Function before form: Why UX is anything but easy

4 Apr 2018

Brendan Foley, director of creative and UX, 8 West Consulting. Image: 8 West

8 West’s Brendan Foley discusses his early passion for graphic design and outlines why a company should always cater to its users’ hierarchy of needs.

Brendan Foley is the director of creative and user experience (UX) at 8 West Consulting.

An accomplished leader in digital strategy and UX design with almost two decades of experience, he has worked with clients such as Estée Lauder, Anthem Inc, Ralph Lauren, Holt Renfrew, RBC Bank and Novartis.

Foley worked for a number of years as creative manager for DeCare Systems Ireland, which rebranded as 8 West in early 2017.

He helps organisations to embrace digital technologies in order to meet the needs and wants of today’s connected consumers.

Describe your role and what you do.

My role involves the management of balancing user needs with a client’s brand values while optimising conversion and task completion, mostly over websites and applications across all devices.

Ultimately, it’s about the importance of making things easy for end users. It sounds simple but it’s amazing how often, despite best intentions, the user experience is anything but ‘easy’. You need to understand the fundamentals of good UX design, the importance of removing any sense of risk on behalf of the user to aid clear decision-making, and deliver all this in a captivating experience that supports the brand or product and ultimately leaves your audience feeling satisfied.

How do you prioritise and organise your working life?

We work with many world-class brands and they all have specific individual needs, whether it’s a boutique site experience for Estée Lauder to support a marketing campaign for a new product that they’re launching, or a reimagined gamification purchasing flow for AdvoCare. We have a creative process coupled with design thinking and agile methodologies that allows us to segment projects into tasks and organise these by priority into the working day while remaining flexible and lean. Our project management processes are well evolved and mature, as they need to be for working with large international clients in different time zones.

What are the biggest challenges facing your sector and how are you tackling them?

The speed and velocity of evolving technologies is the biggest challenge facing us right now. We need to stay on top of trends and evaluate what works and what doesn’t, and how we can leverage it to achieve business objectives. Understanding adaptive online behaviour is crucial and we need to harness our users’ attention. We tackle all this by constant researching and testing of our solutions, putting function before form. You ultimately need to appreciate the user’s hierarchy of needs and answer them in an immersive way that connects them to the brand or product’s voice.

What are the key sector opportunities youre capitalising on?

Currently, on top of delivering UX strategies and user-centric design to help improve our clients’ conversions, we are also looking at zero interface and voice commerce. The likes of Alexa and Cortana can now be found in more than 30m households and, in many cases, touchscreens have replaced the mouse, while voice is slowly eliminating the need to type. It’s predicted that by 2020, 30pc of all web browsing sessions will be carried out without a screen. As we embrace this reality, we will focus more on zero-interface design to help connect interactions and user experiences.

What set you on the road to where you are now?

I always loved to draw but not just still life, I loved to draw stories. Storytelling became very important to me and I have books upon books of illustrated stories. As I grew older, I also developed a huge appreciation for record covers. This set me on the road to art college, where I developed a passion for graphic design, and then later into the online world.

What was your biggest mistake and what did you learn from it?

I think the biggest mistake I made was to try and do everything myself. I believed that I needed to be involved in all aspects of a project. I worked lots of late hours to try and get up to speed with the latest development techniques and all it did was slow down the entire project. It was only when I learned to appreciate everybody’s unique skillset and to focus those into a project that I began to see the results. The answer was in the data and results, as it always is.

How do you get the best out of your team?

By communicating the big picture to them and involving them throughout a project’s life cycle. We all share in the common goal of delivering unique experiences that bring together creative thinking, clever ideas and emerging technologies to drive our clients’ business. Egos are not tolerated here and we’re a very open, supportive and non-territorial group.

STEM sectors receive a lot of criticism for a lack of diversity in terms of gender, ethnicity and other demographics. Have you noticed a diversity problem in your sector? What are your thoughts on this and whats needed to be more inclusive?

Diversity and gender equality are societal concerns right now, and rightfully so. Thankfully, 8 West has a healthy gender balance and a great mix of people with diverse cultural backgrounds. I feel it’s crucial for any creative discipline to have this mix in order to adapt to change.

I think there’s room for improvement across the sector as a whole. I think more could be done to encourage and attract people to STEM. I also think it’s essential to foster an environment that actively encourages and empowers employees to speak up and share their thoughts and ideas without fear or inhibition.

Who is your role model and why?

One guy that I do admire is Jared Spool, the man behind Amazon’s ‘$300m button’ and a usability advocate who has proven the importance of analytics and research in order to solve visual problems that affect user behaviours.

What books have you read that you would recommend?

I first read Six Thinking Hats by Edward de Bono in art college. It helps the reader to understand lateral thinking and how it can be used to solve visual problems.

Don’t Make Me Think by Steve Krug is a good one. It’s a short and easy read but I find that I go back to it again and again. It’s great for helping to understand intuitive navigation and design in a clear and practical way.

Who Moved My Cheese? by Spencer Johnson is another good one. It talks about change in a person’s work and life.

I also frequent a lot of blogs and online content from Smashing Magazine and Medium, and I subscribe to Scott Galloway’s views on Twitter.

What are the essential tools and resources that get you through the working week?

Coffee, whiteboards, Post-it notes, empathy maps, KPIs and my team.

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