Are you putting the needs of people before pixels?

Paul Boag

This week on the Boagworld Show we have talks on working in teams, dealing with stress and fighting for the needs of users.

Skip to talk 1, talk 2 or talk 3.

This weeks show is sponsored by Fullstory and Resource Guru.

Paul: Hello and welcome to the Boagworld show the podcast about all aspects of digital design, development and strategy. My name is Paul Boag and joining me in person this week is Marcus Lillington.

Marcus: How weird is this?

Paul: Stop! We don’t have time for the waffle on this show. You are not allowed to say anything Marcus.

Marcus: We’ve got to fit three in.

Paul: We’ve got to fit three in! It’s just so exciting.

Marcus: Okay, then straight onto the first one then.

Paul: No, there’s certain things that need to be covered. For a start people need to know that they can still submit talks now that we’re getting three into every show. So they can submit a talk by going to Obviously, normally, subtly in the waffle at the beginning of the show I would promote my upcoming workshop but we don’t have time for that so…

Marcus: You’ve got to be unsubtle about it.

Paul: … So Normally maybe I would slip in a promotion for my book because you know, you do. So that’s–book. So there.

Marcus: Okay.

Paul: It kind of rips the heart out of the show doesn’t it.

Marcus: I think so. I don’t know what to say now. I… Have.

Paul: Oh dear…

Marcus: I’m going on holiday..

Paul: Yeah, right. Yes, we’ve done that. That’s the obligatory part you seem to say every week.

Marcus: Yep. Well you’ve got Andy on next week.

Paul: Yeah, so we can talk about Australia for 30 seconds but that’s really all we have time for. So let’s get onto our first talk. It shall we really do that!? It feels weird doesn’t it.

Marcus: Do it, do it, do it!

Paul: Okay, so the first one is from Chris Myhill and he is going to be talking about the designer’s job and how our job is to guide the decision-making process. So if we want to have good projects that run smoothly how we need to involve the other people in the design process and how we go about doing that as designers. So, over to Chris.

Are you a freelancer or a business owner?

Play talk at: 02:12 – A designer’s job is to guide a decision-making process. To make effective decisions, we need the input of our teams. What can we do to work with them more effectively?

Chris Myhill – People over pixels
Chris is a freelance UXer who’s been designing websites, apps and other exciting digital gubbins for over seven years. He’s worked with all kinds of teams across all flavors of project. From enterprise systems for big ol’ corporates like Tesco & Unilever, to apps for teeny startups like TeachHub and Listmaker. Visit Chris’ site at

A lot of people think about design in terms of pixel pushing and that’s a misconception that really grinds my gears. Producing mockups is a big part of the job, sure. But that is just the end result. A designers actual job is to guide a decision-making process. To inform these decisions need to use research findings, inputs from our team and an understanding of project objectives. These different things all feed into the stuff that we make. Be they wireframes, prototypes, diagrams or anything else really. I have worked with a lot of designers and I have come to realise that the ability to work with people is far more important than any technical proficiency or artistic flair. Good designers can’t operate in a vacuum and this is because our job is to solve other people’s problems. The problems of our users of course but also the problems of our teams and our clients. There are three key qualities that I feel any good designer needs to have. They need to have leadership abilities so that they can push teams towards decisions. They need to have empathy that so that they can accommodate the goals of the various team members and these can sometimes go at odds with their personal views. Above all they need diplomacy. When I studied human computer interaction at university I learnt an awful lot about design best practice. This was from the work of Jacob Nielsen, Don Norman and the like. I know for our younger listeners human computer interaction was the far less sexy name for what then was UX and just saying that makes me feel like a crumbly old dinosaur. Anyway, I came into my first job prepared with all of the know-how of how to be an awesome web designer, or so I thought. But what I wasn’t at all prepared for was working with real teams. I still remember the first time that a client I was working with utterly hated my design work and despite conducting all the right research and using all the right best practices they just wouldn’t approve these designs and I just couldn’t get my head around it. It was so frustrating, why could this idiot not see that I was the expert. They were paying me for my advice so why weren’t they taking it? When this kept happening I started to realise that maybe I was the problem. Perhaps there was a little bit more to this job than just producing what I thought was the right design for the user. I had been so wrapped up in being a know it all that I had neglected to think about what the other people on my team thought. What issues were they grappling with? For example let’s focus on our clients. It is not surprising that every client has their own objectives on a project, they are generally being put under a lot of pressure by their own bosses or their shareholders. It is their neck on the line the project goes tits-up. It is through our designs that a client is going to either meet or fail their objectives so it is only natural that they are going to be anxious to give their input. It is like this with the rest of the team too. Everyone has their own individual goals on a project and that is going to be what is at the forefront of their minds when looking at your designs. The developers for instance, might really be prioritising performance, making the website superfast. The marketing guys and girls, they might want to make sure we are accommodating the campaigns and promotions that they are going to be running. And so on. Everyone on the team has their own goals so how can we work with them more effectively? Well I find the key to success is to get everybody involved early. I would start any big project with a discovery workshop. These are generally quite hefty sessions and they can take half a day even a full day. There’s a lot of good reasons to do this though because a big portion of that workshop’s always dedicated to understanding the team’s objectives. That is why everybody needs to come along to this. The designer, the developer, the client. We want someone to represent each person that is going to be on the project. When we start I ask for a brain dump of everything everybody wants to achieve through this bit of work. We then work through and prioritise all of these different goals as a team. This gives me a feel for what everyone’s aligned on and what is really important for the project. Doing this is valuable for a few reasons. The most obvious is that it guides decisions in the design but beyond that it also helps build a team relationship. Going through this activity puts the team at ease. It shows them that I am listening and I and fully prepared to take their views on board in the design. It also highlights any potential conflicts early. If people don’t agree on objectives it is best to get these debates out of the way now before we waste time doing any work that might not be quite right. Once I have got all of this knowledge of everyone’s goals I can also then revisit them in future presentations. When I’m sharing deliverables like wireframes for the first time I can call back to the things that we discussed in the discovery workshop and it makes the whole team feel more at ease that I am thinking about their needs, it makes them feel more confident in what I’m doing. A little warning about these workshops, although technology has come a long way and it has helped make remote workshops possible I find that these kinds of sessions are way more effective when you do them face-to-face. With everyone there in the same room I found that people were just a lot more comfortable sharing ideas. It also means I am able to pick up when someone pulls a face in reaction to a point but isn’t confident enough to actually speak out. Beyond that first workshop it is good to keep the whole team involved as early as you can. In the early days of my career I had always treated clients as a gatekeeper for the design work. They would be involved in a series of key dates that we would decide upon well in advance. We would put these dates on the big Gantt chart or some equally horrifying looking project plan and then all countdown to the dreaded moment where we would actually have to share the design work. Those presentations would be a ridiculously formal affair. I would put on smart shoes and wear a shirt for some reason and we would put the designs on the big screen or a projector or in the really early days even mounted on a board or a printout. This was when there were only two or three of us in the room. I would take the feedback from those presentation on board and disappear for a week to work on something else. This cycle would repeat until we had either signed off the design or we had all killed ourselves due to the tedium! I realised that this focus on big formal presentations might be why my relationships with clients was so naff. By waiting for these big milestones before sharing anything I could spend far too much time going down the rabbit hole working up ideas that weren’t aligned to the team’s needs. This way of working wasted my time and it wasted the client’s money. It was a lose, lose situation. By only having interaction with my wider team during these really formal presentations it also meant that I could never really build a rapport with them. Meetings always felt very businesslike which didn’t help when it came to sharing feedback and getting honest opinions. I am trying to do my best to change this, nowadays whenever possible I encourage a more collaborative way of working. Rather than waiting for presentation dates before sharing designs with the team I try to drip feed everyone little ideas and little snippets. This can be as simple as firing over an email every now and again, or requesting impromptu 15 minute meetings. If they can’t get there in person then just do a screen share asking for feedback on a specific thing. Not only does it encorage collaboration but it also means that nobody is going to be shocked when we do present the full deliverable. It becomes a formality rather than a big deal. If that isn’t enough then instant messengers like Slack and Fleep can be a good shout too. I found this to be a little too progressive for some clients and letting your client in on the banter that happens on slack can be dangerous sometimes! But for the right projects it can be a godsend. If all else fails just try and get the whole team together, including the client, to work together in the same space once every few days or so. Even if you’re not actually there for a prearranged meeting or to discuss anything specific it gives those precious opportunities for impromptu catch ups and just relationship building. One last thing, when sharing design work with your team don’t try and bamboozle everyone with UX bullshit! I do my very best to communicate in plain English and drop all the impressive sounding industry terms. Nobody is impressed with your heuristic evaluations or with the size of your contextual enquiry. Your team is just want to know what you are doing to solve their problems. If there is one thing I would like designers to take away from this whole spiel, it’s that you should try and leave your ego at the door. Designed by definition is decision-making it is making the calls that allow a product to meet its objectives. To that end basically anyone can be a designer. I have worked on loads of projects where the people in my team, without any kind of design training have provided incredible insights that have actually effected the final results in a really positive way. If you would like to learn more about building better relationships with your teams I would strongly suggest Mike Monteiro’s writing. His book “Design is a job” and the follow-up “You are my favourite client” are just fantastic reads. I have also heard that that Paul Boag bloke might have written a few things about this too. I don’t know, maybe check him out to if you can be bothered! If you would like to learn more about me and what I am up to I blog at and occasionally use the Twitter where you can find me @justuxdesign. Cheers.

Paul: All right, so that was Chris. Very good, do have time to talk about him? Well, not about him because that would be rude To alk about someone behind their backs.

Marcus: Well, not if you say nice things though, that would be all right.

Paul: Is it behind his back if I am record broadcasting it publicly, probably not. He’s got very nice hair in his picture, and quite envious of his hair.

Marcus: Has he?! Well, he’s just got quite a younger man’s hair.

Paul: He’s got hair. That’s why I’m envious.

Marcus: Not like my hair, my hair that used to be dark brown is now sort of… I have highlights in it.

Paul: Well, your hair at the moment is looking quite interesting because your headphones are pushing it up so it’s like this kind of sprout from the top of your head.

Marcus: Yeah, crazy hair.

Paul: No, I thought it was a good talk.

Marcus: It was.

Paul: Well, you are allowed to have three points about his talk. That’s all we’ve got time for Marcus.

Marcus: Okay, well obviously whilst banging my own drum I have to agree with him that empathy is really important for success in pretty much everything that we do. Which is often overlooked…

Paul: Why are you saying that is banging your own drum?

Marcus: Well I think I am quite an empathetic person.

Paul: You’re a pathetic person!

Marcus: I was setting myself up for that one wasn’t I!

Paul: Sorry, how could I not!

Marcus: I think you have even said that in the past.

Paul: You are, it is your strength I would say.

Marcus: I always try and find the best. I try to find the best path.

Paul: It’s not even finding the best in someone as much as just associating with how they are feeling. As designers we are really good… We say that all the time about we do it with users. “Oh yes, put yourself in the users shoes.” Nobody bothers to do that with their teammates. You know, as soon as somebody disagrees with you over something your initial reaction is “ner, ner ner!”

Marcus: Yeah.

Paul: You know, where we should be empathising with them and what they are struggling with. Because clients in particular, this is a thing I liked in Chris talk, was that clients in particular face very real fears working on projects. You know…

Marcus: Their jobs are on the line.

Paul: Yeah, absolutely.

Marcus: Often. Yes.

Paul: So I think it is really important to empathise with them and what they are going through because it is a shit job. Just because we have built websites a hundred times doesn’t mean that they have and that they understand the process and, you know, you need to hold their hands through it.

Marcus: Yeah, one of the things, I think he had three points which were leadership, empathy and diplomacy. Things that designers need or people that work in our industry need. Leadership is the one that is lacking the most I think. I think it’s because most people don’t want that. They don’t want to be leaders, they don’t want to guide the process and that is a hard one to expect of people think.

Paul: Also I think there’s… It’s a very easy one to get wrong, leadership. Because leadership doesn’t mean, leadership doesn’t always mean leading from above. Right? Often I think good leadership is from below. Where effectively you are asking the dumb question, you are prodding and nudging in the right direction…

Marcus: Putting power in people’s hands.

Paul: … But you are not dictating it. You know, a leader is not a dictator and so I think that is partly why a lot of people fear it because they don’t want to be that person. And then a lot of people end up becoming that person and it’s not the way to do it. I think of it… Good leadership is facilitation. That sounds so pretentious! But it is!

Marcus: You’ve been selling your consultancy services lately haven’t you Paul!

Paul: I have, I have. And err, yes. But also the other thing with leadership that I think people shy away from is making a frigging decision. I swear half the time people hire me just to make a decision on their behalf.

Marcus: Yeah, that is when it comes back to this idea, it’s scary, your job is on the line so if you can hire somebody to help with that process…

Paul: To shift the blame onto, yeah!

Marcus: Yeah, exactly. I was about to say something very kind of broad and sweeping, that every client that we have ever worked with have hired us for that reason. That is not true, but a lot of them have. They want that kind of helping hand or kick up the bum or whatever, I don’t know, it’s just…

Paul: Yeah, another thing I liked about it was his emphasis on face-to-face workshops and how important they are. That for me is a really big thing. Getting actually in front of and engaging with people I think is so important.

Marcus: He also said that the whole team needs to be part of that. I couldn’t agree more, as you know Paul, we work in the states quite a bit and the whole team goes out which is…

Paul: Which is expensive,

Marcus: It is expensive and often for maybe the developer, because what we’re doing is maybe UX staff, talking about aesthetics, they are just sat there kind of twiddling their thumbs. They’re not twiddling their thumbs but, you know, it is just absorbing all of the stuff.

Paul: It would be very easy to conclude “Oh we don’t need the developer in the room.” But if you don’t have the developer in the room there are two consequences. One, some things that are said in the room will have huge development consequences and they might only say one thing in the entire day’s workshop but that one thing could save you 20 grand of problems later down the line. But secondly…

Marcus: “Shut up Marcus you idiot” that kind of thing.

Paul: Yeah, yeah. Saying that one line has saved Headscape a lot of money over the years! (Laughter) But also the other reason is because then they understand the project, They understand context, they understand why decisions were made and they were involved in that and so they feel a sense of engagement. So I often see… And it prevents that whole thing of, you know, the developers are at the end of the chain aren’t they. You need them in the room even if that means shipping them out to America. Which to be honest, they love, because they get a free trip away. Which is always good.

Marcus: Yes.

Paul: You’re working with a lot of American clients at the minute aren’t you?

Marcus: We are.

Paul: Lucky you.

Marcus: Well, you know.

Paul: Although can you get in the country any more?

Marcus: I went out a week after Trump was inaugurated and there were a lot of protests going on, a helluva lot. That one I went on my own as well so I was at a bit of a loose end, I was going to wonder about.

Paul: So you just joined in a random protest did you?

Marcus: No, I was more of a looker-er oner-er from the side.

Paul: There you go. Next time…

Marcus: One more thing about his talk is his mention of Mike Monteiro. He is my favourite speaker of them all.

Paul: Yes, you like… He is very good.

Marcus: Mr Angry.

Paul: Yes, that’s why he is good.

Marcus: Yes, but he’s kind of… One of the talks is, I can’t remember the title of the talk but he has just written one of his books about the responsibility of designers. And he’s got five of them to hand out, hardback copies. He is basically just saying, all these guys come down the front and he is saying “Piss off you lot, all the women come down. You get paid $0.70 in every dollar to these guys.” He’s a proper…

Paul: Ooo, I like that idea.

Marcus: He’s a bit right on but he is right. So. The latest one which I think I am going to mention in reaction to one of the other talks is about fascism.

Paul: Ooo.

Marcus: That is worth watching.

Paul: How do any of the talks relate to Fascism?

Marcus: I can’t remember but…

Paul: But you find a way of crowbaring it in.

Marcus: Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Paul: Because you just want to talk about fascism.

Marcus: Yeah, and Mike Monteiro.

Paul: Erm, the other thing that I agreed with, just before we move on, I just want to quickly mention, is Chris talked about avoiding those big milestones. I am a fan of this and we have talked about this before because you kind of like sign off on certain things. Or you used to.

Marcus: One thing.

Paul: One thing, which is sign off the design isn’t it. Well I prefer, wherever possible, to avoid those kinds of things because they become big in the client’s minds and they are less likely to do it. I can understand your side of it as well but it is quite an interesting… that principle of, avoid building things up by making it to “This is set in stone once you sign things shall never change.” Because actually I just think it creates more anxiety, more anxiety leads to more micromanagement. You know, that would be my response to it.

Marcus: Potentially, yes. When’s my talk on? Is it next week, week after?

Paul: Next week.

Marcus: Okay, well I talk about our design process and the fact that I think it’s good and we don’t limit iterations on design. I think if you don’t do that, which we don’t, you do need to have an endpoint I think. That’s kind of where it comes from.

Paul: Yeah, I can kind of…

Marcus: It’s not absolutely set in stone nothing can ever change ever again but it is kind of like “Now we are going to start… We are going more onto a build mentality then we are on at the moment.”

Paul: Yeah, and I kind of agree with that. I think, to be honest, my main reason for having some kind of sign off on design after saying that I am not particularly keen on it, is swoop and poop managers. It is being able to turn around and say “I’m sorry but this was signed off and so therefore you are going to have to pay if you want to change it from now on.” So it is not so much the client that you are working with because hopefully you have taken the client through that journey. So they don’t really need to sign it off.

Marcus: Exactly.

Paul: … It’s for other managers, other people potentially coming in later.

Marcus: It’s also making… It saying we finished that bit now we are going to start than this bit. Which you could argue then you need to sign off on every phase. But it is the design one that bothers me more than others.

Paul: Yeah, it’s interesting. I liked Chris’s point in that but it is using it all in the right way isn’t it.

Okay, let’s quickly talk about our sponsors, or our first sponsor which is ResourceGuru and then we will get onto our second talk. So ResourceGuru is a fast simple way to schedule your resources within your projects. Oh, I can see you moving around the page in our notes, sorry ResourceGuru, I’m going to stop promoting you who are paying me and instead promote another thing that I have been using recently. Which is I have discovered this thing called notion S O is it?

Marcus: Yes,

Paul: Yeah, which is like a wiki type app thing which we are running our show notes with. It is really good, I really like it. It’s a bit like Google Docs but not Google Docs. Which is why I like it! Anyway, ResourceGuru. So ResourceGuru is a simple way to schedule your resources, dealing with project planning which we know is really hard, scheduling changes, all of that kind of stuff. You know what happens when deadlines get moved then your whole system falls apart. Then someone turns around and says “Oh, I booked holiday, I’m sure I have agreed that with you six months ago.” “No, you frigging didn’t!”

Marcus: It’s like Leigh taking a month off last summer.

Paul: Did he really?! He took all his holiday in one go?

Marcus: It wasn’t quite a month, it was 3 1/2 weeks.

Paul: Oooh.

Marcus: And I didn’t know about it!

Paul: Ah, see you needed… You guys use ResourceGuru! Badly apparently?!

Marcus: I’m not sure we were using it then. We might have been, I don’t know.

Paul: I don’t know when you started using it either. No, I think it is since then you have started using it. But of course that’s still depends on someone like Leigh putting… You know, we know how good Leigh is at updating stuff.

Marcus: Emma didn’t know about it either. So Emma is the one managed, who looks after it.

Paul: In theory, if you use it! You have got the right resources available when you need them and you know what is going on which obviously that can be bad as we learnt from Headscape. Thank you for suffering through that pain to teach us all a valuable lesson. I don’t know!

Marcus: We managed.

Paul: So ResourceGuru can help with all this kind of stuff it is accurate, it is up-to-date and it gives you a view of the big picture which is always good. Who is busy, who’s not, who’s available and when things need to change that is fine. We know that things need to change all the time when you are running an agency that is simply dragging and dropping things in order to update your schedule. You can also be confident that your project, whether your projects are on track or not because you can see all of that right in front of you. There are loads of great companies that are using it, it is very well established within the sector. Headscape obviously use it but then grown up companies like Saachi and Saachi and Razorfish and Cisco and people like that also use it as well. You can try it yourself for 30 days by going to You get 30 days for free but at the end of that period if you decide you like it and you want to keep using it use the coupon code boag2017 and you will get 20% of the life of using the product which I think is a really good deal.

Marcus: I was so tempted to double up on your words then because we are in the same room.

Paul: What do you mean double up on my words?

Marcus: I was thinking, right, I was going to say “Use the coupon…” I would have done but I can’t say the word coupon “coupon code boag2017” when you’d finished.

Paul: Oh, you are going to say it together like we were pros. No, that didn’t work did it!

Marcus: Or like little children.

Paul: Yes, childish, immature little children.

Marcus: I didn’t, but then I did!

Paul: Right, let’s talk about our next talk. I have to be really nice about this one because this is one of my clients, right. So, we are about to hear the best talk you have ever heard ever.

Marcus: Ever, ever, ever.

Paul: No, it’s…

Marcus: I’m sure I’ve met Andrew.

Paul: Andrew Miller is…, That reminds me I didn’t say a bit about Chris and who Chris is.

Marcus: Say a bit about Chris.

Paul: I’ll say a bit about Chris. You see, this is why I’m not professional. You could edit this back into the proper place couldn’t you.

Marcus: I can if you want me to.

Paul: But will you?!

Marcus: Maybe. (Laughter)

Paul: Okay, so Chris is a freelancer UX-er who has been designing websites apps and other exciting digital gubbins for over seven years.

Marcus: What a lovely word.

Paul: Yeah, I know. We need more gubbins in our society. He works on all kinds of teams across all flavours of projects from enterprise systems for big old companies like Tescos and Unilever to apps and teeny start-ups, which is really cool. So he’s got a really good mix of people. If you want to know where to find out more about him you can go to Right, back to Andrew.

Marcus: Woooop. That was us coming back again.

Paul: (bubbly noises) So, I’m going to say about who Andrew is now rather than at the end of his talk where I inevitably I will forget.

Marcus: That’s a good idea.

Paul: That’s a good idea. So Andrew is working currently for the University of Dundee, he has been working in higher education for almost 14 years in a variety of roles from design to development. He now heads up a team of 15 delivering the University of Dundee’s web transformation project. Which is why I am working with him. And he is doing very well! He gets my Goldstar of approval. He’ll be pleased with that!

Marcus: Yes, I better love that.

Paul: I’m going to get fired. So he is going to do a great talk actually about… Entitled “Don’t panic” which is about the pressure that our industry has and how it affects us mentally and physically. So it is a bit of a different tangent but a really important subject. So over to Andrew.

Don’t Panic!!!

Play talk at: 28:35 – Being in the digital industry is exciting and fast paced, but the pressure to keep up is enormous. People are burning out and suffering mentally and physically. It’s time we stood up and admitted we have a problem! I’ve been suffering panic attacks for nearly 12 years, here’s my struggle.

Andrew Millar – Don’t Panic
I’ve been working in Higher Education for almost 14 years in a variety of roles from design to development. I now head up a team of 15 delivering the University of Dundee’s web transformation. Find Andrew at

Hi, my name is Andrew Millar, I’m Head of Web Services at the University of Dundee…and I suffer from panic attacks.

It’s been almost 12 years since my first, and I’ve been suffering from them and their associated affects off and on since then. Stress and its problems are not widely discussed in the community, we almost think it’s a sign of weakness, but I wanted to speak out about my struggle in the hope that it might also help others.

They’re the funniest things. You can be sitting there fine one minute, and the next, wham! You’re breathing is getting laboured, you’re feeling light headed, and all you really want to do is get as far away from your current location as possible.

Not an easy thing, especially when you’re sitting in a meeting trying desperately to make it look like you know what you’re talking about. I’ve been in that situation a few times now. Sometimes it comes during times of stress, sometimes it comes when you think you’re perfectly ok.

I used to think that I was alone in my suffering, and that my body was somehow strange in how it worked. In the beginning, I felt isolated and alone in dealing with it and unable to talk openly about it. However, the more I talk to people about it, the more it seems to be a relatively common thing, especially in the digital industries.

I’ve never been a terribly confident individual. I’m naturally an introvert and feel uncomfortable dealing with people. I’m always plagued with doubts about whether I’m good at my job or not and constantly in fear that one of these days, I’m going to be found out. Then I’ll get fired, I’ll lose my house, and end up on the streets trying to scavenge enough food from dustbins to feed my wife and two kids.

In reality, it’s a crazy thought. The University has policy after policy aimed at trying to ensure people don’t get fired and I have a good enough support network around me to ensure that I at least have a roof over my family’s head if push comes to shove. But that doesn’t stop me entertaining the thoughts every now and again.

There are lots of high pressure professions out there that, on the face of it, are much more demanding than the digital realm. I know that, and I tell myself that, but it doesn’t always help. Our industry is constantly changing, it’s the very nature of it. You try and learn one thing, only to be told that it’s old hat now and you should be using something else. Even if you do get the right thing, it’ll get upgraded next week and you have to top up your learning again. We’re a competitive and varied industry at heart, and it’s one of the things I love about it, but the pressure to keep up is enormous.

And then there’s the problem of being in Higher Education. The days of it being a safe area to be in are looking ever more uncertain. Funding sources are being squeezed and institutions are increasingly looking towards digital as the silver bullet that will bring students in their droves. We’re lucky in that we’ve seen our budgets and staffing increase, but the work just increases and takes up the slack. What we’re really needing to do is change a culture rather than just delivering a website. But that itself causes issues because of the prevailing negativity in the industry currently. We want to change, but trying to always be the positive and encouraging one takes its toll.

It’s the reason why so many people are burning out. From people at the top of their game, to those just coming into the industry. It’s really difficult just to keep pace, never mind try to get ahead.

And yet we’re reluctant to talk about it. There seems to be some kind of stigma attached to it preventing us from addressing it. A fear that if we’re every found out, people will treat us with disdain and never trust us with anything important.

I’ll never forget my first panic attack. I was lying in bed, about 3 in the morning having just woken up. My heart was racing, the sweat was pouring off me, my arms and legs were locked straight and I was shaking for all I was worth. Every time I tried to control the shaking, I thought I would pass out. I honestly thought that night I was having a heart attack and that I wasn’t going to survive the night.

Needless to say, 12 years on, I didn’t die that night. I headed to the doctors the next morning to find that I had a pulse rate of 140 at rest. That appointment kick started months of follow on appointments where everything from my thyroid to my heart was checked out to try and figure out what was going on.

Looking back on it, the warning signs had been there. I’d woken up most mornings feeling ok, but as the day progressed I felt like someone was choking me. You ignore it for a while and then your mind starts to play tricks on you, convincing you that you have some deadly illness that you’ll never recover from.

Despite this battery of tests, nothing conclusive came back. In the end, the only thing the medical professionals could come up with was stress. It was a fair point in reality, I was getting married, moving away from home and desperately trying to find a permanent job. All this meant I was facing my wedding day not knowing whether I was actually going to make it or not.

I’ve never really recovered from that first panic attack. Not really. I’ve learned to cope and recognise the symptoms, but the annoying thing is, it’s never the same thing twice.

Does this mean that I’m bad at my job? No. Does it mean I can’t do my job? No. Does it mean that I can’t progress in my career and do exciting things? No.

… because I refuse to let it.

My natural instinct is to curl up in a ball, to stick to the easy things in life, and keep as far from anything difficult as possible. However I realised, it’s those difficult things in life that are the interesting bits.

I can still deal with really difficult situations. I can stand up and present to an audience of hundreds. I can think through really difficult problems and still come up with innovative solutions.

Sometimes, it still all gets a bit too much. I really struggle in the winter months and find it difficult to keep going. I’ve gotten better at reading the signs, but sometimes I push myself just that little bit too hard, and it hits hard.

But I keep going and I’ve accepted that there will always be things that I don’t know, and that’s ok. If I was in an industry that stayed the same all the time I’d be bored out of my skull. I’ve also come to realise that everyone else has their own struggles. No one has really figured it out. Everyone is winging it to a certain extent. It’s the beauty of humanity.

So here’s my plea to you, my challenge. If you’re dealing with something similar at the moment, please don’t give up. You’re amazing and valuable and you’ve got masses to offer to the community, we’ve just not tapped into it yet. Don’t struggle in silence, there’s help available out there, don’t be afraid to use it.

If you’re someone blessed with not having to deal with these issues, look out for those who might be. It’s not always the ones you think are struggling that are. If you can offer a word of encouragement or help please do so and make someone’s day.

Let me end by saying, my name is Andrew Millar, and I’m surviving panic attacks.

Paul: Okay, so that was Andrew. If you want to find out more about Andrew you can follow him on Twitter his Twitter ID is Millaraj. And that’s Miller spelt M I L L A R and then A J. So, that’s Andrew. Really good talk.

Marcus: Yes, great.

Paul: Yes, this is my, you know, subject I have talked about a lot in the past. I have talked about my own mental health issues with depression. I have written about it with smashing magazine before now, I’m a great supporter of Geek Mental Health Week which is coming up again in October. You can get involved in that actually, there will be a link in the show notes. Also Andy Clarke, who is on next week, who I think is heavily involved in organising it, so reach out to him on Twitter and his username is Malarkey, if you want to get involved in it in any way. Just great talk I thought. You… Your…

Marcus: You, me!

Paul: You’re the wrong person to talk about this kind of stuff because you are… You just drift through life, don’t you, in this haze of drunkenness and…

Marcus: Everything is great.

Paul: …Everything is great and euphoria, yeah. You’re weird.

Marcus: That’s true, every word of that is true but…

Paul: Especially the drunkenness! (Laughter)

Marcus: …But I need to take on board about what he’s saying about people like me who don’t suffer, because I don’t, noticing when others are struggling and helping them out.

Paul: But you will always, I mean…

Marcus: Yes, because I said I’m empathetic but I’m actually, I think I’m empathetic to people’s struggles with work and “Oh, I’m not sure I can do this” and all that kind of thing. I’m not that great when things are going badly wrong because I don’t understand. It’s like…

Paul: I don’t think that’s strictly true. Okay you didn’t… When I had depression you didn’t notice until I told you but then that’s quite common because people don’t tend to talk that openly about that kind of stuff. But as soon as I was both you and Chris were massively supportive. I felt really supported by you so you gave me everything that I needed. Not that I can really remember what that was but you know…

Marcus: Chocolate!

Paul: Sorry?

Marcus: Chocolate!

Paul: Chocolate, yeah. (Laughter) The answer to all things. Chocolate and cider. Ice cream actually. I’m a bit… You know that whole stereotypical Bridget Jones tub of ice cream. That is totally me.

Marcus: Have you tried the new magnum tubs.

Paul: Magnum do tubs!!

Marcus: Yes, they do.

Paul: Oh, my word my life has been transformed.

Marcus: They are pretty amazing. It’s got like a solid chunk of, like a disc of chocolate on the top and have to kind of found your way through. And another one at the bottom.

Paul: Ahhh!

Marcus: And it’s got loads of little, you know, what they called…

Paul: I can’t breathe.

Marcus: … viennetta?

Paul: Yeah.

Marcus: Which are a bit like eating air. It’s kind of like a solid version of Viennetta. With like a really good quality ice cream and layers and layers and layers of chocolate.

Paul: Ahhh.

Marcus: There you go.

Paul: Okay, so thanks for listening to the show…

Marcus: End of show!

Paul: Thanks for listening to this show I’m now off!

Marcus: That’s the Magnum tub. An amazing thing.

Paul: That sounds awesome. So that’s really good.

Marcus: I can’t remember what we were talking about.

Paul: Panic attacks.

Marcus: Yes.

Paul: Which is obviously a little bit different to what I experienced with depression but I think it is just this point that I think our industry is a very high pressured industry for a couple of reasons. One is because everything is constantly changing on you which is huge pressure to stay up-to-date. But also particularly for people in Andrew’s kind of case he has gone from running a little web team that was in the basement and nobody cared about, you know, to the fact that now…

Marcus: We’re spending millions on you, kind of thing.

Paul: Yeah, and the kind of “The future of this whole institution is being built around digital and digital transformation.” I mean that is a lot of pressure. To go from those kinds of extremes. And I think more and more of us are finding ourselves in those kinds of positions and it is really, really tough. So yes, a huge amount of sympathy for it. I liked his comment, one little comment that I have grown into is this “It’s okay to say I don’t know.” He made that almost as a bit of a throwaway comment but for me that is hugely liberating, that because of the nature of our industry you can’t know everything any more, it is impossible to be the fount of all knowledge with stuff like that and that’s okay to say. And you know what? I have never had a problem with saying that. You know, when I said it nobody has ever gone “Well, you should know damn you!”

Marcus: Well yes, quite. I don’t have a problem with saying that because I actually don’t know anything! (Laughter)

Paul: While I do know with the majority of things there are to know.

Marcus: I liked his quote that he said we are all winging it.

Paul: Yeah.

Marcus: Because every single person that we have had on this show have all had this thing about impostor syndrome. I have, you have, everybody does. So we are winging it, that’s the right way of saying it, absolutely true.

Paul: Which is really good as well. That’s what makes a season like this so good is because you know, all these people are writing to me going “Oh, I don’t know whether I can do this. Do I know stuff, is this talk all right?” And I’m like (laughter) we’ve been making it up, I don’t know anything. You know, you just share what you know and that’s all that you can do. I’ve not had one talk where I’ve listened to it so far and gone “No, I didn’t learn anything from that.” Or even think “No, that was wrong.” They have all been really good. We are all winging it so we can all learn from one another.

Let’s quickly talk about Fullstory our second sponsor. You want to press a button at this point? You look like you were going to press a button. Well now you’ve got to edit that out!

Marcus: Well, I am going to press the button but not a turn-ey off-ey button.

Paul: Okay

Marcus: So you carry on.

Paul: Okay. Is it a marking in the audio button?

Marcus: No, it’s a “I haven’t got a joke yet” button. (Laughter)

Paul: Okay, so while Marcus is looking up a joke let’s talk about Fullstory. So Fullstory offers the next generation of analytics. In my opinion it is the single best analytics tool I have seen. And no they didn’t write that line for me! I honestly believe that. It is absolutely brilliant, you have one small script, no manual tagging, no events tagging and all that kind of stuff. You can get up and running in minutes. Now, it’s got so many different things that are really cool about it but probably the biggest differentiator from the competition is that every event, everything that happens on that website, every click, every swipe, every scroll, every piece of text is instantly indexable and searchable. So you can get at every event that is going on on the website. On top of which it has no sampling, right? So it is taking every event that is going on, it is not just a sample of the users coming to your site. It captures every single user session. There is so, so much more I could say about it but we have got loads of time to talk about them which is really cool. For now I would just really encourage you to sign up today, you will get a free month of pro for free if you go to Fullstory and you don’t need to provide a credit card or anything to try it out for free. If you like it but can’t justify the ongoing cost that is absolutely fine. You can get a thousand user sessions recorded every month absolutely free of charge forever. If you do like it, which I guarantee you will, and you can afford it, then you can go on and use their pro account which I highly, highly recommend. I recommend this to pretty much every client now. So check out Fullstory.

All right, we come to our last talk.

Marcus: Are we on schedule Paul?

Paul: I have no idea. I have absolutely no idea how long we have been talking for.

Marcus: Erm, yep, probably pretty good.

Paul: We are doing all right are we?

Marcus: I don’t know.

Paul: Depends how long the talks are doesn’t it really!

Marcus: Yes.

Paul: So, next one is from Artem. He is going to talk about UX wars but just to tell you a little bit about him he is a freelancer UX designer and consultant fighting for good products and services and trying to make people’s lives a little bit better. That is what he is into and enthusiastic about. He is currently creating a site called Aliens Allowed, which I wondered wether was some comment on immigration? I don’t know.

Marcus: What’s his surname Paul? (Laughter)

Paul: Shut up! (Laughter) Shut up! He doesn’t get his surname said. Go on then.

Marcus: It’s Kulitski isn’t it?

Paul: Is it Kulitski? Yeah, it is actually. I am so terrible with names. You make it sound so easy. Can you do all the names for me?

Marcus: I’ll do all the names.

Paul: So Aliens Allowed where he is talking and writing about UX wars and touching on various problems about humanity. So not at all ambitious there! So if you want to find out more about him for now you can follow him on Twitter and thankfully his Twitter ID is UXwar, rather than his full name. Which is great. He’s basically sharing some basic UX philosophies and some UX tips so take a listen.

UX Wars

Play talk at: 47:33 – This talk is about some basic UX philosophy and some UX tips which can help everyone build better products and services.

Artem Kulitski- UX Wars
I am a Freelance UX Designer and Consultant fighting for good
products and services and trying to make peoples lives better. Currently I am creating a website called Aliens Allowed where I will speak and write about UX war and will try to touch serious problems of mankind. Visit Artem’s site at

Hello, my name is Artem Kulitski, I am a Freelance UX designer and consultant, and I would like to talk about some basic UX philosophy and some UX tips that I use for my projects, and I hope listeners will also find this talk useful. English is not my native, as you can see, but I will try to be as clear as possible.

OK, so first I wanted to talk about UX War. Basically, this is how I approach every project. The idea of UX war is to constantly fight for the users, for people and for better products. There are so many clients who just say “I pay you do”, and at the same time there are so many designers who just can’t defend their ideas or do not know how to do this, and they do not fight for a better product. And do not fight for people who will be using this product. I think this is not very good, because we, as UX designers, have a privilege to make peoples lives better by creating good products, so we have to fight, and do not just do what we are told. At the same time, we have to educate our clients, so we need to communicate the importance of user research, user testings and all other UX activities which can help us solve the problems of the product and the problems of users, of course. Most of my first time clients do not think about the users at all, they only think about their businesses, which is basically good, and about various features which nobody cares about in the end, because all these features are based on their guesses. So, this is why “UX war” – a war for people, for users… well for people, let’s call them people.. and against this way of thinking like “I pay – you do!” or, “Oh, I couldn’t do anything, I was told to do this.” So, keep this in mind, always. We really have the power to make the world a better place. Even if we will not make it better, we still have to try.

OK, let’s go next. Everyone working on the product or service should always remember that the product or service should be: useful, usable, desirable, valuable, findable, accessible, credible. And you have to validate your product by asking simple questions:
– Does this product solve the right problem?
– Is it easy to use?
– Is it enjoyable to use?
– Does this product provide business value?
– Can users find relevant content easily?
– Is this product usable by people with various abilities, I mean disabilities and varying abilities?
– Does this product feel trustworthy and reliable?

So, always keep this in mind, but I hope you all know this.

OK, next I wanted to remind you about the design principle called KISS, which is acronym to Keep it simple stupid, so KISS. Try to make everything as simple as possible but not simpler. It is easier to make everything complicated, so it really takes time to make something simple. Do not overcomplicate things. Because the end user doesn’t care how clever you are, how smart you are, they just need to solve their problems and solve them easily. At the same time, you also have to explain your ideas to your team, so try to explain these ideas or your product idea in a simple manner. Because if you can’t explain your product or your idea easily, you do not understand it well enough. There is a quote by Mark Twain who said: “Sorry for a long letter, I didn’t have time to write a short one”, so the same can be applied to products, like “Sorry for a complicated product, we didn’t have time to create a simple one.”
Also, I wanted to remind you about the Book by Steve Krug called “Don’t make me think”. The idea is quite obvious here, so you have to remember: do not make your users think, make everything simple, but at the same time you should make them feel smart. It is not very easy, but still this is our job.

OK, next. Remember if nobody needs it, then don’t build it. Do not implement features just but guess. If you don’t solve any particular problem you are making the product worse. Probably making. So, if you or someone on your team has any idea, just ask them what problem it solves. And if there is no problem, just forget about this idea. At least for now. If the problem exists you have to prove that this problem exists. So, if nobody needs it, then don’t build it.

OK, next I wanted to quickly mention the right and the wrong questions during User research. So, you have to listen carefully to people (and lets always call them people, not users) and ask the right questions. The answers to wrong questions may make you fell like you have learnt something new. But you haven’t. So, wrong questions may sound like: Would you buy this? How much would you pay? How would you design it differently? What new feature would you like most?
The right questions are: How else have you tried to solve this problem? How have you found similar products in the past? What happened last time you used this product, please show? Also various WHY questions.
So try to ask the right questions and listen carefully. If you didn’t learn anything new from your User research, you probably did something wrong.

OK, next I wanted to mention a canvas which I use for various projects. I hope you’ve heard about Business Model Canvas (BMC) or Lean Canvas. But for UX projects I use User Centred Design Canvas. Again this word “User”, which I don’t like, but still, this is a very good tool, which combines user needs with business goals. Maybe the link will be in the show notes, or maybe you can just find it online. You can try it.

OK, lets go next. You always have to create hypotheses and test them. Otherwise you are just guessing. You can create simple hypothesis like: more people will click this red button. And you should indicate the metrics, like percent of clicks. Or you can use a more complicated format like: we believe that this feature or this change for these particular people will produce this result, and we know this is true when we see the data, same metrics, analytics data.
What is important here is that you can easily be affected by confirmation bias, which means that you may try to prove you are right, instead of just testing the hypothesis. So, be careful and instead just try to know why you might be wrong.
Regarding metrics and analytics, you should always remember that you never know what is successful if you can’t measure it. Any opinion without the data just makes no sense. Also, we never know what may work, so always test and measure.

OK, next I wanted to speak about content and copywriting. If you don’t write yourself, just hire a good copywriter, because this is really important. Or if you write by yourself, just try to remove as many useless words as possible. And your text copy should not sound like blah, blah, blah. I guess you know that people do not read web pages, instead they just scan them. But this is not true when the content and text copy is really great. So, you have to create a great content and text copy.
Also, what is important here is to write a great unique value proposition. There are so many products and services which people do not use, only because they did’t understand their UVP (unique value proposition). When they saw these products first time, they could not understand their slogans, and just forgot about them. So, speak about users, speak about benefits and do not go for useless slogans.

Next. Remember to always test your products on every stage as early as possible and as often as possible. Remember, you are testing the product, not people. Listen and watch carefully. What is important here, is the fact that even if you think that something is really simple, it doesn’t mean that people will use it the way you designed. Any designer compared to ordinary people is a super geek. You should consider that 95 percent of people just cannot do what you can do. So, try to make everything as simple as possible but always test.
And you should remember that every “mistake” that user makes is not because they are stupid, it is because your website or app sucks. When you watch different testing videos and feel like “well, I can’t believe people didn’t see this button”. But actually the problem is with you, because you have put the button somewhere, where people don’t look at.

And also remember that UX failures count more than UX successes. And any error on your website or app may kill all the positive experience.

And the last thing I wanted to include in my talk is the idea that there are so many products and so little time for people to use these products. So, you should always think if you product or service is really worth the time spent on it. You need to consider that there are many other products and many other activities in people’s lives. Before taking time to use your product, people have to stop doing something else. So, this is really important to consider.

Okay, thanks everybody for listening to my talk. I hope it will be useful for you. Have a good day and good bye, good bye..

Paul: I haven’t got a huge amount to say on this one simply because it was just…

Marcus: Like listening to you.

Paul: Yeah, except with a better accent. You know, he talked absolute sense from beginning to end, totally agreed with all of it.

Marcus: Yep, this is my… This is the connection with Mike Montero.

Paul: Oh yeah?

Marcus: He’s talking about there is a UX war out there for fighting on behalf of the user. Well, it’s a bit of a step…

Paul: Yeah, okay…

Marcus: … But Mike Montero, the last talk I saw him do was basically about Fascism that is going on in America at the moment and it is a designer and a developer and people in our industry, it’s our responsibility to say no to companies that we are working for supporting that fascism.

Paul: Yeah, okay.

Marcus: So it’s kind of, it’s similar. It’s like saying people who are going to help build the wall, for example, should you be doing that? How do you feel about that, is it just about the wage packet?

Paul: Yeah, this is nothing to do with his talk whatsoever, you just wanted to bring it up!

Marcus: It’s a good one though isn’t it?

Paul: Yeah, it is a good one. I remember getting asked that when I went to university. In my interview for University, “What companies wouldn’t you work for?” And it’s a difficult one isn’t it. Because we had to ask ourselves that, well Headscape did, with Lovehoney. It was a short conversation to be honest but Lovehoney sell sex toys and so we had to ask ourselves, you know, were we comfortable with that. We actually were because of the way they were positioning themselves and all the rest of it and fair enough.

Marcus: We’ve been approached for porn sites in the past which we just go “No.”

Paul: Have we really?! Oh, okay. I didn’t even know! That never even reached me. Also didn’t we have a…

Marcus: If we had Paul then we’d be doing them, hey!

Paul: Yeah, I know! (Laughter) I’m up for doing a porn site. No I’m not! Don’t ask me to do one of them! Oil companies would be quite an interesting one with us because we do so much with the heritage sector or that kind of thing. So it is interesting, it is interesting.

Marcus: We have worked for an oil company, years ago, pre-Headscape.

Paul: Yeah, that was before Headscape. Yeah.

Marcus: Interesting.

Paul: Anyway, back to the talk in hand.

Marcus: Yes, sorry.

Paul: Which I don’t think was anything to do with that. I thought it was good solid advice, asking all the right questions. He even promoted “Don’t make me think” by Steve Krug which is required reading if you haven’t read that you really must do. The other thing I… The one thing that sprung out of there… Because, like I was saying earlier, I have yet to listen to a talk where I haven’t learnt anything. Even this talk which was obviously fundamentals of UX principles, you would think I wouldn’t learn anything. But he mentioned the user centred design canvas, right? Now I have been familiar with the business canvas for years and I kind of looked at it and was always going “Okay, it’s quite interesting but for the kind of work I do it is probably not that applicable but I do like the idea of it.” So the fact that someone has created a user centred version of it, absolutely brilliant! Love that. Really love that. So if for nothing else, not that… There was a lot in your talk that was really good but that was the thing that I really learnt and took away from it. So I thought it was great.

Marcus: I thought the simple questions were really good, as a takeaway.

Paul: Yeah, absolutely.

Marcus: And Ed showed me Dieter Rams – 10 principles of design the other day which is kind of similar but a bit more detailed and maybe a bit more aesthetics focused.

Paul: Yeah? Okay.

Marcus: Well, they’re not aesthetic focused more product related actually but yeah, another really good set of rules that you can kind of ask yourself back “Is what I’m doing, does it fit all of these things.”

Paul: Okay. No, I haven’t heard about either.

Marcus: His simple questions were that and the Dieter Rams ones as well.

Paul: All right, that’s brilliant. Maybe you could put that one that you just said in these notes at some point.

Marcus: If I don’t do it right now Paul it will never happen.

Paul: Yes but were in the middle of a show!

Marcus: Are we?! Oh, we are aren’t we!

Paul: And it’s your turn now. It’s the exciting moment of your joke. Did you actually get one?

Marcus: I did and it’s one you put into the boagworld slack channel.

Paul: Oh crap. That means that if it’s rubbish I’ve got no one else to blame.

Marcus: I’m in a win-win situation.

Paul: You are, I could blame the delivery.

Marcus: I actually I told this joke over the weekend at the pub and it went down a treat.

Paul: Ahh, okay.

Marcus: “Wow, what a day. I just found out I’m colourblind. I had no idea I was completely shocked, it just came out of the purple.”

Paul: It is a good one. It isn’t mine, as I remember I think that was a Bruce Lawson, who regularly… If you want to follow a Twitter channel and get a good solid mixture of really bad dad jokes, the occasional obscenitys and lots of pictures of him in ridiculous shirts then Bruce Lawson…

Marcus: Is your man.

Paul: … For that. So there we go, just to remind you you can submit your own talk because we have freed up extra space by squeezing another one in each show. You can submit them by going to at the point of recording I think we have got about 14 slots left so there’s still lots of opportunities, so please do so and we will be back again, well we won’t, Marcus is on holiday.

Marcus: Bye, I’ll see you in three weeks.

Paul: But me and Andy, Andy Clarke will be there. Bye bye.