Interview with Cyber-Duck's UX design team

Illustration of Cyber-Duck’s UX designers Meera Rao and Vanessa Strydom.
24 August 2020
Lucy DentonLisa Nguyen

Cyber-Duck is a specialist UX design agency that uses empathy and detailed research to inform their projects. Organizations like the Bank of England and Sport England trust Cyber-Duck to transform complex websites, content, and systems. 

Dovetail's Senior UX Designer, Lucy Denton, sat down to chat with Cyber-Duck's UX designers Meera Rao and Vanessa Strydom.

How did you get into UX Design?

Meera: Before moving to UX design, we were both in vastly different industries. I was in finance and deal pricing. I've always loved problem-solving, and my experience helped me understand how businesses work and what drives them. Vanessa's background was in the retail sector. Moving into UX Design was the perfect step because she loves finding patterns in human behavior and using her skills to improve people's lives.

How does UX design work at Cyber-Duck?

Vanessa: As a team, we have a super broad focus and look at user research, prototyping, interaction design, and information architecture. A great example of how UX design works at Cyber-Duck is the project we did with Sport England, encouraging everyone in the UK – regardless of age, background, or ability – to become and stay active.

It all started with an internal review, uncovering that Sport England's website wasn't successfully communicating their mission. The site was trying to be all things to all users, so Sport England engaged us to consolidate their digital presence. First off, we immersed ourselves in the brand. We conducted a set of stakeholder interviews and workshops; and validated the audience understanding through user research, analysis, and persona creation. Together with Sport England, we decided the primary audience was B2B (with B2C strategies also assessing the brand, like 'This Girl Can').

Creating a content strategy was a critical move because providing information to their audience is an integral part of their purpose. We conducted a content and information architecture audit, enabling us to consolidate multiple sites and reduce the technical and content debt they'd amassed. We used methods like tree-testing to validate our changes. Once the content and service design strategy was signed off, we took an agile approach and iterated from low-fidelity sketches to UI designs and prototypes. We handed the project over to our development team and kept in touch as the site was built.

Since the website launch, it has gained a 613% increase in traffic, with a 1000% increase in mobile traffic. Our research even helped Sport England respond rapidly to the coronavirus pandemic with its new #StayInWorkOut. You can read all about Cyber-Duck's user-centered design process

What design challenges are you currently facing?

Meera: Our design team is growing, we're bringing in lots of fresh thinking and ideas that deliver real value. Like everyone else, we've made changes to the way we work. We've been looking at how we remotely run our design processes without compromising the quality of the work. 

What's changing about design?

Meera: A lot of our recent client work has been on large-scale government work, which has brought a greater focus on how we consider accessibility and inclusive design in our processes - from user research to coding.

In our recent project with the Cabinet Office, their Fast Stream and Early Talent program identify leadership potential in the Civil Service candidates. While initially asked to craft a paperless system for their assessment center, the project ended up including a lot more. Informed by user-centered research, we designed an experience that reassured nervous candidates and helped the Cabinet Office to increase their applicants' diversity markedly.

What tools could you not live without in your design process?

Meera and Vanessa: We couldn't live without a pen and paper, Zoom, Sketch, and Keynote. We've recently started using Dovetail and think it's super useful when analyzing our user interviews.

What are the best and worst parts of design?

Meera: I've had incredible opportunities to grow and learn at Cyber-Duck with each client project bringing its diverse challenges. My supportive team and the independence to think creatively has helped me focus on the genuine value that our work brings to end-users and clients. One of the most constant challenges is working within fast turnarounds while staying user-focused and delivering real value.

Vanessa: I love that I can experiment and try out new ideas every day. The design process encourages exploration of ideas and test them out. Having a supportive team helps too. In terms of the biggest challenge, the pace of change in technologies and thinking is rapid. Keeping up with trends and improvements is challenging, but this is also what makes it incredibly exciting.

What advice would you give to someone starting in the UX industry?

Meera: Approach it like you would a design project. Do your research, speak to people in the industry, and connect with the folks that design, research, and actually build products. Try to move your focus from the design leaders and the influencers.

Get exposure to as many parts of the design spectrum as possible in your initial roles. Jump on opportunities to understand how other related disciplines work like visual design, technology, and project management. Much of the work we do in UX is articulating our ideas and working through challenges with other teams.

Vanessa: My most significant advice is that it's okay to fail; this is all part of the process. Try out as many ideas as possible, find out which ones work, and which ones don't-its all part of the learning process.

Do you have a favorite book, blog, or other resources that have helped you grow in your craft?

Meera: I always look to A Book Apart for excellent and practical titles. While Invisible Women by Caroline Criado Perez is not specifically a design book, it's a riveting read on the data bias built into the world around us.

Vanessa: A design favorite is Don't Make Me Think by Steve Krug. I would recommend it to any designer, especially those starting in the industry. 20 Minutes into the Future is a newsletter written by Daniel Harvey about how technology shapes our future and how we can use it to improve the world.

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