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What does an experience designer actually do?

In this feature, we take a look inside the working lives of people whose job titles often warrant the question: 'but what do you actually do?' This week, we speak to Greg Skinner, head experience designer at APD.

What do you actually do?

An experience designer, or XD for short, gets involved in business strategies, customer identification, data analytics and prototyping, and even front-end code.

While we have a great breadth of skills – from detailed industry research through to refining online graphics – great XDs are always talking to people, through either a super-structured interview or just a casual coffee and keeping an ear to the ground to fish for the right insights that will inform the next steps in their project.

What does a good working day look like?

My idea of a good day starts with being ruthless with email, taking one of my team to breakfast or coffee to talk to them about where they’re at and what they want to do next, or to frame a client problem with them.

The rest of the morning is a series of meetings covering anything from our strategic direction, to how a customer might use a website. Lunch is often a rushed affair and afternoons are a combination of whatever the day has thrown up.

I also like to keep ahead of what’s happening in the industry so I try and allow time to enjoy dabbling in Adobe and coding for an hour or two. And I hold strongly to the view that a good day is one that ends at 5.30pm so I can spend time with my wife.

What does a bad working day look like?

For me, ‘bad’ is being unable to communicate the nebulous and ever-shifting concept of ‘value’ to a colleague or a client. I believe if you’re unable to communicate the value of the thing you’re doing, then it’s worth having a serious look at whether you’re doing the right thing.

What’s the most difficult part of your job?

I’m lucky to be in a position of leadership in an organisation that’s changing at an increasing rate every day. That can bring challenges, which though they will ultimately provide huge long-term opportunities, can result in having to knuckle down and firefight in the short term. Sometimes it’s difficult to balance tactical and strategic work.

What are your KPIs?

I’m accountable to the team I lead, so a huge KPI is aligning their personal and professional development to what they do when they are at work (which is problem-solve for our clients). It can be tough and sometimes I get it wrong or just have to adapt to one of life’s curve-balls, but ultimately these are learning opportunities and I’m proud to be part of a team that’s growing in its versatility. I actually see this as more than a KPI – it’s more of a trust thing.

What’s your favourite part about your role?

The design team here is exceptionally talented so I find spending even a few minutes with any of them rewarding, even on a day that’s running red hot with pressure. I also love just sitting and thinking about random things.

What’s your most stressful part of your role?

Stress is how we cope with unfamiliar territory – but it’s also how we learn, so I’d rather frame this question as ‘how steep is your learning curve?’. I’ve only recently joined APD so maybe I can get back to you in twelve months about whether that learning curve has turned into stress.

But for now I’m managing many moving parts in our rapidly changing environment and focusing on uniting our team to deliver excellent work for our clients. It’s just what I was hoping it would be.

How does your role keep you on your toes?

There’s never a dull day at the office – in fact opening my calendar at 6am and seeing a blank space is usually a red flag that somehow the day will end up with me dancing on hot coals!

I am also mindful that my leadership role means I need to make decisions with assuredness based on the information I have available and in the trust of my team. I am accountable for those decisions and knowing that the information might not have been perfect.

What makes a good experience designer?

Having an open, enquiring mind and being willing to try something new. That’s really all there is to it.

Greg Skinner is head experience designer at APD.

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