Guy Redwood founded UX and behavioural research agency SimpleUsability in 2001.
He spoke to Econsultancy about what he does on a typical day, why UXers should be fascinated by human behaviour, and why it’s less important to have all the answers than to know how to find them.
Please describe your job: What do you do?
I founded UX and behavioural research agency SimpleUsability 18 years ago. I’m responsible for the day-to-day business operations, including business development and budgeting, at our office in central Leeds. I’m a creative individual, so my favourite part of the role is driving innovation across the business through its services and company culture.
Another side to my role is considering how neuroscience can be applied to user experience and to aid market research. I’ve led the SimpleUsability team to create a unique user research methodology, combining proven psychology principles with technology to observe customers’ natural behaviour. The ultimate aim of my work is to connect our clients with the needs and desires of their consumer base.
Whereabouts do you sit within the organisation? Who do you report to?
I head up a really strong leadership team. In an industry striving and often failing to promote more females into senior agency roles, I’m proud to be the only male in our executive team of five. I’m surrounded by talented and passionate people in the SimpleUsability office: there is a huge range of personalities, skills and attitudes. This means we’re constantly learning from one another and pushing boundaries to progress in our careers.
Every Monday we gather on our 40-seater sports bleacher (imported from the USA) for our All-Hands and review the previous week and the month ahead. We also hold regular town hall meetings and off-site strategy meetings. So you could say I report into the whole business.
The team is empowered to make decisions, guided by our shared vision and values.
The office is open plan and almost every week I pick out two names from our bingo ball wheel and go for an off-site, 30 minute coffee and chat with each member of the team. Our team tell us that they feel that there’s always lots of opportunity to voice an opinion and pretty much everything is actioned.
What kind of skills do you need to be effective in your role?
I think you have to be mentally and emotionally strong. It takes a lot of research, mistakes and effort, but at times it gets very lonely running a business and you need to find ways of dealing with it. You have to dedicate time to making yourself a better person. I refer to this as my Personal MBA, which is a term I learned from a peer. It’s essential to spend most of your time working on the future and waste little time looking at the past.
For our line of business you need to be fascinated by human behaviour, always sitting back and observing behaviour unfolding in front of you. You also need to understand the latest technology developments. I’m lucky that I’ve played a strong part in the growth of the internet from the beginning and this helps me understand how we’ve got here and why some things thrive and others die.
Tell us about a typical working day…
Starting at home with my morning meditation routine, I consider all possible scenarios for the day ahead. This means I’m rarely unprepared for any eventuality. The business is pretty much capable of running itself these days, as I’ve built a strong and dynamic team to ensure that I can work on the technical and methodological innovation that grows the business.
I attend meetings usually to help with innovation. We keep pushing the envelope of UX research and this is something I love being involved in. We are also rolling out the Traction E.O.S. framework across the business, so I’m involved in workshops around our culture and structure.
Most days in the office end around 7pm with a chat with our office cleaner, Karen. She’s fab and always lightens the mood. In all of my businesses, we’ve hired cleaners that have great personalities that bring some extra energy into the office either early morning or late evening.
I listen to audiobooks on my commute home. Audiobooks played at 1.25x speed in the car have been a big life hack for learning. Then after arriving at home, I get mobbed by my pack of huskies, who spend the day sleeping outdoors and then run riot around us in the evening in the house as I try to watch some SciFi on the TV.
What do you love about your job? What sucks?
Innovation. I love improving everything, continuously. The brands we work with are innovating in their space. Their competitors usually copy them, so they look to us to drive and inspire their innovation. It’s something I’m naturally good at and love the buzz it brings.
The pitching process is a particular pet hate of mine; I believe it is outdated and often ineffective. At SimpleUsability, we like to meet the client and build a rapport; we would much rather run a collaborative workshop to find solutions to a client’s problems.
What kind of goals do you have? What are the most useful metrics and KPIs for measuring success?
Our biggest and most audacious goal is very exciting: we aim to be the fastest UX insight delivery agency in the world. We are developing software to deliver this goal and have a full-time team solely working on this, so we’re on track to being very disruptive in our space.
The main KPI being monitored in the agency is the value of work booked in each month. This is reviewed in detail every week, removing any future profit/cash flow surprises. With us implementing E.O.S. we’re turning these KPIs into red/amber/green traffic lights to help the business focus on the areas that need attention quickly.
What are your favourite tools to help you to get the job done?
I’m a huge fan of mind mapping. I use Mind Node on my MacBook and iPhone, enabling me to brainstorm and update mind maps at any point in the day. I’ve found mind mapping to be a very powerful way of developing thoughts and sharing them. I love the way I can start on my iPhone wherever the thought hits me and then add updates later on my laptop. Capturing inspiration is key, otherwise you forget and lose that idea.
I’m also a huge fan of Microsoft Office 365. I think Microsoft is one of the most innovative software companies around at the moment. All of the Microsoft office suite is really useful, and they keep adding new tools and improving the old ones.
How did you end up founding SimpleUsability, and where might you go from here?
I founded one of the early web agencies in 1996, then spent a few years in a huge system integration company working on some of the biggest ecommerce projects around the turn of the millennium. In 2001, I left all of that behind to start SimpleUsability, originally as a way of working with old customers on their digital start-ups; we also attempted to sell usability testing software, which cost £20k a license. No one bought the software, but plenty of companies paid us to use it as part of a usability testing project.
The future for SimpleUsability is incredibly exciting. The behavioural research team is doing an increasing amount of service design. I see this as the natural evolution of UX as we move away from thinking about digital and just focusing on how people engage with brands/organisations. Our research facilities and participant recruitment team Research Helper has recently doubled in size to cope with our ambitions to quadruple its turnover. We’ve just won a half a million pound contract with a government department, and we’ve worked hard to get to this point.
Which products or experiences have impressed you lately?
What3Words is one of the greatest innovations of the century. I saw the founders talk at a conference last year and their story is momentous. The W3W service is saving lives, on top of fixing the problems we have with postcodes. I do wonder if we’ll continue to use postal addresses in the near future.
What advice would you give a UXer just starting out?
Strive to be a well-rounded UXer. Always say you don’t know the answer, but you know how to find the answer. Make sure you understand and can apply best principles across all disciplines, including design, psychology and research methodologies. There is so much shared knowledge available to read and so much science and research that’s been carried out to support and inform your UX activities.
Make sure you observe behaviour and keep an open mind and spot the nuances in how people behave and talk. We take a lot for granted and overlook some of the simplest things without realising it’s a problem or an opportunity.
Lastly, be a good facilitator. UX is generally about everybody else, you hold the least important opinion in the room. You are there to curate and evangelise the needs of the users with everybody else.