Global UXR Interview series – Jonathan, London

Paul Blunden: Hello, and welcome to another interview in my series, where i’m talking to one of our many global Ux researchers from around the world. My name is Paul Blunden, I’m, founder of Ux24/7, and we help global brands improve their products and services by being more customer centric.

So let’s meet my guest today.

Hello, and thank you for giving up your time today. Can I stop asking you to introduce yourself. What’s your name and whereabouts do you come from?

Jonathan Culling: Yeah. So, Paul, i’m. I’m. Jonathan, I live in West Ealing, which is West London for those we don’t know London so well.

Paul Blunden: Well, I I do know London well, and I know you very well, Jonathan. No, I’ve known you for for many years. I’m really looking forward to interviewing you for once rather than watching you interview the participants, which I I’ve spent a lot of time doing so. A lot of these interviews on doing a with the out how researchers from all over the world, actually, and many of whom are multilingual. And I wondered whether you were also multilingual.

Jonathan Culling: Yeah, I I speak a few languages, but I’m only fluent enough to do what user research in English. So to me, that’s the ultimate test of fluency right if you can not only ask the questions, but also understand and follow up. So I I wouldn’t have the confidence to do that. But I’ve taking notes in German. French and Spanish as well.

Yeah right? Okay. Very impressive. That’s useful. Skills to have.

Paul Blunden: Yeah, I completely agree that that fluency is a real measure as well as some market experience, obviously as well.

So obviously you’ve been in research long time. Can you tell me how how you came to be a ux research.

Jonathan Culling: Yeah, it’s quite a long story, actually. So in in 2,000. I was working for a small company, one of those that you. You. You do everything. I was lucky designer, producer, and even did some programming and lingo, which was, you know, making CD Roms in Macromedy director, and and I decided it was time for a grown up job. so I I applied for for a few jobs in digital, and I’ve got one, and so they hide me as a a what they call a time and an information architect. But that’s really a user experience designer.

So I mean, I’ve got it. I’ve got a sort of degree design, and it seemed like a natural progression for me.  One of the first jobs I I worked on was a a booking in gym for British Airways, the, and it was the new thing called Fair Explorer. At the time. They wanted to sort of break things, open it, thinking back to 2,001, which is when this was. you could put some dates into a a search engine, a of of a booking engine line, and you’d get back one flight, and they wanted to make it all open. So you got a variety of flights, and that that feeling was that it would encourage people to upgrade. So to go from world traveller to world traveller plus wherever they call it, or or maybe even business costs. In in fact, it did nothing but it. It actually encouraged people to shop around for the the best time to travel in the best fair. Anyway, it was a big success.

I went into to watch it being being used a research in London and New York. and it was with the same guy, this English guy called Joe, who who is very friendly, and he said to me one of the breaks, and said, Jonathan, I can tell you your dying to get involved. So do you want to do the next session? A nice I, Of course I said, Yes, I I was. I sort of went into the to moderate the session. I was really bad, so I I mean I I couldn’t really understand why this participant didn’t get my design and and things like that, and I got a little bit bad tempered, I probably, and everyone in the but you know that I was hoped I was really hooked up to that, and

I went back and said to that we’ve got to have our own lab, so I designed to lab for them that was never actually built. But then I moved to Sapiens, and I’ve designed to lab for them, and also you could say that was the beginning of something, and I I I’ve been user a a user researcher slash designer ever since. So that that’s how I got into it.

Paul Blunden: That’s incredibly brave to take on moderation when you’re observing, and have never done it before.

Jonathan Culling: Yeah, the thing is that people who do it and make you look really really easy, and  I guess I fell into that trap, and it wasn’t really as easy as I thought. But hopefully, my technique is improved over time.

Paul Blunden: Well, I can reassure you that it has, and you’re now one of the people who who also makes it look very easy. and I know you’ve covered a lot of methodologies over your career. I mean, it’s been a long, long career in research. Do you have a favorite?

Jonathan Culling: Yeah, I i’m not sure. If you call this a methodology. But I really love doing co-creation workshops. So I think that a really great way to so validate and develop concepts. So and you can also add a touch of creativity to make me go to the swing, is it? It just seems like a much more open So technique. So I did something for you to leave a a a few years ago, and it was our client was the brand manager for all their flavored teams. and he wanted to produce some apps for people to to use during the tea break, so he didn’t know what he was going to be in it. But he did a few back of the f packet ideas. and so I was working with the design of really, really closely, and we some 2 screen prototypes no more than that.

And we set up this collaboration workshop, so invited these tea drinking people into the into the room we we we basically had a. It was like a a standard office meeting room, but we wanted to create an atmosphere. So I went up to the business on the top floor and borrowed a T trolley. I’ve brought my tea, cosy in in from home.

We got some monopoly money so people could put on their best ideas, and I also printed out some wall paper and actually stuck blue tact it onto the wall just to create this sort of ambulance of the of the tea room. and so, and the client was sitting in the middle of this, and he at the time his life he loved being surrounded by these tea, drinking ladies and asking them questions, and but but the good thing is we actually made a lot of progress as well. So we started off with. I think it was 8 ideas. We narrowed it down to 3 in the first session, and then 2 days later we we developed those winning ideas further, and we had to one more session, and we we we sort of brought it down to one winning concept. And and so he then went away and develop that into the app. So it was. It was serious fun.

I guess you can call it. And that’s why I like that technique or methodology.

Paul Blunden: Have you used it a lot. It’s it sounds like a methodology. You got to commit quite a lot of time to.

Jonathan Culling: Yes, I I have. We also did it when we were together at at Soviets we had some workshops for the sky customers, and it was they were thinking about launching a a streaming service at that time which turned out to be now TV.

And so we got all these people together and in had popcorn, and, you know, just again try to to make it sort of this film. Themed as we could. So yeah, it’s it’s a lot like, I say, I mean, I think, like most research is probably 90%. What I do is value to research. But the then these other nice things around the around the edges, which you you always look forward to right. That’s that’s interesting. That evaluative still plays such a big role.

Paul Blunden: And you’ve mentioned a couple of sectors financial services, obviously an entertainment. What what sort of sector experience. Do you have?

Jonathan Culling: So the my most recent experience has been in the Government. So, my I’ve been i’m, on a 6 month project at the moment it’s just been extended. And before that was a 2 year project for Moj. So I like working in that set, because you can directly see how your work is, is going to influence people’s lives. And so the the Moj project was all about interventions for people on probation, and and making it easier for probation offices to actually assign their case load onto interventions. And those are things like accommodation or training education. All the sort of things that can stabilize someone’s life, and we we could see having a real impact on the on the lives, not of the people on probation offices, who were very, very time for, and needed all the help they could get to have no system work really well. interesting. And Moj’s Ministry of Justice for those who don’t justice. Yeah, exactly. But before before I I sort of went freelance and did a couple of big government project. So I was an agency man. So I’ve worked in a lot of different sectors, and that would include travel, entertainment, sport, financial services.

Paul Blunden: And how would you sort of position the maturity of the Uk market from a ux perspective.

Jonathan Culling: I I think in government it’s it. It’s, it seems very mature. I I mean my. My sort of litmus test is how seriously he is a research team, and every team in in in government I’ve worked on has one or 2 researches. I’m on one of 2 on a team of 12 at the moment. So that gives you some sort of idea about how how seriously they take sort of voice of customer

Paul Blunden: and outside of government. Do you Have you had similar experience about, you know, being pretty mature?

Jonathan Culling: I guess that’s what for for a lot of specialized agencies. So I guess the the customers going looking for for consultancies that specialize. So it’s kind of a hard to tell, because I haven’t been so that active in sales. So I don’t know how hard that they’ve had to try to get those those clients, if you like.

Paul Blunden: Yeah, yeah, okay, that’s interesting. I’m just trying to get a feel for sort of

Jonathan Culling: how customer-centric brands are within a market, and the perspective, because it’s quite interesting talking to people from around the world about their views on Where? On where they are Just been back to my old one of employees in Romania actually, and they they’re having a lot more difficulty setting user research than we have here. So they they’re setting up a team in Romania. And I think one of the nice things for them is that now, because they’re serving actually markets in in Western Europe, so that it a lot of their clients in Uk based on Germany based.

But now that it’s really common to conduct research over video. You know they they can do it, opens it up for them. So they don’t. You don’t necessarily have to be there except dialogue for generative research. I think you know, the context is so important in generative research. You probably have to do that on site or what in the market.

But now the relative research has been sort of blown wide open. and so that that’s why they’re thinking and

Paul Blunden: interesting. Well, we’ve conducted research and Romania ourselves, and I know the pool of research is very small, but but growing thankfully, which is is a good thing. and in terms of the sort of brands you’ve worked with. What do you think? The the greatest challenge for them, or for sort of product is? Directors, Senior researchers are when they’re undertaking a ux research study.

Jonathan Culling: Yeah, I I think it. It’s sort of lack of innovation, I think I I I’ve a lot of brands who think so very diversion, if you like, about sort of like their competition. and they’re always watching what the other, what what their competitors are doing, etc. I think to come back to generative research. I think that they’re missing out on those insights that generally research can bring you. So it’s if you. if you just start developing prototypes without those spectacular insights. Then you’re much more likely to lack innovation.

And so you know, I I think, what what those brand managers that you speak about. What they should think about doing is is actually, you know, not not just doing things the way always happen. But you know, talk to the audience find out a bit more about them, and that will unlock a lot of interesting ideas that that you can then use in your in your product solutions.

Paul Blunden: Yes, it seems that a lot of lot of product people sort of start in the middle of the Double Diamond rather than go left of the I. The idea, which is a yeah is a constant challenge.

Jonathan Culling: I think I think, for for delivery marriages. Generative research is a bit seen, a bit of a chore. because it so delays the proper start of the project as they see it, you know. Why would you want to spend sort of 2 weeks at the starting project before anyone can stop.

You know, developing any code, you know what, and that it it it’s it’s quite a difficult sell, I think for some people.

Paul Blunden: Yeah, indeed. But I think those that get it sort of become strong believers quite quickly. What?

And you talked about a project earlier, which was really interesting. But is that your flagship project? Or have you got a flagship project that you’re you’re particularly proud of?

Jonathan Culling: I think the the work I did when I was in cancer support. It is probably my flagship project. and it was a it was a course it was very close to my heart, because they they just helped my sister in her battle against cancer, and and give me some really fantastic advice. And so, when when the pitch came to in. I just wanted to get involved, and I I sort of like, you know, to to to, to get over really and and brief the designers, because they all the designers, were actually in in Romania and Bulgaria. So. first of all, they needed to understand what an important role and played in sort of British society.

So we flew them over over. We got them to listening to calls to the call center. We got them to visit one of their centers at University College Hospital. It’s actually no things like that just to try and sort of immerse in the brand. and we we did it. It was a long engagement, so it was digital transformation for it. So a really long projects. We started off they. They’d been engaging with lots of different agencies before we’ve done a lot of research. So our first job is not to do generative research, but actually to consume all the research that other people have done, and that the whole team to to read. And then we started to we. We had a really nice big workshop. produce some concepts started sketching those in some paper per typing so really early concepts validation, and we we went forward, and we we actually launched the section for people living with cancer, and then went on to do the more personalized site. So it’s really nice working. I’m very proud of it, and it’s it’s been proven to have been a really big step up from the previous as well.

Paul Blunden: Oh, well, I was. I was going to ask. I wondered what the output. So the outcome of that was when you say a big step, update with that in terms of numbers of people or type of care people could access.

Jonathan Culling: Yeah, I think it. It was more to do with, because the the content is always we’ve been well written. So they they were things that they could content. But people just weren’t finding. So they finally they were going to the homepage in just a bouncing off the head a huge huge bounce right we, because we did work on the I a it that it improve the I, and also the way the content was structured. We found that people once were much more recently found what they were looking for. and also stay there and consume more content, so that that was a big win

Paul Blunden: indeed. Well, that yeah, it would make sense for that kind of market to expect people to be going with the purpose. And if you could keep them there, then that’s a real measure of of success.

And you’ve You’ve had. This sounds like a lot of experience internationally as well. You talk about note taking and other languages whatever. So I I’ve been asking all of the people in these interviews about the behaviors that they see are the unique to the market that they work in. I wonder what your take on. That was in terms of the British or the United Kingdom.

Jonathan Culling: Yeah, it’s. It’s interesting. So I i’m not sure. I can tell you a bit about a subset of people I’ve been researching recently, which came as a a real surprise to me. Actually. So we did some assistive technology research with 80 users. and some of those were visually impaired, and some of them are cognitively impaired.

And I actually expected the visually impaired people to have much more problems looking at our our service and and understanding it. And actually it was kind of like the other way around. So we, we found that the people they they They got to a page which is quite short, but it’s quite unstructured, and it has quite a lot of repetition in it, and they just hated that page. And then they came further on. In our service they found another page which was longer, but it had. It was really well structured with subtitles and bullet points.

So the the page was really well laid out, and they, they said, I wish all the pages could be like this and that. And so that was a real insight for me, because I didn’t think it was. It was really so important to have every really good page structure, and I I know a lot of sites are written by people who you think in terms of writing for books or documents, not so much writing for the web, and that was that to me actually proved that, you know, writing for the web is a very different skill, so that one of the participants pointed out to me. She explains that because she has sort of impaired short term memory, she quite often loses her her way on on a page, and so that, you know, can only take a certain amount in before get getting tired, and having that structure on the page allows her to easily find where she was when within her concentration went.

So she can start again from that point and and and carry on so that’s why it is very important to have a sort of visual signposts to to to to go back to. And I think that’s something that it basically that is good sort of practice for anyone, really not just for the you know. If more people did that, I, If you wrote like that more often, then your website will go down much better with the whole audience. Not just those people.

Paul Blunden: How interesting and cognitive impairment you described one impairment there. The people who don’t know much about it. Can you give them more background to that? Yeah, sure. So the people we spoke to were dyslexic, or had Adhd, or they might have some sort of

Jonathan Culling: some sort of health condition that that gave from brain fog as well. So the menopause is, it is, can be an example of that, you know. So it’s not it. It’s it’s either temporary lasting, but it affects both people in the same way. And actually, you know, thinking back to that, Mcmillan case study. If you just been to the doctor and the doctors giving you a cancer diagnosis, you are going to find it really difficult to concentrate on on any information on the page, and that’s why it. And we actually found out. This is before this research. I just told you about that we found the page structure is really important for those people as well.

Paul Blunden: That’s really interesting, because paid structures so important for people with readers who who are visually impaired. But as you say, incredible learning they did to help so many people. And then final couple of questions. Jonathan, what is currently inspiring you at the moment.

Jonathan Culling: I think it’s interesting, I think. Jack Chat Gpt. I’m finding really fascinating.

So one of the my fellow research is where i’m working at the moment is starting to use it as a sort of first pass, and putting all his research into it, and seeing what comes back.

And he says it actually gives you a really good sort of first and first pass, you know what he would probably do his his first draft analysis And now I have another friend who is using it to compose some lyrics. So it it’s. You can do a lot with it. and i’m keen to find out that I I think it’s really important not to sort of turn your back on this technology and pretend it’s not happening, I think, if we can embrace it, then we can save one step of it, and you know, and maybe if if our jobs is using searches ever become threatened by artificial intelligence, we will know enough about it to stay one step ahead of it.

Paul Blunden: That’s an interesting thought. And yeah, completely agree. I think you have to embrace these technologies, don’t you and sort of.

There’s such an opportunity, I think, to use them particularly in what we do, I think, to yeah, help us with synthesis, analysis, and all spend our time more effectively, of course, helping the climb.

And and finally, what’s your biggest learning been since you’ve been a researcher or became a researcher.

Jonathan Culling: I I think I think it’s really really about. So it makes you better designer. I I think research makes you better designer. So in the days before you use. The research was common. You. I came across a lot design, you guys, I I may even have a bit of one myself. You know I told you about what it was like to conduct research on on the interface side to actually, you know, design myself. So

I think that if not like a lot of people. I’m not real. If you don’t get it, then it’s not a good design, right, and I think I like to, but design it sort of like. Maybe it’s the might take all you know to research. and I I I found that you know that those few, if they embrace it. Then they they really they design, really really goes on leaps and bounds just because they they understand that this is here on who i’m designing, for you know the that that’s that’s really what i’m unpaid to do. It’s not to you not to have all these lucky ideas that you know only one person in the audience might like. It’s really you have. You have to. You’re not an artist working a garret, your designer. So people have to understand what you’re communicating.

So I think that’s my that’s my biggest learning.

Paul Blunden: Well, I think that’s a terrific learning and something. Yeah. A lot of people will enjoy hearing, I think, in this interview. Jonathan, thank you so much for giving up your time. It’s been fascinating speaking to you. I’ve known you a long time, and I always find. With these interviews I learned something new. I have have done again. So yeah, really really appreciate you talking to me and sharing sharing all the stories

Jonathan Culling: a pleasure. Cool.

Paul Blunden: Thank you. See you again very soon. I hope so for a beer hopefully.

Paul Blunden: I hope you enjoyed hearing from Jonathan is. Observations on cognitive impairment versus visual impairment was fascinating real lessons to be learned that because it’s a much bigger audience group actually and of course, go heavily under the radar because a lot of people don’t disclose those kind of impairments. So yeah lessons to be learned as always.

Anyway, my name is Paul, Blunden, I’m, founder of UX24/7, and we have global brands improve their products and services by being more customer centric.

Do you want to find out more about what we do. Visit our website. That’s, or find me on linkedin and feel free to message me there, and of course please subscribe to the Channel, and there’ll be another interview coming along soon.

Thanks for watching.