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Conversation with Elliot Hey, the UX expert extraordinaire.

Elliott Hey is a prominent UK-based UX expert who has previously worked as a Senior User Experience Consultant at IBM Business Consulting Services. Over the years, Elliot has worked on many high-end UX and UI design projects for military and office applications, websites, PDAs and mobile phones for clients in Banking, Insurance, Retail, and the Public Sector.

Solihull, 29 January 2017

ZT. Thank you Elliot for giving up your valuable time to meet me. As part of my MA research into myriad aspects of UX, I was hoping you'd be willing to share some of your vast UX experience:

My first question to you: what does your average UX brief look like?

EH. I am seldom given specific briefs. I rarely see a paragraph or a page spelling out in detail what my input should be. Who decides what I need to do? It usually comes from the CEO and his team, a product owner, or such.

ZT. So, in a nutshell, you are hired to think up UX strategies and present proposals for your clients.

EH. Yes, in a nutshell. First, I provide my clients with questions pertinent to the project, and they provide me with the necessary material. They'll dig out the packs containing the information I need, such as:

  • Who is the target audience?

  • What are the business goals?

  • What are the success criteria?

  • APIs? (Application Programming Interface)

This is the kind of information I need to extract as I plough through reams of documentation.

ZT. So what you're saying is you never get a detailed, clearly spelt-out brief?

EH. Not in the traditional sense of a creative brief. For my UX work for Nationwide, for example, the brief I was given was something like, we want an app with features such as helping people move house. At this stage, we're not bothered to sell through the App. We just want to increase brand awareness of Nationwide and to reflect Nationwide through the app's ease of use and the positive customer experience. So just as I said, I don't see it written down, so long as I am told the broad goals of the ongoing UX campaign.

ZT. Could you give us a specific example of your UX strategy at Nationwide?

EH. My involvement with the Nationwide app development was through IBM. It involved not just design but also the building of complex content architecture, infrastructure, security, etc, all neatly built into the app. Consequently, all these threads can seamlessly connect to the app in a way that feels good to the user.

Part of my work would be, for example, setting up a series of questions for customers to consider, such as:

  • Are you moving/ buying/ selling house?

  • Are you in England, Wales, or Scotland (because rules differ)?

So yeah, answer a few questions, hit enter, and then the app gives the user clear guides to buying, selling, costs, built-in calculators, stamp duty charges, booking removals, address change, accounts, etc. It offers all sorts of tools, widgets, and checks.

ZT. What are the usual questions that a UXer needs to consider when starting a new UX project, let's say, for illustration purposes, a local 'Rapid Local News' App?

EH. Make sure to cover the background first.

  • Why would you want to work on such a project?

  • Is this an opportunity to explore the local news area of the market?

  • Do existing news apps cover local news?

  • If so, who are your competitors?

  • What do they do well? What is it that they don't do well?

  • Draw up a rationale for what inspired this idea.

  • Understand who the target audience is.

  • Is it a niche market / what is your marketplace?

  • What are you aiming for / what is the goal?

  • Are you looking to keep up with the competition or beat it?

  • CPIs (Critical Success Indicators)

  • KPIs (Key Performance Indicators)

  • How can you measure whether you have succeeded or not?

ZT. How about this idea for an App project: "Beat the SUN" (news App)

EH. You would need to provide the following:

  • The analysis of the target audience / the demographics / the reading age associated with the target audience, etc.

  • Is there an expectation of in-depth editorial analysis,

  • Or would the emphasis be on sensationalist crime stories/ celebrity/ sports stars gossip columns/ astrology/ gallery of titillating pictures?

  • Or would it be some shade of grey in between?

ZT. In my experience as a designer, most of my clients were fairly specific about what they wanted. For my MA assignment, I would like to put together a design brief that doesn't state the requirements in minute detail yet still conveys a clear vision of intent.

EH. I agree. This shouldn't take more than half a page. I mean, you can put in it as much detail as you want, but what we're saying here is that you need to check the bounds.

Ask yourself if the brief is to identify the niche market that isn't covered. That would be your research piece. However, if the company has already covered this kind of research, it would be in the brief.

The brief will show if:

  • they've done their research

  • they've decided they want an app

  • they want to beat the competition, and it is for specific users.

  • And a method by which they will measure success.

So, at this stage, it is not about design. It's just giving you, the UXer, the framework.

ZT. If a client came to you asking you to develop a local news app, say specifically the West Midlands News app, would you laugh it off as a non-starter?

EH. No. Assuming that your target audience has a reading age of, let's say, someone like 70 years old, such as your average Tabloid reader, you'd still need to frame it as you discuss criteria with the client:

  • Will your app offer better content? Editorial?

  • Or will its USP be better designed/ more user-friendly?

Sections may cover niche areas such as, let's say:

  • Local crime

  • Name-and-shame

  • Local schools OFSTED reports

  • Facts of the week

  • Live roadworks updates

  • Stats affecting the local population

  • Readers' participation in content creation/ reader comments

  • Photo gallery.

It could be more dynamic, as-it-happens-type live local news rather than regurgitating general stuff that other news providers will likely offer. It could, for example, offer customised geo-position local news, such as a live/real-time stream of a police helicopter suspect chase. Readers would have a platform allowing them to contribute with comments/ images as events occur in real time.

Let users generate the content! This would make them feel involved in their local community as participants instead of passive news consumers. This, in turn, has the potential to significantly boost the app's appeal, leading to user base growth and so on.

All this information would go towards framing the app's goals before any meaningful design work can take place.



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