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Roberta Schultz

Roberta Schultz

Akendi Alumnus

Akendi: A Trailblazing UX Agency Training the Practitioners of Now

Akendi’s President Tedde van Gelderen talked with Danielle Heifa from Strive, UXR Conference, to share how his team is training product people using real-world projects.

In 2007, Tedde van Gelderen opened Akendi — a research, design and training company that not only does user research and UX design projects in the B2B, B2C and G2C markets but also certifies practitioners in the field wanting to gain a more holistic understanding of the entire design process.

After years of consulting work, Tedde and his team uncovered pivotal pain points in the UX space that helped shape the design of Akendi’s certification courses:

  • Schools are not teaching students certain skills necessary for real-world projects.
  • UX professionals in the field are lacking knowledge.
  • There is fragmentation in the Canadian industry in terms of knowledge transfer.
  • There is a lack of awareness about the history of the UX field and a misperception of what UX Research is.
  • The people who are the most qualified to train practitioners in the field are often isolated in self-imposed (or organization-imposed) silos and don’t share their knowledge.

With these problems front and centre, the Akendi team designed two certification courses that bridge important gaps — the gap between research and design and the gaps between the conceptual, organizational, academic and real world.

Using case studies from Akendi’s consultancy work (led by instructors who executed these very projects), both Akendi’s User Experience Design and User Experience Research certification courses reign in anecdotal evidence and best practices that birth more insightful practitioners.

As a sponsor of the 2019 UX Research Conference, we spoke with Tedde who generously shared the philosophy behind his training programs.

Daniel Iaboni of Akendi teaching a certification course

For those who don’t know, what is Akendi?

Akendi is a consultancy and training company. We are a user research and UX design firm working mostly in the B2B and the G2C markets, so business software, service design, as well as various government work. And to contrast us with many agencies in Toronto, we don’t focus much on the pure marketing side and more on the “how do I use” experience. We focus on complex systems, transactional systems, and on big data/content systems that need to be easier to use.

Tell me about Akendi’s training programs

About ten years ago we started our training offering. We found in our consulting work that many people don’t really understand enough of this UX space.

And so we felt increasingly in need to create more awareness, to educate, to tell this story and to help people that don’t have the time to go to conferences, or to read books or to go back to school, to give them something to hold onto. We wanted to show them the major components of the research and design process and not just foundational tools, but also a very practical “this is how you do this” mindset.

In our team, we spend a lot of time talking about our own best practices and that’s why it’s taught by people from our consultancy. We are actually working on the projects that we are teaching and we are literally talking verbatim,“This is a project we did, we did the research here, this is the approach we took and this is why we took it, and why this is a good idea, if you’re in the same situation to do it this way.”

How are both the User Experience Design and the User Experience Research Certifications structured?

Our certifications follow 5 days of training, so it’s a full week for each certification. The Design and Research certifications are two separate tracks. We find by and large, people take one and then some come back for the other.

The goal for the Design certification is to help designers understand the UX design process and the elements that go into it. The Research certification is to understand how you can do research, what really helps you structure your research projects and what techniques you should use.

The Research certification is really focused on broadening your understanding of “what this research with humans is really about.” We cover what you need to know to increase the quality of your experience and the way you approach your research projects so that you don’t knee-jerk into applying only more typical and well-known techniques that are really good for, for example, public opinion research or perception or market research, but are not as applicable or as effective when it comes to understanding the user and the customer using a product or service.

Akendi certification course in action

Who is the User Experience Research Certification designed for?

On the Research side, we get Business Analysts, sometimes Designers, Project Managers, Product Managers, Leads, and Product Owners — those kinds of roles. They need to know more about research and so they usually sign up for the Research certification. But we also get Quality Assurance people that need to broaden their scope of how they do product experience testing, so that they are not only focusing on the functional testing, and unit testing, but also on usability testing that goes beyond their personal opinion of whether they think a product is easy or not.

Who is the User Experience Design Certification specifically designed for?

On the Design side, we get many people that sign up coming from a development perspective or even from a design perspective, but they come from print and they don’t know this “digital thing.” And then sometimes, people come from more of an Information Science background. They know a bit about Information Architecture, but don’t know about many of the other aspects of the design process. In the Design certification, we have 4 topics around Design: Information Architecture, Interaction Design, Visual Design for UX, and Service Design. People can choose 3 out of the 4 courses to qualify for the Design Certification.

Where do you see a gap in research understanding and knowledge in the field today?

The reality is that in a lot of organizations, user researchers especially, have to answer the question: “Well you have 10 days to do some user, customer understanding. What would you do in those 10 days?” And people say: “I don’t know, focus groups?”

We found that many academic degrees really focus well on the research techniques, and the background, but they don’t focus as much on the overall process of doing user research. And research gets pretty complicated. We do bigger projects where we do sometimes 4 or 5 different research methods in one project and it’s not trivial to think it through. It is a combination of approaches that really have logical reasoning, but many don’t really have that awareness.

That kind of knowledge, I don’t know where you get that. But I don’t see schools touching on that as much. But that’s exactly what we talk about in the courses — all the projects we’ve done, all of the best research practices. Because you have 40 days, or 20 days or 5 days to get some research done. And we tell you, “This time would be best spent here as opposed to there.”

Why was it important for you to launch a training certification program like this?

The UX space doesn’t really have many robust certification programs and in practice, so often people learn by trial and error. We are still in a situation where user research is about perceived value and how stakeholders see the work, and how they understand the work. You have to negotiate the time and the budget to do your work well. And so we see our certification helping with this. It is what our feedback shows. The program helps you create more influence within your organization to say “Yes, I know about this now and when I say something, more people are listening.”

You can read the original interview with Danielle Heifa, editor at UXR Collective, here: Meet Akendi: A trailblazing agency training practitioners of today.

This interview was originally published on the UX Research TO Medium Blog as part of Akendi’s sponsorship of the Strive UXR Conference taking place in Toronto, June 6-7, 2019. 

Join Akendi at Strive: The 2019 UX Research Conference. Purchase tickets here.

Roberta Schultz

Roberta Schultz

Akendi Alumnus


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About Akendi

Akendi is a human experience design firm, leveraging equal parts experience research and creative design excellence. We provide strategic insights and analysis about customer and user behaviour and combine this knowledge with inspired design. The results enable organizations to improve effectiveness, engage users and provide remarkable customer experiences to their audiences.