Claire Durrant, user experience designer

 22 October 2014

Claire's entry into user experience design was borne out of a passion for making products and services better for people to use. She explains how she got there without having to go to university and offers advice for becoming a user experience designer.

"My route into design was not traditional. I carved my way in once I was already in an organisation."

Where are you from?

I'm from Weybridge, but I work in Central London. I’ve found that it’s unusual to find much work outside of the big cities.

What job do you do?

I'm a user experience designer, which is often known as a UX designer. I also practice service design, but this is a relatively new field that most companies don’t recruit for so I try and incorporate it into my UX work. 

I do this for digital services, and I'm currently working for an agency called Keytree on projects for companies including BP, Transport for London and Luxottica. 

How did you get started in design?

I didn’t go to university because I didn’t know what I wanted to study, so I figured it wasn’t worth the expense. As I needed a job, I went to work for Bupa in a call centre in their retention department. I was shortly promoted to their training team.

While in the job I heard a lot of customers complain that they didn’t understand how their insurance worked, so I suggested to management that we design a members’ app. Based on my knowledge of my own iPhone, I put some designs together in PowerPoint and pitched them to the technology teams.

At first no one was able to take it forward – Bupa had never made an app before. But I did my research and created a business case, and Bupa decided to go ahead with the app.

My passion for improving customer experience through design shone through.

I was invited to be a subject matter expert in a seconded position. My colleague in this area was a UX designer called Matt Watkinson and I ended up helping him with the app wireframes. Initially I wrote copy for the Bupa apps, but then the tasks became more about edits, flows and reworks. By making small changes and playing around with software like Omnigraffle and Axure, I got a feel for wireframing.

I also had to work on sharepoint sites, which wasn’t great but it gave me training and experience and was a good learning curve.

Fortunately for me, Matt felt that I had some design ability. When he left, he called on me to work with him as a junior designer – he was on a contract doing concept work for Vodafone, and it was just the two of us working on the designs. He absolutely mentored me in becoming a UX designer myself. 

Eventually, Matt had leave in order to write his book (which I’d absolutely recommend), so I took over the design work in his stead.

What qualifications do you have?

As I didn’t go to university, I don’t have any higher education qualification in design. I was lucky as my passion for improving customer experience through design shone through while I was at Bupa – even if at first this was through my own initiative. 

I’ve also done a number of online courses for my personal benefit and career progression, including Human Interaction Design with Stanford University through Coursera, and a few design and programming courses through

What do you do at work?

I know for a fact that I am helping to make people’s day-to-day lives that little bit easier.

My main task involves thinking about the way a service is experienced by people, and designing services with this in mind. I think about how they will interact with an app, a website, or a piece of software, in order to make sure it is intuitively usable when finished.

Day-to-day, my role often involves putting together wireframes, getting involved in testing and analysis and sometimes helping out with the visual design. I also like to create interactive prototypes with my designs; they really help to get across how something will work. 

What's the best thing about your job?

I know for a fact that I am helping to make people’s day-to-day lives that little bit easier. This is something I feel strongly about and is by far the best thing about my job.

And the worst thing about the job?

I would say the most difficult thing is when you've worked hard and come up with something which is beautiful and easy-to-use, but it can’t go ahead because of problems such as time and money.

You then need to compromise to fit these constraints. With the best intentions, not every client is made of money!

How do you get into design?

My route into design was not traditional. I carved my way into design once I was already in an organisation.

My advice would be: 

1. Read around your design area as much as possible

I read loads of books on service design and user experience design, plus other related subjects. Reading shouldn't stop just because you've got your foot in the door.

2. Care about the user experience

For UX design, you need to really care about making products and services a better experience for people. If you don’t, then you’re in the wrong area.

3. Be open to people and opportunities

Design is a friendly industry, and thrives on people helping each other out. Make the most of your contacts, as they may be key to developing your career.

4. Don’t be afraid to start small and work your way up

I certainly had to start small as someone who didn't have a degree. This may involve taking jobs that aren’t exactly in the right area and working towards the area you want in your next role.

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