Interview with Naomi Williams, UX Researcher at William Hill

How the online betting and gambling company puts user research and testing into practice.

UX at William Hill is all about understanding the psychology behind customer decisions and designing products that enhance their experience.

As they state: “We’re on a mission to stamp out cognitive bias and make our products the best they can be.”

Recently we chatted to Naomi Williams, an experienced UX Researcher at William Hill, to discuss how the online betting and gambling company puts user research and testing into practice, as well as the organisational set-up of UX and its business impact.

Could you tell us a little bit about your background? How did you end up in your current UX role at William Hill?

After I finished my psychology degree, I worked in marketing, PR and events for a few years. This included working at a market research agency that did usability research. It seemed that a lot of the work involved was very relevant to my former education.

I ended up managing the usability program and then I started conducting research. That’s how I started with UX. So now I’m at William Hill where I work in a standalone capacity on both sports and gaming. I work on both strategic and tactical projects.

Where does UX fit into the digital business? What is the future vision for UX?

I think UX should be at the core of every digital business and product. So it doesn’t matter if it’s B2B or B2C, I think every digital interaction that we have is an experience so we need to ensure that it’s optimized for the audience it’s required to serve.

I think in the past, UX was seen as a separate entity and not taken into consideration when planning. So you’re building a roadmap of where you see the future vision of the business, but you’re not taking into account the actual changes that your UX or design team will have to make to the products and how you can deliver that as part of your annual strategy.

Newer digital products have emerged and evolved, especially with startups and big companies like Google and Spotify who often get it right on the first go. I think this has highlighted the need to make UX more of a core focus and for it to be built into business roadmaps.

I think it was the lead UX designer at Digital Panda, Ilya Kroogman, who said the future of UX design is a combination of intuitive and predictive AI and then quality voice chatbots.

And I think that’s true because while a lot of our products don’t have chatbot functionalities or things like that, I think that with the way tech and machine learning is developing, thanks to products like Alexa, that’s where we’re headed.

“It doesn’t matter if it’s B2B or B2C, I think every digital interaction that we have is an experience so we need to ensure that it’s optimized for the audience it’s required to serve.”

How does your team work with others such as product, research, development and design?

I think the best way to look at it is that as a business we sit in disciplines and have roles in particular functions, but we want to deliver as a business too. So when you look at it like that, it’s easier to break down silos.

My role is very centralized. I sit in ‘insights’, but my day to day work involves product and design, just to begin with. And then I’m not even taking into account analytics, business intelligence, data science, and the dev teams. So I’m constantly going back and forth between the teams. I think we work pretty well together and there’s a certain level of expertise that I get to tap into on a daily basis because I don’t have all the answers.

One of the things that I tried to make sure I knew when I joined William Hill is who the key stakeholders and go-to people for anything I needed were, whether it was for sports, gaming, or business intelligence and analytics from whichever dashboard or platform.

I asked as many questions as possible when I joined, which helped me understand the products a lot quicker. But you have to remember that there are no stupid questions and that’s the only way that you learn and you grow.

As a team I’d say we’re constantly feeding back and forth so we can be as aligned as possible at the start of a project.

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With unlimited budget and resources, what would your ideal organizational setup be in terms of UX design?

I’d have a UX-focused design team and a product-focused one. So the product design guys would focus on working on ‘business as usual’ projects and improving existing journeys, and the other team would focus on creating new journeys or breaking and reconfiguring the old ones in an innovative way.

You have to make sure that at some point they overlap so that the things that are being created actually get built and rolled out into the actual product function going forward.

What are the major challenges that you face?

I wouldn’t call it a challenge per se, but I often have to switch gears very quickly so I can work in different areas. Some days I’ll begin by working on acquisition journeys, then change to something in a gaming lobby.

It’s about balancing the tools that I have at my disposal, and knowing which ones to use at the right time and for the right project.

What do you think of the concept of evidence-based design?

I think it’s an accurate term to use because I think that evidence-based design creates useful products.

You actually have to sit with a team, build it, validate it and see if it’s worth rolling out. I think it just puts a stop to things that you think might work just because you like it, or perhaps because you saw it somewhere.

I think an environment where there’s uncontrolled creation can cause problems, therefore evidence-based design is just a way to ground those ‘free willy’ ideas that run around in people’s heads.

I think we like to validate and ensure that what we’re doing is going to be useful and it actually makes sense for the user because there’s no point in you spending all this time rolling out a feature that’s not going to be used.

You have to think about the resource that you’re going to spend, so it has to be worth it. So if it’s not validated or if the users have no need for it, you’re going to have to just eradicate it.

How do you prove the business value of UX? Does the organization feel the impact of what you do?

Our product council expects initiatives to be scored on potential business value so that they can prioritize effectively.

We don’t separate the value of UX because you have to look at everything holistically. You have to look at everything in terms of delivering as a business rather than as individual teams.

It’s a collaborative effort across all disciplines to find that value because once you start separating things out, I think you lose sight of what you’re trying to deliver, everyone is focused on their individual KPIs and that’s not the way it should be.

“We don’t separate the value of UX because you have to look at everything holistically. You have to look at everything in terms of delivering as a business rather than as individual teams.”

How do you measure the effectiveness of your work long-term?

I think, for me, it’s when a piece of work that I’ve done is reaching or impacting areas of the business that I didn’t expect it to.

When the work isn’t just sitting in one division of the business and it’s helping other people make decisions that are going to improve the product, to me that counts as a success because I’m all for great product delivery.

I feel like everyone has a part to play. Whether in marketing, social media, product, dev, design, or business intelligence. So if my work can help you make better decisions in your function or provide additional insight, I think that’s the most important thing.

What has been the impact of using a UX research platform on you and the team? 

It has allowed us to test products really quickly and effectively so we can do very early-stage testing and revise hypotheses really quickly. So even while it’s still a thought in our head, someone can just mock up a wireframe and come up with something really quickly. We test at every stage of the development cycle. I do think it’s always a godsend during sprints.

Let’s say we’re doing interviews on day four of the sprint. We can, on day three, mock up some wireframes and test particular things already so we know how to adjust the final concept that we want to test. And we get results really quickly.

So if it’s a click test, we’d get some results within an hour and then we can pivot really easily. And we also have great designers who are quite full stack so they run some of their own studies on their work streams without me having to be involved at every stage.

Which UX trends do you think we need to look out for?

I think, especially given the current pandemic, AI and chatbots. At the moment, many companies will be inundated with calls from customer service and customer call centers are going to struggle to deal with the volume. This is where chatbots can provide support.

I also think that there will be more thought going into how products are looking after the well being of the user. I’ve noticed that everyone seems a lot more intentional about everything that they do, whether it’s the food they consume, or the amount of time that they spend playing games on apps.

It’s about making sure that the time consumers spend on sites is more useful. Even if it’s just an hour, we should try to make it the best hour of their day that they’ve spent.

In gambling it’s making sure that customers are protected at every step of the way and they’re aware of what they’re doing and you’re not lost in the vortex of a game that you’re playing.

“It’s about making sure that the time consumers spend on sites is more useful. Even if it’s just an hour, we should try to make it the best hour of their day that they’ve spent.”

Is this counterintuitive when you’re trying to build products that engage users?

i think there’s a balance that can be found. It will just take time and a lot of pivoting, but I think, in time, products will get there.

If you could give any advice to your younger self, what would it be?

Working in research has shown me that I’ll never have all the answers. And you shouldn’t be afraid to ask questions but you have to be really flexible and be ready to pivot at any given point in time.

I would also say build relationships with your stakeholders because being a researcher requires a lot of trust from your product teams and your design teams. They need to be able to trust that the work that you’re doing makes sense and is bringing value to them and so that you’re not being questioned at every turn.