Human-centred decisions

Reflecting on two years as a user experience consultant; looking ahead to working on structured content

The latest chapter in my career has closed, as I have found an incredibly exciting new opportunity. There is more about that at the end of this post.

But first I want to reflect on the past couple of years. I led the user experience team at User Vision, an Edinburgh-based user experience and accessibility consultancy.

Before starting there, I already knew the company quite well. I had met many of the team at local meetup groups and conference events, and I had attended some of their training and World Usability Day events. I had even encountered some of their work for another team when I was at the University of Edinburgh.

Moving to User Vision felt like a natural next step for me when I had taken things as far as I could at the University of Edinburgh. That is even though I knew the world of consultancy would be quite a different environment to what I was familiar with.

But I was keen to break away from higher education, where almost all of my experience had been built up. My background looked one-dimensional to many firms, and I felt a few doors closing in my face as a result.

Diverse, impactful projects

User Vision saw beyond that. They understood how my skills could be applied to a wider variety of sectors and clients. The prospect of working on a broader range of projects really appealed to me.

I am immensely proud of the user research, user experience strategy and service design projects I have worked on or overseen at User Vision. These projects have achieved the following outcomes (presented in no particular order):

  • Public sector healthcare organisation understands how to improve its information architecture from a strong user-centred evidence base
  • Major public sector digital healthcare information service better understands user needs to inform its future strategy
  • Financial services organisation better understands how to help people plan for their retirement
  • Global airline has improved its online booking and check-in systems
  • Medical device manufacturer has improved a system used by patients and doctors managing complex diseases, minimising use errors and hazardous situations
  • Professional bodies know their members’ top tasks to improve their information architecture and focus on their organisational priorities
  • Organisation that has raised more than £1 billion for charities better understands how to communicate its proposition
  • Financial services provider has made information clearer for financial advisers and their customers
  • Public sector organisation has improved the internal processes and external presentation of a service used most days by many primary care providers
  • Higher education institution understands barriers to improving collaboration and transforming their ways of working
  • Organisation advising consumers on energy efficiency has established how to more clearly present complex energy usage data to non-expert users
  • Public sector body overseeing the handling of complaints has improved usability
  • Household-name public sector healthcare telephony service understands what causes people to call and at what times, informing its future strategy

On top of those project-related outcomes, I also delivered an external learning session about how user experience professionals can adopt behavioural science approaches, and trained two cohorts of Scottish Government user-centred designers in the fundamentals of user experience.

Leading a strong and growing team

Despite those project successes, the thing that has made me the most proud is the honour of having led such a fantastic team of user experience consultants.

When I started, I was leading a team of five consultants at various stages of their careers. I was immediately struck by how skilled and knowledgeable everyone was, and how their individual unique backgrounds served to give them different perspectives. This made the team particularly strong.

Since User Vision is a small business, it is very different to the other organisations I have worked for, requiring a different leadership approach from me. As a result, I was able to develop new leadership skills.

In previous roles, much of my “leadership” has been focused by necessity on managing other managers. I have often had to do battle internally, working as a shit umbrella to help my teams have the space to do their best work.

But in a small consultancy where everyone understood the value of what we were doing, I didn’t need to do any of that. This meant I could spend my energy on understanding my team as individuals, and focus on how I could help them grow.

The results were often inspiring. I was so proud of the way the team would respond to the challenges I set them, and how quickly they grew from an already strong position.

I felt so at home at User Vision. Everyone was incredibly welcoming to me from day one, and the happy vibes continued until the very end, despite the sadness of me leaving.

I was proud of what we had achieved as a team in less than two years, and incredibly excited by the potential of so much more to come in the future.

I also had the great privilege of working alongside the accessibility team, from whom I learnt a great deal.

Leaving a job always brings mixed emotions. But I am genuinely sad to have left User Vision, even though I am excited for my new opportunity.

Focusing on information architecture in the Scottish Government

As for that new opportunity, I spotted an incredible and unique position that I just couldn’t let pass me by. I have taken on a role at the Scottish Government as a lead content designer, specialising in structured content and information architecture.

Information architecture is a thread that has run through each role in my career. Some of my most impactful work has resulted from understanding how to improve an information architecture.

It is also unfinished business for me. When I left the University of Edinburgh two years ago, I was in the middle of guiding the team through developing a new information architecture strategy.

Then, I was keen to pursue structured content approaches. But it didn’t suit the ambitions of the project, which were more focused on increasing flexibility for publishers rather than improving content for end-users.

As you may sense from my list of highlight projects at User Vision, I also began to understand that I gained the greatest sense of satisfaction from those projects that benefit the wider public.

So being able to deeply specialise in information architecture for the benefit of the public is such an exciting prospect. I hope to find the time to blog more as I embark on this new adventure.


3 responses to “Reflecting on two years as a user experience consultant; looking ahead to working on structured content”

  1. Thanks Duncan for your great work with UV. We have enjoyed having you on board and certainly our clients have benefitted from the skills of you and the rest of the team. All the best in your new role!

  2. It has been a great pleasure working with you over the last couple of years Duncan. You have a very encouraging and compassionate management style that brought out the best in the team. All the very best for the new chapter, you’ll be an asset to the government for sure.

  3. Chris and Steve, thank you both for your kind comments! It was great working with you all. All the best for the future!

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