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A post by
Ostmodern
Q+A SERIES
July 2, 2019

Mind the design: a special interview with our Creative Director

Mind the design: a special interview with our Creative Director

A post by
Ostmodern
July 2, 2019
XX
min read

To mark the end of an exciting project, we wanted to share some insights on the process and our approach to it. For this, we interviewed Ostmodern’s Executive Creative Director Tim Bleasdale.

His role was unusually hands-on in this case. He did a lot of the user experience (UX) design himself, pointing out the importance of remaining proficient in this. Tim believes that to be able to direct people in design well, you have to continue to practise.

We asked him a series of questions on this ‘discovery vision’ project for a video on demand platform. We also talked about Ostmodern’s views on: designing digital products, some meaningful tools we use, relationships with clients, and what ‘innovation’ actually means.

Here’s a peek into our world as a design studio.

What was the brief for the project?

Audiences had been having trouble finding content, and there was a lot of churn. We were brought in to improve how people discover content and simplify the overall proposition. This meant setting a new direction for the product in a short time — we had six weeks.

What are the most important conversations to have with the client, design-wise, before embarking on a journey together?

Tim Bleasdale: Executive Creative Director at Ostmodern

We tend to work on product principles. You have to trust the client to know their product quite well — especially if it’s been out in the world for a while. They should have a good idea of what their audience wants. Half of the early conversations are about taking that, and discussing it with them. Then, it’s looking at the research, seeing how the product is constructed and what it’s trying to do, and focusing that down on the main principles.

This means being really honest about what the USP (unique selling proposition) is, and where the most effective changes will happen. It allows you to prioritise the features in the work — you focus on things that are going to be better for the product.

Do you mean ‘better for the product’ commercially?

It’s interesting you say that, because there’s a ‘commercial’ element to this, there’s the technology that you’re going to deliver, and then there are the users. We tend to develop things that hit all those points.

If there’s something that would be great for users but, technologically, it’s going to be really hard to deliver, then maybe think it through but build it into your roadmap. If it’s something that’s extremely good for your users but actually would be detrimental to your business model, find a realistic compromise.

It’s all these things in symbiosis. The best products deliver a value proposition that has considered these properly: users, commercial or business model, and technology.

Can you talk more about the major challenges that this project presented us? You mentioned churn as one.

Churn was a big challenge. An issue related to churn was how users were unaware of the depth of content that is available on the service. A lot of what we did was make sure that they could understand all the genres and types of content on the service that they had no idea were there.

Another challenge was catering for one of the big principles, which was based on a ‘sledgehammer’ ease of use. We had this goal of making the site really obvious — much simpler. A problem was that it had so many little filters and different ways of finding information and content. We had to get rid of a lot of functionality.

Having done this, we expect that a lot of the technical problems will evaporate, because the service isn’t as complex anymore. It will be trying to do fewer actions at once, so should become more solid. Another big reason why people were leaving were these technical problems.

Were there any particularly useful tools in this project?

Rapid intuitive user testing. Instead of delivering a usability report as a result of our user testing, we chose to employ it as a design tool. The aim was to test the proposition, the overall architecture, and whether people were noticing content that we wanted them to know was there.

If something didn’t work, or the user didn’t understand something, we would be taking that on a case-by-case basis, asking ‘Should we change this?’ We had 15 people over three days: each time we’d test, we would be testing something slightly different. It allowed us to test little concepts while helping us to figure out overall what the user needed or wanted.

What are the initial steps in creating new ideas when a project comes in?

It has to start with research: gathering together information and sustenance for creating those ideas. You need to feed the project with loads of information and then, when we start, we have all that research, and trends or interactions that seem interesting, which serve as stimuli for creating the product.

‘ Then, of course, we brainstorm as a team: a lot of that work happens around the whiteboards. A helpful tactic is to have a lot of that research left up there so you can look at it and go ‘That’s an interesting piece of functionality that we should try to use here.’ You can use that information as a recipe for new ideas. ’
A whiteboard area at Ostmodern

What kind of questions do we ask the client at the beginning of each project to help set the vision and carry out research?

We did something that was quite useful at the beginning of this particular project, which was a ‘spectrums’ exercise. In this, we ask two polarising questions such as ‘Do you want your service to be technologically solid or full of crazy, fantastical ideas?’

The choice in this case was to be technologically solid. If there was anything that wouldn’t drive users to the content to watch a video, then it wouldn’t make it into the product. Those are the kind of questions that we use. They become the basis of the product principles.

How did we keep in touch with the client? What were the mechanics of the working relationship?

When possible, we would visit them, and they would visit us. Twice a week at first. Early on, it was especially important to be this regular because we needed a lot of information from them. Then we got to the point where we were just creating and it turned into them coming in and watching the user tests — which was really valuable.

There’s nothing better than sitting them down in front of how users are responding and getting their reaction. That means suggesting ideas as well, because they already know their audience and can say ‘Oh, that might be because…’ and then you turn that into something that changes the interface.

How did the client respond to what we delivered?

Loved it. When conducting the user testing, we made videos of the users taking part in the testing. We used those videos to bolster a lot of the work that we’d done. We showed examples of users commenting on a functionality and saying why they liked it or why it was useful.

We had the luxury of having been given a brief that was about simplifying. We received a lot of amazing feedback on this directly from the users that were testing the prototype. They were asking when it would come out, making impromptu comments that were great to hear such as ‘I never realised this was on the platform’. That doesn’t go unnoticed.

A really nice surprise actually was that they printed out a lot of the work we did and put it up on the wall in their office. They’re living by it now. That’s cool and successful! We didn’t just give them this pretty vision, it’s actually useful.

How representative is this project of the kind of work we do and would like to do?

It’s the kind of work we’ve done for years. Essentially, it’s in our sweet spot because it’s specific niche media with a niche audience, and we’ll certainly continue to do more of that, regardless of the media it is as well — whether it’s TV, video, audio, podcasts, or editorial. Our doors are open.

More broadly, what do you believe are the elements of good UX?

Making sure that you always bring it back to ‘Are people going to be able to use it?’ In UX, sometimes you might have a very difficult problem to solve but if you can boil that down to something that makes it feel as though it’s unbelievably simple, it works — that’s the trick. It’s really not easy.

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