Can you tell us a little bit about Experience Solutions and how you first began?
We specialise in making websites easy to use. Ali Carmichael and myself are the two directors and we met a few years ago when we both worked in a web agency in Bournemouth. He was Head of Project Management and I was Head of User Experience. We felt that my 10 years of experience as a usability engineer combined with his 10 years of web project management were a good mix. Over a few whiskeys in our local pub in Bournemouth we formulated our plan to take over the world…the usability world…well on the South Coast at least.
What kind of services do you provide to your clients?
We offer services that help our clients get closer to their users. Our main offering is usability testing where we recruit target audience users and test websites with them. We’ll work with our client to understand which areas of the site are the most important to their business, which areas they have concerns with, and which areas they have questions about. We’ll draw up a test plan which is designed to give users realistic tasks to perform while we observe and ask questions. Once the research is complete, we’ll work with our client to find solutions to the user experience issues we found.
In addition to usability testing we also provide user experience audits and online usability surveys to understand what changes need to be made to a site. Once we have a list of issues, we’ll work with the client to generate improved user journeys and wireframe key areas of the journeys which need to change. We often generate a prototype of the new site to test again with users until we and the client team are all happy to launch the amended site.
How important is usability testing to get the best results from a website?
If you compare the web industry now to where it was 10 years ago usability testing is everywhere. Back then it was a luxury that most companies saw as useful, but weren’t really convinced. Now, we have agencies coming to us because their clients have demanded usability testing. It shows how far the industry has come and the importance of understanding who you are designing for right from the beginning.
Without usability testing web designers, online marketers, developers, and site owners often guess what their users need. They tend to either design what they would like to use, or mimic what competitor sites do. With usability testing we help remove the guess work, the opinions, and the confusion and help them focus on the areas of the site users struggle with. By removing the user barriers, the website will make users happier, convert better, and generate more business.
What is your normal workflow for creating a website from start to finish?
A full redesign project would usually start with a user requirements capture project to understand what users need from the new site, which competitor sites they use and why, and what’s missing. We’ll then create user profiles (or personas) with the project team to focus on who they are designing for. We’ll then set out the core user journeys to design for and wireframe the key pages. At that point we’ll step out and come back in to test a prototype of the site with users. We then provide ongoing support throughout the development and launch. Once a site is live we provide regular testing which, in combination with web analytics, allows us to focus on key areas to continue to improve conversion rates on the site.
Are there any other designers or agencies in the industry producing work that you really admire?
Do you subscribe to any blogs, podcasts or magazines to help stay on top of the web design world?
Yeah we do, but finding the time to read it all is the biggest challenge. Fundamentally what we do is help other people solve user experience issues creatively so it is important for us to keep up with new design work. Smashing magazine is fantastic for this. Like any professional, it’s always good to keep up with what’s going on in your industry so we have a couple of blogs we like to keep on top of like http://www.everydayux.com/ , http://www.usabilitypost.com & http://www.uxmatters.com/
What hobbies do you have and do they help you ‘switch off’ from the internet?
We’re both massive football fans. Unfortunately this doesn’t always help us relax but it does take our mind off work. Ali is a Liverpool fan and I’m a Chelsea fan so you can imagine that there are some tense moments between us. Ali plays and manages his Sunday team while I prefer to get a little less cold and muddy by playing Fifa 10 on my Xbox 360.
Finally, do you have any tips for people starting in the industry?
I think the only advice really worth listening to when it comes to starting a career is to keep an open mind, try lots of different approaches, find what you really enjoy and do more of that. Specialising in a field you get a kick out of is the best way to earn a living.