I wouldn’t say that I’m driven by money, but I know that it’s a factor. A necessary evil. Something we must have in order to live a comfortable life.

So when I was offered a role that was paying me $30k more than what I was currently earning, I couldn’t say no.

How could I? I challenge all of you to take a long hard look at yourselves, and weigh it up. Especially because of the story I’m about to tell you.

As any employment opportunity starts, a recruiter called me. He told me he had the best match for me, it suited all of my skills.

Me: “Sweet, which skills?”

Recruiter: “Uh… all of them? The UX-y stuff, and the code and stuff.”

Me: “Hmm… what company?”

Recruiter: “Oh this awesome start up – Smishschmet.com.”

First Uh-oh

Now, there are a couple of things wrong with that conversation (no I’m not talking about the domain name) – mostly the “all your skills” and the “ux-y stuff”. In hindsight – make sure your recruiter knows what he is talking about. I mean this. I think, when it came down to it, he was just looking at his next bonus.

It’s unusual to find a recruiter who actually knows what UX is.

I went for the interview.

I knew straight away that guy was an asshole. I just KNEW he was. Maybe it’s because I studied psychology for 6 years, but there was something in his tone and in his eyes that I was unsure of.

In the interview we discussed the industry. Smishschmet Industry is one I have been working in for a while, so I knew a lot about the systems, how to market, what works for customers, what doesn’t, how to be appealing. You name it! I knew it. It’s also my favourite industry. But, a lot of what I discussed is not necessarily something I have hands on experience with. I can be on the sidelines over-looking it, but never one to get my hands dirty in everything.

I mean, I get them as dirty as possible, but there’s only so many hours in the day.

Second Uh-oh

The interview went for over an hour. A long time.

You know what we didn’t talk about?

My role.

Yep – got so carried away with industry talks that we never talked about what I expected from the role, and what he expected from me in the role. Nope, didn’t discuss it once.

Typical me though – he did get along with me. (Not that I’m bragging, but ask anyone, I’m easy to get along with).

I got a call within a day or so, telling me that he wanted me. And was willing to pay above and beyond to get me.

Everyone wants to feel wanted, right? It’s kind of a nice feeling. Plus, he wasn’t the only one, another company had been trying to get me too. But I had decided that I wanted to stay in my Smishschmet Industry, right? It was a cool industry.

Back and forth with negotiations, and I accepted the role. I handed my notice in to my amazing boss for the last couple of years, a massive send off after my 4 week notice period, I started in my new company.

As start-up companies go (and I’ve worked for a few at this stage) it was decently set up. The latest iMac, with a thunderbolt screen. Any software I wanted, free Red Bull, free tea and coffee, nerf guns hanging around the place. It was pretty cool.

Third Uh-oh

Red warning flags started waving manically when, on my first day, he asked me if I had ever done a marketing plan before.

I remember turning to him and saying very slowly:

Me: “No, I have never done a marketing plan. I’m a UX/Designer. Marketing plans don’t come into it for me.”

Him: “Ok, just thought I’d ask.”

I should have known then that he didn’t have a f%^&ing clue about what I did. In fact, I probably did know then, but the dollar signs were flashing, and I made excuses.

I would say that the first 3 weeks went by without a hitch for me, personally. He loved the new look and feel I was bringing to the site. (Removing massive drop shadows, gradients and big bold text – replacing it with flat colours, softer fonts and barely noticeable drop shadows). But I did have a couple of issues.

The IT team consisted of me, and 2 other guys. The other 2 guys were lovely, but both had known one another for 10 years, and both were originally from a country in Europe. English wasn’t their first language, and they continued to speak in their native tongues around me.

Imagine the following:

Person 1: “skdjfhlskfd sdlkhflskjfh lskhflkshfd Eily lahfdlakhsdf lhaflakhfs”

Person 2: “iweuynsafd kiwyrenabf msfdjlre kejyfdmn Eily haha”

Me: “What are you guys talking about?”

Them: “Nothing.”

Sweet. I feel awesome.

The other issue I had within those first three weeks was the bosses obvious hatred for one of the women in the call center. Now, I’m going to ask you to keep an open mind here, because I hate gender bias. But let me specify, she was the only woman in the call center during those first three weeks I was there.

I would like to also highlight I was the only other woman who worked full time in that office.

Aaaaanyway. He had a meeting with the call center. The office was open, no meeting rooms, no walls, so we could see/hear everything anyone was doing.

When I say he screamed at her, I mean he screamed at her.

Then, he fired her.

It was awful.

If you have ever read my previous posts, you’ll know that I have been badly abused in work before. And actually, I left a post out which discusses another time when I was severely emotionally abused in another work place, which I will also write one day.

So, this approach to management and whatnot, absolutely terrified me because of my previous experiences. When she was gone, he needed to find someone else to set his sights on. I was the easy target.

I remember clearly the day the shift changed towards me – he walked in late one day, and the first thing he barked at me when I greeted him was:

Him: “Have you done feature X on the Smishschmet site yet?”

Me: “I’m waiting on Person 1 to finish connecting the calls to the database, and then it’s ready to go.”

Him: “What about features Y, Z, A and B?”

Me: “All done, I emailed you a AWS testing link last week on for you to test and tell me if you want layout changes.”

Him: “Ok. Well I’ll need you to mock up an eDM, and marketing material for it, including a massive billboard for the train station.”

Me: “Ok, just let me know what we’re promoting and I’ll do it.”

I did anything that was design, marketing related, UI, UX, CSS, HTML, new features on the website, PHP frameworks, I learned GIT, everything… And looking back now, I can see there is no way I could have kept it up. It was just too much work for anyone to do. I had started on a high, and it was about to begin to crumble down.

Fourth Uh-oh

Him: “I don’t like any of this. At all. I need you to re-do the whole thing.”

Me: “Ok.” Thinking: But I’m following the same template we have been using the whole time? Why doesn’t he like it now? I haven’t done anything different.

So I went back and changed it, showed him again.

Him: “No, I still don’t like it, change X, Y and Z”

Wash, rinse and repeat.

Him: “Send me the PSD, I’ll do it.”

Sends it back. Looks suspiciously like an eDM used to look before I started.

Me: “Ok.”

He wanted the control back. Now, as I said earlier, he put his sights on me. He searched for faults in me, in my work, in anything I was doing.

So after the above scenario where I stayed in work until 7pm at night trying to get that f%^&ing email done, I arrived in work the next day, feeling that low-gut stress from a mixture of a bad night sleep and dread.

I was right to have that feeling. When I arrived, he was sitting at his desk with Person 1, and asked me to sit with him. I knew what was coming.

The first question he asked me was: “What did you do at ScmoschSmiff?” (My previous employment) I knew it was about to get confronting.


He began to point out “inconsistencies” in my work. His inconsistencies were the following:

“That font looks bigger.” (It wasn’t, it was just that it had a heavier shadow behind it so the white text could stand out against the background)

“All the buttons on each marketing placement are different.” (He told me to change those buttons to colours that I would pick out from the image they sat on.

“I feel you haven’t achieved enough – all of the features you have done – X Y Z – haven’t gone live yet.” (A and B had 😉

— Ok this one I have to explain. As I said earlier, there were 3 of us in that IT team. Me, Person 1 (main dev guy) and Person 2 (sub dev guy). Person 2 had been working on two features the entire time I had been working there. That was it. While I had been slaving away at sending 13 emails in 5 weeks, 5 new features to the site, 1 competition, plus billboards, plus re-marketing content, plus tracking on Google Analytics. Yet, 3 of my 5 features were sitting in test because Person 2 hadn’t helped me (and yes, I had asked, MANY times). I just want to put that in context for you.

He was not aggressive towards me in any way. In fact, he was quite neutral, questioning, wanting to find one what he was missing that I could do, that he could encourage (because clearly I wasn’t a graphic designer. I had stated that numerous times).

So we gave it a week.

That night I actually called the recruiter who sent me there. I gave him a huge earful, massive.

I remember saying: “This was just a commission paycheck for you, but for me, this was my job, and this guy needed a Senior Graphic Designer”

And I also asked him: “Tell me what you think UX is.”

He couldn’t answer me. I just hung up.

I knew the week had gone ok but not great so the next Friday, he was sitting in the same place. This time, he was alone. The night before, I told myself what I was going to do if he was going to question me again.

Him: “You know Eily, I can normally tell what motivates and inspires me. I can’t work that out with you.”

Me: “Ok, let’s talk about what you’re expecting from me.”

We discussed it, and we worked out he needed a brand designer, a senior level graphic designer who could take the design of the site to better places. I asked him what he thought UX was.

“UX is whether or not I’m going to click that button.” He said, with a satisfied grin. “It’s all about the colours, and the fonts, and whether or not I feel like I’m going to click that button.”

“It’s not.” So I told him my house analogy. Basically, developers build the structure, designers make it look incredible, and UX is a mixture of the finer details (putting the handle in the right position on the door) and then observing how people use it.

Him: “I hired you too soon. I need someone like you in a year or so time.”

Me: “Yes you do.”

So we agreed to go our separate ways.

Now, for those of you who think I may have been sensitive, let me drill the numbers down for you.

14 people in the company.

2 people fired on the spot

2 people stormed out.

Me – walked away relatively unscathed.

I have since been contacted by a number of people who left since I did, who have told me of their horror stories. I learned so many lessons over that 7 weeks, and being attracted by the dollar signs was absolutely the main mistake I made.

My Three Lessons: 

1. Quiz your recruiter – make them earn their commission

2. Ask everything you possibly can in an interview. You’re interviewing them just as much as they are interviewing you

3. Leave every work place on a good note – if you can

And a sneaky number 4. Culture, culture, culture – it’s worth more than money.


User Generated Content

August 20, 2009

People have opinions.

People have experiences.

Experiences may lead to an expression of an opinion. Depending on the experience, this opinion can be negative or positive.

Take, for example, my own personal experience of TalkTalk. When I moved my life over to the UK, I immediately began hunting for the best broadband and international call package deal with the phone providers. TalkTalk was the cheapest. Hands down – BT was incredibly expensive, and other providers had shoddy deals, so it was TalkTalk who prevailed.

Friends around me were of the opinion that TalkTalk should be avoided at all costs because of X, Y and Z.

I ignored them, I wanted to form my own opinion. Besides, money was tight, and TalkTalk were giving us a Go-Live date of three weeks time. 4 weeks, still no broadband. 8 weeks no broadband, but phone line had been set up. TalkTalk telephone customer service (outsourced to India) were so difficult to understand, and difficult to give any clear, solid answer. They skipped around the topic without confirming anything. Boy, was I regretting the choice to move to TalkTalk.

Then I discovered http://www.talktalkmembers.com/

A no-hold-back customer frequented Help forum, with official TalkTalk staff moderating and dealing with the queries. 150% more effective then actually talking to someone on the phone. Replies would generally be within an hour, you would receive clear feedback and understanding, and apologies, and the offer of compensation (as long as it was TalkTalk’s fault). Each initial first post would usually start with:

“TalkTalk customer service is appalling I have been let down repeatedly, I am never extending my contract and I will pay the cancellation fee to move to BT”

And the final post would usually be along the lines of:

“Oh thank you SO much, you provide an amazing service, so efficient thank you.”

I found out within 24 hours why my broadband would be delayed by another 3-4 weeks, that I would be offered compensation, and they were very sorry.


It’s a relatively dangerous thing which TalkTalk are doing. The forums are open to public, so the faults in their services are wide open for any potentially new TalkTalk customer to see, and run away from. But TalkTalk have so much faith in their staff, that they know each issue will be resolved to a satisfactory level, and although their dirty laundry is aired for the world to see, it gets clean pretty damn quickly.

I would say 90% of people come away from the forums far happier then when they arrived.

user generated content

Other companies aren’t so sure of the idea.

I’m currently working with Company X (a rather large world-wide corporation) on the idea of user generated content, and whether the potential installation of a forum would be a beneficial idea or not. Then, there’s the topic of moderation of the forums. By “moderated” they mean: 24 hours a day moderation – with a huge amount of censorship. If any contributor even breathes something negative about Company X then it will be deleted. Freedom of speech is not allowed, and propaganda is rife.

Being the “social media expert” I informed them that this would be social media suicide. Not allowing forum members to voice their opinion would anger us mere mortals, and it would rapidly spread across the internet that “Company X” is not allowing members to post freely and openly on a public forum. Instead of being afraid of what users would post about them, they should embrace this chance to swiftly and easily connect with their users, allowing them to tackle and solve issues head-on.

This, by itself, would spread the word quickly across the internet how efficient “Company X” are in their customer relationship management.

Currently “Company X” hire two individuals to sit at computers all day, trawling through the internet for any mention of “Company X”. If this mention is in anyway negative, these people find a way to respond, or remove the offending comment. Really, they are that scared of their users.

To cut a very, very, long story short. “Company X” opted out of the forum, and any ability to add comments to blog posts, content that would be user generated was strictly prohibited from any part of any of “Company X”‘s multiple websites. It wasn’t worthwhile, they said, to spend time and energy to follow up with any of their millions of customers who may post comments or posts on their websites.

If they could censor free speech and opinions they would.

All I have to do is turn to any one of my friends and ask their opinion of “Company X” and whether their experience would lead them to recommend their services to me (I can sure that they have had some kind of experience with them). I don’t need to go on a website to find that out.

User generated content on a corporation’s website is not something to afraid of, but only include it if you can afford the time and man-power to moderate and respond. Do Not Censor.

People have an opinion as a result of an experience. Take this chance to change that negative opinion by giving them a positive experience.

(Part one is here)

I don’t hate interviews.

Infact, I really enjoy them. Not because – as a friend boasted recently – I get every single one I go for, but because I enjoy finding out how a company works, what the people are like, etc etc. I always consider them an opportunity, and it’s as much up to me whether I feel I would enjoy the role, as much as they think they would like me.

I once had a 4 hour interview for a usability role in a very famous online poker company, it followed two 1 hour-long telephone interviews. I was introduced to everyone, they fed me (crocodile was on the menu; I didn’t have it), I did some tests (same one twice as I was given the wrong instructions the first time), I was asked the same questions twice (the woman who interviewed me didn’t take a single note on paper), and given the guided tour of a very “Google-esque” office.

It was incredibly draining and intimidating, and I couldn’t wait to be out of there. I was glad when I found out they had hired someone who had more experience than me. It was the only role I had gone for where they didn’t say that they thought “I would be bored.” Had I gone for the interview now, I would be upset that they hadn’t hired me, but at the time, it was too much for me.

So I learnt a lot from that experience, particularly when the recruiter never called me back to inform me I hadn’t got the position, and I had to call the woman who interviewed me directly.

I could write an entire blog on recruiters, I could also write a 3 part blog on that particular interview… maybe another time.

When I secured myself an interview in the 70-mile-away alley, I was excited. I knew things were coming to an end at my current position so I didn’t feel bad. We discussed Facebook, we discussed Twitter, we discussed my thesis about gender-bending. Luckily enough, I had done my research on who would be interviewing me, so I was able to ask educated questions about one of the interviewers research into affective-computing. We also brushed onto user experience topics, like user journeys, use cases, wireframes, sitemaps, card-sorting etc.

I knew about it all, but I had never really done a lot of it.

My current job had never bothered with any user experience, and only designed designs from 9 years ago, thinking they would still be in fashion today. This new company based in Poole, were ahead of the curve even, dealing with brand-new design concepts, and constantly striving to be on top of the latest techniques in design, marketing and usability. They were a London agency, only in Poole, Dorset, and beside the sea.

At the end of the interview, I was shown around the building, and then sent on my way. Things were promising when the recruiter reported back to me. I remember walking along the harbour after my first interview, and being able to see the Isle of Wight in the distance, I just knew I had to be here.

They offered me the job, and the 4 hour daily commute didn’t even deter my positive response.

I literally high-tailed it from my previous job, never had I been so glad that I was moving on. No more abuse. I would work somewhere where I would be respected. My work would actually get to be discussed without being repeatedly slapped down at the first hurdle.

I didn’t exactly slip right into the job, I certainly didn’t take to it like a fish to water, it took a few weeks for me to find my feet and understand the way in which things are done. It was scary and intimidating for my first few tasks. Due to how I had been treated in my last job, I was terrified of getting something wrong, and was extremely defensive whenever anyone questioned me. It took me 3 months to get out of that habit. It still happens every now and again.   I’m dealing with some amazing clients, and some incredibly talented people around me, as well as trying to keep my head above water.

The 4 hour commute wasn’t easy, it was a real killer. I didn’t get home till 10pm some nights, and I would be up at 6am the next day to go back into work. I felt like a zombie some days, and it was very difficult some days to complete work which was presentable. This was the career I wanted, so I was going to stick at it. My skills are random – which is what previous employers have struggled with. My new job also struggled a little too, they wanted to know where I fit into the company, and they are pushing me towards Information Architecture. Seems to be something which I can work at.

I have learnt that usability is definitely not the same when you’re out in the Real World.

It’s far more difficult, with a huge amount of random considerations that need to be accounted for. Clients have different needs, as well as different budgets, and that all needs to be taken into account when deciding whether or not to include a “use case” and how many “personas” need to be composed in order to fully represent the audience.

I’m not sure whether this is what I expected it to be, but I do know I am actually enjoying my role. My first job role to really enjoy, it’s challenging but doable, and I’m responsible for my own work as well as having other people to refer to. It also helps that my 4 hour daily commute has finished, and I’m now living 5 minutes away from work, so I actually have a life now.

So, what is a User Experience Designer?

In my case, a User Experience Designer designs the most optimal experience for users when navigating through a website.

What do I do?

I create (not necessarily in this order) personas, user journeys, concept maps (we call ontology diagrams), sitemaps, use cases, wireframes, interaction-pattern documents, and potentially a whole lot more. I am also involved in usability testing.


I enjoy it because I’m easily bored, and so quickly distracted. There’s something new all the time, something challenging too. When I look back on my previous job in particular, it makes me embarrassed that a company like that still exists in this day and age, and that I worked for them! If I felt I wouldn’t be sued, I would post the name of the company up on this website, but to be careful I’ll keep quiet for now.

I’m still young-ish and I’ll experience miles more in my job-filled lifetime, and I’ll blog about those too.

I’m still working out my own life experience, and I have much more to do 🙂