Career pathways into tech #10: interaction designer

20 October 2021

Ben Tilbrook is an interaction designer, working as part of an Opencast team on a key DWP project. In our latest career pathways posts, Ben shares his journey to date – and his typical day in the life.

What does an interaction designer do?

“An interaction designer is part of the overall user design experience team. We focus on how a user interacts with a system or website. Our aim is to make the user experience (UX) as smooth, relevant and accessible as possible. We think about the structure or behaviour of the application, drawing on user research. We work particularly closely with researchers to make sure we are addressing users’ needs and testers and get involved in the testing so we can work to improve the product.”

How did you become an interaction designer?

“Interaction designers normally come from a user design experience background, but there isn’t just one path. I came in from the visual design side.

“I completed a GNVQ in arts and design at Rotherham College of Arts & Technology and then a BTEC in graphic design at the same college. From there I went to the University of Lincoln where I studied a BA in Games Design.

“I was really into the visual art side of games design – mocking up box art and designing the user interfaces such as the heads-up display and menus, so after leaving university I started as a freelance designer in Sheffield, where I’m from. I worked with mainly startups and SMEs on their branding and websites.

“I then worked as a graphic and web designer for three companies before becoming a web user interface (UI) designer at a company researching ageing. From there I moved to a fleet software company, where I was a web UI designer for three years. My next role was as a UX and UI designer, still working in Sheffield. I moved to Opencast at the beginning of 2021.”

A man wearing a grey fleece, standing outside and smiling
“The main thing that I enjoy about being part of Opencast is feeling appreciated and sharing the same values"
What makes a good interaction designer?

“You certainly need the right design skills and know how to use the software effectively – but equally important is the need to be a good communicator and to be able to work as a team. Being a champion of the user, you must have empathy and try to understand the pain points and needs of the users.

“Working iteratively and solving small problems one battle at a time requires a good deal of patience. Understanding how to read and write simple code is important too, as you may need to implement working prototypes and we work very closely with developers to review their solutions for design and accessibility issues. As with most IT jobs, being used to agile working is essential.”

What tools do you use?

“We use visual collaboration software Miro all the time – it’s perfect for collaborating and more and more designers are embracing it. Everything goes on to Miro boards, which helps keep everyone in the team involved and informed on work as it’s happening. For design purposes, it’s common for an interaction designer to have a good knowledge of design applications such as Adobe Creative Cloud.”

What are you working on right now?

“I’m working from home (in Sheffield) as part of an Opencast team working on a DWP project looking at how to help employers support and manage disabled people and people with health conditions to help them stay in work. It’s really important and interesting work. It’s great being part of a full Opencast team as we all share similar values and work ethics, and we all work closely with our DWP stakeholders.”

What do you particularly enjoy about the role?

“I love the collaborative aspect of the role, coming together as a team working towards one goal. The flexibility of being able to work from home despite being 2.5 hours away from the office is great, but the main thing that I enjoy about being part of Opencast is feeling appreciated and sharing the same values. The team is supportive and friendly and everyone I’ve spoken to enjoys their role.”

Day in the life

“My starting time revolves around taking my young daughter to nursery, so I tend to start about 8.30am and finish around 5pm. That was one of the attractions of Opencast for me – they’re pretty flexible about timing as long as you get the work done and can attend important meetings.

“We then have what we call a ‘scruddle,’ a mix of a huddle and a scrum. We go through the Jira boards and discuss what happened the previous and what our aims of that day are. We’ll talk about the user journey of the project we’re working on and discuss testing and development. The rest of the day is spent in meetings or developing the service we’re working on.

“I’ve recently become the co-lead for Opencast’s user-centred design (UCD) community – the lead changes every six months and it’s my turn. We share skills and stories and come together as a team.

“On Fridays we have community meetings when we come together as a UCD team. There is also a wind-down meeting on Friday afternoons where we finish our week with a casual chat with the team.

“Our two-week sprints within the DWP project start and end on every other Thursday, so those days are pretty meeting heavy.”

“As a dad of a young daughter I don’t have too much spare time, but I try to find a bit of time in the evening to play video games. I’ve loved gaming since the age of four and play a wide range of different games. I try to stay up to date with modern games, but also love retro games and find myself regularly returning to some of my favourites and looking to discover some hidden gems. I also love drawing and going to the cinema (or watching at home in the current environment).”

Interaction design links

NN/g UX podcast – monthly show on UX research, design and strategy
UX Collective – independent design publication and blog
Interactive Design Foundation – online expert UX design courses.