User Journeys feat. Matt Corrall

Introducing Matt Corrall, Senior UX Manager at PlayStation and all-round design advocate. With a background working on toys at Lego, on renewable energy at DNV, and on VR and Haptics at Ultraleap, he has developed his career across incredibly exciting industries. When Matt isn’t managing design teams, he’s either writing about design on his blog, or teaching LinkedIn Learning courses on design. Here, he speaks to us about his journey into the world of UX.

Could you tell us a little bit about yourself and your current role?

I’m a Senior UX Manager at PlayStation in London. I manage a design team who work on the PlayStation Partners platform. When a game developer is building a new game for consoles, the Partners platform is what they use to get their game approved, added to the PlayStation digital store and on to discs in brick and mortar stores, too. I love my job – I lead a lovely, professional team, solve complex design challenges, and get to work in the gaming world every day!

I’ve been in design for over twenty years, starting out as a toy designer at Lego in Denmark, and making a gradual transition from industrial design to digital UX and service design over the years. Whilst I’ve had a varied, ‘twisty-turny’ career, I’ve always been drawn to new technologies and complex, bespoke software where good design can make a big difference. I’ve worked a lot with specialist B2B software, and with emerging technologies, such as VR, gesture control, haptics, renewable energy, and smart meters.

Now I’m in design management and leadership, and I spend a large part of my time helping companies with their design maturity, strategy, and developing UX teams. I also teach design, sometimes at universities and sometimes through my own online courses. Most recently I spent a fantastic few days teaching spatial interaction design at FH Joanneum University in Graz, Austria.

When did you first discover your interest in UX?

In the early 2000s I was working as an industrial designer in an agency in Cambridge. I noticed the physical gadgets we were designing were starting to feature more screens and accompanying apps as part of the package and realised that if I was going to craft the whole user experience, I’d need to learn how to design digital interfaces, too.

One particular project was the turning point, for me: A home touchscreen display for a smart meter that gave people a summary of their electricity and gas use (I heard it became a British Gas product in the end). I was designing the physical plastic and metal casework, but it quickly became apparent that the on-screen interface was what mattered most.

Our team realised that the numerical data energy companies usually put on your bills – tariffs, rates, kilowatt hours – is hard to decipher for many people, and so to convey information at a glance, the interface would instead need to use colour and graphics effectively. This was in the early days of smart meters and so there weren’t many other products about or established best practice we could lean on, but I absolutely loved figuring that out from scratch! I knew I wanted to do more of that work.

I didn’t start seeing ‘User Experience Design’ as a widely recognised thing until a few years later, by which point I’d taught myself some of the skills I was missing – like usability testing and making prototypes with Axure (still the best UX prototyping tool!) – and I was ready to apply for my first UX job. The industry has grown and matured massively since then, and I count myself lucky to have gotten in early, with a solid design education that gave me the core capabilities I needed.

What’s been your journey so far and how did you develop your skills in UX?

I studied industrial design at Northumbria School of Design in Newcastle, and my first job was working at Lego’s HQ in Denmark, designing new Lego sets. That’s always been a hard act to follow, but I think I’ve finally topped it with PlayStation! My degree was a solid vocational foundation – rather than exams, everything I did was a design project and there was a lot of sketching, model making and learning through doing. I also developed an appreciation and respect for design history – I think seeing what the greats achieved over the last century pushed me to aim higher with my own work.

When I returned to the UK in my mid-twenties, I worked in a few design agencies, where I made the transition from industrial to UX design, and learned how to be a user researcher, how to run workshops and what a robust design process should be like. I also got my first mentor in industrial designer (and talented milliner) Julian Brown, who’s one of my best friends to this day.

My first proper UX role was at a renewable energy firm called DNV in Bristol, where we built software for designing wind and solar farms. The firm had a very engineering-led culture at the time, and I had to communicate and network well to establish design as a proper, respected practice. They’re an incredibly smart bunch and I’m still in touch with friends, there. I also learned about working with software developers, and got my first taste of designing for VR, which I found really exciting.

In my thirties I moved to London to get more breadth of experience in different UX roles. I worked on e-commerce at EE, managed a design team – and ran a lot of design thinking workshops – at an agency, and freelanced for a couple of years as a service designer. By this point UX design was something most had heard of, but the companies I worked for were usually new to it, and I became well-versed at explaining design to different audiences, and guiding people through an evidence-led design process.

At Ultraleap, my team and I worked with VR, AR, haptics and hand tracking tech. It was fascinating work, establishing what design systems and principles should be like when the UI is 3D, and everything is controlled through gaze and gesture. A lot of what you know from years of designing for screens is suddenly thrown out the window, and I loved the challenge of working it all out again from first principles. A lot of my career has been about seeking these big, messy design challenges and trying to leave companies more ‘UX mature’ than when I arrived.

What would be your top 3 tips for people looking to secure a UX role?

I see a lot of portfolio projects that feature beautiful final designs, but which don’t show enough of the work it took to get there. I want to see more of the scrappy, messy stuff that came earlier – sketches, flows, maps and workshops with walls of post-its. I encourage junior designers to postpone jumping into Figma as it can lead to slightly myopic thinking, and instead spend more time sketching and co-creating with other people. Interviewers like me want to see this because it tells us a lot about how you think and work. That includes the designs that didn’t make the cut, and the times things didn’t go smoothly. Try to capture everything you do throughout a project, and don’t be afraid to tell me about the setbacks that happened along the way.

When I’ve seen several promising candidates for a role, the skill that often secures someone an offer from me is storytelling. Because so few companies have a mature, design-centric culture – particularly in tech – designers will often find it necessary to explain what they do, communicate the rationale behind their decisions and suggest to colleagues what we should be doing next. Getting to lead or principal level is about having the soft skills to enter into discussion and disagreement without an argument happening, and to help others buy into the value design can bring when it’s done well.

I also advise any aspiring designer to look beyond the big tech firms and social media influencers for inspiration and advice. UX design is the baby, compared to say, industrial design which has been around a hundred years, and graphic design, which has around longer still. As a UX person you can learn so, so much from related design disciplines, because the underlying skillset and methods are the same, but people have spent decades longer exploring and evolving the craft. Then there are the other fields UX has smartly pinched a lot of ideas from – human-computer interaction, human factors and behavioural psychology, all of which go back a long way, too. If you find yourself particularly interested in UI design, pick up a book on graphics – if you love learning about what users do and why, take a beginner’s course on psychology. There’s a wealth of related learning you can do that will both inspire you and make you into a better designer.

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Chris Nasrawi