Design something and set it free upon the world? Absolutely. Design something, set it free upon the world and think your work ends there? No way. With the hustle and bustle of working life, it can become easy to neglect or even forget about the follow-through of your work. But, without it, how can designers ever know if what they are producing is truly effective? As a user experience (UX) designer at SEEK, Aoife Johnston is well-versed in creating meaningful and considered design, but not just because of her job title.
Her Irish accent lilting, Aoife talks about her entry into the Melbourne design community – a journey familiar to most. Three and a half years as the solitary in-house designer at a small agency saw her cover an impressive expanse of print, digital and web design. A conscious shift into freelance work followed, with clients including Lonely Planet, Seed Heritage and the Financial Review providing Aoife with a slice of direction all creatives dream of – taking possession of their designs. Agency experience: tick. A stint at freelancing: tick. So what next?
A graduate of graphic and multimedia design in her home country, as well as the Shillington Masterclass, Aoife’s entry into UX design came about more organically than a handful of new qualifications.
“After freelancing I decided I wanted a change of pace and to get involved in a team-based environment,” she says. “But I didn’t want to go just anywhere, I wanted to go somewhere that I really believed in – [a place with] a solid brand, and where I could grow as a designer as well as re-entering a team dynamic.”
Enter SEEK, Australia’s leading employment site. Founded in Australia and now with more than 6000 employees globally, SEEK has forever changed the way that people search for jobs and employers search for candidates. Aoife admits she knew little about the formal definition of UX design prior to this point. Yet, through the course of a conversation with SEEK’s head of UX design, she realised otherwise.
“I explained my own design process to him – a process of problem, solution, presentation – and as I talked him through it he said, ‘Well, you’re already doing UX design’.” she says. “My whole process of identifying a problem, speaking to the user and having them define their desired solution, exploring possible ideas and designs to present back to the client and then following through with a final solution… that is UX.”
Aoife is quick to clear the difference that exists between everyday design and UX design.
“So many areas of design are quite similar. They have the definition stage, brainstorming, and then the creation of a solution,” she says. “But UX also has the additional step of being able to test and validate your designs.”
SEEK’s team of fifteen UX designers meet weekly to discuss progress and constructively critique what they’re working on together. A daily meeting with all project members – from business analysts to testers – also allows the team to discuss any obstructions preventing progress. Through the process, Aoife is the voice of the user in the experience, keeping the perspective of the customer front of mind. It’s absorbing enough to invade other areas of her life.
“I find I’m a lot more critical and mindful of experiences when I go through them,” she says. “I critique sites in my head, which can be annoying… like I might be trying to buy a dress [online] and wonder why aspects of it aren’t working!”
This collaborative approach also allows Aoife to explain her return to a team environment, this time in an in-house role and not for an agency.
“I missed the dynamic of working within a team when freelancing and being able to see a product or brand improve,” she says. “Working in an agency exposes you to a variety of clients, but the value of working in-house means you can really get to know your product and user in depth. You become part of the experience and you have an influence on it. Since I’ve been at SEEK I’ve really enjoyed that tangible aspect of design. Once my work is out there in the world and functioning, it can go out to millions of people and suddenly, your design is being used by so many people. Immediately you know if there’s a problem. You get instant feedback. If somebody can’t use the website you’ve designed, they’ll ring up customer service or email you or tweet you to say, ‘I don’t like this new design, it’s not working for me’.”
The nature of UX design means Aoife and the SEEK team can frequently revise their work. The follow through has to occur. A vast testing program ensures their products match the needs of users and continue to do so. On-site user behaviour is analysed so if an unexpected pattern emerges, it can be addressed. In fact, they’re getting faster and faster at addressing it: changes that previously would have taken up to a day to implement now occur within ten minutes. Aoife points to UX being as instant as her design outcomes themselves.
“With print design, you could make a poster or brochure and never really get that feedback,” she explains. “You ask, ‘Is my brochure working?’, but you don’t know because you don’t get that tangibility. With UX you can look at the statistics and the analytics and ask, ‘What are people doing? Is it working? Is it solving the initial problem we set out to solve?’.”
Good, effective design exists to provide solutions. But rarely are these solutions the end of the road.
“You need ongoing relationships with customers as trusted partners, rather than just a quick fix,” Aoife says. “Once you hand over your work to a company and the day-to-day realities of a business set in, how is that brand going to be implemented and maintained? You need to have an in-house person able to apply these learnings and continue to apply them. There’s so much room for improvement. Design is a living thing that needs to be maintained, and UX is an extension of that.”
We hear a lot from Creative Directors, we’ve checked out our share of studio profiles, and we think we have a pretty good idea of what designers do. But what about the account managers? The copywriters? The accountants? A machine needs more than one cog to run smoothly, right? Each month, we’ll introduce someone working behind-the-scenes wonders and give you an insight into the wide scope of roles within the creative industry.