Before we begin, what is UX?
User-centered design and its applications are spread across a multitude of varying disciplines, especially within the realms of digital design. So, what is it exactly? There are many interpretations of UX, but I found this quote sums it up rather well:
“UX is the tangible design of a strategy that brings us to a solution”
It means making the user’s experience simpler, more understandable and more pleasurable. It’s about empathising with the user, understanding who they are, their motivations and how we want to solve a problem for them.
The London UX Conference 2019
To help gain a better insight into UX in the modern digital world and how other companies approach this, myself and my colleague, Felix, attended the London UX Conference this year.
The UX Conference has been successfully running annually since 2017, drawing the attention of UX Designers from around the UK from a mixture of company backgrounds, both client-side and agency. We were also graced with presence of UX speakers from a host of big, well established brands, including Booking.com, Monzo, Virgin Atlantic, Ubuntu and Lego.
There were a lot of topics covered, however the consistent agenda and theme for the conference revolved around building on relationships between Marketing and UX. In addition, we learned about the hot topics being talked about in the UX world at the moment that we should be aware of.
So, what are my biggest takeaways?
Relationships in UX
UX Designers promote collaboration, they facilitate kick-off meetings, design workshops and ensure that everyone is involved from inception. This can include Marketers, Sales, Clients, Designers and anyone else that has a hand in the project. With this in mind, understanding the different metrics for success and ensuring everyone is on board along the project journey is the key to avoiding conflicts.
Francesca Granato, former UX Designer from Canonical and the company behind Ubuntu, detailed her own experiences and solutions to aid collaboration.
“Keep communication flowing between UX teams and Marketing teams” – Francesca Granato
Francesca recommends booking in recurring 45 minute meetings with the design team during the project. This, she believes, has a host of positive benefits and they’re designed to help with the below:
- Determining the status of the current sprint and next sprint
- Assessing the readiness of the work
- Creating a safe space, even for difficult conversations
- Building relationships between different teams
- Keeping the agenda focused on the user-centered design
Francesca also outlined that producing wireframes, often sketched on paper, was a really quick and efficient way to present ideas to stakeholders. Because they are lo-fidelity, it means that people are more open to providing feedback as they are perceived as being early stage concepts.
Chimmy Kalu, former Senior UX Designer at Condé Nast International also has experience with building internal relationships with Marketing teams.
“Create collaboration instead of competition” – Chimmy Kalu
Chimmy explained that it’s important that we break out of what she described as the “UX Bubble”. It shouldn’t be that UX Designers are only designing for the user’s needs, but communicating the journey to everyone else involved in the project. Chimmy used the below image as a metaphor for the different perceptions people may have on the needs of the customer.
Chimmy recommended four steps to help build relationships and align everyone’s goals. She explained that this can be achieved by:
1. Creating a shared understanding
Facilitate a kick-off meeting with one key outcome: to understand the user’s problem. Chimmy recommends using “lean canvas” with this process.
2. Defining what success looks like
Chimmy explained that a known metric for success is the foundation of good communication. For example, reducing bounce rates, increasing clicks or increasing traffic.
3. Knowing your audience
Understanding how individuals and teams prefer to communicate will also help. Whether it’s through words, numbers, diagrams or sketches; People react better when you’re speaking their language.
4. Using storytelling
Chimmy also suggested presenting designs in the context of the metrics and ensure that you keep all ideas, even discarded ones. That way you can create a narrative of the processes that were taken to reach the outcome.
Angela Arnold, Principle UX Designer from Which? covered the importance of low intensity contact between UX Designers and other teams.
Angela broke down her thoughts on collaboration and how to deal with often demanding and exacting conditions. She gives her thoughts on how UX can best be communicated and asks:
“How might we design the spaces for Marketing and UX to connect?” – Angela Arnold
While the job of the UX Designer is to design meaningful and relevant experiences, this can often compete with business goals that may be focussing on retention, acquisition or retention.
1. Establish a sense of belonging
Angela recommends bringing Marketing and UX together into more cross-functional teams to define the problem for the user. She also talked about making some key shifts in how we think, for example shifting from “UX selling solutions to Marketing” to “UX and Marketing solving problems together”.
2. Design the space for relationships to grow
Much like Chimmy, Angela recommends inviting regular participation to embed the story of the project. She also recommended making use of light-weight tools such as lean canvas to “frame the problem” and align everyone to the same goal.
3. Make people the driver for design
Here, Angela fleshed out a design workshop process to facilitate key decision making moments. She also recommended moving smoothly between generative and evaluative activities, from insights through to ideas and assumptions.
4. Make it easier to move together than to move alone
Angela stressed the importance of demonstrating value in the UX process so that it moves alongside business goal metrics and isn’t pushed upstream by UX Designers & Researchers. UX metrics should be top level and the whole team should be accountable.
Hot Topics in UX
Martyn Reding, Head of Digital Experience at Virgin Atlantic, detailed four current hot topics that are being talked about in the UX world right now, many of which are in operation at Virgin Atlantic. He believes that as we move into a greater appreciation of UX, its applications spread further into other subsets such as design operations and UX writing.
“Creating design and research teams that scale requires attention to tools, systems and the operations of a team.” – Martyn Reding
Martyn covered that DesignOps is more formerly recognised as a Studio Manager. It’s concerned more with the facilitation instead of creation of design. It also involves understanding how design systems, teams and tools can be scaled with better efficiency.
Big brands such as Pinterest and AirBnB are dedicating departments to DesignOps as it grows in importance. The implementation of DesignOps means that designers can fully focus on design while DesignOps can take care of everything else.
2. UX Research
“Putting design teams and stakeholders in touch with users’ behaviour via qualitative and quantitative research techniques.” – Martyn Reding
UX research, formerly the job of a “Creative Strategist” or “Motivational Researcher” is an investigation of users and their needs that will feed into the design process. The research employs different methods, tools and techniques to validate conclusions and reveal problems. The process can be broken down into two types of research, qualitative and quantitative.
Qualitative research is concerned with motivations and opinions and can be conducted via methods such as creating user personas and user journeys.
Quantitative research focuses on numerical and statistical data to draw conclusions. Some examples of this can be analytics, polls, questionnaires and usability testing.
3. UX Writing
“Recognise that a UI is delivering information to users. If you don’t understand the content you’re working with, you won’t understand the UX.” – Martyn Reding
Martyn describes that this is sometimes known as “Content Design”, depending on which side of the Atlantic you are from. Steadily, the UX community is starting to see the value in the partnership between content and design and that having one without the other leaves a sense of deficiency and inaccuracy, with the outcome becoming more of an abstraction.
Martyn went on to talk about how early advertising was more focused on content with big blocks of text, and that the introduction of design came later and enriched the story they were trying to tell. He made a point that UX writing is really starting to look like the project teams we have today where individuals from different disciplines are collaborating on the design journey.
4. Design Systems
“Collating pattern libraries for design decisions and creating systems for scaling those libraries.” – Martyn Reding
A design system (often referred to as a pattern library) is a collection of reusable assets and components used in design for consistency and scalability. Martyn talked about how there has been a shift from using layouts and moving toward these new design system methods.
He used the British Rail design system as a prime example – they created a series of components that can be compiled in a number of different formats to suit a number of different contexts. They created this with a degree of consistency, a degree of accessibility, and standardised a lot of practices.
My final thoughts
This year’s conference dealt with some important aspects of the UX process. UX doesn’t work if it’s siloed and internal collaboration is just as critical as focusing on our end-user’s needs. It was insightful to learn about how other UX Designers dealt with aligning goals and building relationships within different business environments.
It’s also great to see how UX is evolving and creating its own space in the industry; there really is a big shift that can’t be ignored, not only in the methodologies but in our way of thinking.
The quote that really hit home was from Martyn Reding, which I think sums everything up quite nicely:
“Stop treating marketing and design like they’re different things. They’re the different sides of the same coin.” – Martyn Reding
These are all great points I’ll be bringing into my next sprints at Adtrak and I’m excited to explore how UX digs in its heels in the future!