We talked to Mark Swaine of www.uxguy.com and Interfacebuilders.io about his wealth of experience working in Fintech. He works with banks, financial disruptors and energy companies who are attempting to adopt a UX focused approach to designing their customer experience. In this article we discuss how he helps clients learn about the value of user experience research, workshop collaboration, internal education and digital transformation. We also discover how he helps clients to translate data, conduct research and use industry best practice in UX/UI to create a better customer experience. We’ll hear about how Mark keeps up with the changes in the world of UX by constantly self-educating.
On helping clients learn about the value of UX
Dave: Hi Mark, thanks for taking the time to chat. To start, maybe you could tell us a little about what you do?
These days I’m spending a large part of my time educating clients about the UX process. UX has been an important part of the software design process since the mid 70’s; however, today that we see a major focus on companies building their own internal UX teams. The value of customer experience design is now the core focus within organizations.
My work involves speaking to large organizations about user experience focused strategies. I’ll often spend time at the start of an engagement educating the product team about implementing a user experience focused strategy and it’s benefits. This approach can involve helping clients conduct user research, usability testing, persona development, prototype testing and UX workshops. I could spend anywhere from three days to three weeks with a client, helping them story-tell their product strategy, user needs and product framework.
I work with large and medium scale international clients. A common theme I’ve noticed is that a lot of my time is spent talking and educating my clients, stakeholders and product owners. Every engagement is customized and different in approach, which always requires a level of understanding, acceptance and trust from the client.
This can sometimes translate into many workshops, weekly / monthly, but the investment of time is worth it. Developing a product release governance model, reviewing features and hiring the right team members to live and breath the product daily is just the the first step for an organisation to keep up with their users’ expectations. In some cases, clients may be spending up to $500,000 on their product user experience strategy and development. Moreover, clients can spend anywhere from $5 – $10 million dollars a year on UX product strategy research and feature iteration.
On getting the client to invest in UX
Dave: You recently moved back to Ireland after spending time in Canada and the US. What differences do you see between these markets?
Mark: From my experience in North America, the buy-in to the UX process is accepted quicker as organizations understand the real value and pace of the industry and the expectations of their users.
In Ireland, the UX process is becoming more recognised as part of product development and design. But, there is still a lack of understanding around the long-term value and budget needed to build a great product.
On some engagements I will develop an MVP prototype quickly so that stakeholders can begin to interact with their product vision at an early stage, validate features and be part of the process. This really helps stakeholders get a feel for user flows and helps stimulate discussion around perceived assumptions on how their users may interact with the product.
On using analytics as part of user testing
Dave: Every client project is customized. Can you describe a project that introduced a different way of thinking about the client’s current product issues?
Mark: At the moment I’m conducting user testing with a client. I’m using usertesting.com to conduct user test scenarios. I get focus groups together and write a lot of scripts for tests. This helps me gauge further insights into what may be happening with the client’s product on smartphone and desktop and combining this with their support data. This project is interesting because the client was solely focussing on analytics/data to provide answers. It is never a good idea to solely base solutions off data. Data only provides insights into one angle of the issue. Analytics is only one part of the story and should not be used in isolation. It does not tell you what the user is thinking or why they chose a particular action or route over another. This is why it’s best to combine data with user testing where possible.
On desktop vs mobile and user testing
Dave: Are desktop and mobile viewed differently by your clients?
Mark: Users should be able to complete the key tasks contextually on smart phone and desktop. In any given product, users will really only interact with three to five features of your product. They will expect to be able to engage with these no matter what the screen size. You should never lag on a feature just because of screen size. You have to define the depth of your user’s experience contextually per device type.
One example is getting the search function for a responsive website or app product to work really well on smartphone. Search functionality can be one of the first touch points for users on e-commerce websites. Not enough time, research or emphasis is placed on search on smartphone.
On the evolving design industry
Dave: How do you stay on top of changes in the industry?
Mark: A lot of my time is spent self educating. It’s so important for a user experience professional to self educate daily. I do this by reading, practising methodology, learning about new ways to use data and by keeping up to date with mobile technologies, framework patterns and UI design trends. The practice of UX is moving at the pace of light and it’s really up to the individual to take care of their own career and invest the time needed to stay relevant to employers and clients.
I’m an early riser and I usually kick off the morning with some reading on my preferred design and tech blogs. I also invest in books and self education, not just in UX or design. At the moment I’m spending a lot of time learning about Bitcoin and Blockchain. I subscribe to .net, Harvard Business Review, Smashing Magazine, MatterMark, Webdesigner, Financial Times and editorials like that to keep relevant.
The area of user experience is vast in terms of specialization. You really do need to have a high level understanding of the multiple disciplines involved in the practice, from R&D, workshop collaboration, user testing, user research, business requirements gathering and prototyping to information architecture and UI design.