Kai En Ong is the head of User Experience and Design at BBC and has worked as a designer with the organisation on and off or 10 years. I had the chance to speak with her at the UXDX conference in October this year.

Have a you seen a shift in how interaction design is perceived within the BBC since you started there?

The pleasure of sitting back and watching an amazing documentary or drama and the immersion of that is still huge for the BBC. That is what people like to do – get home, relax and watch something. Trend forecasters may tell you something different but I don’t think that’s going away but the way that that’s delivered is obviously changing. Delivery and distributions mechanisms have changed.

In the BBC we have a lot of people that do different, creative things and that’s what so interesting – radio, TV and online are all made a certain way. When online started out it was considered to be more a cottage industry or a sideline to broadcast. Tony Hall, the Director General, announced the creation of the Design and Engineering department merging digital and broadcast production engineering.

One of the things we are trying to understand is how the approach we take in creating digital products can be combined with broadcast production which uses very different methods. So we need to think about how we can apply things like rapid prototyping to broadcast production that traditionally has very defined stages – pre-production, production and post.

So connecting with programme makers who want to think about employing some of our ways of doing things and want to engage with their audience has been really interesting.

Take news creation where the team thinking about TV will be the same one thinking about the online side of news and seeing how that mix can enrich the possibilities of what they do.

How do you approach hiring young designers at the BBC?

We have a really good trainee scheme, so we do recognise that the new blood is really important to reach out to. We usually have a global student competition run through D&AD and we also have a one year paid design trainee scheme.

We just had an intake in September so we bring on 3 or 4 trainees every year and we put them on 3 month rotations through the teams doing different types of projects and that’s paid. It’s really important to work with universities so we work with a few especially near Salford where we have a large campus. So we do a lot of outreach.

Is there a gap between design education and the expectations of employers?

One of the things with about entering the workforce is that you learn to work in teams and developing a professionalism – what you do at meetings, how you talk to stakeholders, how you work with bosses. That part of it is what a lot of the trainees are exposed to for the first time. That is often the gap.

However skills-wise – there’s a bit of a shift in thinking about who you are designing for. Sometimes at university you have a project but you may not get to find users because you may still be learning the craft and as we see new designers come on we encourage them to develop their own research practices.

Though we have a specialist design research team who are embedded in each of the product areas we try and get the designers to do their own research and do their own rapid testing. Coming straight from university many would not have had experience of that. On the whole we pride ourselves on not only creating great experiences but also great designers. The team is a place where great designers are made.

So what advice would you have for graduate designers?

Be interested in things. Be curious. Be interested in people and how things work and trying things out. Turning all our designers into researchers as well as doing the more traditional lab based usability testing made them think more like anthropologists. We’ve heard about problem solving but it’s actually problem finding and agreeing on what that problem is that’s key.

When you see someone doing something and you think “why are they doing that?”; that’s were it gets interesting because some of that is unarticulated need. We do ethnographic studies were we might go into people’s homes and follow them around and see what they do and what they are interested in. That’s where the inspiration comes from because that’s were we start to see gaps or opportunities or just weird stuff that makes you ask questions about how we can help them.

Also, not worrying about being the expert in Sketch or Photoshop or whatever tool. I see CVs and they list out the tools they can use and you think “great, you can use that really well but next year there’ll be another one”.

If you get the chance at university try out things like problem finding and discovering gap because soft skills, skills around conversation and enquiry and being imaginative about how you find stuff out are really valuable.

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