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An interview with a designer - 1

Could you give me a little background about your company, and your role there?

I currently work for [a large company] as a UX designer. I'm in the accessibility track, so my day-to-day involves identifying accessibility issues, coming up with solutions and then testing them. Part of it is also to help others understand accessibility, and help them to create more accessible designs/code.

Are there other designers at your company working on identifying accessibility issues and solving them?

Yes, we're a team, and we encourage all other teams.

How many of you are there specifically working on accessibility? And how many people dedicated to design work at your company in total?

There are around 10 of us in this team at any point, although it's an on-boarding team so the turnover is 2 months for each person. We have a lot of designers at the company - it's over 100 I'm sure.

Could you tell me more about how people in your team identify accessibility issues?

We're quite a new team and there's a fair bit to do, so currently we're using the WAVE plugin in Chrome. We also have a blind developer who we've done sessions with, and we're working on a set of user testing labs with varying disabilities.

You can find out more about the WAVE plugin here.

Are those methods decided by the wider company, or does the accessibility team have the final decision in how they approach the problem?

We have the ability to decide everything. Teams are self contained - we have our own product owner, copywriter, developers, etc.

I suppose it's the product owner's job to make sure that nothing you release is going to cause any wider issues with the business?

Actually it's everyone's responsibility - with great autonomy comes great responsibility! The product owner obviously has more of an overall awareness and talks to other product owners/seniors, which is very useful. However, we all have a role in considering the affects of our work.

Do you experience any practical problems with each team being autonomous?

Not so far, no - the business is great, and communication is completely open, which makes it easy to be aware of everyone else's work/goals and talk to people when you need to.

Do you think that if you did identify problems with the design process, it would be easy have your voice heard and have the necessary changes considered?

Definitely - it might be hard to make those changes due to the size of the company, but I feel like any problems or thoughts will be heard and discussed.

Could you talk a little more about how that feedback process might work at your company? Who would you speak to, or how would you raise it?

It's a really open culture, so depending on the feedback I might talk to the person doing a piece of work, talk to a designer from a different team if its bigger/more general, or I can go to any of the seniors/director of design if it's more wide scale/process changes.

It sounds like there's a lot of senior support when it comes to design. Do you ever get the impression that they're fighting battles with the business above them?

No not at all - design is engrained, it's how we build better business. I realise this is definitely a rare case - this is the first job I've liked in years! A lot of companies think design is just fun or artsy, but it helps your business!

It sounds like a fantastic place to work, honestly. Was there anything in particular the company did, especially in the interview process, that gave you the impression that they cared about design?

The process in general, really - a lot of attention was paid to whether I was the right fit and whether I was actually a good designer. My last interview was over half a day long and I met 6-10 people, all designers, and the director of design. No one creates a process like that if they don't feel the role is key.

That's a great point. It's clear that they think it's important. Is there anything you can think of, even minor, that you'd like to see them improve to make things even better?

I'd like to see more people focus on quality design BEFORE conversion, and not just rely on conversion to decide that something is good.

There's a focus on design which produces good conversion rates for visitors to the site? What impact do you think this focus has on the site/business?

Sometimes it means people automatically believe that good conversion rates equal good design, but it doesn't - create good design first, then prove it with conversion.

One example you often see designers bring up is modal windows that are asking you to sign up to an email newsletter. The conversion rates are good, but the design is considered to be bad. Is this the sort of focus you're talking about

Yes, totally - anything 'alerty' is a good example. Sure it will ensure that 'that thing' is looked at or clicked a lot, but if you put more than one on the page? You can ruin a design quite quickly to the point of confusing users.

It's hard to know how much is too much, I suppose! How successful do you think you would be if you tried to raise this concern and change the focus of the company to good design first, conversion rates second?

Very - I think the seniors are starting to talk about this a bunch more. It's just that there are so many of us! It will get there, definitely.

You mean that change is difficult because it's a large company?

Yes, there are a lot of designers. And it's not necessarily company size. Change is not difficult because there are loads of layers of people to convince. There are just lots of autonomous designers so you have to foster culture, rather than setting rules. Makes the process a bit slower!

I think that's a very interesting problem to have, and something to consider for any company that relies on autonomous teams.

Definitely. I think autonomous teams are the best way, though. You can't be creative if you're restricted.

Well, it sounds like a great place to work, and it's refreshing to hear that large companies are considering what harm conversion optimisation might be doing. Thank you for your time today!

No worries at all.

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