How innovation and empathy drive the digital experience: an interview with Kyle Serebour

Concours Idéa is an annual event celebrating the amazing work of creative communications professionals across Quebec. Kyle Serebour, back-end developer at Symetris, was honoured to be chosen as a jury member to help recognize and award the best and most innovative digital experiences created this last year. In this interview, we talk to Kyle about his experiences as a jury member, what makes for a great digital experience, and what trends are emerging that will shape the future of design and creative communications.

When did your involvement with Concours Idéa start and why did you get involved?

I actually was part of the development team that built the Concours Idéa website back when I worked for the advertising agency Sid Lee. Now at Symetris, I was approached by Concours Idéa because they wanted a back-end developer on the digital experience jury, and I just couldn’t turn down such an amazing opportunity. I never get tired of meeting people that create digital experiences, no matter their expertise.

The jury for Concours Idéa is composed of people from many disciplines. Why do you think it's important to have a good collaboration between experts?

We’ve come a very long way from websites and digital experiences being created by just one person in their basement. Nowadays, a lot of people in different disciplines are part of the creation process. 

So when you have experts that focus on what they're good at and what they love, that have put in the time and the research into what works and what doesn’t, that are on top of every advancement in their fields, you need to bring this expertise together. Instead of one person doing everything and being a jack-of-all trades in any of those areas, when you have experts in their fields collaborating to create a digital experience, it facilitates innovation. You can't have outstanding digital experiences without the collaboration that brings expertise together.

Judging these projects has also made me collaborative in my own work. If I'm doing my back-end work, now I'm thinking more about what the front-end or the content or the UX teams need. I’m asking myself how I can make their lives better and, thinking this, I’ll go talk to my content person and hash things out to see if I could do something better. And this collaborative approach to design promotes innovation.

What makes a digital experience or product excellent?

The key to an excellent digital experience or product is innovation. Digital experiences have evolved a lot over the years, and now we don’t want to see the same old thing. So innovation is the common denominator that makes a digital experience or product stand out, how it has built on what we already know, and then how it goes a step further. Changing the game in this way, all the time, is one of the most important things. And this doesn’t only apply to, say, just the visual side or the animations on a website, it applies to all aspects. When we talk about innovation, we need to consider how everything that makes up the project – visual, animation, design, UX, back-end infrastructure, how people consume content – needs to be innovative for a project to shine. 

Another important aspect is what I call “empathy”. There are some digital experiences where you really feel every part of the project was approached empathetically, where they had a clear goal and a clear target audience. For example, in their UX work, they are really putting themselves in the shoes of their target audience. These projects may not be as big or as immediately impressive when it comes to infrastructure or design, but they really stand out because even the smallest things have been very well thought out with the user in mind, and you can feel that.

On the contrary, what makes for a bad digital experience or product? What are some common pitfalls that you see?

A lot of digital experiences don’t have a clear goal. There’s a need to have a goal for each digital experience, focus on that, and work towards it. Ask yourself “What do I want to achieve with this digital experience?” The goal can be very simple, like bringing in more sales or bringing in more views to their company, but it needs to be the main focus for all your experts in their respective disciplines. And when digital experiences that don't have a clear goal - or have too many – good development usually drops off.

Another pitfall is accessibility. As technology evolves, so do ambitions, and there is a temptation to incorporate the new features that new technologies make available to build digital experiences. But if your target audience needs advanced processing or expensive hardware just to access and see your work, or if a user loads a site and can’t get the full experience that that was intended just because they have the wrong device or it wasn't powerful enough, then this is a problem. Accessibility through multiple platforms and hardware strength needs to be top of mind.  

In 2021, what do you consider are the “must-haves” for digital experiences to engage people?

I’ll go back to innovation. We've come a long way in terms of design and technologies, so nowadays, when you're browsing a site, it's a little boring to see the same old thing. Big animations, say, are cool, but what else can you do, what else can you bring to the table? This is why innovation is hands-down the most important thing to have.
When you have the right people on your team that are keeping up with the latest technologies and bringing this to the front, innovation can keep happening. When you combine all of your disciplines, when experts from different fields come to work together and excel in most of them, that’s when you have the innovation which makes a digital experience stand out. 

I've been in development for a long time, and innovation is a very hard thing to do, but being on the Concours Idéa jury there are quite a few projects where I saw things I had actually never seen before. And this is what you want, you want your users to say, “Wow I haven't seen this before!”  It's really about being unique and making your users experience something new.

What are the trends you've seen in the few years that you think will have an impact in the near future?

Asking and responding to how users consume content is the most important trend we’re seeing, one that’s going to continue to evolve going into the near future. We already know how to make flashy websites and beautiful animations, so by considering what our target audience wants and focusing on UX more and more, we're reinventing how content is consumed. 
Everyday platforms like Twitter might not change much, but when it comes to a site for a company that has a clear goal in mind, they have to think about users not being bored when they land on their site. We don't want them to click here and there and then leave, we want to retain our users, we want to keep them browsing our site. So how do we do that? Well, you need to think about user experience and user interactions, you need to be empathetic and put yourself in their shoes, and you need to ask yourself “When they get on the site, what are users thinking?”

What makes you excited about future candidate applications for Concours Idéa?

There are a lot of experts here in Quebec working to create digital experiences and, with technology always evolving, I'm excited to see what kind of innovations come out and to meet the experts behind them. 

I love Concours Idéa because the entire creative communication and development community is exposed to the amazing projects being worked on right now. We not only get a sense of where technology has brought us, we also get a better understanding as to how far we can push our own projects, how far we can develop our own digital experiences. But most importantly it recognizes the people that have worked so hard on some of these amazing projects. 

Concours Idea will announce the winners in June 2021. Until then, let Symetris help you build your own innovative digital experience.