Research group at imec & Vrije Universiteit Brussel

Living Labs

About this Expertise

SMIT’s living lab research aims to improve the design, development and adoption of future products or services by involving users throughout the whole innovation cycle. We actively guide and coordinate prototype development from start to finish. By putting people at the heart of innovation design, we ensure that each party involved has a voice in the complex decision process of technological innovation. We also factor in the role of usage context, studying people’s use and experience of technology in real-life.

Participatory and context-sensitive research

Already early on, SMIT presented a framework for conducting a living lab as “a test and experimentation platform enabling (early) user involvement in technology and service innovation” (Pierson & Lievens, 2005). Our continuing mission is to improve the design, development and adoption of future products or services by involving users throughout the whole innovation cycle.

Living lab members participate in a process in which they can co-create, test, and evaluate the innovation together. During this iterative process, we study people’s use of and experience with the innovation in a real-life setting instead of the lab. This allows us to take the natural context of use into account, which plays a vital role in how people deal with an innovation. Within the living lab, we collaborate with industrial, public and other research organizations to deliver an innovation that holds added value for all stakeholders involved.

Improving design, development and adoption

We actively guide and coordinate prototype development from start to finish. We have ample experience working in multidisciplinary teams where we facilitate the interaction between designers, engineers, users and other  relevant stakeholders in a way that each party has a voice in the complex decision process of technological innovation.

Our user research offers a means to ultimately improve the meaningfulness, user experience, and credibility of your innovation. It identifies barriers and drivers for people to start using new technologies, and continue usage, early in the development process. By doing so it helps reduce costs associated to development and design, but also in later stages (e.g. for maintenance and user support).

Cutting across disciplines and stages of innovation

We combine and advance research methods from a variety of disciplines, in particular, Communication Studies, Sociology, Psychology, Human-computer interaction design, and Anthropology. Our human-centered methodological toolkit encompasses both quantitative and qualitative research methods to answer the ‘how much’, but also ‘how and why’ questions you might have. It addresses different stages of technological innovation from problem definition to prototype evaluation.

Examples of services that we offer

  • Problem definition: You have the solution, but what does it solve?
  • Concept development: How can you match your idea to the needs and activities of your target audience?
  • Domain analysis: What is already known about your application domain and user practice within that domain?
  • Opportunity spotting: What are the opportunities (and challenges) that lie ahead)
  • User profiling: Who is your audience?
  • User experience measurement: How do people think and feel about your innovation, and how do they use it?
  • Value and willingness to pay assessment: How do potential users value your innovation?
  • Motivation and behavioral analysis: How can you (re-)engage your target group to change their attitudes or behavior?

For a concrete example to see how we apply our living lab approach, have a look at the City of Things living lab based in Antwerp.

Key Results

Research Result Photo of urban cyclist by yichuan zhan on Unsplash
Smart Cities
6 Dec 2017
Capturing the experience of urban cyclists throughout the city
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Research Result Photo of parking by chuttersnap on Unsplash
Smart Cities
4 Dec 2017
Experimenting with smart parking: benefits and caveats for mobile parking app development
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Key Publications

  • The Use of Live-Prototypes as Proxy Technology in Smart City Living Lab Pilots
    With the rise of Internet-of-Things (IoT) a new wave of so-called smart technologies and related services have been introduced. When applied within an urban context, they tend to be ubiquitous, enabling a real-time interaction between the city, its environment and users, leading to a new set of human-computer interactions and user experiences. For the design of such technologies and services, researchers are challenged in finding effective methodologies that take into account this complex context of use. Especially in the very early phases of technology design, it can be rather complex to capture accurate user insights and requirements. In this paper, we investigate whether implementing a “live-prototyping tool” can respond to this need. By combining elements from both lo-fi prototyping as well as Proxy Technology Assessment (PTA), we investigated the benefits of an IoT-enabled proxy device as “live-prototyping tool”, that can be used during the first stages of development and deployed in the real-life environment of end-users. Results show that the use of such tool enables (HCI) researchers to collect more detailed data, interact more accurately and by so provide quick wins for the design and development process.
    Open publication

  • Configuring Living Labs
    Pierson, J., & Lievens, B. (2005). Configuring Living Labs For A “Thick” Understanding Of Innovation. In Ethnographic Praxis in Industry Conference Proceedings (Vol. 2005, pp. 114–127). Redmond, WA, USA.
    Open publication

  • Proxy Technology Assessment as a methodological praxis to study virtual experience
    Bleumers, L., Naessens, K., & Jacobs, A. (2010). How to approach a many splendored thing: Proxy Technology Assessment as a methodological praxis to study virtual experience. Journal of Virtual Worlds Research, 3(1), 1–24.
    Open publication

  • Cross border living labs network to support SMEs accessing new markets
    Lievens, B., Schaffers, H., Turkama, P., & Ståhlbröst, A. (2011). Cross border living labs network to support SMEs accessing new markets. In P. Cunningham & M. Cunningham (Eds.), eChallenges e-2011 Conference Proceedings. Florence, Italy: IIIMC International Information Management Corporation Ltd.
    Open publication

  • Linking living lab characteristics and their outcomes
    Veeckman, C., Schuurman, D., Leminen, S., & Westerlund, M. (2013). Linking Living Lab Characteristics and Their Outcomes: Towards a Conceptual Framework. Technology Innovation Management Review, (December 2013: Living Labs and Crowdsourcing), 6–15.
    Open publication

  • The city as living laboratory
    Veeckman, C., & van der Graaf, S. (2015). The City as Living Laboratory: Empowering Citizens with the Citadel Toolkit. Technology Innovation Management Review, 5(3), 6–17.
    Open publication