Earlier this year, PwC Digital hosted the UX Masterclass 2015, an event run by the UX Alliance, a global network of 26 independent user experience (UX) companies.

Set to the backdrop of Sydney’s Darling Harbour water views, 12 speakers from Australia and across the world shared their perspectives on the theme of ‘Leveraging the potential of UX’.

Here, we wrap up with some of the day’s many highlights, providing a lightning tour of how to combine user experience strategies, research and innovation to understand customer needs and ensure success.

Ask not what the customer can do for you…

The day’s focus first turned towards what organisations can do better for their customer. The business landscape we find ourselves in is a transient one, said PwC’s Leader of Digital Strategy, Nick Spooner, in his talk The world is in beta.

One of the biggest threats or challenges CEOs claim they face is disruption caused by technology and the demands of the digital customer – but this also offers a huge opportunity to redefine your business and understand your customer. Mastering user experience offers a huge advantage, providing a key differentiator that separates those businesses that are in beta from those that win.

UX Masterclass Sydney - Twitter feed

Covering off the ten commandments of lean UX in the presentation from Kris Nygren, PwC New Zealand.

Continuing with this theme, Shailesh Manga, Global Head of User Experience at GfK in Auckland, gave his keynote Adapt or perish: evolving your UX.

Businesses are moving too slowly for their customers and as a result, most aren’t providing users with the great experience they need, when they need it.

As UX practitioners, we should be asking ourselves, ‘How can we help our clients move faster?’ and ‘How can we adapt the way we work to align with that?’

Sharing a case study in which participants were engaged using technology over a two-year project, Manga explained how stronger collaboration and a more lean approach meant GfK could work faster, think more holistically about experiences and develop a UX score that gave the team confidence in their decisions. It also focused their efforts in the most needed places.

UX Masterclass Sydney - Twitter Shailesh MangaDelivering on your brand promise

GfK’s Bob Schumacher arrived from the US to talk about the importance of the relationship between brand and user experience in the digital age.

UX should be considered “the delivery of your brand promise”, he said. Traditionally, businesses controlled their own brand conversations by telling consumers what to think about them, but customers now have access to many platforms that let them talk on a large scale.

In many ways, users now control the conversation, so the experience you give them is more valuable than ever. Great experiences will earn the advocacy of customers and therefore prove the value of your brand.

Trust is as important as admiration

Simon Lillis, digital strategist in PwC’s IT team, explored the notion of intimate experiences as the next step that comes after the four experience design concepts seen in technology today: synced, tailored, adaptive and predictive experiences.

Lillis posed the notion that we can’t build intimacy until we learn to develop trust with our users and customers, who are faced with a proliferation of smart technologies and data-driven experiences. To design intimate experiences we need to design with relevance and empathy, mindfully satisfying the underlying emotion of the experience we’re building.

What does today’s customer look like?

Eugene Macey, UX Masterclass Sydney

Eugene Macey argues that we need to see customers as real people.

To truly understand our customers we need to think of them not as an abstract notion, but as real people, argued Eugene Macey from PwC’s Strategy and Customer Consulting team.

Several megatrends are affecting both customers and businesses alike, giving rise to the ‘always on’ customer: one that expects more simplicity, security, relevance and choice, is informed, and has a voice.

Organisations need to truly change the DNA of how they think and operate, he continued, not just pay lip service to these factors.

Crighton Nichols, also from PwC’s IT innovation team, tailored insights from his PhD research to talk about cross-cultural design and innovation. He framed design as a fundamentally cultural activity, with each culture having a different understanding of what design is. Indigenous Australian design, he explained, is a process of discovery: an experiential, reflective, respectful and relational effort rather than a creation.

Evidence shows that diversity is a significant advantage in business, because a greater variety of perspectives often results in greater creativity. To leverage the power of this creative tension we need to have respect for diverse ideals, ask new questions and reflect on our cultural assumptions.

UX Masterclass Sydney - Twitter capture

Asking all the right questions

Beyond viewing through a cultural or a trend-driven lens, there is a case for market research and user research working closer together.

Francis Fung from Mitsue-Links in Tokyo went through Japanese case studies in which market research pulled up large samples of quantitive data to find out what people say they want, need and like, but without getting the context that user research provides: the ‘why’, the ‘how’ and the ‘when’ behind these questions.

Using one without validating further with the other gives you only part of the picture, which can lead to costly and sometimes dangerous business mistakes. By encouraging greater collaboration between marketing and UX teams, inviting each other to testing sessions and sharing reports, he argued that companies could benefit greatly from connecting these disciplines.

Additional reporting by Jan Jackson, Sarah Pulis and Petronela Sandulache.