Belen Barros Pena

Interaction designer and user researcher

Main focus: user experience

Twitter handle: @belenpena


Languages: English, Spanish

City: London

Country: United Kingdom

Topics: design in foss, design for developmet tools, user research, user research with mobile devices, user centred design, usability, user experience


I am Belén. I have been an interaction designer and user researcher since 2007. Over that time I have done pretty much everything: from websites and web applications, to Linux native apps and mobile operating systems.

I’ve developed a keen interest on embedded computing (which includes both mobile and what’s now called the “Internet of Things"), design for software development tools and Free and Open Source Software (FOSS). I also believe the technology industry needs simple and affordable design research approaches, which led me to create the DIY Mobile Usability Testing project.

My approach to design is based on making do with whatever resources available, the ability to understand technical constraints and assess feasibility, prototyping instead of static mockups, and lean user research techniques.

I help organise the open source design track at the Free and Open Source Software Developers’ European Meeting (FOSDEM), I am a member of the Open Source Design group, and I teach mobile user experience at the Pompeu Fabra University (Barcelona).

Examples of previous talks / appearances:

No design without research – Why and how to incorporate design research practices into our free software projects
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This presentation from the Libe Graphics Meeting 2019 summarises the attitudes towards user research I've encountered during my dealings with the free and open source software (FOSS) communtities. It closes with some advice for FOSS projects on how to do research with users.




This talk is in: English
The Art of Patience, or Why Bother Teaching Git to a Designer
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I had the pleasure of sharing my Git learning experience at Git Merge 2019 and ApacheCon Europe2019. The purpose of this talk was encouraging software engineers to teach Git to the designers they work with. My argument is that learning Git teaches designers about software as design material, making them better partners for software developers, better able to communicate with them, and better designers overall.

These are the presentation slides and the script I used.

DIY Mobile Usability Testing
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The "DIY Mobile Usability Testing" project started back in 2009. We set out to prove that running usability studies for mobile software doesn't need to be difficult or expensive, it can be done by anybody, and it is a lot of fun!

The project has 2 parts:

  1. It lists some basic principles and rules of thumb for planning usability studies with mobile devices

  2. It provides clear instructions on how to capture video footage of usability testing sessions with mobile devices

We deliver the content as a workshop or presentation. So far, we have been to:

Over the Air (2010)
EuroIA (2010)
UXLX (2011)
IA Summit (2011)
UX Sofia (2012)
South by Southwest Interactive (2012)
UX Spain (2013)
MozFest (2014)
FOSDEM (2015)
ParisWeb (2016)

These are the latest slides, and a home made video from the South by Southwest edition

You can read Martin Belam's review of the talk at Euroia 2010, and Pabini Gabriel-Petit's review of the talk at the IA Summit 2011.

Explaining user centred design to the embedded Linux community
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I spent almost 5 years doing design for the OpenEmbedded project. As part of my work, I spoke about user centred design at some of the Embedded Linux Conferences in 2014 and 2016

Fragmentation in mobile design: fact or fiction?

This talk was prepared for the Breaking Development conference that happened in Dallas in 2012. It reveals the startling similarities between the different mobile phone operating systems available at the time, putting into question the fragmentation myth.

Here are the slides for this talk, and some notes by Luke Wroblewski

The state of design in free and open source software

This talk tries to introduce free and open source software (FOSS) to the mainstream design community. It was delivered in Spanish at UX Spain 2015 and in English at EuroIA 2015. My most sincere thanks to their programme committees for giving me the chance to spread the word about the importance of FOSS and the key role design should be playing in it.

These are the slides, and a transcript of the content