What does a UX Managing Director do all day?

With Adam Babajee-Pycroft, Managing Director (UX) at Natural Interaction.

Welcome to the next part in our series of UX career Q&As where we highlight a respected UX professional, who works close with – or tangentially next to – UX and find out exactly what their role is within their organisation, and what UX means to them.

The purpose of this ‘day-in-the-life’ is to give transparency to the mythical beast of UX. It will also help anyone interested in breaking into the UX industry know how others made it and possibly shed some light on the role of a UXer for other people in an organisation who may not understand.

This week: Adam Babajee-Pycroft, Managing Director (UX) at Natural Interaction.

Adam has over 13 years of experience in UX. He’s fuelled almost exclusively by coffee (using one of his seven coffee making devices), curry and heavy metal.

Before founding Natural Interaction in 2010, Adam managed UX for AXA Life’s UK business. Since then, he’s worked with a range of clients across the automotive, ecommerce and tech startup sectors, delivering impressive results for brands including BMW, Mini, The Consortium and Solverboard.

How did you get to this stage in your career?

I started off in a Customer Service role at AXA and gradually worked my way up to managing UX for their entire UK Life business. They then kindly sold most of the business and (nearly) everyone I liked to Friends Provident apart from me. After a few months at AXA Wealth (the bit they kept), I decided to quit and started freelancing. One thing led to another, I hired some people and ended up running a UX agency!

We’ve grown mostly through word of mouth from satisfied clients. However, I’ve just hired a new Head of Content who is going to whip our marketing into shape so hopefully we can find some more interesting people and problems to solve. 

Was there a lightbulb moment when you saw the value of UX?

It was more incremental than that. I originally found out about UX by reading some general design blogs and subscribing to Jakob Nielsen’s Alertbox emails. I think the closest thing to an epiphany though, was after I ran my first user test. Recognising that I didn’t have all the answers and not everyone used the web the same way I did. 

What does your average working day look like? 

There isn’t really an average day for me, but I spend about 30% of my time on user research, 30% getting involved in design, 20% coaching the rest of my team and 20% on business development / relationships stuff.

Every working day starts with me checking my GTD inbox, email and instant messages, capturing any actions. I then view my today and next actions lists in Todoist and check my calendar for any calls or meetings.

I try to avoid booking morning meetings as our team seems to be more productive before lunch. Typically I’ll focus on a project for most of the day and then do all the small things in the afternoon.

There are three parts of the job I find really rewarding. The first is when I think I’ve cracked a difficult problem and the results of the user research seem to support that conclusion. The second is when people on my team who I’ve taught the role from scratch do something which genuinely surprises me. The third and final thing I enjoy is seeing our clients do well off the back of some work we’ve been involved in. I love tangible results.

How do you use remote UX testing in your testing process?

The bulk of our user testing is remote moderated research, which we usually carry out over a Zoom video call. We typically work in two week sprints, involving everything from initial IA, concepting, design and high fidelity prototyping through to user testing. Our approach focuses on testing ideas and assumptions as early as possible.

We prepare a discussion guide based on the research objectives and everyone on our team will moderate some sessions. A different person then takes the notes and then Kathryn (our Head of Research) and I will watch everything and conduct a meta analysis of the sessions. We then produce a report and video highlight reels for the client.

Depending on the project, we do occasionally use self moderated user testing or tree testing. I find self moderated works well for simpler tasks on higher fidelity, more “finished” sites, where less can go wrong, technically speaking.

Do you think the people in your clients’ organisations understand UX?

I think there are a lot of people who don’t know what it is and often want to buy a “UX Project” without involving users in the design process. My reaction to this is to involve users as early as possible to demonstrate the benefit. As part of our discovery process, we tend to user test our clients’ sites or applications and present the findings to all of the decision makers involved. My goal is to replicate the first time I saw something I’d designed tested by real users. From there on out, they understand and value the evidence we share.

I believe that we don’t know our clients’ customers or business as well as they do. To assume anything else would be arrogant. By regularly testing throughout the design process, we give their ideas a chance to succeed alongside our own.

What did you want to be when you grew up?

A rocket. After I realised the difference between anthropomorphic objects and career paths, I wanted to be an architect and then vaguely “something with computers.” I’m glad the first one didn’t happen as despite all the travel, I’m a terrible flyer.

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