers” UX Beers Meetup that took place at the VRT tower here in Brussels. Needles to say that UX Beers is by far one of my favourite Meetup groups because it combines two things I love, UX and obviously beers. I was also pleased that this meet up was in our turf for a change as it is usually taking place in Antwerp at the Winkelhaak or at the KBC tower. This means that I have less time to network or talk to people and socialise after the presentations due to the fact that I have to run to catch one of the last trains back to Brussels. But this time I was more relaxed and time was no issue.

Thanks to the fact that the Meet up was at the VRT headquarters , I could have a pick inside this huge old building. I must say that their ground floor looks a bit like a museum, they showcase there a lot of old television broadcasting equipment and cameras and they have a lot of pictures and memorabilia from shows that they used to or still broadcast.

Both of the presentations of the evening were very interesting and made me think to myself “

YES!! This is so true! Thank God someone finally said it!”

I was amongst my people. The night started with the presentation of the hosts, who talked about:

The magic tricks behind the UX process of VRT NWS

Rarely we get to learn about the process behind the redesign of a major website and this time we got a taste of how the VRT UX team designed the new VRT NWS website. It was an interesting and enjoyable presentation given by Tim Van Lier and Jan Moons. I must admit that although I never visit news websites myself, it was educative to see how they defined their target audience and how they designed their website.

vrt headquartersIf there is something I remember about this presentation is the amount of testing, research and the different workshops that they did in order to redesign a most efficient version of the VRT News website for their end users. It was obvious from their presentation that they put the reader in the centre but that they also involved in a creative way the VRT team in the redesign process by asking from them to put together the components that would form their ideal news homepage. In addition, their UX team was not influenced and limited by what I would call design myths such as for example that “people do not read long articles on mobile” but instead they researched their users behaviour and proceeded accordingly in a way breaking the norm.

They also invested time, effort – and a lot of money I suppose- for testing. They presented to us the tool they used to test a beta version of their website with the participation of several target users and I only wish I had the luxury to use this for plenty of the projects I have done in the past.

But as you may know already, CEOs do not like to pay for testing ….. they do not believe in it’s power and they usually arrogantly believe that they know their users better than anyone!

The benefit these guys had by testing the way they did was that they were able to realise the difficulties their target audience would stumble upon while using the site and they could measure the difficulty or ease of their navigation and website structure.

A mistake usually made in a design process is taking it as a given that our audience will understand the structure and website jargon. In my opinion this happens inevitably at some point in the design flow because while we design, we are actually learning and getting acquainted with the product. Even though the first rule of web design is to avoid jargon,  while designing a website we become acquainted with how the business defines things and we no longer have that fresh new view, we are in too deep!

At this point, I would like to give a big shout out to one of my female heroes, my teacher Olga De Troyer. She was always repeating in class that a website menu without a link that explicitly links to the home page will confuse the end users. And guess what testing showed for the VRT NWS website …. people could not figure out that they ad to click on the logo to navigate back to the homepage!!!! Well, well , well I’ll be damned….

So naturally it is best to identify when we make these design mistakes early on in the process and correct them. Makes sense right? After all,  sites like the VRT NWS publish content for people so it is straightforward to help them find their way on the website without creating confusion and frustration.

After this enjoyable presentation, Petra Sell went on to talk to us about Design Feeling.

Once more …with feeling

I was impressed and moved by her presentation which was the goal I guess since we talked about feelings …. It is true that in our days everything has a uniform look and feel. I think we are more less forced- we feel the pressure to design everything based on patterns and we do things sometimes so much “by the book” anxious for our product to be immediately recognised for what it is that everything ends up looking the same! But is this the way we should go? Absolutely not!  We should have more people like Petra Sell who challenge those approaches, who shake us up and remind us to dare to be different. We need people like that in fact otherwise before we know it we will end up living in one of those science fiction scenarios where everyone walks in a line wearing the same clothes like a uniform, does the same job, living in the same apartment setting.  Let’s not!

I liked the fact that Petra included in her presentation not only applications but physical spaces like cafés and objects that look so much alike you cannot tell them apart. She went on to talk about how you can use your sentiment, your intuition but also art and the history and purpose behind an object in order to design an innovative version of it. She also shared with us the concept of designing with empathy, meaning how to design for our users by understanding them and getting to know them, know how they feel, recognise their frustrations so that we can feel empathy towards them rather than sympathy.

Her presentation included an animation video inspired by a part of Brené Brown’s TED talk where she is explaining the difference between sympathy and empathy.

I am gonna share that here because it is just awesome and you HAVE to see it:

I found myself to agree 100% on the fact that good and beautiful design is important. This has been a topic of debate for me for a long time and it continues to be one. As I work a lot with developers and pragmatic people, they tent to think that code quality can in fact eliminate the need of a good design. In general you may find that several people think that as long as the content or the quality of a product is good , design is not important. This is wrong – period.

Look into the products you buy, the product you will have a safe feeling with before you purchase it for the first time. It is more likely a product that has some aesthetic that gives you the feeling if pleasure and trust.

Look at the work needed behind …covers. Album covers, book covers, magazine covers window displays… You will most likely walk in a store if you are intrigued by its display rather by the quality of the products inside.

I was impressed by this presentation and by the woman herself and I only wish that one day I can do what she does; that I can make a client jump off  his chair and say “yes, this is exactly what I wanted and what I had in my mind”

Overall, it was a very interesting night I got meet a lot of pleasant,  positive people and had very interesting conversations, till next time !!!

Note: If you wanna join the UX Beers Meet up group, as you should, all you have to do is subscribe to their Meetup page and you will be receiving news for their upcoming events. Not to miss!

Photo credit: STIL from

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