Global UXR Interview series – Nikos, Berlin

Paul Blunden: Hello, and welcome to another. In my series of interviews, where I’m. Speaking to one of our many senior, accredited Ux researchers from around the world.

I’m. Paul Blunden, founder of UX24/7, and we help product owners, designers, and researchers deliver high performing products and services.

Anyway, let’s not delay any longer, and let’s meet my guest.

Hello, Nikos, and thank you for giving up your time to speak with me today. Can I start by asking you to introduce yourself? What’s your name? And where abouts are you located?

Nikos Kotsakis: Hi Paul, Thanks for having me. So i’m Nicholas, and i’m based in Berlin, Germany?

Paul Blunden: Right? And I I know you’re not a native Berliner, so have you lived there long?

Nikos Kotsakis: Well, so originally I come from office Greece. I grew up there and I came here to Berlin like 11 years ago.

Paul Blunden: Right? Okay, and obviously, I gather you speak Greek. And do you speak any other languages other than English?

Nikos Kotsakis: Obviously well, so great can increase somehow our native languages, because my mother is from the States. I also speak some German. but unfortunately i’m not to a professional level. So I won’t. Say that i’m gonna I’m using it proficiently. Yeah, that’s fine. So presumably you conduct research, though, in both Greek and English. Yeah.

Paul Blunden: Yeah, right? Okay, and tell me, how did you get into research? What? What sort of ledger here?

Nikos Kotsakis: Yeah. So well, coming coming from a classic design background, I always got fascinated about data and how design elements might actually impact the diverse audience behind. You know the service, the product, or whatever. And early in my career. During my experience at the University I got involved in in many projects, including research and trying to involve target the audience essentially early on with my design.

Then I would say, living, living aside research for some years. At some point, I found myself again involved with design products involving a lot of research in the professional setting. This time I think it was medical object at that point, and one thing later another and the last years, i’m basically undertaking you X Research and your X management project exclusively

Paul Blunden: excellent. And have you got some a favorite methodology that you use?

Nikos Kotsakis: We’ll hope. Yeah. So that that really depends. I would say what I really enjoy with the is the process of repairing the research, choosing the with all of the and planning the sessions. I think one of the main challenges that you have with research is with projects in research, is identifying the right problem, the right research questions for the project.

So I do not have a I. I wouldn’t say that I have a favorite resource, my code basically because i’m i’m results driven, and I would say, I choose the method based on the project needs scope. and what helps us to ask the right questions, so that that for that that’s my favorite and method.

Although I based based on my personality, i’m quite keen on learning new things. So generative research is something that that is most appealing to me in a sense of process and and type of work.

But at the end of the day I some of my dearest projects, are in evaluating research, and not being generated.

Paul Blunden: Right? Yes, it’s yeah, it’s an interesting split isn’t it. Most people seem to do a lot more evaluative than generative. but it’s always the generative. That’s kind of a slight preference, I suppose, because a bit more creative, and you get into the the nitty gritty. More


Nikos Kotsakis: Yeah. exactly. It’s it’s the way you learn your things and undercover the actual differences and value around research.

Paul Blunden: Yes, yeah, indeed. And what market sectors do you have experience in?

Nikos Kotsakis: So I did I work excessively with IoT devices, and and you know smart devices, I mean. But I also work with manufacturing and e-commerce some medical that you mentioned every year. and but most projects involve enterprises and new technology projects, all well established brands, so I would say lately, is, you know digital transformation programs essentially

Paul Blunden: right. So in a B2B context, or sort of more employee use of technology.

Nikos Kotsakis: But I would say both. So IoT was mostly with a B 2, c. Context. But manufacturing was with me to be medical again. We can both me to be, and at the end of the day the thing that I found exciting with the well, not exciting, challenging with manufacturing with the sectors, is that depending on the niche depending on the sector, there is a variety of challenges that you will deal with for identifying it right participants, and enabling a diverse panel participants. Which I think today is one of the main focuses that we need to look at because of inclusive design and accessibility.


Paul Blunden: Yes. Well, I mean that’s I mean doing research with B2B is tough, anyway, and once you sort of cost the net wider and say, right, we want to be inclusive. I mean, that becomes a must be a of a challenge.

Nikos Kotsakis: Yeah, it is

Paul Blunden: so. I’m quite interested to ask. And I’ve been asking everybody else to to about the maturity of the markets that they work in. I’m really interested to ask you, not at least because of the kind of work you do a lot of. I mentioned the sort of maturity and the customer centricity of those kind of brands is not very, quite a bit, does it?

Nikos Kotsakis: Yeah. Well, yeah, it does. Although again based on my my experience. And so I I would. I would totally avoid generalizing these type of things I enterprises tend to to be more technology-driven. So in the in the sense of customer centricity, the brand somehow tends to to look at the documentation based on technology and not so much based on the needs of the customers, and sometimes they forget that the challenges that we are their customers face might be fair from their technology.

They can offer at the given moment. Well, yeah, but again, that’s not their rule, and maybe an extra day and exception. Right? Okay. So you do find some that are pretty customer centric thing.

I think, and as as the project involved, it evolves again, because I I i’m lately involved more in digital transformation programs. I’ve seen that as the project or the program evolves, they find find themselves dealing with that challenge early on. And but again at the end of the day, I think it depends on the maturity of the people and the team, and how much you can advocate and champion around methods and diverse practices. actions that you can take to undertake this type of challenges.

Paul Blunden: Gotcha. Okay. And what do you think this? The greatest challenge is for brands and product directors when undertaking UX research.

Nikos Kotsakis: Yeah. So that that again depends a lot of what company so many cases where the key was. they will not see return on their investment the standard growing. Some fear that they work. They put into the project until today will not be justified by the customer. So basically it’s not working. and others have to justify the cost to their boss or to their bosses. Boss, I mean it sounds political, but I think it’s a daily thing and there are also some few, which in my experience, becoming fewer and fewer where they don’t have any experience with research in the past. And this is done basically because of a request from from their, you know, director or manager, and or their their experience with research was limited, mostly because the they are not getting actionable insights out of the you project or process. They follow me.

So I would say. there is a lot of analysis paralysis also in this type of project the digital information Programs. which is a big challenge for researchers, especially a young, you know, junior researchers.

Paul Blunden: And when you say analysis, paralysis, you mean the researchers get bogged down in it, or the organization

Nikos Kotsakis: well both at the end. And that’s why I think it’s a challenge for both sides, not only the pro on a program level, but also on the team level, because there is a misdirection on having connecting the dots that I’m. We we should always reinvestigate. If the problem we are research, the actual research question or design concept we are doing is the right one at the moment in time. So it’s. It sounds so it maybe it’s it’s my personal view, but it sounds that we should somehow do generative research at every stage. not because we want to uncover new insights, but also because we want to match and align the process and the question, and so on.

Paul Blunden: That’s really interesting. I think it is a misunderstood method in in any case, and a lot of organizations don’t don’t even sort of go down that room. I think they’re worried about what they might find, but that that’s a really interesting perspective about using it almost to just calibrate that we’re we’re still in the right place.

Hmm, really interesting. Now, I want to ask you about a flagship project that you’ve done that you could talk about. We we’ve spoken before, and you’ve shared a few things. So i’m really interested to you what you’ve got to share.

Nikos Kotsakis: Yeah. So if luxury pro project for me was working with a big one manufacturing provider for their informational section section for the online store, they were.

Alright. So there was a an information section that was building aside from the online store and something like it out there tool. So the client was I you know I i’m not able to say names, but i’m sure it’s so. They wanted to basically create a platform that they were bring industry, automation together to solution architects, engineers, clients, and would provide sufficient information for them to choose the most appropriate elements, methods, and approaches for the project at hand.

I do consider that in manufacturing a a big challenge that that both sides face, especially when when we are talking about small smaller companies and not big enterprises, is that every project is different. I think, in in our field is, it’s the same essentially. You shouldn’t. You should always somehow take the project with. let’s say 50, 60 as something new, even though there are many common things with with previous projects or similar situations. So when when they came to the agency I was working with them, and they actually have, like 10 different product and features, you know on the table.

But the research that primarily was was done with stakeholders and sme’s. So and they had been had any user user research involved in that process. So when when we actually involved with potential users and getting the discussions about again in, in, you know, in a sense of participatory design.

And we found that most of the ideas were really out of context and basically designing for something that that is brainstorm in a vacuum. And so yeah, so we decided to to have a series of participatory workshops with the engineers to one cover potential you features or existing. And will iterate on existing ideas, on how to work for the potential users with that platform. and how we can differentiate and the areas of other relevant platforms.

So for me it was a revelation how much information it was missing from the product team at at any level. at any point and meaning level from from a director or a management level to development.

So when something is being discussed in the vacuum and users are not involved. I think it’s it’s a common. at least Again, in my experience. It it’s it common challenge that you will find yourself into.


Paul Blunden: Well, that’s really interesting, and I like there’s a couple of things there that I think it’s a really interesting point, because you you talk about the fact, it’s new every time, sort of for us, and I think research obviously attracts naturally curious people, generally speaking. But I think partly it is that newness, every project, even on

You know I’ve watched thousands of sessions, and you see something new every time. I, even with user behavior, you know that’s

Nikos Kotsakis: that’s not uncommon at all. And then, yeah, that enterprise perspective that’s really interesting. Actually, maybe it maybe pulling 2 to that will be that basically what what we did after the second round of participatory workshops, I did manage to get involved the you know. the directors, the managers that were designing this brainstorming sessions in, if I can, to to get actually into the research, I mean when they had time not to see a video. a recording of the resource, but come in there.

And it was a challenge for me. That project was that I didn’t actually expect them to interrupt the research. so I had to somehow train them also, you know, in a in a short amount of time, to how to navigate the whole process because they will. Their involvement with research was well, not so proficient before that, but was basically, you know, in the management level, they just don’t really care about this things. And they actually did come into the sessions, and they found there so many insights shared in the sessions, and they wanted to interrupt and say, like, yeah, tell me, tell me more about this and tell me more about this. Can you explore more?


Paul Blunden: Yeah. Interesting. And to how did the research take change the product?

Nikos Kotsakis: So the research in that particular project actually became the whole driver for the for the program. So, in a sense that we built research hops for the program and developed the position. Essentially. I developed the position to research Ops, and having, like from one researcher into the program for 5 pro products, we had 4 researchers at the end. I am at least at my end. The program still continues for researchers to continue, and essentially split, to evaluate your research and generate the research.

So generative research will essentially feed the program with new ideas and how to calibrate the focus of the whole program on a governance level.

Paul Blunden: right? That’s so, it wasn’t just about building a new thing. It was about building a capability within an organization to build better things.

Nikos Kotsakis: I mean. Yeah, it’s digital transformation. It again digital information in in the coming days, I would say it’s something that people tend to translate that with their own words. It’s like IoT devices back in 2017, with something new, smart devices. Well, it’s not, though.

Paul Blunden: Yeah, yeah, I know. I know exactly what you mean. I do think people get bit confused between sort of digital transformation and digital migration do too much of the latter, and not enough of the former quite often, but so No, it doesn’t sound like that with the project you’re working on.

And then I wanted to ask you about the user behaviors that are unique to sort of the markets you work in, and that you’d recommend global brands. Pay attention to, and it’s particularly interesting around the enterprise area. Because I guess. Do you sort of cross markets, really with that?

Nikos Kotsakis: Yes, actually so. I mean if we take it by sector. No, I would. I would start with Germany. So in Germany I the something was a for me. It was a surprise, because in my home country. you know, data is not something it’s not an idea to to be so. came on having privacy and stuff like this.

But in Germany the safety of personal data and transparency of transactions is is actually really important, and maybe more even than most of it I experience with. And again, in comparison with my country, my my home country, where this is non-existent. It’s a big surprise for me. But and when you say non-existent in your home, I mean people.


Paul Blunden: So just hand over their data and don’t worry about it, or

Nikos Kotsakis: well, there there is like this this common trade off that you somehow familiarize yourself, or put yourself in a position that that yeah, will they? You know big companies have my think, I I at the end I i’m. I cannot do anything about that if I want to use this survey. So if I if I want to participate in a consumer base or a government base service. I I need to share this stuff. But in Germany there is this thing of Well, if you want this, you need to tell me why, and you need to Russian. Give it a Russian now, and and really convince the need behind they and transaction.

Paul Blunden: Well, that’s it’s interesting. You’re not the first to person who’s done research in Germany to tell me that. But the case is certainly strengthening that that’s a really important thing to think about. Is there anything else you observed?

Nikos Kotsakis: So we I worked a lot with Portugal and Spain, and I found a lot of commonalities with with Portugal and Spain, and entirely with Greece, I would say. and somehow moving to the you know I it sounds ridiculous somehow, but northern countries like Uk Netherlands, Germany. I I have more than the dark region has their own against team. The East region they’re all and so on.

So again I would say. I do treat the project that’s new. So even with the manufacturing product and service we we did. Although it was a global platform, it was not based on a specific market. We did the test starting the test on the on the European market, but essentially it was a really global service and meaning E. A Asia as well.

And us where there is. Again, I lock all understanding in in a enterprise level. What is the difference of localization? And what is the difference of translation, and not only in research, but also and product or service usage. So essentially it’s something that i’m. I’m, still uncovering myself. It’s not something that I I would say, i’m champion at go ahead. Yeah.

Paul Blunden: it. That’s a really interesting. I mean, I think that translation localization thing is is the problem everywhere, but I think the pro projects we’ve done with manufacturing. It seems to be even more acute to me in that I suspect, because the kind of English is the business language.

We’ve run a number of projects where the manufacturer seems to believe everybody speaks English, and therefore we’ve had the way they haven’t even translated the interface.

And then you’re running in all these sort of non-english markets and people really struggle. It’s it’s. A strange, strange set of behaviors, I think

Nikos Kotsakis: true. True. But I actually that project was, was actually the surprise came to me because if you consider region not not only on a language level and and you know behavior, but also on a business level. You see that especially in manufacturing there is different challenges. When you create a manufacturing product line, let’s say, in Central London. and just we move, move the whole manufacturing the production line in the outskirts of London, where you.

You can actually you know, optimize the transportation and stuff like this, but they same challenges we we face with research and design and delivering digital products at the end. They there is no actual. you know, stages that you can follow to uncover these things, especially when the enterprises are somehow. you know, big ships are hard to manoeuvre, and it’s more challenging to essentially put new things to their table. even though they are obvious. I mean

It’s just how it is. I guess.

Paul Blunden: Yes, it would be nice if it was different. But so but anyway, and Nicos and what’s you know, maybe within work. But what beyond work is inspiring you at the moment.

Nikos Kotsakis: Well. of course, the any type of interesting conversation that I stumble upon exciting projects meeting your people. And I would say, above all, basically because I was a kid as well. It was I. I would never see myself in front of a screen. So much So any anything that takes me away this from this screen is actually exciting for me, because it gives me the time to really think about stuff that help me help my creativity and process also regarding work. But you need to be away from this to do that. at least in my experience, I mean for me I need to be away.


Paul Blunden: That’s a very refreshing perspective. I’m. I’m sure a lot of people would agree with you, but I don’t know that they got the self discipline to make it happen so. Well done if you are, and final question for you, because what’s your biggest learning since you’ve been involved in research.

Nikos Kotsakis: So I I mean 2 biggest lessons that help me not only at work, but with people in my life was basically that people do not always have an answer for each question. So I do find really viable to create the the the space and the time for them to to explore the situation and join the silence as well.

It’s similar to taking time off the screen. It’s they needed time, you. Everyone needs to. you know. Take a breather and really take in the things that surrounds you. Experience things more. And also, you know, active listening and silence is something that is not covered. and especially in research. I find that it’s the struggle. When you involve smes or stakeholders in the process. It’s it’s really start struggle to facilitate.

So navigating the these 2 things in a on a practice level it it’s a lesson. But I I learn in every project, I would say.

Paul Blunden: Well, that’s a lovely lesson to end on, and of course thank you so much for spending the time to speak to me today. It’s been really interesting, and not least because I always enjoy talking to you. But we don’t. I don’t talk to many people who have such a strong enterprise, sort of headspace and an understanding. And so it’s really great to get a completely different perspective on some of these things. So, thanks very much.

Nikos Kotsakis: Thank you as well, thank you. It was a pleasure

Paul Blunden: Well, how refreshing, to have a completely different perspective from the enterprise space from Nicholas. Some of the work he does is really fascinating, and I know the project was talking about where he built the resorts and then established the capability.

That’s a really interesting kind of engagement that already tease an organization up to be more customer, centric and deliver better products and services.

Anyway, I hope you enjoyed listening as much as I did. My name is Paul London. I’m. Founder of Ux247, and if you want to find out more about what we do. You can visit our website. That’s, or find me on LinkedIn and drop me a message there. I’m happy to have a chat. and of course subscribe to this channel, and there’ll be another interview coming along, surely.

Thanks very much for watching.