To continue from last week's note I'm going to review my work at Aptitude from 2021. A quick recap: 2020 was a year of laying the foundations for a highly performant team. I concentrated on tooling, ways of working, governance, team culture and satisfaction, and educating the business in the discipline of UX.
Ways of working have gone from strength to strength in 2021. We have the right tools and are developing healthy collaboration with other disciplines. We have defined where UX and UI fit in the software development lifecycle and are exploring ways to contribute to the wider business. The UX team has effected significant change in the ways of working on Team Alpha (our new fledgling product), putting the user at the heart of our product development.
We have introduced new methods to support requirement gathering such as Design Studio workshops and Design Sprints. The Design Sprint was a tremendous success and reduced much of the usual back and forth with understanding requirements. I hope to undertake Design Sprints ahead of every new significant feature. We received incredibly positive feedback from TMobile (our charter client) about the UX and UI of Alpha, which was a real confidence boost for me and the team.
While our work in Alpha is successful, there is still much work to do across the rest of the portfolio. That said, I have tried to find other ways to add value to the wider portfolio:
Accessibility is a core principle of UX, and so I started an initiative to help our products reach AA accessibility standards. I have worked with our testing team in defining how this works across our teams. I created documentation in the design system to share our aspirations more broadly. I also organised accessibility training for a group of Innovation Center, Product and Professional Services colleagues. I will continue to work on the next steps this year.
I investigated, selected and set up a remote user testing tool for use across the portfolio, so that Product teams can lead their own research (with some guidance). Aptitude Lease Accounting Engine is the first product to use this on their Angular pre release. The feedback will be fed into the product development lifecycle and prevent us from releasing usability issues to clients.
Many of our products have usability issues that cannot be solved with design and development effort due to resourcing and priorities. To assist with complex and confusing workflows, I procured a digital adoption platform called Userlane to guide users within the applications. This has been implemented on Alpha with incredibly positive feedback. It is now also being implemented on Aptitude Revenue Recognition Engine.
I am in the process of creating a course on user research for the LMS. The intention of this is to up-skill those interested in research with the skills to do it themselves. This will hopefully lead into one of my goals for 2022 – to operationalise research.
The UX team are running a weekly ‘UX Jam’ - a Teams drop-in for anybody from any team to come along and ask UX and UI questions, to ask for advice, or to just come along and listen or join the conversation.
I have better articulated UX resourcing and our focus on the UX Confluence Space. It is clearer what we are working on and how to request support.
Regarding ways of working, our initial tool choice of Sketch was based on being able to use a tool called Unite UX. This promised to make the design to development handoff for teams using Kendo (our Angular component library) much smoother. During 2021 Unite UX dropped support of sketch in favour of Figma. This threw a spanner in the works because we had invested time into learning Sketch. I knew the additional investment in time to switch to Figma would initially impact deliverables, but that strategically it is the right decision in the long term.
Figma will improve design to development handoff. The architecture team are much happier with it too. We can leverage functionality to create ‘master’ designs and work in branches that need to be approved before being committed back to the master design. This will be incredibly useful as the team grows. When we can leverage Unite UX, we hope our workflow will become even more efficient. I anticipate this will be at least a year away due to the stage of beta that the product is in. All this work contributes to better alignment with architecture, development, and testing.
The UX team grew this year with the addition of a Junior UI designer and a Midweight UX designer (and a Midweight UI designer starting in January). The hiring process is always lengthy, so I decided to make some improvements: I created a space in Confluence with a list of skill-based questions for both disciplines. I also added behaviour based questions too, so now it is much quicker to compose an interview grid. In addition to this I also formalised the interview process and what is expected, so we do not have to reiterate it each time we make a new hire. As the UI arm of the team grows, I have begun to create a UI pathway progression plan to give a clear definition of what is expected at each level. I am delighted with the new additions to the team from a skill-based perspective, from their enthusiasm, and from their fit with us – we have a wonderful dynamic and culture, which I will strive to maintain as the team continues to grow.
As a response to 1B (Aptitude's goal to reach £1bn market value in 5 years), I organised a team meeting to discuss how the UX team would contribute towards this ambition. We have set ourselves the goal of designing an experience so good that we do not need to respond to pricing pressure. To do this we have defined 5 areas to continually develop throughout 2022 and beyond. They will also contribute to increasing the maturity of UX in the business:
Develop and advocate for a user-driven business model
Continually develop our strategy in line with other disciplines and the wider business
Build a strong culture: UX knowledge and cultivating careers and practitioners' growth
Develop efficient, successful processes: Systematically use design and research methods
Measure outcomes: defining and measuring the results of our UX work
I presented a keynote on the mainstage our our annual conference AptConnect, and believe this has gone some distance to advocating for a user-driven business model. In 2022, I plan to have regular meetings with Sales and Presales to understand more about what prospects need and how the problems their business solve might be changing.
As part of developing efficient, successful processes I have worked on procuring a feedback tool for our applications. An integral part of a good design process is research and feedback. This tool is scheduled for implementation in January 2022, and I intend to bring all feedback into a shared Teams channel for anybody and everybody to access to understand what the sentiment is regarding our product experience.
I'll go more into the detail of the above in future blog posts.
Image credits to the Electronic Frontier Foundation