Annual User Experience Symposium (UXSYM) at WPI


The Business School

On Nov. 30, 2022, after 2 years of COVID restrictions, the annual UX Symposium was hosted on WPI campus. This one-day conference invited industry leaders to engage in the important conversation about how academia and industry can form a partnership to shape the future of UX and product innovation.

The conference also presented the findings of a recent industry report that highlighted the crucial role of UX research in developing and maintaining a competitive edge in the marketplace. Three immediate challenges that were outlined in the report pointed out that: 1) the demand for UX research is outpacing capacity, 2) there is an increasing need for UX research that provides actionable insight for designing advanced innovative products, and 3) there is a lack of C-level UX leadership to shape, select, and lead product innovation strategy.

During her presentation “The state of UX research,” Professor Djamasbi, the founder and director of the User Experience and Decision Making (UXDM) lab at WPI’s business school, explained how the UXDM lab has addressed the above-mentioned challenges in three different yet interrelated ways:

  1. Developed the User Experience Driven Innovations (UXDI) framework to provide guidelines for the effective and efficient integration of UX research in the product innovation life cycle. This framework draws from design thinking, innovation models, UX theories, and design science to identify opportunities for innovation, design and evaluate competitive products that address user needs, and capture and disseminate new knowledge that is created during product development.
  2. Developed an advanced UX research program at WPI to create tools, techniques, and guidelines for understanding user needs at micro and macro levels. At a micro level, this research program uses eye tracking to learn how people “see” a product and process the information it provides. At a macro level, this research program focuses on gaining an overall understanding about user needs, challenges, abilities, and wants through developing and updating proto, user, and data personas.
  3. Created the UX Consortium at WPI to bring theory and practice together through a self-sustaining UX innovation ecosystem. The UX innovation ecosystem at WPI 1) facilitates academic-industry collaboration to merge industry product innovation practices with academic UX research, 2) fosters the development of competitive UX workforce through UX education and research, 3) creates a cohesive community through the annual UX Symposium to disseminate knowledge and provide support and mentorship for UX professionals, including those who wish to pursue UX and product innovation leadership positions. 

Next the conference facilitated three parallel discussion sessions to envision the future of UX and product innovation. The discussions in these sessions covered questions such as how do we bridge the gap in UX research and practice? What challenges does UX face now within organizations? What role will UX play in the future within organizations? And how do we prepare the next generation of UX leaders?The conversations in these sessions were led by three invited speaker each with an extensive track recording UX research and product innovation: Alex Candelas (VP of UX, Avid Xchange), Ellen Carey (UX Research, User Zoom), and Grethe Thilly (Operational Strategist & UX Director).

The keynote speech was delivered by Matt Ferguson, the Chief Digital Officer (CDO) at Right Side Shift, who throughout his career has successfully led the design and development of many innovative and competitive digital products. The keynote speech emphasized the importance of the challenges discussed earlier in the conference, stressed the significance of questions explored in the discussion sessions, and highlighted the value of the solutions developed by the UXDM lab to address the difficult challenges that industry faces today. As Matt Ferguson aptly put it : “As we embark into a new cloudiness in industry with Web3 everything, data-led AI, and “everyone knows UX,” it is incredibly important to evolve the way UX enhances companies. The future is definitely led by data and UX research is key to showing the path to the user.” 

The conference concluded with UX PhD students, Prateek Jain (via zoom), Fatima Varzgani, Doaa Alrefaei, and Gayaathri Sankar presenting their most recent projects:

  • Smart Clinician Decision Support Systems. The objective of this research project is to identify eye movements that can serve as reliable biomarkers of health status, such as chronic pain. We are using these objective biomarkers to develop smart clinician support systems that can provide practitioners with a comprehensive view of their patient’s pain experience. 
  • Surrogate Decision Aid. Every day, surrogate decision-makers face the difficult decision to continue or withdraw life support for non-responsive ICU patients. The objective of this NIH-funded project is to develop and test a decision aid to support family members of patients with severe brain injury. We test the design efficacy of the tool using eye tracking. 
  • ReachCare” applications for suicidality in the emergency department. This NIH-funded research program is led by an interdisciplinary team of UMass Chan Medical School and WPI researchers. This research program has developed the digital implementation of an intervention for suicidality that has been proven effective. We developed proto and user personas to ensure the design met the core needs of a variety of patients. Currently the project is in the final stages of user testing. As the project goes into use, we will develop data personas to enrich our personas.
  • A User-Centered Framework for Evaluating Human-Robot Interfaces. The objective of this DoD-funded project is to identify the factors that predict the successful adoption and use of service robots (robot co-workers) in the workplace. The resulting framework evaluates human-robot interfaces at a cognitive level using UX research methods.
  • FoodGlance. The objective of this project is to translate the difficult-to-understand nutrition fact labels into simple graphical feedback based on users’ dietary needs (e.g., avoiding sugar, fat, increasing protein in diet). We developed an app that scans the written information on labels