Jenna Bucoli Tanenbaum is a Lead UX Designer at Ogilvy NY. I wanted to talk to her because I was interested in what it is like working at a global digital agency. I previously worked in advertising and marketing prior to my current role and switch to studying UX Design so was intrigued to hear about her take on agency life.
1. What is it like working for a large agency like Ogilvy?
It has a lot of benefits in the sense that there is variety in work and clients. I have been doing agency life in a UX Design capacity for basically 9 years now. In some jobs, some agencies, you have a quick turnaround. During my time at Ogilvy, we had a client that kept coming back for more projects, so I ended up working with the same client, in similar verticals, in the healthcare and pharmaceutical space.
With agency vs. in-house, there’s a variety, in different problems to solve, different challenges, different users to think about. I love the newness of it all.
2. What’s something that’s most interesting or surprising about your day-to-day?
I would say the most interesting and surprising thing to me is that there are best practices but there are still new and innovative ways of approaching things that you need to be open to. When I do an audit of what’s out there, I always see something new. The many different ways that you can approach the same old thing is surprising.
Also, there are new designers, and fresh talent that come up with some of the best stuff. They are not afraid of trying things. We can get stuck in our ways so I love seeing a different perspective.
3. What processes do you use in your work for efficiency and collaboration?
Especially during COVID times, the way you collaborate is really different. I really miss In-person collaborative whiteboarding. Now, we are using Miro a lot. Having good project management software is also key. Some are more developer-focused like Jira, while others more designer-focused like Asana. You go from a 10,000-foot view to individual tasks. Nothing gets lost, one person grabs something and another grabs something else.
Especially as a lead designer, managing timelines or a team is important. You may not always have the luxury of having a Project Manager so you will have to manage it yourself.
So these tools are a must for working remotely until we can get back to it after COVID.
4. Tell me more about the collaborative aspects of your work.
In fostering collaboration, the prototyping tool needs to be client-shareable. I started on Sketch – without plug-ins, and no great real-time sharing. At the moment, I am working in Adobe XD. The most common tool now is Figma. I know a bit about it. I have mostly used Sketch but am trying to branch out. You need to be able to work in real-time, especially in a Zoom world.
I like real-time collaboration with my clients, while some teams prefer to work on one side and then send to the client and take it more step by step. I think fast, and like it as more of a dialogue. This process works well for me and my team.
If you have a client who understands what step of the process this is and what feedback you’re looking for, it works. It can work in both scenarios, real-time and handing off to them.
A key element in the client collaborative process is structure. We as humans prefer structure and clients are humans too. And they respond well to “this is what I am showing you,” “this is what I am trying to get feedback on,” ”look at this specific user flow,” “this is where we spent a lot of time.”
5. Tell me about the role of research in the design process.
If you have research or data to back up your design decisions, that helps. It’s really hard for a client and sometimes even us as designers to step back on what we think and feel.
Clients know their brand and they think they know what users want and they don’t.
No one is as intimately connected to the user, you are their advocate, you have to speak for the user.
This puts you at odds with what the client wants sometimes so that’s when it’s helpful to pull out a data point to support your decisions. Like a sound bite, something you’ve heard multiple times from users.
Looking at a similar product sometimes helps also, doing a competitive analysis to show that they’ve done this too and that’s for a reason. Supporting your decisions with competitive analysis, research, user quotes or sound bites, is very helpful.
6. What are the biggest challenges you face in your work?
I would say that the remote change has been a big challenge but a year and some change in, we are figuring it out together. It was a big challenge for client work, for retaining clients. From a business perspective, agencies suffered. Clients may have shelved work. That is just starting to turn around now. With agency life, you are at the mercy of what the economy is doing at that time and what they can afford. But you can’t afford to not focus on UX design, especially research, at the end of the day.
Once you’ve invested money in the design, and the development phase, you don’t want them to just be dipping into research at that time. It’s an expensive mistake.
Any time you’re working with clients in general, that is the #1 challenge of UX design.
In school, you’re able to ground everything in research, using qualitative and quantitative data. It’s a whole different ballpark once you leave.
Admittedly, managing clients is not something that everyone loves to do but for me, I have the personality and love working with clients. They know their brand more than anyone. They are the people who have hired you. It’s always good to have a good relationship with the people paying the bill.
7. What is your decision-making process as a group?
When we are struggling to decide, we do dot votes a lot – pick your three best, or top two or three, and then we see what ideas rise to the top.
Be ready to pull out your personas again – in example A, what does Samuel think, how would he react or interact with example A vs. B?
Remember your user in decision-making time. Try to let the user persona actually be the deciding vote on something.
It takes compromise sometimes, which is a challenge. Bringing in an outside perspective helps. And when you get down to two ideas, you can show them to the client. But bringing in someone who is not on the team, doing a guerilla user test for an outside perspective, may sway the room too.
8. For someone considering UX Design as a career, what should they know beforehand? How would you describe somebody who would excel in this field?
Anyone has the power to excel if they use the Internet on a daily basis or they are an empathetic person. That’s most people, luckily. The Internet thing is a given, we all know good and bad experiences we are having. When it’s inefficient, it takes three extra clicks. etc. That’s UX design thinking.
With empathy, you do have to put yourself in the mindset of the differently-abled, or a different economic group, for example. You have to remember that you are not the target user, say, for an app for children, and would need to do a lot of user testing. Or something for an older audience, baby boomers, and make sure the type is legible for them.
You have to be able to put yourself in someone else’s shoes and understand their challenges.
I teach at Brainstation on the side of my agency work and one of their projects is reimagining a transit app rethinking the MTA – one thing they are lacking is better indicators of accessibility – does this station have an elevator, a ramp, Braille markers or indicators? Accessibility is a huge area that requires UX designers to have empathy.