Leah Ryz is a User Experience subject-matter-expert with around 12 years of experience, and she works with a variety of different companies as a consultant and strategist. She is an expert in helping to transform a business from the inside out and is truly passionate about the people, processes and products involved, alongside improving the consumer's UX of products and services.
Ryan Ollerenshaw, the Head of User Experience Recruitment, caught up with her recently to garner her views on how this is best achieved.
People process and the importance of being product user-centric and employee-centric
Much of Leah's UX ethos is based on her own experience working in a variety of agency and client-side environments. She says: "It's about ensuring that as a business you're employee-centric and that your user-centric design process is efficient and is the best that it can be."
What is meant by a title?
In many ways, Leah feels she's worked within the UX environment for a lot longer than shown on her CV: "I think I was doing UX before it even became UX." She has witnessed the evolution of this kind of role and has a background in research. But her current roles entail less hands-on work.
For Leah, businesses, in general, don't really have a strategy or vision for how they want to become user-centred. She says: "Even before that, many businesses don't even understand how to become user-centred. Even those that do have an understanding of the concept struggle to ensure that the rest of the business is aligned to that or that it's fully understood."
So, when it comes down to recruiting or retaining the cutting-edge designers and really skilled researchers that comprise a good UX team, any lack of shared vision can be problematic. Many companies want to transform their business ethos and look for great UX teams, but often there are lots of blockers and bottlenecks in the way to achieving that vision. Leah says: "It's not possible to just recruit a team of great UX workers and say: "There you go. Make our products and make them better." If internal teams are not on board with this kind of UX-centric business ethos, then it just isn't going to happen."
This can be more of a problem in established businesses where there tends to be intense legacy systems in place, particularly when compared to start-ups where everyone is more or less working off the same page.
According to Leah, transforming the business from the inside out means "having understanding right at the top, at board level, about what it really means to become user-centric, customer-centric, and then of course employee-centric. You've got no chance of doing that if the people don't really understand that, or they're not convinced."
Ultimately, effecting change means having the right people in place and ensuring their needs are met by the business. So, this is where Leah's ideology of employee-centric methodologies takes centre stage.
She explained to Ryan, Consortia's Head of User Experience Recruitment: "My belief is it's people first, and that results in a great product. People, process, product. It's a bit cheesy to call it the three P's, but really, they just all begin with P. I think the thing is, that's right. I mean, you will know that it's really hard to find good UX people permanently."
Having a shared vision for the business
Leah explains that times are really quite difficult for a lot of brick and mortar stores now. "They are going downhill because they're not getting customer experience right, and my feeling is that if some businesses don't start making more of an effort and really getting up to speed with how things need to be, with the consumer, and with the users who are demanding and a moving bunch, they will also go in the same way."
She believes this is the reason there have been so many great businesses over recent years. More and more people want to see their businesses become more customer-centric, but it's often the case that senior management and people even higher up don't share that belief: "I think a lot of senior management have their hands tied by those above them, so they're not quite there yet."
It's important for any shared vision to operate with a good understanding of the business audience. This way, the benefits of small changes can be really felt. Leah comments: "I think that lots of businesses go round and round in circles because there's no strategy or vision that everybody's aligned to, so what you tend to find is everybody's there with their own agenda, scraping over the same things when really, if everybody was just a little bit more open, we would feel more comfortable having the difficult conversations with one another. This could be about things that aren't working so well, and then talking about the process and working with one another in order to make things better."
"I think the process would be far better streamlined within the business this way. Then you've got your show and tells, and your shared learning sessions, and you don't have people jumping up and saying, "Oh, well we were working on that," or "I was doing that," because everybody knows, everybody's got their own agenda and nobody steps on anybody's toes. If you remove some of the noise and focus on what you're trying to achieve and where you're trying to be as a business, then you'll find that everybody works a little bit better I think."
Consortia is a specialist User Experience Recruitment Agency working in London and the surrounding areas for over 8 years. We place the very best User Experience candidates with the very best clients. Contact our expert User Experience consultants to send us a brief here.
Practical steps for business
Leah faces a number of challenges when bought into any new business. "I worked with a very large organisation who wanted a new app. I feel like the reason why they wanted this app was because they wanted to make an impact on their business because nothing came of it. Although it was very exciting, it was a big waste of time, money, and effort. It was a great case study for me, but I did feel like they were doing it. That was more lip service, because they were new, and they wanted to make an impact. So, at certain times I think some of that will go on, but I'm much better at being able to identify that now."
The principal approach Leah adopts nowadays is to try to make any company as product or user-centric as possible, while focusing on the people that are in place to make the business more employee-centric. This allows staff to grow and learn. "I use a variety of different research methods, both qualitative and quantitative, as well as talking the same language, to try and turn companies around and achieve a shared vision."
When it comes to dysfunctional teams, it's important to keep the developers and the UX team on board as they have the responsibility of transforming the way products look and feel, which can affect millions of people.
She says: "If you get to a position where you realise that there are some difficult people who are stopping you meeting your objectives, you need to make some difficult decisions about that, and lose them or suggest that they shape up and move on because nothing's going to change otherwise. If people don't start talking to each other, if board level doesn't sort of want to see what's going on below and allow maybe their own reports to have more flexibility so it can become more employee-centric, it's never going to change. You can hire as many people as you like, you can offer them as much money as you like, but you're going to head down the same road and see the same scenery."
One practical solution Leah feels is important for any UXer to understand is that constantly banging your head against the wall because your voice isn't being heard just isn't acceptable. Once you've arrived in any business and given the job a reasonable amount of time, it's better to quit than work within a situation where the business can't or won't give you what you need because it's resistant to change.
She says that there are a number of risks for any business that doesn't want to transform itself from the inside out: "They won't really find good people and won't be able to keep them, because they're not allowing them to have a voice. So, I think that that's an issue, but I think another risk is that you will get somebody in with no experience because there's very little governance within this industry. It's frustrating for people like me, and so you might recruit somebody that you believe is the right person who isn't and then get yourself in a muddle there."
Her thought leadership maintains that it's just not about the product - businesses need to ensure the happiness of people and processes. This way, everyone's working to their absolute best and can have some impact on output.
Being employee centric
Leah feels that one-way businesses can maintain a reputation for being employee-centric is to invest in their own team and their own people and not outsource lots of work to agencies. Agency workers really don't help businesses to learn how to do the work themselves.
Finally, transforming the business from the inside out makes it easy for companies to become more user-centred and ultimately make more money. She says: "It's lovely to provide things for people and know that they enjoy using them, but the reality is about conversion. It's about the bottom line. So, if you're dealing with somebody or working with somebody who's influential, who only cares about the bottom line, you need to talk that language."
Thank you to Leah for taking part in our Thought Leadership series. While you are here, why not check out some of our other User Experience Thought Leadership pieces:
- When User Experience becomes responsible by Jimmy Elias of Publicis.Sapient
UX designers need to be able to put themselves into the role of the end user to help ensure products are logical, intuitive and streamlined to provide the best possible experience. Jimmy Elias is a senior experience designer, based in Cologne, and believes that responsible UX design is a critical consideration for everybody working in this field.
- Embedding Service Design at John Lewis by Steve Kato-Spyrou
As part of our spotlight on user experience, we caught up with Steve Kato-Spyrou, UX Manager at John Lewis, to talk about his experience with this household name retailer. Steve has eight years’ experience within the UX field and is currently focusing on online and offline experiences. He's keen to promote the John Lewis brand within the digital world, as he feels the brand does not highlight every facet of its offering enough. He utilises his skill in service design to try to make any complex structure feel comfortable and easy for customers to digest.