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Career pathways into tech #7: user-centred design (UCD) consultant

Anthony Elstob

Anthony Elstob is a senior UCD consultant currently supporting the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP). In the latest of our career pathways into tech posts, Anthony tells us about his career to date.  

What does a user-centred design consultant do?  

“A UCD consultant is a champion for the user. We investigate real-life problems that users face when interacting with products or services and then solve them. To do so, we work closely with users and stakeholders to make sure users’ needs are met. 

“Once we’ve truly understood the problem, we translate our insights into prototypes which we then test and refine.” 

How did you become a user-centred design consultant at Opencast? 

“I left school and studied interactive media design at Northumbria University. I was thinking about a career in games design, but during my degree I completed a few modules on user experience (UX) principles and I was hooked. After graduation I started in a UX job working with a company in Brighton – moving from Newcastle to the south coast. Ironically, the project I was working on in Brighton was for Newcastle University. 

“After nearly two years I moved back to Newcastle and started working at a tech company as a UX designer and people manager – with a team of seven UX colleagues. The role also involved supporting the development, pastoral care and mentorship of team members. 

“I then became interim UX department lead, before leaving to join Opencast late last year (2020). 

“As a senior consultant I’ve found the skills I developed as a people manager have been invaluable.” 

Was yours the usual route into UCD? 

“There are many different routes into a career in UCD. You often find people working in UCD have backgrounds in psychology or design – or even philosophy backgrounds. A lot of the principles of UCD are grounded in psychology and philosophy which gives us an understanding of the theory behind what we do.” 

What makes a good UCD consultant? 

“I think the first thing is to have good facilitation skills – you have to understand the views of users, stakeholders and other designers and then translate them in a way that can be understood by everyone. You have to ensure everyone is working as a team and that there aren’t any silos developing. 

“You never forget that you are the users’ champion and your main role is to represent them and make interactions easier for them.

“Technically, you need knowledge of a range of software, depending on the situation. 

“We use the interactive whiteboard software Miro a great deal – it’s used throughout Opencast and is getting more and more popular in the sector. 

“We often need to translate ideas into visual form so will use Sketch or the GOV.uk toolkit, both of which are easy and efficient to use.” 

Where are you working now? 

“I’ve been embedded with DWP since last November. I have been home-based throughout my time with them so far, which comes with its own challenges such as workshops and bigger team meetings. I’m the only Opencast person within a team of 13 – the others are from the DWP or are other contractors.” 

What do you particularly enjoy about the role? 

“I love talking, I love working as a team, I love facilitating and I love problem solving, so I thoroughly enjoy all aspects of my role. In particular, I enjoy running workshops and bringing people together with the common aim of solving a problem.” 

What’s the next step for you and what do you do outside of work? 

“Within UCD I suppose the next step would be a lead role. From a technical perspective, working in UCD gives you a skillset for you to go as far as you want – leadership or specialist roles. 

“Outside of work I’m currently completing my thesis for my Masters degree in design management at Northumbria University. 

“I dabble in games design and I also love music. I enjoy music production – remixing pop and dance, and also working with DJ software and sampling. I’m from a musical family and have always enjoyed playing, listening to or producing music.” 

A day in the life 

“I work four days a week at DWP and every Friday I work on internal projects at Opencast. 

“My DWP days start at about 9.15 with a stand-up meeting at which we catch-up where team members are up to. 

“Once that is over I’ll go into working group meetings or co-design sessions with my team to thrash out ideas and possible solutions for problems. At the moment we’re at the prototyping and testing stage of a possible solution, which is really interesting. 

“Meetings continue after lunch – afternoons are similar to mornings, although every day is different - and my day finishes at about 5.30pm. 

“We’re an agile team so every fortnight we have the standard sprint meetings, on top of our community meetings. 

“At the moment, my Opencast Friday projects include a values project which is feeding into the Opencast growth strategy, and I’m also about to start working with Opencast’s Head of People on a project about career progression.” 

UCD reading

  • For academic reading around UCD and other subjects for my Masters, I use www.researchgate.net 
  • For more digestible material I go to www.nngroup.com which is a website run by Nielsen Norman Group, pioneers in UX. 
  • The book Sprint: How to Solve Big Problems and Test New Ideas in Just Five Days (or see their website for a digest https://www.gv.com/sprint/) - great for ideas on running innovation/design thinking sessions to quickly prototype ideas.

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