A day in the life of... VP User Experience at Huge
Published: 19 Sep 2016 By Ben Davis
This week, we're spending a day in the life of a UX professional within an innovative agency.
Josh Payton has been around since the dotcom boom, grew up in Seattle creating websites for punk bands, and is now a champion of company culture and hands-on creativity.
Let's hear what a UX head does with their time...
Please describe your job: What do you do?
I head up the User Experience group at Huge in Europe.
To put that in context, Huge operates (basically) in 3 areas; strategy, product design, and marketing/communications.
My team works very closely with teams across our organization to help define experience strategy; to design user-friendly products and the ecosystems they sit within; and increasingly, to think about how users encounter a brand or a product as they go about their daily lives.
I like to joke with our head of brand planning that his job is to influence perception, while my job is to influence behavior.
Whereabouts do you sit within the organisation? Who do you report to?
Right now—to answer your question very literally— I sit in London, though I’ve also been based out of our Los Angeles and New York offices at different times over the years.
I’m part of the European leadership team and I report into our global CCO, Hans Neubert.
I’ve also been helping out our team in Singapore quite a bit in recent years as we focus more and more on growing our business in APAC.
What kind of skills do you need to be effective in your role?
The old joke around here is that the better you are as a designer the more you get promoted into roles where you don’t get to design anymore.
I’m very aware of that so I make a point of constantly practising the basics; research, design, prototyping, presentation, process, etc. Staying hands-on is incredibly important to being effective.
It’s not enough to “stay close to the work,” you’ve got to keep doing it. In this business, if you don’t keep making shit you turn into an irrelevant hack quick.
I think the major key, however, is the ability to think laterally. I talk a lot about striving to be a polymath because I think that seeing the big picture and knowing how to execute against it is the most crucial skill.
Tell us about a typical working day…
I start by drinking a lot of coffee and reading. No two days are ever the same, but they all start there.
We have clients all over the place, so I travel a lot which means a lot of taxis, airports, train stations, and being in transit. I can sleep just about anywhere almost on command.
Most days are filled with a lot of meetings, but I try to spend more of my time being creative than administrative. That sometimes works out.
Our office spends a lot of time at the pub. That always works out.
The Huge website
What do you love about your job? What sucks?
Variety. I love being challenged with new and different things every day. Variety makes life worth living.
I also really love the Huge culture. The company has grown up organically so I have friends in every office and there's a lot of opportunity and trust built into the organization. That’s a unique and special thing you don't find in many places.
Being a manager sucks. This industry needs leaders, not managers. You need managers at McDonald's.
Any creative person who needs to be actively managed is probably more of a liability than an asset. Management is a necessary requirement of my job, but I don't relish it.
What kind of goals do you have? What are the most useful metrics and KPIs for measuring success?
Every client engagement has different metrics and KPIs depending on what their goals and objectives are. That’s first line stuff; improve conversion, improve engagement, whatever.
Personally my goals are all around growth; personal growth, the growth of the business, and the growth of the teams I oversee.
A couple of years ago, I helped set the curriculum for Huge Schools, a ten week intensive training program that currently runs out of Huge’s Brooklyn office.
Four people on my team in London graduated from the school and now they’re among the best designers in the company—That’s success.
I want to do work that influences the industry. I want to do work that impacts the world. Ultimately I think the most useful metric for measuring success is whether or not you think your life is rewarding. If you don’t like your job, quit.
What are your favourite tools to help you to get the job done?
I’m going to plagiarise Brad Frost on this one:
“Great minds discuss principles. Average minds discuss technologies. Small minds discuss tools.”
Tools are a means to an end. As long as the work’s good, I really don’t care how it got done because no user is going to care either.
That said, I’m a big fan of Gulp, I’m a staunch advocate of Tripit, and I use Evernote and Google Drive religiously.
How did you get started in the digital industry, and where might you go from here?
I grew up in Seattle and as a kid I was obsessed with practical effects and pop art.
As a teenager I was really involved in the punk scene—I ran a message board, built websites for bands, that kind of thing. I went to college for graphic design and illustration and found myself in the late 90s as a designer in Seattle who knew how to code.
I got swept up in the original dotcom boom and have been in the digital industry ever since. I’ll probably go on to build my own product at some point, but who knows? Predicting the future has a way of making you look dumb.
Which brands do you think are doing digital well?
The native ones, obviously; Google, Apple, Uber, etc.
I’m particularly impressed by, and a big fan of Netflix. I’m probably more amused than I should be by the fact that they started out sending DVDs through the mail.
They’re pushing innovation, they’re on the right side of influencing government policy, and they consistently nail user experience. Shouts to Todd Yellin.
In terms of non-native “brands” I’d have to go with the UK Government.
Everyone knows government is a nightmare of slow moving bureaucracy and restrictive red-tape. The fact that Government Digital Service is as good as they are against that backdrop is unbelievable.
Do you have any advice for people who want to work in the digital industry?
When you’re starting out, what you learn is more important than what you earn.
Producing great work is more important than being in charge. It’s a lot easier to bullshit your way up than it is to bullshit your way down.
All charlatans get exposed eventually. Work hard and be nice to people. The world is getting smaller every day.