Interview with Joe Leech

UX & Product Management Consultant

This year we’re celebrating 10 years of UX London! In the run up to our special anniversary conference, we caught up with Joe Leech to discuss his background, experience and thoughts on how UX has changed over the past decade.

Tell us about your first design/UX role. Who did you model yourself on?

It was 14 years ago now and back then there were very few UX roles. I came out of a Human Computer Interaction MSc course with lots of theoretical knowledge but very little practical knowledge.

Someone lent me a copy of Jeffery Zeldman’s ‘Designing with Web Standards’ and I taught myself HTML/CSS and built a website. Off the back of that website I got a job as web developer with a web agency. I was a dreadful web developer, I once accidentally deleted an NHS website! I spent my time talking about the benefits of usability and soon enough a smart sales person at the agency started selling usability testing and rest is history.

What are the qualities of a good UX practitioner?

A good practitioner should be able to talk about the business benefits of the UX techniques and processes they employ. A good user experience is not an end in itself, the UX has to perform well in terms of business metrics.

What advice would you give practitioners who are just starting out in their careers?

Learn skills that will compliment your design and research experience. Product marketing, business metrics, analytics. Understand how an organisation measures its success and do everything in your power to further that success, and you will do well.

Having the right design and research skills will get you the job — it’s those other skills that will help you be successful at that job.

What does a typical day look like for you?

I’m an independent UX consultant so I help organisations to do the right things in right order for the right reasons. What that means in practice is collaborating with digital teams to prepare a solid approach to a problem and helping them advocate that approach to the business. So my typical day is either user research, a planning workshop, or preparing some visuals to advocate a UX change.

What challenges are you facing at the moment and what are you doing to overcome them?

I spend about half my time working with start ups. The thing I love about startups is the thing that also really frustrates me about them. Startups are extremely quick at delivering products to market. The problem is, they are so quick they often don’t spend the time researching the user need for the product, so they build the wrong thing. The biggest reason for startup failure is no market demand for the product. I help them slow down enough to understand how their product meets user needs.

What’s your proudest achievement? — the current version of the website is pretty much the same as the version I helped design in 2009.

The version pre 2009 was truly awful and was the go-to example for a poor user experience in many a design conference talk. It’s used by millions of people every year and it makes me really happy to know that I’ve helped millions of people get the best price and the best train ticket!

UX has changed a lot in that time. Back in 2009 the focus was on reducing complaints and refunds. When relaunched and we saw an uplift in ticket sales, that really proved the worth of UX. So much so that there is a fantastic UX and design team at now; good quality UX has shown it’s business worth.

The biggest change in the last 10 years has been the results that user centred design has delivered. Creating in-house UX and design teams was unheard of in 2009 unless you were a multi billion dollar company. Now most multi million pound companies have sizeable teams.

Join Joe and a host of other fantastic speakers at UX London 2018 — the 10th anniversary edition of Clearleft’s trailblazing UX conference. UX London takes place 23rd-25th May 2018 at Trinity Laban — tickets are on sale now at