On the eve of the second Web and Beyond conference in Amsterdam, TomTom was hosting this month's UX cocktail hour at their brand new offices behind Amsterdam's central library.
In front of a breathtaking view of downtown Amsterdam, we were treated to drinks and a glimpse behind the scenes of TomTom's user experience team.
Quite a large turnout this time, including attendees and speakers of the conference. First off were the usual introductions & announcements by our host, Peter Boersma, who's voice was unfortunately starting to disintegrate. Once again, there seemed to be a big demand for medior and senior UX designers and usability practitioners, as well as lecturers, across the Netherlands. This time with an international edge, as Adam Greenfield was advertising his UX group at Nokia in Helsinki, London, and Palo Alto.
TomTom's head of UX, Ingrid Halters, and interaction designer Simone Tertoolen were giving a short overview of TomTom's history and the organization of the UX team within the organization, as well as a very interesting presentation of the design process and rational behind TomTom's new line guidance feature.
Interesting to observe that the 35+ members of TomTom's user experience team are part of R&D and placed high on the companies' hierarchy, working closely with technology and all other parts of the organization across the product range. The team is divided into separate disciplines, including interaction and visual design, product design, usability, content, etc. I noticed that this is a strategy that seems to work very well for many market leading companies famous for their innovative design and outstanding user experience.
Unusual compared to many other companies, most of the usability research at TomTom is accomplished by expert reviews and in-depth feedback from novice users as test-drivers of beta versions. Given the context of use for navigation systems in a driving vehicle, realistic conditions are critical to evaluate fine details of the user interface, and almost impossible to simulate in their in-house usability lab.
I was rather taken by the group, and all in all it was once again a very interesting and fun session, with plenty opportunity to mingle with old acquaintances and make some interesting new contacts. Driving home after the evening, trying to find my way through crowded Amsterdam city center, I must admit I sorely missed not possessing a navigation device myself ;-)