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UXinsight Festival team Fails – Seven Stories of when we got it wrong! – part I

As you may know, the theme for our 2021 festival is “learning through failing”. While we’re confident we’re going to be able to deliver a perfect event for you, there have been plenty of times throughout our careers when we’ve messed up, done things wrong, and of course – forgotten we’re not on mute! 

In the following examples, three of the seven members of the UXinsight Festival team share their own stories and experiences. Not only will this make you feel better about your own tales of woe, but they’ll also offer you guidance on what they learned and how they made it work for them in the long run. 

Carmen van der Zwaluw 

Forgetting you’re in a bubble 

A couple of years ago, I got pulled into a project on behavior change. The aim was to support people to change unhealthy behaviors after a major health incident. Everyone in the project team was highly educated and knew a lot about the topic. All this knowledge we tried to put in a prototype, mostly in text and fancy health-monitoring graphs. 

The prototype development and the extensive preparations for testing took over a year(!)

We finally set out to test with our users. And found that only highly educated, technology-geeky people used the prototype. Other users did not care to read the messages or would not apply the information to their own health and thus couldn’t change anything in their lifestyle. 

We had actually built a product for ourselves…

Carmen’s learning: Never overlook the fact that product development teams usually work from their own little, highly-educated bubble. If a product should be available for use by the general population, make sure it’s as user friendly as possible, and start testing rough prototypes as soon as possible!

Debbie Slijpen

Trying not to fail at all

My biggest failure is trying not to fail at all. The things I do need to be good, if not perfect. When something goes wrong, this comes with sweaty hands, heightened heart rate, and guilt. And often, hot flashes when the failure pops up again at an unguarded moment in the future. 

Why is it that I can (almost) always accept someone else’s failure and understand where it went wrong? No problem forgiving that other person, certainly when they apologize or admit they made a mistake. But why is that so difficult to do for me? The bar I set for myself has always been high, and proving myself to the world is something that I internalized at a young age. 

What I’ve learned over the last couple of years is that communication and speaking out helps. That made me realize that I’m not the only one. Failing is not that bad, and doesn’t make me a bad person. There is so much more about me, so I try to let failure go quickly. If you don’t give it so much attention, it becomes smaller immediately. Someone really close to me recently shared a personal and incredible insight: I’m no better than anyone else, but certainly not less. To incorporate this to my own life is now top of my TO DO list. 

Jeffrey Coleman

Failure to learn 

In my career 2012-2019 in NYC I’ve been consistently an overachiever in terms of success metrics related to performance. Often I felt the business leadership where I worked took advantage of my hard work, under-compensating or else keeping up the pressure despite past accomplishments.

As a working dad, it would eventually feel to me to be too much, too frustrating. So I’d join another company hoping the situation would be better, that I’d be challenged in the right ways (to keep it interesting) and that I’d be recognized enough that I could rest a bit. I thought that I’d find a fair compromise. Time and again, however, it felt to me like business leadership didn’t get it. I felt I’d compromised their way without them bending much my way.

What I failed to realize was the pattern, and how I had actually something to change on my side: I wasn’t setting boundaries appropriately or realizing soon enough when I had over-achieved and in what ways I could step back and rest.

Certainly NYC work culture is a bit exploitative in general, but I might have learned sooner how to set up the boundaries. To do that though, I would have needed to admit my part in the failure of past experiences.

Instead, I wanted to say that business leadership had taken advantage of me, and so they were wrong while I was simply misunderstood.

I’d failed to learn how to change my own behavior, and it took a kind of “professional failure” in early 2020 combined with culture shock and a pandemic to slow me down forcefully enough for me to face that truth (of needing to change behavior).

Realizing I could manage myself better is one of the greatest learnings of my life. I’m sorry I failed to see it sooner, but I’m really happy I learned it eventually!


Later this week the rest of the team will share their stories in part II. In the meantime, check the Festival Program and learn how to become a master in failure in UX research.

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