Product management roles are not just your typical 9-to-5 job. They are filled with excitement and the opportunity to drive change. As a product manager, you will have the chance to shape the future of a product, a startup, or even an entire company.
One of the most thrilling aspects of product management is the combination of strategic thinking and hands-on execution. You will be responsible for defining the vision and strategy for a product and then working with cross-functional teams to bring that product to life. From market research and competitive analysis to developing go-to-market plans, you will be involved in every step of the product development process.
Product management roles also provide plenty of opportunity for advancing your career in the tech industry. Many product managers go on to become boardroom level leaders, or entrepreneurs with their own exciting ventures. With the right skills and experience, product management could be the starting point of an exciting and fulfilling career path.
But where do you start? We’ve written some useful tips across up seven areas that should serve as a launchpad for your exploration into a product management career path.
1. Immerse yourself in the role.
First, you want to soak up as much information as possible. And this isn’t just about product management terminology, but go off and learn about design thinking, user experience design, user interface design, business strategy, innovation, and entrepreneurship. Research the skills required for product management and determine how they align with your strengths, interests, and transferable skills (think about what you’ve done in the past that may translate well into the product management role). Become familiar with the different roles in product development process and how product manager interacts with them.. And finally, start thinking about what kind of PM do you want to be – for example, technical, analytical, marketing, or the visionary type.
There are plenty of good book recommendations, check out some of the above for a good mix of topics that can feed into understanding how product management works.
2. Understand industry trends.
You must be aware of the latest technology and industry trends and developments. This world moves fast, so don’t get left behind. In order to do this attend industry events and conferences to learn from experts and network with other professionals. Go on social media and follow thought leaders and influencers in the product management field, and engage with their content. Join online communities or groups specifically focused on product management to stay updated on the latest discussions and debates. Read books and articles by experts in the field to gain a deeper understanding of current trends and best practices.
3. Build a support network.
Attend industry events and conferences to meet other product managers and professionals in related fields.. Join online communities and forums related to product management (start looking on LinkedIn for example). Reach out to any product managers in your immediate network and ask for informational interviews and conversations. Volunteer to be a mentor or mentee in a product management program – these can often lead to further opportunities and networking. You want to build some lifelong connections at this stage with those that will help you navigate the overwhelming amount of advice & choice that’s out there.
4. Sharpen your communication skills.
Learn about effective communication techniques and strategies. Think about where you need to improve in these areas and get to work. You will often have to pitch, present and run workshops as a PM, so it’s good to get practice immediately with public speaking and presentations. Learn how to write effectively, whether it’s emails, reports, or user stories. Communication is one thing, clarity is another. And just like user researchers do, practice active listening and learn how to ask good questions. You will have lots of things coming to you information wise, so make sure you are able to take it all in. And finally, you will have to learn how to say no, so learn how to handle difficult conversations and negotiations.
5. Hone your problem-solving skills.
You will want to start practice critical thinking and problem-solving through puzzles, games, and any other fun activities. Become familiar with design thinking and how it can be applied to product management. Read or watch case studies and analyse how companies solved problems in their products or markets. YouTube is full of great material, so use the free resources to arm yourself with good understanding. To go to the next level, practice problem-solving with a group to learn how to collaborate effectively. What about perhaps starting a little side business or venture? This way you can start to learn learn about decision-making techniques and how to apply them to product management. You essentially will be the first product manager of your own little startup business!
6. Get technical.
This is where you’ll want to get a little deeper with your knowledge. Research Agile, Scrum, and Lean methodologies and their applications – there are plenty of free resources online to help do this. And with your own personal project or own venture, try out different methodologies. Learn about user research methods such as surveys, interviews, and usability testing. What does a user researcher do and how do they feed into the product manager as part of the product development process? Read about user research best practices and case studies, and look into the latest industry tools and software platforms. And finally, start digging deeper into data – study statistics and data analysis techniques, and learn about data visualisation and how to effectively communicate data insights. You’ll be presenting these insights regularly, and using them to make decisions wise. Software wise, and if you can get a hold of some data sets, practice analysing data using tools such as Excel or Tableau.
7. Finally, be persistent but enjoy the journey.
Set yourself some realistic and achievable goals for yourself in terms of breaking into a career in product management, and while doing so stay motivated and focused by reminding yourself of your long-term career aspirations. Take advantage of any opportunities as they arise and be open to new possibilities. If someone says they are happy to have a coffee to talk product, make sure you go! Don’t be afraid to ask for help or advice from mentors or professionals in the field, you’ll find that many are really open to helping and supporting you. And importantly keep learning & upskilling, keep practicing and keep networking.
So to close this off, if you’re looking for a role that offers excitement, challenge and the chance to make a real difference, product management might be worth pursuing. It’s a role that requires a unique combination of strategic thinking and hands-on execution, and it’s a role that can be incredibly rewarding for the right person.
If you work within the creative industries, storytelling should be considered an important part of your skillset for the future. It is a versatile and valuable skill that can be applied to many areas of work. It can help to build stronger connections with audiences, inspire innovation, and drive business success.
Storytelling continues to be a powerful tool for designers, entrepreneurs, and creatives. When used well, it allows you to connect with your target audience on an emotional level, communicate your company values and mission, and differentiate your product from competitors. But why is storytelling so important, and how can you improve your storytelling skills?
Let’s start at the beginning. Storytelling, broken down simply, is the art of creating and sharing a narrative, or even more simply, a story. It is a way to communicate information, ideas, or experiences to an audience in an engaging and relatable way. Storytelling can take many forms, including written stories, oral stories, and visual stories, such as those we see in today’s popular film and television series. The purpose of storytelling can vary, it can be used to entertain, educate, persuade, or simply share the vision of an experience.
Storytelling, pitching and crafting engaging presentations remain a core element of the Experience Haus curriculum across all of our courses.
Storytelling has been used for centuries as a means of passing down history and knowledge, and connecting people with one another. In modern times, storytelling is also used in many areas such as marketing, advertising, and entertainment, and in the experience design world, it can be used for internal communications, pitching and landing pages across the web.
We all enjoy a good story. We want to see the story through to a successful ending. Stories capture our attention, evoke emotional output, and create a sense of connection with those involved. In the same way, stories can help make a deeper connection between your brand and your audience. By sharing the inspiration behind your product or design, you can give your audience a glimpse into your creative thinking and process, and in turn, create a sense of community and belonging.
But storytelling isn’t just about sharing your story, it’s also about understanding your audience’s story. As a designer or creative, it’s important to understand the needs and wants of your target audience, and to craft your story in a way that resonates with them. By understanding your audience’s story, you can create a design or product that truly meets their needs and stands out from competitors.
Now let’s move into how a story comes together. There are numerous ways you can create a story arc, but a good story typically has a clear structure, with a beginning, middle, and end. It should have a central conflict or problem that is resolved by the end of the story. Additionally, a good story should have well-developed characters, descriptive language, and the ability to evoke emotions in the audience. Using descriptive language can help to create vivid imagery and bring the story to life for the audience. This can be done by using specific nouns, verbs, and adjectives, as well as by including sensory details. Additionally, using metaphors and similes can also help to create a more engaging story.
A great example of this is Apple’s “Think Different” campaign, which ran from 1997 to 2002. This campaign used storytelling to position Apple early on as a company that stands for creativity and innovation. The ads that were run featured photos of famous thinkers and innovators, accompanied by a voiceover that said, “Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently.” This campaign helped to re-position Apple to eventually become the global leader in the tech industry it is today.
Storytelling should be considered an important part of your skillset for the future – so what are some top tips for designers or design teams needing to improve their storytelling?
Understand your audience: To create an effective story, it’s important to understand your audience’s needs and wants. As part of the process, know you are trying to convey your message to, Conduct user research to learn more and use this information to craft a story that resonates directly with them. Evoking emotions in the audience is key to creating a connection with them. To do this, it’s important to understand the emotions you want to evoke and to craft your story in a way that will elicit those emotions. This can be done through descriptive language, character development, and by using techniques such as foreshadowing and suspense. Share what you have learned with the rest of your design team. By sharing stories of people who have overcome challenges, or of new and exciting ways of doing things, you can inspire your team to think differently and come up with new and innovative ideas.
Use storytelling throughout the design process: Incorporate storytelling throughout your design process (we’ll talk about user testing in the next point). Use stories from your audience to inspire design decisions, drive innovation, test ideas and communicate early design concepts to key stakeholders. Storytelling can help in problem-solving by providing authentic contextual understanding and perspective. It can be used to describe a problem, impact, how it was identified, and how it was eventually solved.
Use user testing to finesse your storytelling: Use storytelling as a tool to understand your user’s product experience. Encourage your users to share their stories about how they interact with your product (you could ask for descriptive reviews) and use this information to improve the design. In today’s increasingly competitive landscape, being able to differentiate your brand or product is necessary, not just essential. Storytelling can be used to create a unique and compelling narrative that sets you apart from all of your competitors. A/B testing is a great way to optimise your stories. Test different versions of the proposed story with current users and use the feedback to refine the story before moving forward in the design process.
Collaborate with other team members: Storytelling is not a one-person job. Encourage collaboration between team members, and gather input from different departments to co-create a more comprehensive and cohesive story. Storytelling remains a powerful tool for communication for design teams as a whole. It helps to convey so many types of information in a way that is relatable and engaging, making it more likely that the audience will retain the information and take action off it.
Use different mediums to tell the story: Don’t limit yourself to just one medium to tell your story. It’s not uncommon to try and put an entire story into a presentation slide deck. Use different mediums such as videos, images, and animations to bring your story to life in a more engaging way. Explore including these where possible. Storytelling requires creativity, which is highly valued in today’s fast-paced and ever-changing creative economy. With storytelling, individual designers and design teams can think outside the box, come up with new ideas, and create highly memorable experiences for the audience. Leave the audience wanting more.
Finally, like any skill, storytelling takes practice. Take time to study different storytelling techniques, and try out different approaches in your design work. The more you practice, the better you will become at crafting compelling stories that stick. And once you’ve mastered the art of storytelling, add this to part of your growing leadership skillset.
Storytelling can be used to inspire and motivate teams, communicate a vision, and build trust and alignment within an entire organisation.
As an experience designer, you are in a unique position where you are tasked with creating meaningful experiences (and change) for users. But what happens when those experiences can also make a positive impact on society? Can experience designers play a role in designing for social impact? The answer is a resounding yes.
There is little doubt that the experience design profession has the power to make a real and lasting impact on society. By understanding the needs of users and the larger social issues at play, designers can come up with viable solutions that not only meet those needs but also promote a more equitable and just society. Designers have the right mix of skills and expertise to create impactful solutions that can address some of the most pressing social issues of our lifetime, from poverty and inequality to environmental degradation.
To dig deeper, for example, designing for sustainability can help promote environmentally-friendly practices and mitigate the effects of climate change. And designing for community engagement and empowerment can help to build stronger, more resilient communities. By using design thinking and human-centred design methodologies, designers can create solutions that are tailored to the needs of specific communities and that can have a positive impact on society.
Experience Haus design days feature real-life social impact design challenges, where our alumni work through the design process in a day to rapidly create innovative solutions.
But designing for social impact is not without its challenges. Experience designers must be aware of the ethical implications of their designs and consider the potential consequences of their actions. They must also be willing to collaborate with key stakeholders, such as community leaders and social activists, to truly understand the needs of their users and the larger social issues at play. It’s easy to push forward in the design process with excitement, but it takes a firm step back sometimes in order to create a design that can impact.
So, what skills are required for experience designers to design successfully for social impact? First and foremost, empathy is key. By understanding the needs and perspectives of users, experience designers can design solutions that truly meet their needs. Critical thinking and problem-solving skills are essential for identifying and addressing larger social issues. However, designers cannot do it alone, effective social impact design requires collaboration and partnerships between designers, communities, and other stakeholders. This helps to ensure that solutions are grounded in reality and that they are tailored to the specific needs of the communities they are designed for. Relationship and network mapping is key here.
Students who recently started the latest cohort of our UX/UI Career Development Bootcamp have spent this week exploring how to design solutions that can improve the carbon footprint of individuals. And again it starts with empathy – by going out into the real-world and speaking to people across the city directly about their ways of travelling, working and living, they’ve been able to use design thinking to define the challenge that exists and understand how high carbon footprints are endangering our planet. These findings can often have a profound impact, and can provide the stimulus required to build a desire to work further on social impact projects.
So how else can experience designers expand on their skills and get involved in designing for social impact? One way is to seek out opportunities to volunteer or intern with organisations that focus on social impact. This can provide valuable hands-on experience and the chance to work with experts in the field.
Additionally, participating in design thinking workshops, design days (for example, we recently ran a design day here at Experience Haus for our alumni where we explored tacking the often fractured relationship between young people and the police), hackathons, attending conferences and workshops, or taking classes on social impact design, can help designers to expand on their skills.
You could even decide to start your own social impact venture and take your fledgling startup concept into a socially focussed incubator program for further mentorship, support and enablement.
I firmly believe that experience designers have the power to make a real difference in the world. You have the skills and expertise to create solutions that can address some of the most pressing social issues of our time, and by working in partnership with communities and key stakeholders, you can create solutions that are inclusive, equitable and that can have a real and lasting impact on society.
So let’s make this a call to action: Designers, you have a responsibility to use your skills and expertise to make a positive impact on society – use more of your talents, creativity and problem-solving skills to improve the lives of people and the planet.
As Experience Haus enters its 6th year of operations, it continues to be part of our mission as an educational team to ensure that our students leave prepared for the rapidly changing job market and the future of work.
The impact of technology on the future job market and workforce is undeniable (the last few weeks have been dominated by exciting conversations around the potential of ChatGPT for example), and it has become essential, if not critical, that we are providing our students with the skills and knowledge they’ll need to succeed in the future.
It is important to recognise that the future of work, however, will not just solely be about technology. It will also be about unlocking creativity, innovation, and problem-solving. These are the skills that are at the core of what we like to call design education, and the pillars of the Experience Haus offering. By teaching our students to think differently and to approach problems from a design perspective, we are equipping them with the skills they need to succeed in the future of work, and to become the leaders of tomorrow.
But what does the future of work actually look like? What are the jobs of tomorrow, and what other skills will be in demand? These are important questions that we must consider as we prepare to further enhance our product set and course outcomes.
One thing is certain, the future of work will be highly dynamic and constantly shifting. The jobs of tomorrow may not even exist today. This is why it is crucial that we are teaching everyone who comes through our doors to be adaptable and to continuously learn new skills. The mindset of continuous learning must be embedded within each learner, and we must do our best as educators to ensure all students understand the now almost mandatory requirement to be lifelong learners. This will ensure that as they enter their careers, they can adapt and evolve as the job market and the world around them changes.
It will remain an important part of our mission that we design, develop and provide a holistic education that integrates design, business, and technology. The future of our society will require even more well-rounded designers who can ideate, design and create innovative solutions, and also plan how to deliver them successfully to market. Furthermore, they need to be able to understand the perspectives of others through empathy, and be able to sell the vision of their impact through effective storytelling.
By providing opportunities for hands-on experience, real-world projects (our students are matched up with live design challenges from startups led by passionate founders) and problem-based learning, design education can help students develop the skills they need to succeed confidently, and credibly, moving forward. We have always aimed to be uniquely positioned to foster these skills in students, and it’s a delivery challenge that the Experience Haus instructional team enjoys taking on.
I am excited about the future of work and the opportunities it presents for everyone. By providing the skills, knowledge and resources that students need to succeed in the future of work, we are not only preparing them for the jobs of tomorrow, but also for a lifetime of success.
Moving forward, I implore everyone to think about the following:
How do you feel design education is preparing students for the future of work?
What skills do you think will be in demand in the future of work and how are you yourself developing them?
How do you see the impact of technology on the job market in the near future, and how are you preparing for potential challenges and changes?
What strategies do you think design education institutions like Experience Haus should adopt to better prepare its students for the future of work?
I look forward to more conversations around this topic in the coming months. In closing, as an educator reading this, it’s your job to ensure you leave an impact on your students as they prepare for the future of work, and as a design student who may be reading this, it’s your job to think about how to take advantage of the opportunities in front of you today, in order to take advantage of tomorrow.
As the world becomes increasingly digitised, the concept of the metaverse – a virtual shared space, created by the convergence of virtually enhanced physical reality and physically persistent virtual space – is gaining more and more attention. And with the rise of the metaverse comes the opportunity to explore new and innovative ways of teaching and learning.
It is likely that the market for metaverse-based education and training will continue to grow as the technology matures and more organisations begin to explore its potential uses. Of course, it’s hard to predict the exact size of the opportunity in the education and training field, but given the increasing interest in the metaverse and the potential benefits it can offer for online learning, the market is expected to be substantial.
Also worth mentioning is that in general, the global e-learning market size has been valued at close to 200 billion USD in 2022 and is expected to grow each coming year, And this global e-learning market growth is driven by technological advancements and increasing adoption of digital and online learning platforms, which is exactly where metaverse can fit in. Impressive right?
One area where the metaverse has the potential to revolutionise education is in the field of user experience (UX) design. Traditionally, user experience design has been taught through a combination of lectures, workshops, and hands-on projects. There are virtual reality platforms that are currently being used for education, including virtual reality simulations and online virtual learning environments. However, the main question has always come down to how engaging these approaches are, and if students truly benefit from them.
What the metaverse brings to the table is the possibility of creating immersive, interactive learning environments that can take students on a journey through the design process in a way that is both engaging and realistic.
Photo by Maxim Hopman on Unsplash
Imagine being able to walk through a virtual version of a website or app, exploring the user interface and user flows in a fully immersive environment. Students could work through design challenges and user testing scenarios, getting immediate feedback and guidance from instructors and mentors. What about the co-creation opportunities, for example, running research workshops in a virtual version of the exact environment a future product may be used in? The metaverse opens up the possibility of virtual collaborative design sessions, allowing students to work on projects with their peers from around the globe.
The potential of the metaverse to transform design education is exciting and limitless. By leveraging this technology, we can introduce dynamic and interactive learning experiences that engage and inspire students in a way that traditional methods simply can’t. As the metaverse continues to evolve, it’s important for design educators to stay up to date and consider how it can be used to enhance the teaching and learning process.
And as a design school, Experience Haus is always looking for ways to enhance the learning experience for our students and prepare them for the future. The metaverse offers a unique and exciting opportunity for us to do just that.
By leveraging the power of virtual reality and immersive technologies, we aim to bring our design curriculum to life in a way that is engaging, interactive, and relevant to the real world. And giving our students the opportunity to learn and apply design in this manner will provide valuable hands-on experience that will prepare them for long-term success in the design field.
We believe that the metaverse has the potential to revolutionise the way we teach design, and we are excited to be at the forefront as we begin to experiment with this exciting new frontier in education.
Stay tuned as we share our experiments, learnings, thoughts, and of course for the announcement of our first metaverse-based course.
Rishi Sunak’s announcement last week that he wants all students to study maths until age 18 is great news for the creative world. Improving any nation’s numeracy skills is a crucial step in ensuring a strong and capable workforce for the future.
As a creative director of a design school with a focus on education that aims to help individuals move into creative roles within the workforce, and as someone with a Mathematics undergraduate degree, I believe that mathematics education should be a top priority in our plans. Investing in this now will pay off for both individuals and the economy as a whole.
Will it be suitable for everyone? No. Will not studying mathematics stop people from being successful? No. When I first enrolled in my maths undergraduate programme way back in 1999, I have to admit that I didn’t fully see the value of what I would be learning until quite a few years later. I can now fully understand why my mathematics education has played a pivotal role in how I’ve navigated my career. All I hope is that this announcement will encourage young people to see how this can be an advantage for them if they wish to pursue certain creative and design careers.
Before I explore the value of maths in specific roles, here are a few reasons why maths is important for those aiming to work in creative fields.
Maths can help with creative problem-solving: mathematics can help designers and product managers to approach problems in a logical and systematic way, and to break complex problems down into smaller, more manageable pieces. This helps ensure that all relevant factors are considered and that potential solutions are thoroughly evaluated.
Maths enhances design skills: many design principles, such as symmetry, balance, and proportion, are based on mathematical concepts. Understanding maths can help designers create more visually appealing and effective designs.
Maths can help with budgeting and planning: Creatives often work on projects with tight budgets and deadlines, and maths can help with budgeting and planning by allowing them to make more informed decisions about how to allocate resources. They might use financial modelling to predict revenue or profitability, or use statistical techniques to forecast demand for a product.
Maths enhances teamwork: Creatives often work in teams, and maths can help facilitate communication and collaboration by providing a common language and framework for discussing ideas.
Maths helps with data visualisation: Many creatives work with data in some capacity, whether it’s creating infographics or designing user interfaces. Maths can help with data visualisation by providing the tools and concepts needed to effectively represent data in a clear and concise way.
Maths helps with communication: Math can help product managers, designers, and strategists communicate effectively with stakeholders by providing a common language and framework for discussing data and ideas. For example, they might use data visualisation to present information in a clear and concise way, or use statistical analysis to support their recommendations.
Product Managers can use maths skills to help with demand forecasting, financial projections and helping to turn data into meaningful insights that can be presented to stakeholders in order to get crucial buy-in.
Mathematics can be a valuable tool in creative problem-solving, user experience design, and product management in a number of ways. Some specific ways that mathematics can be helpful in these fields include:
User Experience Designers: Maths can be used to create data-driven designs that are based on user behaviour and preferences. For example, mathematicians can help to analyse user data and create algorithms that can be used to optimise user flows and increase conversions.
Product Managers: Maths can be used to analyse market trends, forecast demand, and create financial projections for products. This can help product managers to make informed decisions about product development, pricing, and marketing strategies.
User Researchers: Maths can help user researchers determine the size and composition of a sample that is representative of the population they are studying. This is important because the study’s results will be more accurate and reliable if the sample is representative of the population. Maths can also help user researchers analyse the data they collect to identify patterns and trends. For example, they might use statistical analysis to determine whether there are significant differences between groups, or use regression analysis to understand the relationship between different variables.
Service Designers: Maths can help service designers simulate and model different design options to evaluate their performance. For example, they might use mathematical models to forecast the demand for a service or to understand the impact of different design choices on customer satisfaction.
Learning maths at a secondary school level can be incredibly beneficial for a creative or design career. Maths helps with problem-solving, enhances design skills, aids with budgeting and planning, facilitates teamwork, and helps with data visualisation. It is a valuable tool that can be applied in a variety of settings, from user research and product management to strategy and experience design, which we know are important roles in industry-leading organisations globally.
So, for those young people that are considering a creative or design career, don’t underestimate the importance of maths. It may just give these people the edge they need to succeed.
One of the core pillars of Experience Haus courses is the opportunity for students to apply their learnings directly on to live design challenges provided by small businesses and startups from across the country. There is no cost for a startup to take part in this programme – we are simply looking for challenging briefs from a range of industries.
What is Experience Haus?
Experience Haus is a design education provider that runs courses for professionals who wish to pivot, upskill or refresh into creative roles. Our courses include UX and UI Design, Product Design, Service Design, User Research, Product Management, and more.
A core feature of our courses is that students are either paired individually or in groups to work on live challenges. Along the way they will apply their learnings to create deliverables that will build up over time to solutions that answer the design challenge.
Courses range from eight to twelve weeks long and new cohorts are scheduled to start regularly throughout the year.
What courses can I provide a brief for?
We are looking for design challenges for the following courses:
User Experience Design
User Interface Design
Product Strategy and Management
What makes a good design challenge?
Design wise – we are looking for challenges that include several user journeys, for example a booking flow, an e-commerce journey or completing a particular task. Ideally we also need a relatively easy to access target audience, or help from the business in getting access to the target audience. If you are a startup struggling with traction, clear vision, or differentiation, this can make for a good Product Strategy and Management challenge. For more holistic challenges, it might be Service Design. And if you are looking to understand your potential base, then it could be for our User Research course.
Briefs do not need to be extremely detailed and can be vague in part, this is because we teach our students to sit down with their clients, ask the right questions, refine the ask and fill in the gaps – very much like a real life client brief. If you have a particular problem you may want to ask this very clearly up front and expand upon it in the initial briefing session with your student(s).
All output from the courses will belong to the business- all we ask is that our students be able to use the work in their portfolios if they wish. Many students go on to use the work as case studies in their portfolios.
At the end of each course your student(s) will present back their process, journey and final solution to the design challenge you have set.
What is your involvement?
All we ask is that you make yourself available for around 5-7 hours during the course duration – there are specific conversations (such as a stakeholder interview), occasional check-ins and workshops, and a final presentation at the end of each course. These sessions can take place either in-person or online.
Please understand that we are receiveing design challenges on an ongoing basis and we cannot accommodate all projects. If you do you have questions however feel free to email us.
Please complete the following form by clicking on button below, and once submitted, we’ll be in touch with next steps.
In this series, we interview a wide range of Experience Design professionals from across the industry. From looking down on top as a design leader, to looking up as an entry-level junior. Talking about people’s journeys, day-to-day working lives, key trends and advice.
Over the last 10 years, Neil has worked client-side at incredible brands such as Farfetch, Kurt Geiger and Dunelm. He’s also worked on the agency side on projects for OFFICE, Carlsberg, Aesop, Pitney Bowes, Vashi, Borough Kitchen, The Collective, Travel Corporation, Lindblad, Guest.com.
So firstly Neil, tell us a little bit about yourself, where you started out and your journey up until now?
I studied a degree in Web Technology at Lincoln University which covered development, traditional computing, business studies and at the time, a discipline called HCI – Human Computer Interaction. Essentially, HCI is what UX has evolved into now. It’s about how people behave with digital mediums. So during that time, I learned the basics and foundations of what UX is today – about people’s behaviours and how to apply empathy to projects. But the natural evolution of that wasn’t straight into UX… It was actually into development.
I started to build websites for small businesses in and around the Lincoln area. I realised that I was able to solve some quite complex challenges for SMEs, anything from SEO, paid search, design and development, all the way to hosting on-going retainers.
That gave me a really good insight into how to apply my trade into the business environment, how to gather customer requirements and deal with stakeholders. That evolved into the next two to three years of building websites and working with brands, like Southampton Football Club right the way through to working with Paul McCartney’s son James.
In 2012, I decided to join a digital agency in London. I was hired as a developer. If I’m being honest, I realised that I wasn’t a particularly great developer compared to others around me. And it was at that point, I was sat next to a UX’r – I was so intrigued by her day-to-day work. She got to go meet c-suite level clients within big brands, meet their customers daily, and she was always up away from her desk.
So I actually started to make the switch during that period by adopting a hybrid developer/UX role. I started to learn my trade, applying what I learned at university. I was lucky enough to work with AESOP when they were just starting out in the world of eCommerce and other brands such as Sunspel & Maximuscle.
So it took me a while to learn what was right for me, it definitely wasn’t a case of going straight into UX at University or post graduating.
How did you find that transition – moving back into being very user-focused and user-centric? Was it a natural transition?
I realised that development wasn’t for me – I was more of a people person compared to that traditional role of developers sitting behind a screen for 90% of their day. With UX, there was a lot more interaction with people so that naturally suited my interests and skillset.
However, for those starting out, the development angle is really important because when you’re building out a product or a service you need to understand the technical limitations to factor into that service. You can design the best experience possible, but if it’s not feasible within the boundaries and the constraints of their technical infrastructure, then it’s no good. You’ve always got to have that in the back of your mind – like the speed of building a website, or web page compared to a feature or a module. The five or so years experience in tech really helps me out to this day.
Did you have any other mentors along the way?
I did. Not in UX, but a director of a successful CRM consultancy I worked for during college and university. Alan and the directors taught me a lot of what I hold on today. How to listen, be patient and build relationships with people and customers – essentially building trust from listening carefully to customer requirements, delivering great work and becoming a trusted business partner.
During those years, do you have any stand out memories – good or bad? Anything that made you go home extremely proud or perhaps very fed up?
I think I’ve been quite lucky. I’ve never really felt like I want to pack it all in. I enjoy my job. I enjoy going to work every day. And so from that perspective, not really.
I think there’s been some standout moments in the last ten years. One being when I was first starting out, I worked at eCommerce retail brand Farfetch. The development team were based out of Porto in Portugal, and the UX team were based in London. It was when Farfetch were very much in their infancy as a brand. We were trying to adopt a very user-centric approach with a development team so they could understand how our thinking results in them having to build code. So we put on our hackathon to 60 people in Porto – it was anything from project managers to scrum masters to developers. It ended up being this Dragon’s Den style day from 9am till 6pm – we applied a user-centric design methodology to a brief and we asked all the teams to go away and try and solve a problem, then they had to present back to a panel at the end of the day. It was a great way to kind of build some energy and excitement about user experience within a business. That’s stuck with me today. I recommend any UX’er in the business to gamify it to get stakeholder buy in.
Beyond developers, how have you managed to get other stakeholders (such as the community or the clients themselves) to buy in?
It’s certainly not one size fits all – you’ve really got to relate to the individual within the business.
From a sales perspective, that particular salesperson has targets, they might have KPIs they need to hit. So you need to be an advocate of UX design through their lens, how are you going to help that individual? And essentially, it might be around sales or it might be around conversion. So you’ve got to relate the work that you’re doing from a design perspective, to help that individual. It might be customer services or marketing – consider how you are going to help that individual do their job day-to-day.
Are there any other projects that you would look back on and say you were particularly proud of it? Or one that was really challenging?
About three years ago, I was fortunate enough to work with Pitney Bowes. They traditionally produce hardware for shipping and mailing, but I worked in the software team, building a SaaS application. It was a really niche application. It was different to a lot of the B2C retail market I’ve had experience in before. We had to consider how various personas were using this application so we did research with Condé Nast at One World Trade Center and also traveled for two hours to speak with someone in Connecticut in their shed. It was an amazing opportunity to travel and meet different people from different backgrounds to try find a solution for all.
You now head up a department of your own and you’re a design leader – how has the job changed, both in terms of the role but also your specific day to day responsibilities?
When you first start out, you’re very hands on. You are practitioner focused and you’re delivering components in a project in a sprint environment. You could be sitting in on stakeholder workshops, customer workshops, taking notes to begin with, just finding your feet in terms of applying methodologies.
As you start to gain more experience and work on a variety of different projects and industries – you may begin to facilitate workshops with more senior stakeholders.
When you’re a junior you are thinking about the hands-on activity at the time. As you grow in the role, you think about the bigger picture in terms of the business, the business strategy, thinking about the commercial side of things, as well as the brand engagement. As you become a more senior practitioner, you might start to lead a team and that then evolves into becoming a director and a ‘Head of X’’.
There are four of us in my team at Matter Of Form – my days are now spent 90% of the time in meetings with customers and about 10% in the weeds hands on, it’s so important to keep your feet dipped in the water.
What has changed in terms of roles in UX and the discipline during your career?
10 years ago, UX was unknown to most people and businesses, they were unaware of the benefits. The role of a UX’er was a generalist – they had to have strengths from research to design, to being a bit of a business analyst. Over the last 10 years, there has become specific roles dedicated to each of those sweet spots – so UX researchers, UX writers and UX designers. Especially in bigger organisations, you might just focus on one piece of the jigsaw. Whereas when I first started out, you were very much responsible for doing kind of all of those activities.
Should those starting out position themselves as an end-to-end UX’er or specialise? In terms of becoming a design leader, do these specialised UX roles lead to leadership roles such as ‘Head of UX Research’?
For anyone that’s starting out, I would recommend that you get experience in each area. I don’t think you want to become a specialist in just one. To become a solid UX’er, you need to have end-to-end experience in the user-experience cycle. Over time, you will personally establish what you enjoy and what your strengths are.
If you like going out and meeting the clients and customers, running primary research, or the lab testing, then you might need to go down the research route.
If you have appreciation and skills of what makes a great interaction design, then you might naturally evolve into a UX Designer.
I don’t think either of those routes will affect your progression into a more senior role. There’s a lot of good freelancers and even permanent practitioners who have been in the industry for 20 years and prefer to be hands on with the craft. There’s others that prefer to go into a more managerial or leadership side as that’s where their strengths lie. I think there’s a crossroads when you reach that senior lead role.
You did some freelancing and consulting too. Is that something you would recommend others to do on their journey? Did that experience benefit you?
It’s a hundred percent of benefit. I think what I would recommend first is that you learn your trade in a potentially safer environment, where you have mentors, you have leaders and people that you can report to, and work in an in-house role to establish that.
From a personal freelance perspective, it’s exciting. You work on different projects and different brands. When you’re freelance you have a lot more flexibility, your work-life balance definitely improves.
What’s your advice to people starting their UX journey?
I think the elephant in the room is that it’s a very challenging time to be going into the market, but I don’t think that should worry you. If you are an entry level practitioner at the moment, it’s more about getting your foot in the door. And to do that, my guidance would be your portfolio. Personally, I think CVs are redundant. And I can learn everything from a LinkedIn profile – CVs are really there for recruiters & HR.
From my personal experience of hiring someone, the portfolio is so important. You need to have credibility in order to sell yourself and credibility comes with demonstrating your skill set for say, two to three case studies. It doesn’t need any more. But in those case studies, it’s really important you tell a story and a narrative for that particular case study. UX is all about the process and how you got to an end result.
What are your top tips for creating a successful portfolio?
Think about it as though you’re explaining it to someone that knows nothing about user experience – give context and tell a story. In terms of the structure for a case study I would say it should follow as so: an introduction, the project objectives, your role, who made up the team, who did you work alongside, talk a little bit about the discovery process and finally, how you tackled it and challenged it. And if you’ve got some links to artifacts, or whether it’s a prototype or some UI designs, even better. I’ve never worked on a project where it goes swimmingly – there is always a little bit of detour. It’s about how you overcome the challenges. And it’s so important that you tell that story to the different individuals you will come across – whether it’s someone like myself who might be hiring as a head of department or an external recruiter.
For more junior to mid-level roles, I would actually recommend that the more detail the better. I think the artefacts aren’t necessarily the most important thing. I think it’s about what are the conclusions and the analysis, which came off the back of them. So what did you learn from delivering personas? Or what are the insights from the experience map and the research that you did?
The cultural side of hiring is so important, so make sure you stand out. Show your personality within your portfolio. We want to know if you would be a good cultural fit and embed yourself in the values of the organisation.
Don’t try and mimic someone else’s portfolio style, do what feels right for you.
What else is key to landing a UX role?
You’re going to have to network. UX meet-ups, slack groups, conferences and meets with recruiters.
There are some great UX recruiters out there that are passionate about the industry. And it’s all about networking and making sure that you’re at the front of their mind when a job comes in, because rest assured, there’s going to be 10 other people who are more than capable of doing that. It’s about establishing those relationships with individuals, and by doing so it will put you at the front of the queue.
Would you recommend asking for someone to be your mentor?
The word ‘mentor’ suggests you expect it to be a long term, and that person will need to potentially buy into that. If I’m being honest, one-off conversations with different people will be more beneficial to you than one individual because UX is all about gathering different peoples perspectives depending on their personalities and experiences. I think 5 different peoples opinions will be more valuable than one.
So in terms of finding a mentor, I would let it organically develop, maybe you’ll keep coming back to one person, but try and ask a few people to get different viewpoints and feedback.
I would say 95% of UX’ers that I know in the industry would be more than happy to provide guidance on a portfolio or how to get into the industry. Contact people on LinkedIn, go find the slack groups I mentioned earlier on – don’t be afraid to speak to people directly and have a conversation. I think most people in the industry are open to it.
How do you feel about the current situation with COVID?
Unfortunately, there’s going to be a lot of talented people back on the job market, which will make things highly competitive. So, I think from an employability perspective, we’re going to see a big shift in the way that brands are hiring. Now, I think they want to work in leaner teams. It wouldn’t surprise me if businesses look for product designers. Earlier on, I mentioned about having ‘generalists’ and then having ‘specialists’, it wouldn’t surprise me now if people go back to product designers where they want a hybrid of UX and UI.
Recently, I have been thinking about the future of eCommerce and what the digital world will look like for a lot of brands when we come out of this. I heard a phrase the other day from Mary Portas that resonated with me, it’s about the kindness economy. And the kindness economy is really stemming from the goodwill and the community spirit which has come out of this crisis and it’s brought people closer together. I think customers will be very sensitive to this going forward and it will influence how they interact with brands and in turn, how brands interact with their suppliers and distributors.
And the other thing is, there’s gonna be a lot of local businesses who have been forced into using digital to keep themselves afloat in the last three months. And it’s going to heavily disrupt the industry around curating online delivery and how these independents reach a larger global audience.
How do you see the current global Black Lives Matter movement affecting UX and what you do?
From a design perspective, we’re very much responsible and at the heart of this conversation, and when we’re designing for brands and organisations, whether that be digital products or whether it be services, we have to be very sensitive and mindful of this subject. And it could be anything from the exposure of an image, what it portrays and how the user perceives that image to the brand tone of voice with marketing communications.
And finally, which UX schools would you recommend? Should you do a short access course? Or do you need to essentially do a Masters in order to be taken seriously? Should you self study or is it okay to go in with no prior knowledge?
Besides Experience Haus, we’ve recently hired someone from General Assembly. From a hiring perspective, if you looked at 10 General Assembly portfolios, you’ll definitely know that they were all from General Assembly. They teach you a rigid process and more often or not, it will give you a foundation to get through the door. Beware though, the perfect process isn’t always the real world, you have to adapt your process depending on the client’s budget and timeframes.
I think that depending on the type of personality you are, there’s nothing against online courses, providing that you’re quite proactive, and you’re willing to invest that time. I think having a hybrid of the two is best, so don’t be afraid to do some learning online. But I think to have that guidance through mentorship is really important in those early stages.
Personally, for me, the background in terms of where someone has studied isn’t important. I think what’s really important is the way that you present yourself in an interview environment when you’re showcasing your work, the way you’re telling the story and the challenges you’ve overcome. I want to get a sense that you’re passionate about what you’re doing – you don’t have to go to a certain school or certain class to be passionate.
Any last words of encouragement?
Don’t be afraid to approach people and business directly. When I was looking for my first job in London, I took my CV and visited 25 different businesses in one day all over the capital. By the evening, I had 2 of those 25 people call me back and asked me to come in for an interview. And that’s how I got my first job through using my initiative!
The world of UX is a vast one – with an increasingly large number of specialisms and learning opportunities to choose from. But don’t let this intimidate or deter you, keep reading and you’ll find the top must-have skills one needs to learn when first taking the plunge, and key features to look out for in a UX Design course.
1. How to understand human behaviour (user research and testing)
A key part of the job is putting yourself in the users’ shoes to figure out what problems they have and how to solve them. This starts with initial user research and continues on to the testing of prototypes. Here you will see where the user gets confused, if it takes them longer or shorter periods of time to accomplish certain goals, and if anything needs to be added to enrich the user experience. Constantly iterating and improving along the way.
It’s in the nature of the job to collaborate on a daily basis – unless you’re a wizard at design, code, project management, finances and marketing. Collaboration is an inevitable part of the design process.
Being able to collaborate is a skill employers always look for in UX designers. By honing this skill, you’ll be able to efficiently communicate with your clients and the rest of your team, and create a better product.
3. Time spent with UX practitioners
The life of a UX designer can vary from day to day. It is important to know what you’re getting yourself into before jumping in the deep end.
At Experience Haus our studio is based in one of London’s leading design and branding agencies, not in a school. Students come into class inspired by the highly dynamic creative environment, and are able to talk to agency staff as they come and go.
Instructors are also practitioners by day, meaning our students get to learn from real people in the industry and are kept up to date with the latest industry news, tools and processes. By the end of this UX Design course, our students will be ready to hit the ground running.
4. Real projects for your portfolio
Many UX courses provide you with a hypothetical brief to apply your knowledge to, but it’s important to apply your new skills to a real world problem with real constraints and real client expectations. Adapting the theoretical process learned in class to the harsh realities of life outside, and not “go and design a new Amazon app” from the comfort of the classroom.
That’s why at Experience Haus we give each of our students a real brief from a local startup to work on for their final project, so they have a proper project piece in their portfolio when they leave, and the applied skills to match.
At Experience Haus, we believe students should finish every course with the confidence to enter the field. We place our students in small classes (max. 8 students per class), and individually pair them with local startups to provide them with a live project brief to work on throughout the course. This means each student will complete a piece of work for their design portfolio.
I’m a freelance graphic designer; I’ve always been interested in digital design but my experience has been predominantly in print for brands everyone would know and smaller independent businesses. Since I completed the 10 week part-time course in Product Design, I’ve been working on some UX/UI side projects whilst further building my portfolio.
What made you choose Experience Haus?
A few factors helped me choose Experience Haus; knowing the classes would be capped to 8 students was one of the main reasons, as I knew it would be quite an intimate learning experience with plenty of one-on-one time with the coaches. In addition to that, the price, the industry experience of the coaches, and the fact that the learning would be applied directly to a real world project.
What did you want to achieve from your Experience Haus course? Do you think that objective was fulfilled?
My main objective for joining the course was to gain a better insight into the world of UX; the tools, the processes, and ultimately if it was for me – I feel like I got all three. UX is now definitely a strong contender for next steps in my career.
Before starting the Product Design UX/UI course, I had recently graduated from university and was working as a freelancer; and prior to this I had been an intern, working in consumer products for a multinational media & entertainment company. Shortly after finishing the course, I secured a permanent role as an Associate Product Designer for a fin-tech start-up. One thing I love about the role is that there’s lots of potential to work in different areas and learn from the wider design team.
What made you choose Experience Haus?
After a few days comparing different courses, I chose Experience Haus because I felt I’d get the most meaningful teaching and also the best value for money. The biggest draw, for me, was the fact that while studying on the course we’d actually be working individual on real briefs for real start-ups.
What did you want to achieve from your Experience Haus course? Do you think that objective was fulfilled?
The main things I wanted to get out of this course were general experience working on a project, end-to-end, in the context of digital products & service; and to get a better understanding of UX/UI design best practices. I also wanted something more relevant to add to my portfolio and hopefully make connections that could lead to job opportunities.
Tell us a little about yourself and your current work outside of Experience Haus?
I currently work as a Sr. Product Marketing Manager at VMware. My business area within VMware creates automation and tooling for software developers. There are usually referred to as “platform” or “DevOps” products. Previously I was a product manager here at VMware, and at Amazon before that. I was part of Amazon’s largest vendor business – think Prime but for large companies. In all my product roles, I’ve loved creating business impact with new technology, while delighting end users. In a previous career, I’ve worked in software engineering roles at a couple of investment banks.
Did you have a specific goal you wanted to achieve before you started teaching at Experience Haus? Do you think your time here so far has kept you on the right track?
I learnt a lot of things about product management by accident and experiment. In teaching this course, my hope was to pass on my experience to others so they don’t make the same mistakes I did! So far my students consistently tell me what I’ve taught them has been relevant to them at work – so I feel like I am on the right track!
What is your teaching philosophy?
I believe effective teaching requires a lot of empathy. You really need to understand your student’s context and learning styles to deliver your content effectively. I endeavour to understand as much as I can about my students through in-class dialog, so I can tweak my content and delivery over time.
What do you enjoy most about teaching at Experience Haus?
At Experience Haus, I meet a range of people – some are only curious about digital skills whereas others are actively looking at transitioning into a digital role. I love conversations with my students about the new skills they could acquire and what impact those skills might have on their careers. Enabling someone to make the right decision for their careers is something I really care about, and get to do a lot at the Haus! I also love how much I have to think about my daily work as a product marketer / product manager, in order to teach my classes effectively.
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