Last Summer I set myself the goal to write weeknotes as a way of sharing my journey as Head of UX at Aptitude Software. I've been in the relatively unique position of being able to define a disciple ground up. When I joined the company 2 years ago UX was practised minimally and tactically. These weeknotes were supposed to be a way of sharing and tracking my journey.
It's the beginning of 2022, and I'm going to pick up where I left off last Autumn. I've been guilty of letting life get in the way - of subscribing to wild 'busyness' to get stuff done. When I was in the process of writing weeknotes last Summer, they helped me retain focus, plan my week ahead and reflect on the week gone by. And, yes, they take time to write, but the value of reflecting is too high to ignore. This year I'll have a slot in my diary specifically for this activity.
So, as is the nature of most new year blog posts I'm going to reflect on my journey so far at Aptitude and look to the future. This post will be a review of 2020, and next week's will look into more detail about what we achieved in 2021.
2020 was a year of laying the foundations for a highly performing team. It was about getting the right tools, processes and governance set up. It was also about education. Embedding a new discipline involves systemic, organisational change. Change that requires understanding, planning, implementing and communicating. To believe one can "add UX to the software development lifecycle" as though it were sprinkles on a cupcake is wishful thinking indeed. That said, the important thing to do in these situations is to find the place where UX can add the most value, and work there. To do this, one first needs a strategy! I did my research into our current state of play, our tools, ways of working, competitors, and our USP.
Despite the arrival of a global pandemic, we achieved a lot in 2020. We acquired the necessary tools to undertake our work in the most efficient way. I held workshops to define the experience ambitions we have, workshops to define design principles, and held countless brown bag sessions to enliven conversations with this new fangled creature called UX! I got to know my team, who are based in Wroclaw, Poland, so much better. We talked every day and supported each other through defining this discipline and through managing an anxiety that none of us had ever experienced before due to COVID-19.
We defined our mission to create The Aptitude Experience:
The Aptitude experience instills confidence in the CFO
Users are empowered to transform their business
We design with inclusivity and accessibility at the heart
The experience is professional, yet personal
Onboarding is uncomplicated
The learning curve is minimal
We will not substitute complexity with simplicity
Good design will tame complexity
The Aptitude experience is collaborative and supportive
The Aptitude experience is consistent
The Aptitude experience is always one think ahead
We defined principles for designing intuitive services:
We design with clarity so that users can do their jobs efficiently
We will not simplify complexity - good design will tame complexity
We design accessible, inclusive services with users at the heart
We design using data and research to build flexible and valuable services
We design harmonious experiences that are helpful and supportive
We design professional, credible services that reflect our financial expertise
And we got BIG INTO Jira! To this point the team was not embedded into scrum teams, and did not have a backlog of work. The team responded to requests much like firefighters, never knowing where or when the next one would come from, or what it might be. We created a backlog of tasks that we as a team needed to undertake to get our ducks in a row. I created a brief to detail how work should be requested, and explained what sort of work we could offer, and as such, what value we could add. We were not just wireframers with colouring pens.
We defined our ways of working, explaining where in the SDLC we would add most value, and with whom we should be speaking.
Technology would support our work. I split this into 4 categories:
Research - We use Dovetail as our research repository
Design - Sketch and Protopie make up our design tools (this changed in 2021 - but more on that later)
Collaboration - We use InVision to turn our Sketch files into interactive prototypes and gather feedback from the wider team. We also use Zeplin to translate the UI design into CSS. Zeroheight is the tool we use to document all our design patterns, components and guidelines.
User testing - We undertake remote user testing using Lookback.
It was also necessary to clarify where our tools fitted into the product development life cycle.
I explained that insights would be uncovered through research and horizon scanning. These would contribute to new product ideas. The UX team would then plan and participate in workshops to explore the new product idea in more detail. When requirements have been defined, a UX designer would turn the insight into a design concept and road test that with the team. The design concept would then be refined into a prototype and interface designs that are user tested and iterated. The prototype and interface design would then be translated into CSS for the developers using Zeplin. Any new design patterns or components that we created would be documented in Zeroheight - our design system manager (I'll talk more about the design system in another post).
Defining all this is easy enough, until you actually need to get PEOPLE on board. People are, in my experience, the most challenging part of getting anything working. They are also the most delightful part.
Adding UX resource to our scrum teams needed a lot of trial and error to get right, and we still have some way to go. My initial plan was as such:
2020 was the year that I formalised the discipline of UI design at Aptitude. This was a really important part of my strategy because with a portfolio of 6 complex global products it would be necessary to have one design system serving all products to be as efficient with our time and resource as possible. The aim is to have fully designed, developed and tested patterns and components that are reusable across the portfolio. If we needed to make an update, we'd only need to do it once for the whole portfolio. I am under no disillusion that this is a huge undertaking, however, strategically it makes sense. If we invest upfront, we will reduce future design, development and testing debt.
I worked closely with Marketing to understand company branding, tone of voice and archetypes. All this would form the foundations of our design system. I also worked on up-skilling myself in knowledge about designing for accessibility and inclusion. This had not been on the agenda until I arrived at Aptitude, but it was absolutely going to form a core tenet of my work here.
To summarise 2020, here's a few of the things I delivered:
Increased UX team satisfaction (the team were now doing meaningful, value-add work)
Increased business understanding of the value of UX
Procurement of the necessary tools for the disciplines of UX and UI
The development of a research repository (another blog post is needed for this one)
Defined ways of working within the software development lifecycle
More collaboration between UX and R&D
A clear UX roadmap and backlog
A considered plan to build a design system (I'll share this another time)
UX artefacts for current products (personas, workflows, evaluations, screen diagrams etc)
Clear business understanding of the value of UX
It was an epic year for sure with many lessons learned and many friends made.