What is UX? | WebTalksNI
19th Sep 2018
Corvus has developed a podcast series dedicated to Web Specialists in Northern Ireland. This series, named WebTalksNI is a great source of knowledge sharing and identifying where the demand is in the digital market in Northern Ireland.
Find out what UX is and how to get into UX design in Northern Ireland, Gareth Stirling meets up with Stephen Currie, a self-taught UX designer based in Belfast.
Learn how Stephen first heard of UX to his journey of landing his first UX role in i3digital. Stephen also discusses what he believes the future of UX could hold.
Gareth: “Thanks for coming in Stephen on a wet and rainy Friday afternoon.
Stephen: “Absolutely, no problem. Next time, summer time?”
Gareth: “Yes, next time, we will coordinate it a bit better.”
Gareth: “I suppose we should jump straight in, what was your first job in I.T?”
Stephen:” First job, I was very green, straight out of university. I jumped into the first job which was offered to me, I couldn’t wait to get into the working world. It was for a design agency which worked with predominately print. That is what probably added, after a period of time, to frustration in that role.
It was a good starting point in the sense that I got to work with a lot of large organisations. But it was never focused of a role, even though it was a web design role. It entailed everything from back end development, user interface design, animation and flash animation. That’s how long ago this was.
We’re talking flash and multi-media CDs. Now that I remember, you look back and you think “What?”
It was diverse, yes, at the time, you are young and willing to do anything. It was good in that sense, but after a period of time, you realise you’re a jack of all trades and master of none.
Then there was an aspect of it that because it was predominately print; the design for web felt like an afterthought.
It was something that started to grind on me a wee bit, I guess.
Even instances where working with graphic designers were great, but you were being handed mock ups, interface designs to speed up process with no real consideration for users at all, now that I think about it. Which lead to a bit of conflict between graphic design and myself. I was a one-man band and you didn’t have anyone else to help give educated decisions with. It was me Vs them, silly aspects like that.
They started to do more work on WordPress. I remember that was a point a lot of work was being done through a CMS and I started to enjoy that a lot more because I was giving back control to clients that I thought were but now looking back were not. I was not looking beyond the users in front of the screen. I was thinking about these guys who were maintaining these content management sites.
I would always try to think of better ways to improve the CMS whether it was with custom aspects. That’s where I started to get a feel for trying to help people, then the role because it was so varied, I knocked that on the head.
I thought the right decision was to move into another job after that, to work as an inhouse designer. That was me sitting with these people who I liked to help essentially. Yes, while that was an aspect there was still a gap of the real users. I was working with the stakeholders but still under management and designed by committee, you know these sort of aspects.
Again, one man band surrounded by graphic designers. So, there was definitely something in the career path that wasn’t quite right and I kind of knew that I had to tighten it up and focus. The freelance work I was doing on the side, I could make more educated decisions because I knew I could ask the right questions to get the results.
So, there was something missing, it just took quite a while to figure it out what it was.”
Gareth: “I remember about 5/6 years ago, I started seeing this term ‘UX designer’ coming into the marketplace. I’d certainly seen a web designer or web developer. Obviously, you’re quite new in your career, but you’re at that point where you focus on the end user. When did you first see the term UX and what attracted you to it?”
Stephen: “That’s what happened to me also, it appeared out of nowhere. As far as I was concerned, I was a web designer for years. Front end developer, content management, these were titles that I was jack of all trade and master of none.
Then I did more user interface design and I noticed more people changing their jobs to that. Which was an aspect I was already doing anyway as part of web design. There was some of my peers who I went to university with, who I look up to, one of whom works in San Francisco and another in Belgium. I noticed that they had started moving into these more user design roles which started to sparked my interest.
I thought to myself “I need to figure out what exactly this is”, it turns out it had a lot of similar aspects of the job I was already doing. It was just more focused, more results driven, it had an end goal essentially. I was already looking at analytics, reviews, user journeys, card sorting for information architecture. The techniques were already there in my roles, they just weren’t focused or under the one hat of the user experience design. I guess I kind of took them for granted a wee bit. That spurred on my interest.
Also, as I mentioned in the previous roles I had I felt there was something missing that was working with users. The minute I figured out it was the user experience and that’s what I was trying to improve, that’s what I felt was missing a lot of the times. Instead of this is what the client wants, build them the site it’s creating this call to action because I want to convert. I always had questions of ‘why, who is choosing to go there rather than here? Why do they want this?” You know, through the user journey’s and it was nice to see there was an aspect to the role, that specifically dealt with this.
That’s where I kind of guess, it appeared. Seeing other people’s job titles and then realising it was part of the job I was doing, just not aware of the terminology.”
Gareth: “You’ve discussed that you’re doing part of this job already, but you want to be more focused. What did you put in place to secure your first UX design position? In other words, what training did you undertake?”
Stephen:” There is two parts to this. Like anything I thought there is lots of content out there on YouTube. I’m not saying you can’t learn a lot from YouTube, it just depends on the person that you are and how focused you are. I remember watching in my free time between jobs trying to sponge up as much UX knowledge as I could.
It was great, I was hearing terminologies that I was aware of, not aware of but there was no real implementation within the role I was in. I couldn’t find an avenue where I could apply all of this knowledge. Some of it yes, some of it no, leading workshops was not a chance for me in some of the roles I was in.
I realised these are not the results I wanted. I moved into doing more training online, through the likes of Udemy. Seeing packages reduced from $200 down to $30, brilliant I’ll jump on that. It was cheap, it was quick and easy, it would take 3 hours to learn. These three things do not go well together. Quick, easy and cheap do not work. I learnt that the hard way I guess.
Starting these tutorials, logging into the dashboard of Udemy, seeing 5% complete, 10% complete, because on top of 9-5 job, daily life, social activities, it just wasn’t working for me. There wasn’t enough structure for me as a person, as I said it could work for someone else.
I guess this is step 2, I realised that not only my job had to be more focused, but I needed to be more focused. I need to be motivated. One of the main things was putting a gamble on all your eggs in one basket. I needed to find a course which had a degree or, something with merit and a bit of risk.
I floated about and searched online, looked at reviews and things like that. I found Career foundry, which was an online experience user design course. They do multiple courses, but at the time it was UX and maybe there was a development course. It was a very small niche what they were catering for but by no means was it cheap. At that time in my life it was quite a big spend, but I knew it was going to be worth it. Because the point of career I was in I would have been struggling to get a better job or I would just be getting the same job somewhere else.
You know the jack of all trades, because I was never focused on this aspect and I felt because I could see the industry changing along with other people’s roles and more content on design blogs being focused around UX, I knew this was something I needed to do. I took the plunge and put the money in there and realised it was up to me and no one else to do this work. I think at the time, you had to do a minimum of 15 hours a week which on top of daily life..”
Gareth:” It was quite an undertaking”
Stephen:” Yes it really was, at the same time there was a lot of drive there to get it done. One of the great aspects behind it was the structure, it was very regimented from the delivery to submission dates, it has modules and things like that. One of the best aspects was that you had a mentor, a UX mentor. I guess it was something throughout all those online courses and YouTube videos didn’t have that. This was an actual person that I could get tangible information from. I could say ‘Am I doing this right?’ and to be told, ‘you’re better than maybe you think you are’ or ‘no you did get it wrong, but here’s why’.
You were getting answers, you were getting reassurance. That was invaluable.
That’s great advice for anyone who’s thinking of getting into UX. If you can find an experienced UX designer who is willing to listen, help and mentor. As minimal the information you could get from them, anything is better than nothing. Just to get that reassurance to help you along.
Where I was? I was just beaten down, I am never getting on this, you know, this train has left without me. It was great to be told, it is never too late to improve and get better.
That was one of the big sellers of that course.
There was skype calls, I think there was an hour a week that you could be in a call with this person. We kept in touch after the course. Having that connection to a real designer, you didn’t feel you were in a silo anymore. As any of my previous roles where I worked as the only web designer or developer, whatever, I didn’t have that. It was amazing to have that experience around me.”
Gareth:” It sounds like your offering your services there, we will stick your name and number at the end of this podcast.”
Gareth: “Thanks a lot Stephen, who wants to be a mentor”
Stephen: “Yes, could you imagine, it would always be over a pint.
Gareth:” That’s the kind of mentoring I would like. So now you’ve completed the training and your working for i3digital. Maybe give us a bit of background on what you do from a day-to-day basis?”
Stephen: “No worries, as I said the jobs before were not focused at all. So, I’m very very grateful that of the back of the course I did with career foundry, I was given an opportunity to join a team in a more focused role at i3. Adrian is looking after me big time there.
As a typical day is kind of difficult and I guess that is one of the things that attracted me to the role. As focused as it is, there is so many different tasks you can do as part of UX design. It is something that I love, but I guess one of the main things that occur on a typical day is structuring it. We do daily stand ups with our project managers and other members of the design team or developing team. That is something I never had in any other role. Which is really good to make sure you are delivering, or you know if you are falling behind, there are people there who are helping you figure out how to organise yourself but how to work in part of that agile work flow. Especially in a design process where we can communicate together.
At our stand ups, that is the only thing that happens on your typical day. As for all the other job roles, for instance, at the moment I am working on wire frames for the last couple of days, based on the back of wire framing workshops that I got to do in user design workshop in Washington DC. I was over with the i3 guys in July.
I’m not saying I go on holidays, (Stephen laughs) holidays? It’s a work holiday folks. That is one thing I never got in any of my previous roles and I’m very very grateful that I get to go and meet stakeholders on site, workshops, conducting these, doing user research, user ability testing, it is so varied but with a focused outcome. Which I think is great.
I’m not saying I’m just a UX designer, I still get to do aspects of my previous job where I help the marketing team with email campaigns, I still do front-end design in development. But my bread and butter is UX. Which is what makes UX so enjoyable. And having that design team to work with is something that I didn’t have anywhere else. So, having other designers that I can collaborate with and learn from. As I mentioned about the UX mentors from my training, having other designer to learn from is fantastic and invaluable, honestly.
I’m so happy to say I finally joined a team. I’m still fresh at it a year and a half, but I’ve been in web design for 10 years. It’s great to see it’s finally going, where I hoped it would be going.”
Gareth: “Consistence is key which is good to see. So, how do you see the future of UX progressing in terms of the tools we use or just UX in general?”
Stephen:” It’s exactly what you said Gareth, it’s the tools. I can remember wireframing, photoshop, working with flats from there, UX pin; changing from those platforms to sketch, envision or balsamic. Even adobe XD is now trying to tie everything together, envision studio is now one of the newer aspects as well.
It’s the tools we use to deliver are forever going to be progressing and becoming more integrated. It will be interesting to see how that pans out and improves our work flow. Rapid prototyping is so important, other aspects of card sorting there are online tools for that or even doing workshops remotely now.
You would have done it on a skype call I’d imagine, but things like mural which we’ve got to use this now with another American client. One of our designers was over there for a few days and a large proportion of the stakeholders couldn’t make it, so we did a secondary remote workshop from card sorting to wireframing in that one.
It will be very interesting to see how these will change in the future to help us. To get better results faster. One aspect, I’m not sure what will be applicable, but it will be the conversational design. Voice user interface design, so designing with visuals. Its not just a case of that Amazon territory or that’s SIRI, it’s on our door steps now.
Even in one instance, I got approached to work on, it was a start-up in Belfast, for a smart voice assistant for factory equipment. When you hear these things, you think ‘jeepers, I’ll never get a chance to work on that.’ It’s not really the future, it’s already happening it’s here. So, thinking more in that line as UX designers, one of the key aspects of our job is communication. To be able to collaborate with each other and listen to users.
The conversational flow must be something we are very good at and always improving upon. My guess with the right research you can. I think you will see a lot more of those coming along, it’s not as far fetched as, we would say VR and AR are the future, but no one is going out of their way to stick a VR helmet on to go shopping.
It’s the minimal amount of effort people want to get results. I think that’s what is holding those two avenues back, but voice is definitely the way forward.
This again, ties in with integrated experiences, it’s the real-life world meets the online world. It’s already happening, nest I’ve got the wave in my house which is controlling the heat in that sort of aspect.
I even noticed the other day on amazon, their dash buttons, which is UI for their applications, but it is also a physical devise you install in your house. You’re sticking a button on the front of your washing machine when your run out of Persil. Bang, click it and Amazon prime orders it up.
It’s fantastic. One thing I should probably mention, with these it is gamifying a lot of the applications. I love my retro games, so I can totally see the aspect of people getting words and their favouriting, it’s adding delight to these applications.
It’s no longer, a secondary add on, it’s a core part of trying to get people to use these applications. They need to be enjoyable and improve your everyday life. Some people take a lot of merit in being rewarded and feeling they are getting their result than just solving a problem I guess.”
Gareth:” Interesting, thanks for coming in, I know it can be a bit difficult on a Friday. Especially when you guys in i3 like to drink a lot of beer on a Friday afternoon.”
Stephen: “Not all the time, national beer day only. Although, UX mentoring, if that means I get free beer I’m in.”
Gareth: “ It’s interesting you said about the retro gaming, we might have to bring you back for a podcast just for retro games”
Stephen:” Nerds, nerds. Totally gamed for it, again for pints.”
Did you enjoy this podcast? Want to get involved in the next WebTalksNI? Or possibly you’re a web specialist or UX design seeking new opportunities! Get in touch with Gareth on 028 9091 8528 or email on email@example.com