The Prompt Byte: Rising stars – Usability 24/7
The Prompt Byte: Rising stars – Usability 24/7
Working in technology hubs on both side of the Atlantic, we’re always keen to know more about the innovators on our doorsteps in Boston and London. Each week in our newsletter – The Prompt Byte – we interview a local startup to learn more about technology and inspiration that can be found at home.
This week, we garnered some great insights from Paul Blunden, creator of Usability 24/7 – a UK-based innovator revolutionizing multi-platform user experience. Get in touch with them on Twitter at @Usability247.
- What does innovation mean to you?
Innovation is all about improvement. In some instances it means being brave enough to challenge the system. In others, it involves painstaking work to bring about incremental gains that result in positive change. It can be the work of one person or a team collaborating. It may not be a lightning bolt moment, but instead something seemingly trivial that still brings about a positive change. In the age in which we live technology is very exciting, but it is not the limit of innovation. In my view process innovation can be just as rewarding.
- Please tell us about Usability24/7’s vision.
Our vision is to change the world one interface at a time (if we have to). We want everything to be usable everywhere, for everyone all of the time. If we achieve this then it will be better for businesses and better for consumers. No one has ever disputed the ROI of user experience (UX) and usability research with me. In fact, most agree that it’s a good thing. And yet not all companies invest in it. I set up Usability24/7 to address this contradiction. In order to achieve our vision we are building an international network of senior, experienced UX researchers accredited to our quality standards. We are making sure that they are familiar with our methodologies, all of which have been designed to be repeatable so that outcomes are not entirely determined by those conducting the research. We’re structuring our services in a pragmatic way so that our customers don’t feel that they are paying for things they don’t need. We have invested in technologies to allow us to conduct research with almost any device in almost any location, and then stream that research to the client wherever they may be. If the client doesn’t want a report then that’s fine; we simply provide a verbal debrief instead. It’s all about being customer-centric and delivering services that are easier to understand and buy, while at the same time ensuring that the value in the deliverable is clear for the client.
- What do you predict or look forward to in 2015 with regards to London’s innovation culture?
It’s a really exciting time for London. We’re attracting talented people and combining that talent pool with investment capital and facilities. Incubators and hubs like the Google Campus are providing an environment where people can get together and develop their ideas. The job market for graduates is tough but I think that may drive innovation too. Young people, who can often be more fearless around innovation, strive for opportunities for work experience, and work harder to get their ideas off the ground. Major technology brands are injecting greater funds into the digital industry and driving individuals and organisations to be more innovative. This enables places like the Flux Innovation Lounge, which is genuinely driving innovation, to exist at all. Ten years ago these levels of financial investment simply weren’t available from big brands, and so the scale of innovation was different and the culture more constrained.
- What trends and challenges have you seen in the London technology scene?
A slightly worrying trend I have seen over the past few years is that in some areas innovation and design seems to have become disconnected with users. UX designers are increasingly expected to act as proxy for understanding the user, but not everyone is Jonathan Ive! This is a major challenge because as mobile adoption has increased our understanding of user behaviour struggles to keep pace. Users, consumers, customers – whatever we want to call them – are using technology in ways that we don’t fully understand. For example, users complete activities across smartphones, tablets, PCs and laptops, often using all devices to complete a single task. Technology is not designed to track that diversity of horizontal behaviour, and is generally more suited to vertical action. This situation is going to become more complicated with the arrival of wearable technology into the main stream (think Michael Gove’s smartwatch), swiftly followed by different interface and display metaphors. All this in addition to putting remote drones in the hands of the public at large! With so much innovation and new technology reaching consumers, ensuring that it supports user behaviour is a major challenge. It can make or break an idea, however good that idea is. Innovators need to find new ways to understand users, get their ideas tested, and not be put off by failure.
If you could meet any single innovator (alive or historical) over a coffee, who would you like to meet? What would you ask them or tell them about?
I’d like to meet Sir Ken Robinson, an innovator in the area of creativity in business and in education. I think he has answered almost every question I have about how we can help people be more creative so I would simply tell him what a profound impact he has had on me and the way I think about myself, run my business, motivate my colleagues and bring up my children.
Please name a piece of technology you’ve bought personally that you really wanted, and why you bought it.
I’d prefer to talk about a number of pieces of usability technology which together fix a big problem in mobile research. It took me months to identify all the elements and work out how to use them together, but what they do is enable us to intelligently research people using mobile phones. The only alternative methods available previously involved attaching a camera to a phone or a person, and then have a researcher lean over the shoulder of the participant. Either that or use a software solution like Reflector which often proved unreliable over wireless networks. The new technology I’ve assembled now allows me to display the screen of a mobile phone on a test laptop which a researcher can see easily. We can then record and even stream the results to clients viewing remotely. It has literally changed the way in which we work, and it’s brilliant.