A day in the life of a User Experience Architect

Today's interview is with Tom, a User Experience Architect here at Code.

Can you begin by telling us a bit about yourself, and your role in the agency?

I am a UX Architect and have been at Code for around 18 months now. I work alongside our Planners to understand business and user requirements, and our Designers and Developers to define solutions; I then go out and test those solutions with end users.

Could you describe a typical day in the office?

We have flexitime, so I like to get in nice and early so that I can be out of the office on time in the evenings to see my 3-month old baby. I am at my desk before 8.30am most mornings, which gives me time for a few emails before the UX 'scrum' at 9.

Here at Code we work in 'sprints'. Before a project goes into production we have 'sprint zero', where we concentrate on defining and really understanding what the problem is by getting under the skin of the business, and of the consumers who will be using the solution.

A lot of that involves running workshops with stakeholders, and focus groups or interviews with customers. Our time's split between doing that kind of stuff and working alongside the Project teams, so we will be sitting down with wireframes and sketches to ensure we deliver a fantastically designed solution. As often as possible, we test with end users to keep them involved as part of a user-centric design process.

What key skills do you think are most important in a User Experience Architect?

Key skills, I think -- alongside the actual UX and research skills that we take for granted -- are empathy, openness and inquisitiveness. Asking a lot of questions and not always accepting the first answer, and when it comes to the client, being willing to challenge in order to break down a problem to find a solution. And, of course, being able to communicate the insights and ideas you have gathered.

Can you tell us a bit about your background?

I have worked in digital for 12 years; I started as a Front End Developer and then took a short detour into project management before realising that UX was where my heart lay.

I was at my last agency for five years and did a lot of public sector and charity work. Code gave me the opportunity to carry on with some of that, but also to diversify into brand and e-commerce, which really attracted me to the role.

Do you have a favourite part of your job?

Anything that involves end users -- talking to them and testing things to see what they think and what they do. It's really easy to get caught up in an agency/client silo and forget who we are actually creating sites for. Customers will always show us where we're going wrong and help us understand how to get it right, so going out and testing in the real world is what excites me.

What do you find the most challenging?

I think anyone in UX would agree that it is sometimes challenging to justify UX budgets, and to stay on top of ways to clearly communicate the benefits to clients.

Is there a campaign or piece of work that you are particularly proud of, and why?

I've really enjoyed our projects with Travis Perkins as their internal team are a joy to work with, and we work together in a really collaborative and iterative way. Another is Oxfam; it's great to be working on something that makes a difference in the world.

How would you describe working for Code Computerlove?

I've never felt as empowered in other jobs as I feel at Code. You can't moan about anything here -- there is literally no point as, if you're not happy, Code empowers you to do something about it.

I am currently leading a review of what we do in the UX team, with the aim of sharpening up our proposition to the rest of the agency. It's really satisfying to be allowed and encouraged to make real changes to how we function as part of the agency -- unlike previous places I've worked, I know here that change will be embraced and will actually happen.

Code is committed to continually changing and evolving, and I have never worked anywhere like this before. The owners and board demand that this comes from all of us as much as from them. I think what that means is that although everyone here is just as skilled and committed as other agencies where I've worked, there just seems to be a little more cohesiveness -- the enthusiasm never goes away.

What attributes are you looking for in a new team member?

Good ideas from a friendly person that really wants to be part of the team, and who makes us even better than we already are!

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