So who are you?
I’m Phil (as you might have guessed) and I’ve been working on the web for about 16 years in various capacities. I’ve worked with all manner of different companies on a full-time, freelance and contract basis.
Over the years, I’ve liaised and collaborated with CEOs, CTOs, teams of developers, team leaders, testers, designers, project managers and a variety of other stakeholders (including the public). I’ve always got on well with everyone, I’m very pro-active and enjoy both the social and more academic parts of my job(s). I’ve honed my research and analysis skills through years of specification, design and development and I’m clear on the ground rules of a good piece of usable software.
I’m a decent communicator and presenter. I’ve travelled the country training admin users on getting the best from their sites and how to use CMS software and UIs. I love collaboration (I do a lot of it in my spare time with music and films) and working with a team to achieve our goals and share knowledge.
I’m happy to face clients and enjoy running user-testing sessions and workshops. I like a varied, busy work life where I’m not doing the same thing every day. It keeps me fresh, engaged and interested. I’m always learning. And I’ve lectured and tutored undergraduate students in design principles.
I have really good concise writing (and verbal) skills to make complex ideas simple. I’ve written tech specs, information architecture documents, CMS update guides and style guides.
A bit of history
I completed my MSc in Interactive Multimedia Production in 1999 when the web was very young and the most digitally interactive we could get was CDROMs (remember those?). I bought all the magazines with them glued to the front. I played with the ‘new experiences’ they promised and was, frankly, underwhelmed (I’ve never been a gamer so that’s notwithstanding).
I subsequently (or maybe as a consequence) became a designer/developer of web-based educational Flash products during and after a stint as a university lecturer and then had a three year full-time job as an information architect, trainer, content writer and web designer. The job built on the tenets of UX (then called ‘usability’) the MSc introduced me to and at Futurate we did a lot of work on making the user journey understandable, simple and hassle-free – these were big, information-rich websites with complex search functions and often a lot of sub-sections. It was a baptism in UX (usability) fire. Big organisations organising big data before that was even a thing…
I went freelance in 2007 and started by building larger, accessible SME websites from scratch [meetings > technical specification > UX > Visual Design > Development]. During this time I built sites in PHP, learned a lot about how different CMS systems’ front-ends work and gained a much broader overview of web technology.
I’ve now been contracting as a front-end developer (with UI design work and other roles thrown in) for the past 7 years. If there’s anything this time has taught me it’s to always question what you’re doing – are you getting lost in working out how to do things when you should be asking yourself why? Which leads me on to…
Within any role my main interest and focus is how people are going to be using the results of my work. I have always ‘pushed back’ and questioned when I notice usability/UX mistakes or there are improvements to be made to a user’s journey. I feel it’s important to be clear who we are building for and why we’re building it (what is the problem we’re trying to solve and what is the most efficient route – for the user, not necessarily for us as the makers – to that destination?). The who and why can be easily forgotten amongst the complexity of the various levels and disciplines of how. Having said all that, some of the best UX improvements I’ve seen are from back-end developers who understand the ease and smoothness of a build directly correlates to how well thought-out the UX and design is (they don’t generally want to be asking questions and prefer to just get on with it).
Most of the work I’m involved with is for a wide audience so the accessibility of the web has always played a big role within UX/usability for me. The two are interlinked – if a website or web app is inaccessible to a (however small) part of your user base then the UX work we do is lacking.
The key, I believe, to building websites and web apps that work for users is to remember to put people at the heart of what we’re doing. (This is why working in a team where everyone feels comfortable enough to speak up is key.) It seems obvious and although I am obviously a professional, I, like everybody else, get frustrated with using digital products when the UX journey doesn’t marry with the visual design, the interaction quality or what I’m (and any given business is) trying to achieve. I love technology but I love people more. Life isn’t an echo chamber.
My favourite thing about the job I do is when all the combined, collaborative effort creates a fluid, easy-to-understand user experience. And that’s usually the middle ground between good UX definition and exploration and everyone understanding the objectives while working towards a well-defined user-orientated goal.
SHARE WITH ME
I’m in the process of writing a UX blog from the standpoint of a front-end developer. All the inconsistencies and UX difficulties I’ve encountered in my daily work could be easily mitigated by defining user and business objectives more thoroughly and, more importantly, sooner in the process. So, if you’ve got this far, get in touch and share your thoughts with me and I’ll ping you a link to the blog.