So what does a UX Designer really do?

user experience honeycomb

(Clue: they don’t do much designing)

Many people think UX designers spend all their time building prototypes. But the reality is very different. I think part of the misconception lies with our job title – we are not really designers – we are problem solvers.

With this in mind, I thought I’d write a blog as a bit of a myth buster, to invite questions about the discipline of UX, and to show how our UX team can help more broadly across the Partnership.

What people think we do…

What we actually do…

A UX designer is a user-focussed problem solver with solid business understanding. We work closely with product owners / managers to help shape the product vision and ensure it is focussed on the needs of those who use it. We are part of Digital Development, but can be of service to the wider organisation.

The purpose of UX is to ensure that the products and services we build are useful and valuable to users. Peter Morville represents this through his User Experience Honeycomb, which perfectly illustrates what is needed to design a meaningful and valuable user experience:

He notes that in order for there to be a meaningful and valuable user experience, information must be:

  • Useful: Your content should be original and fulfill a need
  • Usable: Site must be easy to use
  • Desirable: Image, identity, brand, and other design elements are used to evoke emotion and appreciation
  • Findable: Content needs to be navigable and locatable onsite and offsite
  • Accessible: Content needs to be accessible to people with disabilities
  • Credible: Users must trust and believe what you tell them

Below, I’ll talk you through my ‘design’ process (I’ve found this a handy process for all types of work).

When I take on a new piece of work I ask myself four questions:

  1. What problem am I trying to solve?
  2. Who is the user?
  3. Why is it important?
  4. What do I know & what don’t I know?

What problem am I trying to solve?

Einstein said: “If I had an hour to solve a problem I’d spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and five minutes thinking about solutions.” He believed that the quality of the solution we generate is in direct proportion to our ability to identify the problem. And I’m absolutely with him on this!

This stage of the process is often referred to as ‘problem definition’. I dedicate a considerable amount of time to it. If I received a brief to “Improve the checkout process” my first question would be: What problem are we trying to solve? And improve what, exactly? Understanding the problem is vitally important if we hope to design the right solution. Approaching the problem of trolley abandonment would likely be different to approaching the problem of low engagement with “forgotten favourites”.

I use the 5 Whys interrogative technique as part of my problem definition process. It helps me get directly to the core of the problem.

Just like a small child, a UX Designer must keep asking “why”. Often, you’ll find your “why” gets harder to answer. You might even stumble on an insightful answer that you never could have expected. This technique aims to differentiate the symptoms of a problem from the cause of a problem. If we are always fixing symptoms, we’ll continue to see the same problems arise again and again. And we’ll invest more time and resources into fixing the same problems. You’ve likely heard people say “All I do is firefighting”, but, if we fix the cause, both the user and the business are happy: it’s a valuable use of time and resource, and the problem is solved.

Who is the user?

We can’t design a good solution if we don’t know who it’s for. We need to spend time learning about our audience: what is important to them? What do they struggle with? What are their likes and dislikes? At Waitrose we lean on our incredible Insight Team, who have produced personas customer segmentation, and share of wallet information, which are all fantastic tools to get a better understanding of our users and their behaviours. We lean on the Data & Analytics Team to understand what devices are being used and how this might impact their experience. For example, we may be testing on new fast devices, but our customers may be using old devices with slow connectivity. Everything needs to be aligned to the user.

Every Monday I pencil out half an hour to digest the most recent customer verbatim – this is what our customers have fed back to us in the last week. This helps me empathise with our users and understand their core pain points. After this, I spend time in Google Analytics familiarising myself with behavioural patterns and site usage. The more familiar I am with this, the quicker I’ll be able to spot any anomalies.

Why is it important?

It doesn’t matter how great the solution is if we solve the wrong problem. I always ask why solving a particular problem is important. Are a lot of people complaining about it? Does it fail accessibility standards? Is it a business priority? We need to ensure our efforts are used strategically to deliver the biggest gains to the customer and the Waitrose Partnership.

I will go on to ask the business stakeholder what success looks like to them, and how we should measure it. For example, if someone from the Trading team wants to improve the checkout process, what exactly do they mean? Increased trolley value? Improved availability to promise? But if a stakeholder from Brand gives me the very same brief, they may simply wish to achieve a more consistent experience. We will then work together on balancing business requirements with user needs.

Until key performance indicators have been established, I will not pick up a piece of work. The measure of success will drive my design.

What do I know & what don’t I know?

This is the point at which I reach out to all areas of the Waitrose Partnership to understand what work has already been done, what has already been tested, and what we have already learned. Duplication of effort is one of the biggest causes of inefficiency in large companies. This is why UX designers need to be first rate communicators.

Once I’ve figured out what we know it’s time to think about what we don’t know. For example, whether something is technically feasible, whether it aligns with our future strategy, whether there are dependencies with other teams, whether there would be an operational impact. Design cannot happen in a silo.

When I have gathered the answers to these four key questions, I then start to plan my approach. It might be that more research is needed. It might be that a competitor review is called for. It might be that we can just push something straight to live.

I often refer to a helpful checklist to guide my approach (see image below). It’s easy to get formulaic in our approach to problem solving, which can result in our solutions becoming too similar. By using a checklist, I can prompt myself to approach a problem differently, and come up with a better or unique solution. It’s a handy way of challenging our ways of working, getting us to think differently and to lead the market rather than to simply follow.

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What’s in my UX toolkit?

Screengrab of UX Checklist

Firstly, what is a UX toolkit? It’s a compilation of the tools you use to help undertake your job more efficiently and effectively. You won’t necessarily use everything in your toolkit on every project, but it’s a great place to find the right tool for the job at hand. The tool you choose will go some way to shaping the final product.

I like to think of my toolkit as a buddy who is there to remind me of processes and methodologies as much as providing me with the tools I need. My toolkit is made up of checklists, research, design and collaboration based tools.



UX checklist – the best checklist out there!

18F method cards – use these ideas to kickstart and develop your project

Mozilla’s open innovation toolkit – as above – lots of ideas to kickstart and develop

Usability checklist – run through this prior to usability testing with your users

Practical UX Methods – a library of UX methods


Screengrab of UX Checklist
screengrab from UX Checklist


Research & Analytics:

Google Analytics – goes without saying

Crazy Egg and Mouseflow – heatmapping tools – a great way to recruit users and manage user research

Whatusersdo and Loop11– remote user testing

SurveyMonkey – survey software

Optimizely – A/B and multivariate testing made simple

Optimal workshop – tree testing, card sorting, first click testing and so much more!



Pen and paper – in my opinion, it’s the best and quickest way to get an idea across

Axure – not the newest kid on the block, but it’s my ‘go to’ tool

Photoshop – as above – pretty old school compared to what is available to UX Designers now

Marvel – quick, simple interactive prototyping tool


If you’re interested in hands on UX Design, I’d recommend looking into SketchInVision and UX Pin for your toolkit as these are currently the industry preferences. 



Face to face – it’s easy to forget the best way to communicate requires no software

Trello – an excellent planning tool with a super simple workflow

Slack – messaging, file sharing, search, video calls, archiving and way more!

Airtable – I’m only just starting to explore this software, but love the possibilities it offers – spreadsheet meets database

Jira – software development tool often necessary when integrating with your tech team


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How to prioritise 3,000 pages? Start with data

In my current role as Digital Strategy Lead at Citizens Advice, prioritisation is one of the most complex issues I face on a near daily basis. I was inspired and driven to find the best, most efficient way of dealing with it.

Citizens Advice is for everyone. We offer advice on a huge range of issues, to a vast number of people. Our digital service includes over 3,000 pages of advice content that are visited by millions of people every year, often in very difficult circumstances.

Our job as a digital team is to help many more people get the advice they need online — and help our advisers help people in person. In practice, this means making sure our digital advice is as practical and actionable as possible. But with so many thousands of pages, it is a big challenge knowing what to prioritise. We want to make sure we are focusing our limited resources where people most need our help.

Initially, we based our priorities on page visits and searches as a pretty good indicator of the advice people were looking for. But this meant manually crunching lots of data, and it didn’t give us any idea of whether people were getting what they need from our advice. We wanted to see if we could find a more user-centred, automated way of prioritising our work to help us make decisions quickly, accurately and based on performance.

That’s when I came up with the idea to automate it. I took my idea to our wonderful Data Scientist, who worked his inimitable magic on my concept, and with that “Backlogger” was born!

How we identified which pages need work

Our first priority is solving people’s problems. So we added the simple question — “Did this advice help?” — to every page. There’s also a feedback box for people to let us know if anything on the page needs fixing or changing.

This helped us work out what advice people were finding useful, and where we needed to improve.

We also want to help as many people as possible. So we combined the results of this satisfaction measure with the number of visits to pages. That’s visits from both the public and our advisers.

The results told us what our priorities should be, and we built a tool to visualise them.

Using data to decide priorities

Here’s what Backlogger looks like:


The colour and position of the dots help us decide what to do with each page:

Need to improve: high number of visits and lower satisfaction — these pages are the next to be improved.

Need to rethink: lower number of visits and lower satisfaction — maybe we don’t need these pages any more, or we need a different approach.

Keep going: high satisfaction and lower visits — we can leave these pages alone or do a lot less work on them or make small improvements.

Doing great: high number of visits and high satisfaction — looking good!

We never want to stop improving our advice so the red quarter will never be empty. As improved pages move into the green half, the tool reassesses all the pages. The tool gets stricter with its criteria for a green page, so the quality improves over time.

How Backlogger helps us make better decisions

We called the tool Backlogger because we’re using it to inform our ‘backlog’ of priorities — essentially it helps us decide what to do and in what order.

Quick testing with content and data teams improved the tool — for example, by adding a search function to look up specific pages.

Already, the tool has transformed the way we make decisions about content. We know which areas of advice we need to work on next, and how big redesigns need to be. Some areas need a complete re-think, some just need a tidy up.

By using the tool we’ve learnt that not every area of content needs a full rethink. This will save us a lot of time. And we’re making decisions more confidently now we’ve got real time data to guide us.

Rebecca’s working on a section of our website about problems where you live. She said:

“I used the tool to see how the pages within the section were performing. The page called ‘Problems in your local environment’ was getting low satisfaction scores, which had made the whole section red even though the other pages were doing better. I focused my research on the local environment content and realised that people were going there from Google hoping for help with nature and green issues. So I’m completely rethinking that page — especially the title — but spending less time on the others in the section”.

What’s next?

We’re training the whole team to use the tool and get more feedback. And we’re also looking at adding extra data, for example how complex a page is.

When we tested the tool we realised we’d find it useful to know which pages aren’t included — it only shows pages that people have visited and given feedback on. It’s useful to have a list of these so we can look into why we don’t have a score for them — perhaps they’re so long that people aren’t making it to part of the page with the survey on. So we’ll look at collecting data directly from our content management system so we can see any pages that have no score.

We think Backlogger could be helpful for other teams grappling with complex website design or content projects. If you’d like to hear more or talk to us about it, or if you have any feedback or ideas for how we could improve it, please get in touch.

Original post here

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Managing Agile User Experience

Including UX in the Agile process can pose a threat to the integrity of usability.  As UX professionals, we have a responsibility to work holistically, to see the bigger picture and create cohesive, integrated experiences. Research and analysis can be incredibly time consuming. Attempting to fit UX into short sprints could easily result in less involved research and disjointed user experiences.

Agile lends itself perfectly to development. There’s more transparency regarding requirements, bugs/issues are identified early, it’s conducive to continual integration and features are delivered fast. So, in no uncertain terms, Agile is here to stay!

Can Agile and UX work together? Of course, but the solution will never be a ‘one size fits all’, and will need to be iterated upon until harmony is found.

As Agile teams work together, building relationships and establishing expectations, their velocity will level and become more predictable. Adding UX to this well oiled machine will dramatically impact the velocity because the whole workflow will need to be reestablished. It might be a bumpy ride to start with, but no more so than when Agile was initially implemented.

Here are a few really simple tips on how to successfully add UX to the Agile process:

  • Assign story points to usability, research, persona creation and interaction design
  • Have the UX team work one sprint ahead of the development team. This is called a parallel track approach.
  • Schedule regular user testing into the sprint, the same way you would schedule Prioritisation or Retrospective.
  • Add a “sprint zero” so that a coherent vision of the project as a whole can be addressed

Many User Experience practises easily lend themselves to Agile principles. We too can work fast and iterate quickly. Paper prototyping can assist in identifying successful workflows quickly and effectively. We only need to test on 5 users to identify 85% of usability problems. Online services are available to have designs tested at any point in the sprint. Heuristic evaluations are a quick and simple sanity check. However, when working in such a rapid environment, we must be cautious not to lose sight of the bigger picture. We must also ensure that sufficient time and attention is assigned to the creation of personas, user journeys and any other necessary usability artefacts.


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How to develop a successful UX strategy

While every strategy will differ dependant upon the product/business, a few key points should remain at the core of our thinking when it comes to UX Strategy.

First and foremost, the business strategy must direct the UX strategy. As User Experience professionals we need to tailor our work to specifically meet the company goals. By setting KPI’s (key performance indicators) with the stakeholders we are able to track the success of our endeavours. Before starting any new work, agree the KPI and agree the metric against which to measure success. And, of course, ensure you have a baseline against which to measure!

Next: Figure out who your competition is. What are they doing well and where are they less successful? Determine what appears to be the key distinguishing factors in their user experiences. And then track these periodically with screengrabs and notes. As you understand how they develop, you may see how their users needs differ, or are similar, to your user needs.

Measure! Analytics are vital to a successful UX strategy. This ties in nicely with my first point regarding the KPI’s. Once you have agreed a metric against which to to measure success, you need to be able to track it. Web analytics will be brutally honest about your successes and failures.

Don’t try to design for everyone; understand your audience. Who is your user and why do they use your product? Personas, Empathy Maps and Mental Models really help with this process. These should be living. breathing documents that are updated regularly. Personas can be created from qualitative and/or quantitative data and should be available to everybody on the team so that they are all able to approach the product from the user’s perspective.

Take a holistic approach. Build an interaction model of the activity you are designing a solution for. This  forces us to take a step back and look at the bigger picture. If you solve the wrong problem, it doesn’t matter how well you solve it. “Your UX strategy should set your design direction at the level of an interaction model, which means taking a much higher-order and longer-term view than simply listing features and creating design templates and patterns. By prioritizing areas of the diagram on which to focus resources over time, you can create a road map that ties directly to things the business cares about” -Paul Bryan.

Think long term. The UX strategy should encourage a cohesive approach to the design. A product is more than just a sum of it’s parts. Before spending hours undertaking the implementation of an exciting new feature, we must understand how it fits into the bigger picture, and whether it is indeed necessary. The UX strategist must create a roadmap that guides design efforts over time.

To summarise: UX strategy must be based on core business objectives, be contextualised against competitors, and be focussed on the audience. Success and failure must be trackable with analytics. And finally, by taking a holistic approach, the UX strategy should encourage design cohesion.



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