For this month’s ‘Meet the Team’, we have interviewed our Senior Digital Consultant, and NN/g UX Certified Interaction Design Specialist, James Delaney. James has worked for Sitekit (now Condatis) for over 14 years in various client-facing roles. He works remotely from his home office in Yorkshire yet visits the Edinburgh office every fortnight to catch up with colleagues.
Thank you for joining us James. Could you tell us a little bit more about what a typical day at Condatis looks like for you?
Usually, my day starts with my wife and I getting our two kids ready for school. After I’ve walked them there, walked back and grabbed an espresso I’m ready to rock and roll. I’m particularly lucky to be able to work remotely most of the time. When I’m not in the office the worst traffic on my commute is usually waiting briefly to avoid passing someone on the stairs!
During the morning at Condatis, our project teams run their daily stand-ups. We use Microsoft Teams for everything, and it makes taking part in meetings easy even away from the office. After the stand-ups the bulk of my day involves supporting people across the company from finding solutions for our development teams, facilitating design workshops to exploring personas and business propositions with our commercial teams.
After a break for lunch, the latter part of my day is my chance to focus on individual pieces of work. Often you will find me exploring user journeys, sketching wireframes or creating prototypes. I’ll sometimes collect the kids from school and then I’m back to work following up with colleagues before wrapping up for the day in the early evening.
Could you tell us a little bit more about what you feel has changed since you joined?
When I first joined, I spent much of my time training non-technical staff to populate and manage web content in support of local communications teams. Within a short period, this developed to information architecture and usability consultancy. Back then security for those internet-facing services was often an afterthought for companies and digital identity was no more than someone having a username and a password to access information siloed on an external website.
Now? Digital identity is finally here but we’re still only at the beginning of the journey. Internet security is a priority and we’re seeing companies exposing and sharing more and more information with their customers and directly from internal systems rather than from manually updated external websites.
What type of projects do you usually work on and what technology do you use?
Most of my time is spent either on the phone listening and talking or collaborating with colleagues using Microsoft Teams or Outlook. As a generalist, I find I’m able to add value to all sorts of projects from digital identity implementation projects to event planning. I’m particularly proud of my work on the EAS-r project for the Department for Work and Pensions. We received fantastic feedback from users of all abilities praising the simplicity of the migration, sign-up, and sign-in user journeys as well as the new IAM tasks that can be carried out by non-technical admin teams at job centres, and wherever registrars are based.
I’m brazenly a Mac fanboy. I’ve been using them since the mid-90s and even now the interface is still almost identical to the one on those tiny black-and-white Macintosh SE/30 screens. Nowadays I use a 16” MacBook Pro with about a billion colours to hand but I’m never happier than when I’m working in black-and-white! As a NN/g UX Certified Interaction Design Specialist I find if I’m not working with pen and paper, I spend most of my design time in figma or Sketch.
How is your specialisation utilised in Identity and Access Management?
As strange as this sounds, particularly in digital identity, maybe asking questions that others in other organisations may not wish to ask. I’m far more interested in the underlying problem than the solution. I find time and effort spent understanding and unpicking the reasons behind a decision to implement a digital identity solution is never time wasted. Paired with user research my questioning, no matter how uncomfortable, typically lead to unexpected, interesting and innovative solutions that meet the needs of a business and provide real security and usefulness through minimal user experiences that hopefully, you don’t even realise are there.
How far has UX come over the years? How do you see yourself applying this to your future projects?
User experience is a much-misunderstood discipline. Something possibly that it has brought upon itself in trying to tell users’ stories in ever more visual fidelity. As a result, typically in the industry, we find people think interfaces and visual designs when someone mentions UX. UX is a much older discipline than people realise that can trace its roots specifically to the B17 Flying Fortress in 1935. During the second world war thousands of incidents in the planes were blamed on pilot error. Eventually Paul Fitts, with a PhD in experimental psychology, identified the real underlying cause: Confusion. He went and asked pilots about their experiences and so User Experience emerged. Ultimately the design of the plane’s controls and interfaces were the problem. The design had overtaken functionality.
I’m sure it looked lovely inside however, the controls for key functions like landing gear and flap control all looked and felt the same. When pilots reached for one, often while under pressure, they would inadvertently reach for the wrong one and rather than lower the landing gear the plane would nosedive into the ground. Sitting in the cockpit, analysing each and every control, taking the time to listen to pilots’ actual experiences led Fitts to create distinctively shaped knobs and levers making it easy to distinguish one control from another, even in the dark. This simple solution is as relevant now as cars move to replace knobs and switches with touchscreens that risk leading to car accidents by distracted drivers as it was then with pilots distracted by the pressures of combat. Over time Fitts studied the human motor system and in 1954 showed that the time required to move to a target depends on the distance to it yet relates inversely to its size. This became known as Fitts’ Law, which is one of the first laws of UX and can be seen used everywhere in computer interfaces and in the world around us.
I hope to see more recognition of the evidence-based science of UX and separation of it from the visual design. It can hold its own alongside the more well-known disciplines of technical architecture, business analysis, and development but it’s sometimes a big leap to admit you’re not the user and that we really need to go find them and find out what they really need.
How do you think Digital Identity will evolve in the future?
Aha! This is an easy one. Likely a technical mountain but the future? From the point of view of us all as humans, I see us all having our own comprehensive digital identities. We may have more than one but they will be ours, under our control and be much more than what people think of now as a series of usernames and passwords. We will treat our digital identities in the same way as many of us use password managers now. Choosing when and how we share elements of our identity with third parties but always retaining some level of control. It may be that companies need to expose more and more of their internal systems to keep up with this control, for example, I might order something online, and share my personal information as well as payment information to do it but does any individual at the retailer really need to see that information?
They may not see my credit card, but the payment still goes through. Why should my personal details be shared in clear text around an organisation from their online store, through to their CRM, through to the order picking team and on to dispatch? Do they need to see my information, or can they receive pointers and identifiers that tell them they are doing their bit correctly? Maybe they can then share their pointer with the delivery company so that ultimately no one in the chain knows anything about me but the person delivering it in the last mile. There’s no plain text correlation between my browsing history, my order, the processing of that order, the dispatch of that order or the delivery order. Each person in the chain knows only their influence in the chain and each step is trusted through some open, external and transparent means of verification.
My view assumes we’re all bad players and we’re all good players. It maybe needs some refinement for the real world, but I always like to work holistically and start with the biggest picture!