Our weekly series where we speak to the stars of our Product Development teams. This week we spoke to Chris on everything from not ever planning to be a designer, the importance of working out loud and even got a piece of artwork thrown in!
Your name and role
Chris Spalton — Product Designer in the Redgate Foundry.
How long have you done this, what did you do before?
I’ve been at Redgate for just over a year, prior to this I worked as a Senior UX consultant/researcher at Foolproof, an experience design agency, working for global clients such as Shell, HSBC, Maersk and a lot of others. Prior to that I had a long career within Insurance for many years, after doing a completely random set of weird and wonderful jobs including working at Wembley stadium, Packing fake ducks and rifles at a country pursuits store, a frontline IT technician at a college, bartending and random factory jobs in strange buildings in the wilds of Norfolk. This might seem strange, but engaging with all sorts of ‘real people’ in all sorts of ‘real’ settings really sparked an interest in understanding and empathising with other human beings which I think has set up well for a role in UX/Product design.
How did you become a product designer?
It developed from my work in Insurance, I was manager of a team of 10 people responsible for the operational support of the call centres, we had to deliver MI, deal with complaints, handle compliance checking and support best practices to develop the contact agents etc.
I could see that there were unmet needs in the way the business was compiling & delivering all of this information to the teams that caused blockages and frustrations in using the information and processes effectively, so embarked on a bit of a personal crusade to build tools, and applications that delivered what the people needed, in the way that they needed it. This was all before ‘UX’ was a thing anyone had really heard of, it just made sense to me.
Overtime, due to getting really effective results and with support from a manager (thanks Wilson!) who really believed in me, I moved into my own bespoke role. Combining the need to improve processes, the technical aspect and my graphic design skills (I also did all internal graphic design of posters/booklets etc) eventually I was lucky enough to carve out my own niche position, of travelling around, understanding different departments requirements, then designing building and supporting engaging tools that helped people. After several years of doing this with great results & feedback, at least from most of the business… (I won the national outstanding contribution to the business award twice, whilst being labelled a ‘Renegade Terrorist developer by the IT teams!) I looked around to see what industry combined my interest in helping improve people & processes, technology, and design…. Turned out there was a thing called ‘User Experience’ so I started to formalise a transition into that.
I sought a mentor, (Thanks Caynes!) and eventually moved to Foolproof, where I nailed down my research and service design skills on large and small projects for global clients. This was a fantastic learning opportunity as the variety and scope of the projects working at an agency means you’re dropped into the thick of things early, and have to get good, fast. I loved the adventure of travelling around, understanding different businesses and industries and using my research skills to uncover problems and develop solutions.
After several years of that I starting looking for a bit more ownership of a longer term project or product and as this feeling grew I got a linkedin message from Redgate’s head of design Matt Godfrey…. And here I am!
What sort of things did you do to prepare you for the role?
Redgate works in a really complex domain, so I did some research around that, spoke to friends and contacts who had some knowledge and experience. It’s always a bit nerve wracking joining a new place and I was keen to have investigated at least some of what I’d be doing.
Other than that, and thanks to the agency experience I have I was fairly confident with ‘embracing the vague’ and diving right in, I was determined to start leading research calls as soon as possible to start building up my knowledge and understanding our users, I think the members of the first team I joined at Redgate (RIP Hammerheads, Long live Hammerheads!) were slightly surprised by my desire to jump straight in a start talking to users despite my complete lack of knowledge of the domain or product we were working on…. But that’s the point of the research, right?
Did you always know you wanted to become a Product Designer?
This is a strange one, short answer is No. I have never, and will likely never define myself by the job I do. Saying that, I have always been interested in the crossover of helping people, technology and creativity and have also strived to look for opportunities where I can get better at all those things simultaneously. Most importantly I look for places and people where I can simply become a better version of myself, both as a human being and as a ‘professional’ (I use that term loosely!). I just turned 40 and still don’t know what I want to be when I grow up, I have pretty modest goals of simply becoming a better version of myself year on year.
What’s the thing that gets you out of bed in the morning?
The opportunity and privilege to learn something, teach something, and help someone.
What’s the thing that makes you want to put the alarm on snooze?
When I know I have a day of admin, bureaucracy, and calender invites ahead. It’s an essential part of modern working, but I am very much more biased toward doing. (It’s something I’ll always need to get better at).
What one piece of advice would you give to someone seeking to do your role?
Be humble, be open, be vulnerable, work out loud, don’t be afraid to show your work, have strong opinions loosely held. Always prioritise the person you’re building for.
Best advice to give to someone looking to join Redgate?
Do your research, show your thought process, be prepared to not know the all the answers, know when to ask questions and don’t be afraid to do so.
Where do you see Redgate in 5 years’ time?
I think Redgate is currently at a really key point in it’s history, it’s 20 years old and has been truly successful in leading the way in developing point tools to help individuals. But I think that similar to when you’re a young adult who goes out into the world for the first time, this period of time really defines who you are. I think the next 5 years will/should be focused on delivering larger scale solutions to support bigger businesses to solve wider organisational issues, therefore this will have the knock on effect of supporting larger amounts of our customers, and most importantly the thousands (or even millions) of THEIR customers do what they need to do in a safe, secure, ethical, and compliant fashion. The world at large is changing and I think the expertise and personalities with Redgate are the right team (as we grow) to really contribute to this. The data and technologies are a fundamental foundation of business and security, but the data and technology is more and more becoming intrinsically connected to real human lives and that’s an area that we need to be considering the impact on.
What’s the motto you live by?
Priortise People over Products over Profits, be nice and work hard.
Describe what Ingeniously Simple means to you.
We do the hard work so our customers don’t have to, hopefully this doodle I drew a few years back sums it up nicely!