Things I’ve learned as a UX designer in a marketing agency

Working together. Photo credit: John Harding

After my master degree in Human Computer Interaction at University College London, I landed my first UX Designer role at a digital marketing agency/consultancy. Our team designed and tested digital strategies helping our clients to grow. Throughout my 16 months in the team I had led and managed the end-to-end design optimisation process for 10+ start-ups from seed funded to Series A.

I was the only UX designer in the team and I had to dip my fingers in all and any user experience related work. I ran conversion rate optimisation experiments, and reported on what worked and what didn’t. Our team provided these learnings to our clients, so they didn’t need to make the same mistakes.

Being the only designer in the team also means I needed to do odd jobs at times (“Can you design this bumper sticker, please?”). It was great fun.

Below I would like to share with you some valuable lessons I’ve learnt in a team of marketing experts being the only UX designer.

Human centred shouldn’t be an after thought

Often when I was asked to optimise the conversion rate of some UI I questioned, why does it have to be X or Y?

There was this one time I examined the user journey of an on-demand platform. I wondered why couldn’t users book their service on the spot? Why do they have to wait for another confirmation email? This put our client at stake compare to their competitors who let customers finish the whole booking process in the form.

Turns out it is down to how they hire their staff. They weren’t employees of the company, hence customers can’t book them in straghtaway.

Designing the user experience is often considered as an afterthought. These are things that are behind the scenes, that you think customers don’t need to know how you work. However if your business model isn’t mapping with the user’s expected model (for instance, “the Uber of X” should allow me to book instantly”), users would not stay for the confusion and diappointment.

Be foolish, be humble

Don’t act like we know it all — I know in agencies we all fall prey to this.

We need to be the expert consultant. However, as new tech emerges every day, no one can say they “know it all”.

Of course, knowing the most updated game rules helps, but more important of all clients were not only buying into the stuff our team knew but buying into our potential capabilities of finding out what no one knew yet — pioneering a certain area before competitors.

“Experiments”, as our team called it, gave a good mindset to both clients and ourselves that we are a learning machine.

We failed fast and learned fast for our clients on a small budget, so they didn’t need to repeat the costly mistakes on a much bigger scale. We learned from every mistake. We wrote summaries on why things worked and why they didn’t work. Repeat and rinse. These tatical summaries formed the bigger strategy for the organisation.

Accurate data is necessary for ux

It has been a great pleasure and honour to work in an agency that took data tracking seriously, pride in accuracy and granular nitty gritty. It was the foundation of all the analysis and marketing work.

The traffic source data also gave loads of answers to user behaviour. A user coming from a search result, versus one from an ad on Facebook, versus one clicking on her bookmark to land on your site, could have completely diffierent intentions and urgency. Without working side by side with marketing experts, each specialising in their own domain, I would be blind from the impact of the traffic sources, and would not have mapped the variety of channels and devices users would be using in their user journey.

The more I talk to designers, marketers and business owners in the industry, the more I realised the quantity and quality of data I was working with is a privilege, if not a luxury. Without the data, it was impossible to quantify any interactions or results. This in turn impacted calculations on customer lifetime value, how our team forecasted, and at the end these numbers were the ones investors were looking at.

Sure, implementing a data strategy is expensive, it is hard to get it right, but it is worth every bit of your money.

Working among marketing domain experts was an eye-opening experience. It sharpened my business awareness as I could see how much we were spending to get visitors and clicks. I could see how the increase in conversion ties to the pound side at the end of the chain, and my design played a crucial role in this chain. Joining a marketing agency as the sole designer straight from my master degree meant I had to stand up on my feet from day one as THE designer and THE user experience person, forcing me to get my grips on my academic knowledge and practical user research and prototyping techniques real quick.

If you were like me starting out in the UX world, don’t be afraid to take an unusual role. It totally worthed it.

UX designer and researcher in #London | Psychology & HCI graduate from @uclic. | See my work at