In our new series, we are going to interview digital professionals from front-end developer or UX designer to product owner. The first entry is an interview with Ana Santos, a freelance UX designer from Manchester, United Kingdom about life in abroad, UX and more.
- Thanks so much for your time, Ana! Could you please tell us a bit about yourself?
- I’m Portuguese, I’ve graduated in Design (BA) in 2010 and since then I haven’t stopped learning and evolving – I’m truly passionate about what I do. Even though I love the beach, I’ve moved to the UK 5 years ago in hopes to advance my career. I feel lucky and grateful for all the great opportunities I’ve had, I’ve been in both agency and client-side roles and my most recent one has been mainly UX-focused. I’ve recently felt it was time to go freelance and pursue the dream of working on my own projects, so that’s the next step while I prepare to move abroad once again. Apart from that, I’m also a bookworm – I’ve read around 70 books last year!
- Could you give us some insights on the structure of your organization and your development teams?
- In my current role, I’m part of a Design & UX team that works closely with the development, marketing, and CRM teams. In our team, we are responsible for all UX and Design from concepts through wireframes to prototypes. We are also responsible for ongoing A/B testing and UX reviews to optimize usability and conversion.
- Could you share some insights on how you ended up in UX design?
- Having a background and degree in Design but not a formal education in specifically UX, I’ve always known Design was about problem-solving (more than making things ‘look pretty’) but UX became a more direct discipline when I’ve started doing more Web Design than Print. The importance of usability became very obvious by then, and while it’s said that ‘UX is everyone’s responsibility’, I believe it’s essential to have a UX professional in the team. And because Design itself has the bad reputation of being subjective, UX makes it so much easier to represent its value with deliverables that show the exact process and explains the reasoning behind the decisions we make. So based on that, I’ve gained interested in knowing more about UX, what is truly UX, and what are UXers supposed to be doing (many misconceptions about that still). I’ve read a lot, taken many online courses, the last one being via Interaction Design Foundation, which I 100% recommend. Then, I’ve started to implement a process – I did that back in the agency, and we completely rebooted the whole thing. But UX in an agency is not the same as a focused client-side role, and my last role was what gave me the best experience UX wise. The fact you are there, with the same client all the time, accompanying the progress and seeing the results of the A/B tests and ongoing validation of theories, does teach you a lot of things.
- Would you recommend other people interested in UX design to study or to get practical experience first?
- Depending on their background, they might already have a good idea and perception about UX. I definitely recommend reading some material about it first, before getting started. Because as I’ve mentioned, there are still many misconceptions about UX, and I think there’s some essential reading material to take into account first. I don’t necessarily recommend formal education, but there are many good online courses, I did mention the Interaction Design Foundation that goes in-depth into UX Design and Interaction Design. Practice is, of course, important too. I’ve learned many things while actually doing them.
- DebugMe is also about tracking bugs beside the website design feedback function. Could you give us some insights on how you or your team handle the topic of user testing & bug tracking related to UX?
- Currently, most of the testing and bug tracking is assigned to the development team that includes a test analyst/ QA tester. However, Design and UX team review all websites on a regular basis to ensure there are no usability issues and find which areas can be improved. We also refer to quantitative data analytics and qualitative data (polls, recordings, etc) to gain more insights on our users and come up with theories and multivariate tests on what could be improved based on those findings. Sometimes it does happen that one of us comes across a bug or issue which has then to be reported back to development.
- What’s your biggest challenge when it comes to testing your work?
- Maybe the unpredictability of it all, especially during the Design and even prototyping stage. There are tools to test your Design in earlier stages, but in my current role, we prefer to test as we go (after launch) and with our current users. I think in UX, even if you follow the best practices according to the standards, the challenge is having to always take that little bit of a risk and understand that only A/B testing will validate your theories. What has worked for others might not work for us, and it’s incredible how much you find out about your audience if you keep testing. Testing is something we actually do daily.
- How do you think the role of a UX designer has evolved over the past few years?
- I feel the term UX designer has become more common over the past few years, resulting in different people developing different ideas about what it means. So considering all UX roles are evolving at such fast pace (UX researcher, UX consultant, etc) it’s still a bit difficult to reach a consensus.Many of the design roles available from employers and recruitment agencies nowadays involve the term ‘UI/UX designer’ and you’d be surprised at how many different things this could possibly mean: Some of them need a UI Designer, some of them need a Visual Designer, some of them actually need a front-end developer! It is a bit frustrating at times because while I agree it’s important to be somewhat flexible due to the rapidly emerging roles, there are some core principles about the skillset. So UX Designer shouldn’t be used as a new term for ‘unicorn’, and at the moment, that’s what I feel it is.
- Can you share some tools you are using on a daily basis in your role as UX designer?
- Wireframing & Design – Sketch;
Gathering data – Hotjar & Google Analytics;
Prototyping – Marvel;
Email testing – Litmus;
Communication – Skype & Slack
- I’m a business guy. How would you like to write me a brief for you as a designer?
- I’d definitely need you to include information about your business, your specific goals for the project (these ideally should be smart and measurable), as much data as you can provide me from your target market or current audience, competitors, include reference to copy content and images to be delivered at a later date (always before design), any technical specifications depending on the project (sizes, print, web, style guidelines), budget (this is essential to come up with an effective solution that would suit your budget), deadlines and examples of design you consider effective.
- What is that you ask from a client before you start working on a design? How do you find out about his preferences?
- Assuming there’s still information missing from the initial brief or anything to be clarified, I organize a call or a chat to go through those points. I always include a question about their design preferences / examples on the design form, and if they haven’t included reasons, this is a good chance to go through them. It’s important to make sure the clients are focused on the functionality when going through these examples and that we start establishing specific goals from the very beginning. Their preferences and style should represent the ones from their business and values they are trying to transmit. Every feature should have a clear benefit.
- When is it that you expect to get a wireframe and when do you think it makes sense to move straight into design?
- I always start with the wireframe stage, it’s my process and I stick to it. With that being said, this is not always a deliverable required from clients, and not everyone can see its value. The fact is that having a wireframe stage can save lots of time (and money) because changes on a wireframe or sketch are so much easier to be done, so this is already a huge benefit for the client that has a certain limit to changes and revisions during design stage. I’ve learned (the hard way) that if this is communicated correctly, clients are able to shift their focus more easily. For example, in the past, I remember having seen clients having a quick look at wireframes and ‘sure, go ahead’ only to want to make endless changes to the design later. If it’s clear in the scope that after signing off the wireframe, changes to the actual design are limited, then the reaction is more focused because it’s not only time involved, but money too. Another thing about wireframes is that they facilitate good feedback because it makes everyone focus on the structure and functionality first.
- What tools do you use for prototyping & design & why?
- I’ve recently started using Sketch for Design (after having used Photoshop for 10 years) and I can say I don’t regret even a little bit. It’s great for User Interface design and it does improve a lot of the workflow by closing the gap between Design and Development. For prototyping I mostly use Marvel by syncing automatically my projects from Sketch.
- I experienced many times that a UX design is cool – but then a developers say it is hard to implement and they propose an easier way. Have you ever experienced that?
- I’ve experienced many challenges and limitations to the successful implementation of major usability recommendations – unfortunately, yes. I particularly remember having been hired once for a project that was supposed to improve the UX of a product page. To be fair, the whole website needed a whole UX review and customer journeys to be redone, but the client was ‘on a budget’. I should have understood that this was a red flag, because as soon as he has received my UX recommendations, he has decided right away that he couldn’t possibly implement them as this would involve major changes in development that he couldn’t afford. His request: “Can’t you just make the page prettier?”
- What tools are best for supporting the design to development process?
- For a prototyping stage, I think tools like InVision and Marvel help a lot in making the interaction flow really obvious and interactive enough so anyone can already visualize how the website will work when live. Sketch, for me, makes everything work much more smoothly when it comes to doing the handover. Even if you use Photoshop, I never liked providing PSD files (I don’t think developers should have to waste time messing with Photoshop at all), I prefer not being lazy and do a proper handover – of course, this will depend on each developer’s preference. So with Sketch, the process of saving assets (including retina) and sharing styles is faster and easier for both. Some of the plugins available will even go beyond, and there’s not even the need for the developer to own Sketch or open the software at all.
- Isn’t design like football? Everyone claims they have an expert opinion? One likes it red, the other blue.. How do you make sure that the HIPPO rule is not followed?
- Definitely it’s a common issue in design. I like to say that it’s not about us, it’s about our users, and thankfully in my current role everyone is pretty much in agreement in making data-driven decisions. So when a certain design decision cannot be backed up with data, we go ahead, test it, and use the data for future decisions. Since I’ve started working in UX, communicating my design decisions has been so much easier for me. Why can’t we change to that color? Contrast doesn’t pass the WCAG for accessibility. Why do we need an extra page there? Let’s refer back to the customer journey map. Why is that button blue? Because previous tests have shown an increase in conversion. Why should this website be redesigned? Because we’ve reviewed it against a set of heuristics and it has several usability issues. So you see, in the end, design can be objective too.Of course, back in the agency or even for any of my freelance projects, things would work a bit differently. Clients in general, especially those less tech-savvy or less design orientated, don’t want to hear about technical terms, and they need help to give feedback – the right kind of feedback. And I believe it’s also part of our job as designers to give them structure and guidance so we can obtain objective feedback to move the project forward rather than personal preferences that will just result in endless revisions without a purpose or goal.
- Last question. Manchester City or United?
- Haha, If I’d have to choose I’d say Manchester United.