alexandtheweb / blog

Service embedding lessons from a lone UX designer

Earlier this month I wrapped up my stint as senior designer at Fresh Egg. Nervous and excited as I am about my very new role, it’s time for a quick look back at a varied, rewarding and remarkable 16 months with one of the biggest agencies in the South.

It certainly was varied. I worked with businesses of all sizes across a multitude of sectors. I tackled everything from new product development to large scale site redesigns to minor conversion optimization projects. I juggled expert evaluations, user study facilitation, experience mapping, interactive prototyping and A/B testing. Frazzling, but fun.

What about the remarkable part? Despite the strength of its dev and design teams, Fresh Egg’s business tips more towards its SEO and social media offering. To be fair, two years ago they would have fared pretty badly on any UX maturity scale. When I joined FE it was as its first – and sole – user experience nut. Despite this, I was placed in a position of trust and allowed to introduce a bevy of new ideas and practices. I was given free reign to turn meeting rooms into testing labs, plaster everything with postit notes and inundate the reception desk with a stream of study participants. Above all, I was given opportunity after opportunity to integrate UCD practices into new project pitches. For all of this I give Fresh Egg endless credit.

Trust and open-mindedness within the business were key. But what else was it about Fresh Egg’s culture, people and projects which allowed UX to be embraced as a service offering? Here are a few things which seemed to work, offered as tips to anyone who may find themselves in a similar situation:

  • Quickly find a small but rewarding case study. Hoard the results – particularly positive quantitative results
    Shortly after joining FE I worked with the insight team on a series of A/B tests which compared my design tweaks within a client’s key conversion path. A few days’ work translated into some very positive numbers and we had our first case study as well as a justification for future work.
  • Integrate with existing services
    The UX “sell” for Fresh Egg was fortunately tidy and natural. The SEO services brought the right audience to clients’ sites. Once there, the efforts of the UX and insight teams kept them there.
  • Teach and learn – internally and externally
    Sneaking in short presentations into team meetings went a long way in making others understand the nature of my role. But thanks to Nick, FE’s services director, we also hosted a number of evening community events on UX topics, which educated staff and positioned us as a user-focused agency. Attending and sponsoring UX events helped as well.
  • Piggy back on new projects
    New processes don’t have to seem new to new clients, who should have no reason to believe that user focus isn’t the status quo. Similarly, it’s easier to justify new approaches when working with a new domain or technology (say, mobile).
  • Have a champion
    Needless to say, without the support of Ollie, FE’s head of design and Nick, I doubt I would have made any headway at all.

A final note of reflection: I did leave the Egg with a feeling that I hadn’t given it my all. But to be fair I couldn’t have: my MSc took priority and I stubbornly refused to get anything other than the absolute most out of my expensive education. On a personal level, Fresh Egg was also a massive confidence booster. While my assertiveness and ease have some ways to go, I have Adam and Co to thank for letting me find my voice.

UX Brighton 2012: rounding up the references

The third annual UX Brighton has come and gone, leaving over 300 gorged, happy brains in its wake. The talks were typical of the conference: varied, absorbing, but above all relentlessly focused on quality content. As Jay tweeted: ‘all killer, no filler’.

I was gutted to miss some of the afternoon sessions – uni lectures beckoned – but I did manage to round up some of the references from the earlier talks. They’re ready for hoarding below or available as a shared Evernote notebook.

Alex Wright

Alex’s talk was a whirlwind tour of the web that could have been: ideas for universal networks of human knowledge which didn’t quite come to pass. Alex argued that these unrealised prototypes should not be wholly discounted: they offer us a sense of common history and, given a different context, may yet have their day.

Mark Backler

Mark took us through the practicalities and constraints of designing gestural (and voice) UIs for the Kinect. I’ve been hunting for the visual gesture builder Mark mentioned in his talk but haven’t had any luck! Stay tuned.

Guy Smith-Ferrier

Guy’s talk had all the joy and energy of someone lucky enough to share their most passionate hobby with several hundred strangers. His demo of EPOC’s EEG headset delighted the audience and offered a glimpse into the challenges of designing brain computer interfaces. I did hope he’d fetch volunteers from the audience…

The Emotive EPOC headset Guy used during the demo

Ben Bashford

In a world increasingly filled with intelligent, connected devices, how can we ease the pain of technological adoption and avoid the malady of future shock? Ben argued that the key is empathy – for people and smart gadgets alike.

Edit: with Ben’s help the list above should now be more exhaustive.

If you missed out on the conference completely, don’t fret: all the talks have been recorded. And if you attended and enjoyed yourself, tip your hat to Danny and Emmeline, the tireless power duo behind a great day for the industry.

Web wearables and tech textiles

All manner of web-enabled, tech-augmented textiles have been cropping up lately, from jackets that hug you when you’ve been liked on Facebook to an app that tracks and pairs your NFC-chipped socks (the app also comes with – wait for it – a “blackometer”).

On the more crafty – and less silly – side of things one can find “soft circuits”: LilyPad Arduino, especially designed to be sewn into various wearables. Go ahead: make awful light-up Christmas jumpers and LED-studded scarves to your heart’s content. Technology’s on your side.

All well and good, but how much closer are we to the ultimate hipster wet dream, glimpsed a few years ago in this Justice video?

If I really wanted that animated, web-ready – and possibly interactive – tshirt, I might consider the e-ink shirt . Or I might invest in the tshirtOS project, brought to us by CuteCircuit, the “future fashion” company.

But of course I wouldn’t. Every single one of these projects is in some way ridiculous or unappealing. But what I love about them is that they all seem to be churning up from a fertile swamp of innovation that may or may not yield something genuinely appealing and useful. The “ooh, how about this?” charm.

So, how about a hat that doubles as storage for my most interesting thoughts?

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