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Scrolling In on Usability and the User Experience

SME 4.0 Center of Excellence for Usability forms partnership with bwcon

Physical distancing during the coronavirus pandemic has made the presence of digital technology much more tangible in many areas of life. And one thing already seems certain: There will be no going back to the rigid ways of the past and everyday habits before the pandemic. Digital systems are shaping and changing the context of the working environment. They are also changing many leisure activities. As a result, it’s important when designing digital products, systems, and services to focus on users from the very beginning of the development process to ensure systems are easy to use and deliver a positive user experience. Usability and the user experience play an increasingly important role in planning the interaction options offered by new technology. The aim of the SME 4.0 Centre of Excellence for Usability is to support small and medium-sized enterprises in making their products user-friendly so they deliver a positive user experience. The center of excellence is being supported by bwcon, a business enterprise in the Steinbeis Network, running events and workshops to offer training on usability, the user experience, and human-centered digital transformation.

Digital technology is often looked at from a purely technological standpoint. With human-centered digital technology, however, people, their needs, and requirements become the point of focus. One of the aims of human-centered design is to deliver good usability and a positive user experience, two different criteria that are often confused with one another. Usability describes how easy it is to use a product or service, or how practical something is within a certain context for certain user groups. User experience builds on usability to reflect subjective perceptions when people use something, as well as their expectations and thoughts, and these go beyond the product itself, even for areas such as related services.

Research in recent years has shown that people’s understanding of user experience needs to be improved because the emotions that come into play when they use technology play a central role in shaping their experiences. For example, the user experience is a momentary, primarily judgmental feeling (positive or negative) while using a product or service. Positive user experiences can be delivered by meeting psychological needs such as a feeling of competence, stimulation, solidarity, autonomy, popularity, security, and meaningfulness. bwcon is working with the SME 4.0 Centre of Excellence for Usability to share know-how on the basic concepts and methods of usability and the user experience (UUX), primarily with small and medium-sized enterprises who they are helping to build networks.

Gaining practical experience through methods workshops

The center of excellence helps SMEs acquire and apply knowledge and capabilities. The role of bwcon is to host methods workshops to share different approaches to designing applications so they offer good usability and a positive user experience. During the workshops, concepts are also put through their paces in practical terms. The workshops make it possible to cover a broad variety of methods, from classic assessments of usage contexts to experience interviews. A virtual workshop is currently being developed on AI service blueprints. These revolve around a method originally used to depict the processes of service provision, and this method was redeveloped at the center of excellence so it can be used to design and plan AI application concepts.

Networking business enterprises with each other and with UUX experts

Helping SMEs build networks is an important part of the work carried out by the center of excellence for usability. As part of an initiative called UUX Change, bwcon has succeeded in bringing together representatives of SMEs, startups, and freelancers with UUX experts to allow network members to discuss usability, the user experience, innovation, and the future of work – all in a laid-back setting over pizza and refreshments. As host of the first usability “test lunch” in Berlin at the beginning of the year, the center of excellence for usability succeeded in bringing a variety of developers and users around the same table. During the informal event, prototypes, websites, and apps were tested for usability and the user experience. The SME 4.0 Centre of Excellence for Usability also takes part in regular annual presentations and workshops at the World Usability Day. This year’s event will take place for the first time as a virtual meet-up on November 12, 2020.

AI instructors provide support to SMEs

Since November 2019, the SME 4.0 Centre of Excellence for Usability has also been involved in an AI instructor program organized by the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy as part of a drive to promote “digital SMEs” and make Germany a leading business location for AI. The tasks of an AI instructor include raising awareness among small and medium-sized businesses for the use cases of AI, providing support with the introduction of AI applications, and sharing experience and knowledge. Under the program, the SME 4.0 Centre of Excellence for Usability offers a variety of seminars and workshops, covering everything from theory and fundamentals to the development of AI, data management, strategy, and human-AI interaction. The latter topic includes methods used to make good usability and a positive user experience an inherent ingredient of AI applications. It also addresses other approaches for designing speech interaction and human-robot collaboration.

Experience during the last three years since the SME 4.0 Centre of Excellence for Usability was set up shows that collaboration between educational establishments and programs aimed at promoting economic development – of which bwcon is an example – creates the best possible synergies. Methods and theories can be tried out directly at companies, and the feedback they give can be used to continuously adjust to their needs and make improvements. The large business network that bwcon is involved in is an opportunity for companies to forge networks and thus keep expanding on their strengths.


Lisa Rothfuß (author)
Director of communication for networking and events
bwcon GmbH (Stuttgart)

Manuel Kulzer (author)
Scientific assistant, AI instructor
SME 4.0 Centre of Excellence for Usability (Stuttgart)

Dr. Magdalena Laib (author)
Contact for consortium coordination
SME 4.0 Centre of Excellence for Usability (Stuttgart)