Global consulting firm Nihilent officially launched its first user experience (UX) laboratory on the African continent on Thursday. The facility, located in Bryanston, is the second of its kind globally, joining Nihilent’s Indian facility, and was inaugurated by Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan.
Nihilent executive VP LC Singh explained that the lab uses a patented design thinking framework and analytical tools to identify cognitive and emotional triggers, compiling consumer data based on nonverbal and verbal cues to humanise the interaction between consumers and technology. The lab has multidisciplinary teams of left- and right-brain professionals who work with customers to enhance the user experience.
He stated that the rapid adoption of digital technologies and the increase in connected devices has resulted in an “experience economy” where consumers, particularly Millennials, use their purchasing power on experiences rather than on a service or product in and of itself.
“Developers by and large create products that they think will be good for you . . . But the failure rate for entrepreneurs is 97.5% … why? Because the consumer has no say.”
Nihilent uses design thinking to interrogate utilitarian functionalities and uses heuristics and quantitative assessments to work toward creating a pleasurable and meaningful experience.
The idea is that innovators and entrepreneurs will use the lab from conceptualisation through to the final testing phase, to ensure that the product or service is something that consumers want.
Once a prototype is ready, Nihilent will conduct interviews on a sample size of the potential consumer base. Thereafter, based on the consumer data, the team will group similar answers and/experiences into “personas” that are representative of the sample. These personas will also factor in similar demographics, such as age, level of education, wealth status and other variables that may be relevant to the client’s potential customer base.
Thereafter, a representative of each persona will test the protype, in the lab, while the team records verbal and nonverbal responses to stimuli. The technology used by the lab tracks eye movement and uses an electroencephalogram (EEG) to monitor the electrical impulses of the frontal lobe, which, in part, regulates emotional response.
It also uses machine learning and analytical tools to essentially develop a range or band for specific emotions, such as happiness, sadness or neutrality, which can effectively monitor the degree to which customers react to which stimuli and why.
Singh noted that by using the UX lab throughout the product development process, entrepreneurs would proactively gain assurance from their target market.
Singh explained that, while the information gathered through communicated responses is important, when people are aware that they are under observation they always try to give a socially acceptable answer, which is why the EEG is used to provide better insight into their true feelings.
He explained that, “if you want to build brand affinity for either a product or service, you need to give customers something they can engage with . . . or connect to", and the lab can track and measure an individual’s level of engagement.
He demonstrated the lab’s capability by showing media personnel a global and integrated online art platform, which the Nihilent team designed for framers and photographers, based on the customer experience.
He noted that the team used a sample size of 1 600 people, of which 70 visited the UX lab in India, while the remainder were interviewed during “field work” by the Nihilent team.
Through this research, the team created a user-friendly platform, where customers can search for a specific photographer from a global database of professional photographers (who have signed royalty agreements with the solution provider), choose from different paper and canvas types, as well as from different frames, specify the size of both, upload a picture or use augmented reality to see how the completed product would look on their wall, and then proceed to check out to pay an all inclusive price and enter delivery details.
Gordhan noted that while the technology is intended for private sector use, he sees multiple government applications, such as gaining insight from the intended beneficiaries of housing projects, which would ultimately shape the way in which the housing units are structured.
He also noted that Nihilent’s decision to locate its second lab in South Africa demonstrated the confidence it has in the economy and South Africa as a whole.
Gordhan stated that while change is almost “antithetical” to human beings, technology has necessitated that people and businesses become more aware and dynamic to survive and influence the ever-evolving environment.