Interviews

Pixel Pioneers: Interviewing speaker Jane Austin of Babylon Health

  • Jane Austin: Without design and research, you might as well set fire to some money!

    Sync NI’s Alan Meban spoke to Jane Austin, Babylon Health’s director of product design, ahead of November’s Pixel Pioneers’ Belfast conference on Friday 23 November.

    Starting out with a Masters in Philosophy, Jane taught English as a Foreign Language abroad before settling in London and teaching English to refugees at Westminster College. A new IT suite came with CD-ROMs that she found to be “awful”, “unusable”, and negatively affecting the refugees’ already low confidence. But after taking a course in Macromedia Director, Jane rewrote the material and through this process discovered the emerging field of usability.

    Jane’s no stranger to Belfast, having participated most recently in a health hack day at the Oh Yeah Music Centre. Her afternoon talk at Pixel Pioneers is titled “10 Easy Ways to Irritate Your Design Team”.

    “It’s slightly tongue-in-cheek but it’s 10 different ways that I’ve been massively pissed off by different people in different situations. What I’m actually saying is ‘don’t do these things!’”.

    As well as working at Moo, an online supplier of beautifully designed, user-customisable business cards, she went on to work at the Government Digital Service. Founded in 2011, GDS has made a huge difference in the quality of experience when interacting with the UK Government online.

    “I wasn’t there that long but it was incredible to have people working on the right thing, quickly and single-mindedly using really good principles to be really effective. We had a rule that you had to conduct user research every two weeks, and lots of the techniques that I learned there I still use.

    “It was Agile -- as well as research- and customer-centred -- done absolutely properly in a way I had never previously experienced anywhere else to that level of quality. It was game-changing.”

    Can a small startup today get away without having somebody with a focus on usability and visual design?

    “If you don’t have that then you’re insane: It’s the most important thing. Why are you even building something if you don’t know if people are going to use it or how they’re going to use it? You’re just throwing away money!”

    She adds that there’s no reason why someone can’t double up and do UX, visual design, and research.

    Should everyone grow a bit of design nous inside them because it’s so important?

    “I always say that research is a team sport. Everybody should be watching customers use their product and thinking about how to make it better and continuing to iterate. What people do wrong is they just build something without knowing if anyone wants to use or can use it, and just stick it out in the wild and forget about it. You might as well set fire to some money.”

    Early on in her design career, Jane found financial success to be elusive and learned the importance of being commercial when she had her own business working with clients as varied as Conran, the Design Museum, D&AD (Design & Art Direction) and Channel 4.

    “You’ve got to understand the business you’re in, how it can make money: You’ve got to be a business person as well as a designer because you’re designing something that has a purpose.

    “What metrics do you need to collect? How will what you are working on get marketed? What are the levers of the business? You need to understand finance, like average order value or customers. Even though I didn’t make any money when I had my own business, I learned that design doesn’t exist in a vacuum and you need to be a business person as much as a designer.”

    She encourages people to attend Pixel Pioneers and realise that they are not alone.

    “The problems we face are quite common and at the event we can talk about them and offer practical solutions. Pixel Pioneers has lots of great speakers and it’s good to spend time with others who are in the same industry as you, networking and learning from other people.”

    Today Jane is working as director for product design at Babylon Health.

    “It’s an AI health startup that wants to change the world for the better. Our mission is to put an affordable and accessible health service in the hands of every person on earth.

    “It covers everything you could imagine, from changing how you go to the doctor to helping primary health care in Rwanda. We want to help people stay well, so we have lots of monitoring kits and coaching, helping people manage chronic diseases such as diabetes.”

    Babylon Health is recruiting and Jane says that she’d love to be working alongside Belfast people who have product, content and voice design skills as well as research and analysis.

    Tickets are still available for Pixel Pioneers (including discounts for students), which will be held in Belfast Waterfront conference centre on Friday 23 November.


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