Thursday, 17 July 2014

UX activity in UK Higher Ed web teams

To help me prepare for a presentation I'm giving at this year's IWMW web managers conference I sent out a survey to web teams asking about the user experience (UX) research and design work they do, and how formally it was integrated into their role.

73 people took part, with 57 (78%) making it through to the end.

I first asked about experience of user experience techniques,and whether they had any formal responsibility for such work.

12% had no experience.

58% had tried UX techniques in the past, of which
36% apply some in most projects, with
23% having some kind of UX responsibility in their job description.

But only 3% - 2 respondents - had something about usability or UX in their job title.

A sample of the comments appended to this question:

"Although usability is part of my role, my management aren't interested in it. Historically they have sought to bury the poor results of poor usability testing. They think it makes them look bad and that it will just cause them more work."

"There's nothing in my job description about UX, but I've needed to get involved because (to date) we've had no-one else thinking about this stuff."

"My job description doesn't actually include usability and UX, but in practice that's a large part of what I'm doing."

In question 2, I asked about the techniques they had used.

Unsurprisingly, the majority had tried usability testing, but what came as a surprise to me was that personas and user journey mapping came a tied second. Both can be pretty labour intensive and (at least I've found) can be challenging to keep in the mind of the project team on an ongoing basis. While I've read good articles on why personas fail, I've never seen similar written about usability testing or prototyping which for me was unexpected at 4th.
Bar chart of responses detailing popularity of UX techniques among web managers
User experience techniques used at least once by survey respondents

In question 3, I asked about the nature and naming of the team they were part of.

36% were part of a tech/IT team.
54% were part of a comms and marketing team.

Only 1 respondent said UX or similar was part of their team's name.

38% said their team had responsibility for UX activity, with 25% having a nominated person within the team responsible.

23% supported colleagues undertaking grassroots user research.

It's worth noting that there were a few respondents from the library sector, and from those involved in organisations supporting higher education.

Question 4 asked whether they had used external agencies in the past. The majority (67%) had  had used an external agency at some point in the past for UX work, but only 7% regularly made use. Comments indicated that in some cases, they were referring to design and development agencies that offered UX services, rather than specialist UX consultants.

Pie chart illustrating that the majority of respondents had used agencies at least once in the past.
Has your university used external agencies to undertake UX-related work? 

Trends in commentary (question 5) were:

  • Agencies where expertise of staff didn't live up to the sales pitch, or where one or two staff stood out significantly.
  • Money is tight, but the learning experience of watching professionals was as helpful (if not more so) than the results themselves. Learning gave confidence to do things in house.
  • Short term projects limit ability for agencies to get to know the sector/organisation which limits their usefulness.

In question 6 I was interested in broad descriptions of respondents' roles.

Respondents' roles: 45% corporate website management, 29% managing sub-unit websites, 64% managing web publishing services
How would you describe your role?
Unsurprisingly, with such a crude range of options, about a third went on to describe other things they do. This was a very broad range of responses, from academia to team management to project management to user support.

The final question asked about role and institution. These were the most common terms in respondents' roles:

Word cloud of most common terms in job titles
Word cloud of most common terms in job titles
So all in all, an interesting little insight which I hope colleagues across the sector find interesting too.

I realise this is a pretty light touch run through the data, so if you have any questions leave a comment and I'll try and dig a bit deeper in a subsequent post.


  1. In case it's useful....

    City University London will be recruiting a User Experience Architect and UCL have a Web Content and User Experience Manager. To my knowledge: these roles were not included in your research dataset.


  2. Cheers Rik. No I didn't pick these up, although I was chatting with UCL people. That's a new post, I think?

    I'll get a transcript of my IWMW talk up soon. Posts like these (and my recent role refocusing as UX Manager) are still pretty rare in the sector, and that was the main thrust of my presentation.