A day in the life of a... Head Of User Experience
Published: 24 April 2013 By Chris Lake
Ian Walker is Head of User Experience at Stanley International Betting, a sports betting company based in Liverpool. Here he explains what a typical day in his working life looks like.
Please describe your job! What does a Head Of User Experience do?
In my role as Head of UX, I am responsible for delivering the most efficient, engaging and innovative experience to users whilst ensuring that the key objectives of our products are met.
This means satisfying the users’ needs and the business requirements in tandem, and continually optimising our product to derive improved business performance and customer satisfaction.
As head of this process, I am also responsible for championing improvements to user experience within project teams and disseminating the UX objectives, reasoning and decisions. I also present these to the wider business stakeholders by demonstrating how these objectives will, and do, affect business results.
Whereabouts do you sit within the organisation? Who do you report to?
Within the structure of the company I report to the IT Director, but I also present ideas and development strategy to the wider board of directors. I collaborate with the creative and development teams generating designs, wireframes, prototypes and front end development and I also work closely with other head of departments - business analysis, development, quality assurance and marketing.
What kind of skills do you need to be effective in your role?
- Interpersonal skills - enthusing and generating thought processes within the various internal teams and communicating clearly the users’ and business requirements.
- Design project management and leadership skills.
- I have played a number of key roles in my career: Designer, Front End Developer, Project Manager, Business Development (pitcher and presenter). It’s helpful to understand individual skill sets as it’s easier to communicate from their perspective - design and coding choices combined with selling these decisions and how they fit into the overall plan.
- A great understanding of different types of users: from conventional users, to expert players. You need to be a user yourself.
- A keen understanding of design, layout and frameworks.
- Experience of usability, accessibility techniques, hardware and software restrictions so that products work for a wide audience in a range of contexts.
- Persuasive, emotion and trust techniques, especially with call to action or primary objective tasks.
Tell us about a typical working day…
- Train commute involves research: Twitter, LinkedIn groups, emails, catching up on my stream and bookmarking, sharing trends, ideas, and sector news.
- Daily stand ups scrums: I am involved in three or four ongoing projects of varying sizes, so scrums are a great way to communicate with different project teams quickly and efficiently.
- Various meetings championing UX through individual tasks, requirements or issues.
- Working alongside UX designers and UX developers on the front end for a wide selection of viewports (mobile, tablets, touch screens and desktop).
- Persona creation, wireframing, prototyping, design and front end development, user testing, user testing reports.
- Assisting with integration of the front end to ensure that all UX attributes are followed through to the back end development process.
- User journey presentations to teams and updates to the stakeholders on the direction we are taking and how it affects the business objectives.
What kind of goals do you have? What are the most useful metrics and KPIs for measuring success?
Metrics are the key to everything we do, having made initial assumptions and decisions during each of the analysis processes (wireframing, prototyping and initial design concepts). We then rely on user testing to give us our initial feedback on product performance, tone and delivery of the core business objectives so that our initial assumptions can be tested.
Post launch using funnels, Adding MVT or A/B testing enable us to improve the user experience for key user decisions such as registrations, checkout/betslip, feedback or engagement touch points. With each version we look to improve the metrics that we set at the start of each project.
What are your favourite tools to help you to get the job done?
UX flows through the lifecycle of the project, we aim to get buy-in from everyone involved in the project from the project initiation stage to deployment. Developers and designers love to have wireframes early on so that these can be adjusted and readjusted quickly with each business, product or UX decision.
Idea Paint. Quick idea generation during discussions, all our walls have Idea Paint; user journeys, paths, personas, plans, information architecture, basic wireframes are all over the office. It assists the mindset to work within that kind of environment.
Omnigraffle. We currently use Omnigraffle to produce our wireframes, its important to look at alternatives as well and we have experimented with Azure, Balsamic and Hotgloo.
Adobe Creative Suite. We produce all of our design concepts and graphics using Fireworks primarily, we do use Illustrator and Photoshop but only to support Fireworks. Dreamweaver assists us in producing prototypes to test various components; this can be done quickly and gives great feedback.
Eclipse. To produce our front-end code (HTML, CSS, JS) and push/ pull using both GIT and Subversion for our source control management.
Virtual Machines / Browser Suites / Firebug. For ongoing testing within different operating systems and browsers.
What do you love about your job? What sucks?
I love the variety of the challenges, and the puzzles that I make an attempt to solve on a day-to-day basis. Striving for innovation in a sector, which is constantly growing with the introduction of new technology, devices and software.
The marketplace and environment changes frequently and this brings new ways for us to engage, understand and assist a user base. Being innovative with ideas and producing designs and user journeys that deliver better results and are appreciated by both the users and business owners.
What sucks? Well, similar to every workplace really... when communication and focus is lost within the teams, internal politics get in the way of the product, delays in getting products to market. Generally, these are the frustrations that happen in every company.
How did you get started in the digital industry, and where might you go from here?
I studied Graphic Design at University. My identical twin brother studied Computer Science. In fact I am one of four brothers - two designers and two developers - so I have always been around and understood both sides of the designer/developer relationship.
I started in the digital industry in a startup within the University of Liverpool, as a graduate designer within a digital agency with a focus on training and web development. Here I learnt the core skills of front-end design and development and later with growth, team and project management.
Where to from here? We are lucky to be in a sector (digital) that continues to grow and expand with opportunity. Mobile is the obvious path forward: the tipping point of mobile users against desktop users is not far away from us. Mobile social, second screen initiatives, smart TV overlays, big data, gaming... the list changes and expands every day.
Lets see what takes my interest, there will be something new tomorrow. I enjoy working in roles where I can apply my interest in new technology to create new marketing and customer engagement and revenue opportunities.
Do you have any advice for people who want to work in the digital industry?
- Get in, show enthusiasm and a willingness to learn.
- Read and follow influencers on social networks. Get as much content with a wide range of knowledge pushed to you. Use flipboard for instance to collate all your blogs, Twitter, Linkedin, and other digital feeds in one place. Follow and understand trends.
- Join MeetUps, I co-run the UX Liverpool MeetUp. It seems that most cities have at least one creative, developer or UX meetup.
- Don’t be afraid to ask for help, assistance or ask questions within the online communities. If anything you are raising your profile and growing your network.
- Be lucky, having a mentor who is willing to listen and help you makes a massive difference for learning, support and confidence.
- Do something, anything. Produce something at home which you can demonstrate to potential employers, share with the community for educational feedback while upgrading your skills at the same time.
Which brands do you think are doing digital well?
Well, rather than look at the specific digital marketing aspect of the sector, I naturally look towards the UX design and development delivery. Brands that uniform their user experience between platforms so that that their users are aware and comfortable. The major players understand the importance of this while adding real value with rich content and an ever-expanding offer of interactions.
People will always look at the BBC as a shining example, they are excellent at combining desktop, tablet, mobile, gaming platforms and smart TV experiences. The brand and the user experience are both served wonderfully across different platforms, operating systems and interacting with remote devices.
Within the gaming sector, merging gamification with existing formats for instance online betting is a very interesting challenge. Most websites or apps all follow convention, the content is the same and so the layout and interactions reflect this. Breaking convention and then adjusting the users perspective is a risky business. The old adage ‘Don’t break what’s not broken’ comes into play, but to be truly innovative and to find an advantage in the marketplace you have to try or at least experiment. Paddy Power recently released Betdash, which brings a new slant within the gaming sector. It has broken the historic mould of layout and structure while adding a host of new features and game play.
I have always admired the Path app for its user experience and interactions. It seems so simple while packing a lot of detail and usability into its UI. It just shouts out that the UI/UX have been the top priority throughout its development life cycle.
If you would like a Day In The Life profile then by all means throw your hat into the ring by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org, and be sure to put your job title in the subject line. PS - I have had plenty of requests from agency folk, so I especially want to hear from brands / client-side people!