The lay of the land

Back in May I opened this publication with an introduction to my new challenge at work — championing the cause of User Experience Design throughout the organisation (see the article below).

I’m now just shy of two months into the role, and so far it’s been both an interesting and thoroughly enjoyable journey.

The role

Beginning these placements always fills me with a touch of trepidation — the stated intent of my roles in the past haven’t always matched up with reality once I join a team. In this case, however, the role has played out even more fortuitously than was expected.

Whilst the intent to focus on UX Design was agreed with my manager, my broader goals I had kept closer to my chest. So I was thrilled when I was asked to not just research and present to the team on the topic, but also provide recommendation as to how these principles should be integrated into our current development practices, including who should do what activities and at what phases in the development cycle.

It’s also been a relief that my manager is protective of the nature of my role — in a team that exists to code, I have yet to touch a line of code (other than HTML/CSS/Javascript, of course).

The people

Discussions with my new colleagues showed varying levels of understanding of the importance and complexity of UX. The developer I was to work closest with was passionate about placing more of a focus on design — but continually referred to it as ‘UI Design’. The seasoned-yet-jaded veteran to my right fully appreciated the need to have clear and explicit reasoning underpinning all design decisions — yet didn’t see much value in developers gaining a greater understanding of the design process. My manager is fond of the phrase “making it look pretty”.

I see my role here being as much about changing those attitudes as it is about producing deliverables.

The work

The initial projects I have been handed are both proof-of-concept redesigns of existing web-based systems. At first I lamented the lack of contact with actual users, but being handed full responsibility to take a design wherever I desire has allowed me to experiment with my approach and refine my skills before tackling ‘real world’ problems.

I’ve been pleased to find that, having researched and ruminated on the practice for so long, it actually comes quite naturally to me. I see clear needs and solutions in every aspect of the screens I am redesigning; I can identify major use-cases and better groupings of on-screen elements; and I’ve begun to document the reasons for every design decision made and link them back to pre-defined guiding principles or established heuristics.

The uplift

In parallel I’ve been researching specific practices and frameworks with increased verve and distilling these into my own training materials. Discovering frameworks and terminology to define ideas which I could previously only intuit has been empowering, and will be crucial in the process of uplifting both myself and others.

These dual benefits have led me to devote much time to this activity, however I don’t feel this time could in any way be described as wasteful or luxurious. The change I leave in my wake will be the most important outcome from the time I spend in this role — much more important than any particular work I happen to produce along the way.

The next challenge for me is to better understand the organisation’s development processes as they are followed today, and construct a lean framework and supportive resources to empower my colleagues to achieve greater success. It will also soon be time to start exposing some of my content to the team — that is a process which both scares and excites me at the same time, but is nevertheless required to move things forward.

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