Fix up look sharp! Be Kaler’s 2010 UX round-up
NMA's UX Directory 2010 is hot off the press. As usual it's bursting with great insights and is the Who's Who guide to UX in the UK. Here's the piece from our very own Futureheads Director and BIMA exec, Be Kaler...
Has it really been just a year since we all turned on the telly to the recession that engulfed the nation? It feels like much longer than that and I am pleased to say that user experience is finally taking centre stage — like I was absolutely certain it would.
Having worked in the digital and user experience space for 15 years, in the last year alone our client base has shifted from 80% agencies to 50% agencies and 50% client-side. Clients and businesses have realised that some of this knowledge has to be kept in-house so teams within companies are evolving, supported by agencies.
These clients are building internal teams across industries to ensure that their digital products and services are protected by long-term resources and that business ideas are developed in-house in the first instance. This doesn’t mean that there is less work for agencies out there; it just means that it will be critiqued by a web-savvy team that helps shape and direct a digital project in partnership.
Publishing, retail/ecommerce and financial services are some of the sectors recognising the importance of the digital products and service that are a central part of their business. It’s encouraging that clients say they are already “doing” iPhone, Android and iPad apps. Those that haven’t already made this move are now making this a priority as they know that to stay ahead of the curve they have to provide richer brand experiences — the idea is central but it needs to be delivered in the way the consumer wants to explore it.
There seems to be less of a tussle in the boardroom about user experience. During the recession, focusing on the small iterations, amendments and tweaks that UX can achieve delivered the ROI that clients were asking for and meant that boards noticed that good UX equals an increase in value and reward.
So user experience is being taken off the page into other experiences. Whether it’s a customer who touches a brand, or a member of staff who makes a decision with a CRM, CMS or internal application, the UX community is much in demand. From creating an “in store” feel for a retailer to helping them find their favourite product or personalisation and gaming techniques, all projects start with an idea that has to be delivered with a slick UX and navigation across multiple platforms.
High street banks were quick to use secure online systems to offer the ability to spend money from the personal computer, but the corporate and investment banking industry has also taken a huge interest in UX. Budgets for data visualisation and products and services that sit behind a firewall are bigger than before. If traders can see accurate data that can help them make accurate decisions, as a direct result of increased involvement of UX, that’s a good thing.
User experience teams and consultants are winning hugely significant and in-depth projects to help clients understand their business requirements. This phase was often seen as a luxury, but these days ignoring such requirements is risky — something few would recommend. Usually, the whole team has bought into user experience, and there is a more cohesive approach to projects.
What does this mean for the skills out there? There has been a steady appetite for consultancy skills. You need to be able to work with your client on a level to understand what the key drivers for the project are before laying down any wireframes. You need to be able to work a boardroom and stakeholders, gather all their individual thoughts and boil them down into proper requirements and present them back. You need to be a strong presenter and stand by your recommendations and back them up with research and insights. Good visualisation skills are essential, sometimes some statistics, nearly always rough scamps but often video and audio to highlight how users behave in their environment.
Contextual and ethnographic research with subject matter experts and users is not a luxury, it’s a part of the process. And while the initial few weeks may be tough, there is a tipping point when users see that you can make their life easier. Working with users means a two-way conversation and more fluidity in how an idea unfolds. The number of pure wireframing roles has decreased dramatically — wireframing for wireframing’s sake is dead.
Getting your pen to paper and scamping out visualisations through a discovery or implementation phase is essential. There are good signs of a joined-up des/tec/ux process. This means that UX starts at the beginning and runs through the middle to the end of a project. The UX person is the guardian of the user and business principles behind the project, and can ensure that it’s kept on track and not sidelined by inappropriate design or technology.
Having presented to students at UCL, City, Ravensbourne and St Martins this year, I am also seeing more commercial awareness in the assignments set. People often going back to school to do a Masters in Interaction Design to add to a work history in design, editorial, account management and technology, which means they can start to contribute to projects quicker. I recommend growing your own staff in an employees’ marketplace. I see graduate hires have the longest tenure within this space — they are stayers and grafters. Develop them and keep them longer.
Overall, clients are asking for more consultancy skills, more idea generation, more concept development, good overall knowledge of technical platforms, more exposure to agile and waterfall blended approaches. There’s a huge pile of exciting job briefs on my desk that need filling.
Be Kaler is director of Futureheads Recruitment and director at BIMA
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