Firstly, tell us a bit about yourself, how did you get into User Experience?
After art school, I got into front-end web – I was an HTML/CSS coder working in teams with designers, programmers, project managers and clients – so was exposed to lots of skillsets which I really enjoyed. I got into web accessibility, and did some programming and systems analysis study, which all have an emphasis on structuring information – this was really helpful when I started doing information architecture work. I really enjoyed the aspect of working with people who have quite specific expertise, and being able to really get into their headspace and document their ideas to go into projects – so that’s been something I’ve carried through as well. Once I got into a role where I was allowed to talk to actual users it was all systems go!
What is the easiest way to explain what a User Experience Analyst does, for those not in the industry (and even for those who are)!?
As a UX Analyst, your role is to bring in data to support the user-centric side of a project – so understanding what users needs are in relation to the project, and what their experience of using the product & competing products is. It depends on what the project needs are – you might be testing prototypes with users, usability testing an existing website or content, interviewing or surveying users to find out more about the value something delivers to them. Part of your role is to make all this visible to the project team, and to make sure people are able to have input and be part of the process.
What tools do you use as part of your research and info gathering?
A really good brief, and talking to the project leaders and others involved for a start! I do lots of usability testing – getting people to use websites and content, and talk about it. Snagit works well for recording these sessions. The Optimal Workshop suite of tools are great for problem finding and testing. I use whatever web stats are available to look at content and topic usage and user pathway data. Surveys can be useful in some situations. Sometimes there are places online where your target users hang out that can be a good place to do some research too. For documentation, wireframing etc I use what suits the project – often it’s easier if you use the same software as the rest of the team.
I love the National Libraries site. We talked a bit about that when we caught up recently as well. How big of a change was that behind the scenes for the organisation?
The website redevelopment was part of a huge project to streamline the library’s online and in-person services. For the website, this included developing a single user friendly search interface so that people could access the collections from one place, rather than having to first go to the correct catalogue for what they were after – a really big technical challenge, with so many datasets and user groups to bring under one umbrella! This was an amazing opportunity to be part of an Agile project, with lots of usability testing of a developing prototype, digging deep into the intricacies of how people search!
At the same time, the building was refurbished – this was huge and we all had to move out of the main building. If you visit the library now there’s some lovely spaces for serious researchers as well as anyone wanting to explore the collections.
How long are you generally involved in projects of that scale for?
For that kind of project you will usually be involved throughout the development process – including development of functionality, visual design, and supporting content – anything that is going to be tested with users. If there are additional “chunks” of work that will be integrated, you might also be involved with scoping for those as well – for example working with subject matter experts to unpack what might be involved in adding new material.
In terms of the design and advertising industry, what sort of workshops can you offer to help agencies develop their digital offering?
I do a lot of “voice of customer” workshops with website users – these usually involve something hands-on such as usability testing, and include individual, paired, and whole group activities. You might do things like have people map their process individually, then work as a group to compare experiences and issues. Especially for anything involving specialist content, having people work in pairs and recording their conversation generates some rich insights.
I also do workshops with subject matter experts – in a scoping project this helps you to break down a topic and understand what the possibilities are.
I’m also interested in working with internal groups, where the workshop group could be more involved in the unpacking process and next steps.
What is it about what you do, that you love and continues to drive you?
I really enjoy listening to people, finding out about what they do, their perspectives and ideas, and being able to bring people’s ideas together to help create amazing online & offline experiences!
Q&A with Annie