UX of Brussels

UX of Brussels

Home of:

• Eu and nato

• Deserts, chocolate and cheese!

• And Beethoven

I was doing UX Training? Maybe provide more detail if required…?

Planes and Trains

I step out the KLM flight, stroll up the walkway and submerge into the arrival lounge. Wow. What a soothing greeting. It was such a quiet airport experience with marbled floors, smooth strolling walkways and high ceilings. It was a really nice first impression. I then walked towards the train platforms, which would take me to my hotel where I’d be delivering a two-day UX Training course in Brussels, Belgium.

It’s a fair assumption that the majority of Belgium (Belgic?) commuters will be quite comfortable using public transport to get from a to b. However, It’s very wrong to assume that non-Belgium tourists have a similar level of confidence.

I won’t go so far as to demand that everything should be translated into the main global language: English, Spanish and Chinese etc. However, from the tickets to the signposts, I was utterly confused! I’m a visitor, and therefore won’t expect for them to translate every word for me. However my point is this: every interaction I had with interfaces, controls and experiences should remove my confusion, add clarity and ease me in my journey. It doesn’t need to fully translate to every language, but should have the affordances and clarity required to smoothly glide me through the public transport.

Investing in clear sign posting, well-planned routes and maps is a priority. This removes the need to over-instruct and even mitigates the need to have multiple staff members trying to help. From my perspective, it looked like they were over worked with confused tourists and business travelers. If travelers can confidently self-serve, the support element can be lowered. How hard can buying a train ticket really be? The answer unfortunately is ‘unnecessarily hard.’ And that’s not just my subjective opinion, that’s looking at over 50 people queuing, and spending a handful of minutes battling with a ticket machine!

I would be totally lost if it wasn’t for Google Maps, however the public transport organisations can’t depend on third-party software to bring their travelers from A to B.

2/5 *

The UX of Chocolate

· Famous chocolatier, Pierre Marcolini.

· Masters the entire process (From ‘bean to bar’). Quality doesn’t just start on the on the final assembly, but from sourcing to shop windows.

· Sources own cocoa beans, not just on quality, but size. Sunlight, side of mountains and roasting quality are all important to him. 12 different locations, from Mexico to Vietnam. With his team of 80.

· Not only does it say ‘I love you’ to your sweetheart in Valentine’s Day, it also smashes a heavy dent in your wallet. These chocolates are literally £5 a bite! But why?

· Hand crafted chocolates, love hearts, airbrushed to perfection. The chocolates don’t just look nice, they taste flippin’ amazing! It nearly blew the head off my neck, and it’s certainly a treat for my wife on v-day!

5/5 * wow.

It made me think about UX:

These Hand crafted chocolates are a delicacy, but it didn’t start like that! Same with digital. You don’t get exquisite websites and experiences by accident. Simply shoving ingredients together without recipes will never result in a good outcome! That wrong approach certainly removes the need for skill or craftsmanship. So how do you make a successful chocolate... or if you’re reading this: a website, tool or service? Well I believe the chocolatier invested heavily into two things:

  1. Research: He might love the chocolate for himself and consider his chocolate excellent, but that won’t make him money. He had to create his brand by involving customers. Whether they like praline or Peruvian-based chocolate, that had to be tested by actual consumers. It’s the same with your products, you have to ensure you invest heavily is user research. That’s the secret to success: involve your users.

  2. Iteration: although he might have a secret recipe for success, it’s quite simple when it comes to UX: any investment is better than no investment. It doesn’t take years to refine it before a grand-reveal. By having a quality process, you can have a quality product. This all requires constant iteration. And there’s no way that the chocolatier magically invent his gourmet chocolate in one day, it took years of skilful refinement. Have a commitment to continuous improvement. A lot of my clients don’t have tracking, analytics setup

  3. Consistency: This artisan chocolatier understands that the consumer experience doesn’t just become important at the packaging & presentation stage. The reason why the chocolate tastes excellent is that complete attention is delivered from the very start, plucking beans off plants! When it comes to launching a new website or app, you simply cannot wave the magic wand of UX and expect that everything will be fine. Users can spot badly made products a mile off. You cannot leave the experience up to chance.

When it comes to your design, invest heavily in the end-user. Subjective taste only goes so far, you can’t assume people will love it. You can only create a successful product by involving users early and often.

If you asked this chocolatier today if his chocolates are perfect, he might nod but then will likely say something like ‘there’s so much more I can do to refine this chocolate so that it becomes even more desirable, wonderful and tasteful! This is my true passion’. You should never be content with your website, it is never truly finished, you can always optimise and improve for your users. Always strive for perfection, and endeavour to deliver a truly delightful product for your customers and a helpful service for your users. Why settle for anything else?

Image Source From: https://eu.marcolini.com/en/stores/#brussels-reine-2


Image source from: https://eu.marcolini.com/en/product/plumier-decouverte/

Plumier Découverte Pierre Marcolini

The ribs after the lights went out

In this story I will tell you about a recent adventure to one Brussels best rib eateries. You can’t go wrong. With customers queuing out the door, filling every cover and being rapidly by very busy staff. Everyone in that room had one combined love for this: unlimited ribs and curry-buttered jacket potatoes.

During the meal, the entire electricity cut out three times. Having grown up in a third world country, power outages were fairly standard for me. But to my surprise not one person gasped or seemed surprised. This was really interesting as I expected at least a few screams or even a joke. There was only the noise of contented eating and lively discussion! Totally unleashed!

My take away from this was that the customers were so loyal and incredibly forgiving. The whole experience was excellent. Had the ribs been cold, the beer served flat and the plates dirty, that would of been a different story! But here was a clear example of a MVP (minimum viable product). A really prosperous family-owned business running very well. They created an excellent and consistent product, and people were queuing up the street to get some! The MVP was ribs, and the primary goal of the customers was simple: consume ribs! Everything else does not matter, the core need is met.

When it comes to the digital world, people have expectations that your ecommerce site will work like Amazon. If you don’t have a quality service to start with, don’t be surprised when your user suddenly bounces, exits or abandons the website. Users only will forgive you once online, otherwise they will leave. This certainly can have a negative impact on your brand and performance.


The user doesn’t care about the background of your website. They don’t care about what CMS you use. Users just want the job done. If they’re impressed or influenced by the brand… that’s great. But the best brands help you get what you want. Chain Reaction Cycles are a family run business in Ballyclare. They have a strong working culture, that Dan is an awesome manager when it comes to logistics or how they have good manufacturer relationships, taking them out for coffee. No, the customer just wants bike parts and quick. Bear this in mind also.

True success for your product or service will only become a reality when you give your users want they want and when you help meet their core goals. When you have a loyal customer, only then you can worry about fixing the secondary lighting issues!

4/5 Tasty ribs!


Picture 1 Source: https://www.facebook.com/pg/Amadeo.amadeus.brussel/photos/?ref=page_internal

Picture 2

Simon Daguauquier


How to bridge the gap between people and technology

By default, technology is very complicated and users are not. Leo Cherne is believed to have said that the “computer is incredibly fast, accurate, and stupid. Man is incredibly slow, inaccurate, and brilliant. The marriage of the two is a force beyond calculation.”

Like me, you maybe had to read that a couple of times to appreciate its veracity – people have brilliant ideas and goals to accomplish, but they’re often slowed down by the limitations that come with being human. Enter technology to the frame. Technology is the application of scientific knowledge for practical purposes; it’s fast, accurate, and when designed right, it’s easy to use and it does what we tell it to do (for now).

But we know from experience that our relationship with technology isn’t always a happy marriage. How many times have you used a website and thought ‘why is it doing that?!’ Maybe you’ve found yourself:

We’ve all had annoying experiences online, and sometimes we are left feeling stupid, angry and fed up. So, what can be done about this?

Take responsibility

When we zoom out for a second, whose fault is it? Is it the user? The internet provider? The developer? Although the user is left feeling stupid, I propose that the root of the problem lies in the interface design. The interface is the critical bridge between humans and technology, and for a bridge to work, the design has to support all of its users. That means designers are ultimately responsible for finding out who those users are, what they need from technology, and what problems they might face when they use a design – before they use it.

Get out of your bubble

A few years back, the OECD published a paper on the ICT literacy of adult users representing 90 countries. Only 5% were categorised as ‘specialists’ – those who are able to complete a complicated task in the email client (Quintini, 2014). Here’s the takeaway: we assume that the rest of the population is able keep up with our iteration cycles and new feature releases, however we have to remind ourselves that, quite often, we are building products for the 95%. When we break away from our old mindset, we will immediately create better experiences for our users. This can only come by prioritising ease of use – also known as usability. Martijn Welie summarises this well when he says “we design for people and the systems we develop need to be usable by them” (2001).  

Prioritise usability

A user–centred approach isn’t just good for users – it makes commercial sense too. Business owners should no longer see usability as an extra cost to their process. In order to gain a competitive advantage and improve sales, focusing on ease of use has two major benefits (Karat, 1994). Firstly, you get less user error and more productivity. Instead of struggling through the app, website or service, the user can spend more time focusing on getting their task done – ordering something online, sending a file to a friend or updating their details in their account. Secondly, support and training costs are lowered. Rather than firefighting software bugs and being inundated with customer phone calls, the role of the support team can evolve to focus more on creating better product experiences.

Remember, it’s never the user’s fault

Humans aren’t pre–programmed to use technology. The way an individual uses a product or service comes from a complex blend of their human nature and learned behaviours. We can’t judge a product by the ability of the end user – we can only judge it on how well it has been designed for the ability of that end user. That’s why at Fathom, any time we carry out a usability test, one of the first things we do is to reassure the participant that it’s the product we’re testing – not them. Our position is this: if the user needs our help, the design has failed.

When you’re thinking about the next iteration of your software or website, remember who you’re designing for. The vast majority of people aren’t digital specialists, but they can accomplish amazing things with technology when it is designed to work for them. Your users are humans, which means they can be slow, inaccurate – but brilliant.

This post was originally published on Fathom's website


Karat, C.–M. (1994). A business case approach to usability cost justification, in Cost–justifying usability, Randolph G. Bias and Deborah J. Mayhew (Eds.). Academic Press, Inc., Orlando, FL, USA (pp. 45–70).

Quintini, G. (2014). Skills at Work: How Skills and their Use Matter in the Labour Market, OECD Social, Employment and Migration Working Papers (No. 158), OECD Publishing, Paris. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1787/5jz44fdfjm7j-en

Welie, Martijn. (2001). Task–Based User Interface Design. Retrieved from Research Gate.