‘What is it you actually do?’ is a series of blogpost ‘interviews’ that ask interesting folk working on digital products in and around public service the age old question — ‘what is it you actually do?’. Shamelessly copying from Lifehacker’s ‘How I work’ series and ‘The Set Up’ blog.
Who are you and what do you do and where?
I’m Alex Blandford, I’m a user researcher and general humanities brain in digital teams. At the moment I’m working with the portfolio team at BIS. I live in Berlin so a lot of my work over the past few years has been remote and I’ve been working hard to make sure my set up allows the best possible communication and collaboration.
What software do you use day to day?
At the moment I’m using Lubuntu as my main OS in an experiment with disposable computing. At the moment as a browser I’m using Vivaldi (a customisable Chrome fork made by some of the old Opera devs) as I find Chrome like browsers handle basically every business task you can throw at it. I use Gmail classic for work (can’t deal with inbox — I try not to get the email volume where I need to batch mark-as-read) Hangouts, Google docs, Mural as a remote whiteboard, Slack desktop client (as I’d have literally too many tabs open if they were in-browser), Spotify for wordless music to block noise or create it.
What is your favourite stationery?
Blue Muji rollerballs and Nava notebooks. Moleskines and Field Notes are too small for me — I need to be able to draw and note, so I like A4/A5 sized books, although I do use Moleskines for poetry/prose writing. I came across Nava in a little shop off Old Street roundabout, but I really rate them.
What do you like/dislike most about your job?
I love working with problems in government and having my preconceptions smashed. Talking to people to understand their problems and then testing the solutions is immensely satisfying. Whether it’s residents in a housing association, judges or civil servants, you always end up finding out something that you weren’t expecting. The thing I hate most is writing stuff up. I go out of my way to make sure that I don’t have to spend too much time on that. I type out all my notes as I go into a slack channel to get timestamps, I write up my ideas straight after into Mural and keep open a thought document for notes and unproven hypotheses. I try and talk stuff through with other people in a sort of live rubber-ducking exercise to do a quick sense check. But writing up is literally the worst.
How did you become a _____________?
I studied anthropology for my undergraduate and psychosocial studies (basically psychoanalysis, group therapy, philosophy and organisational psychotherapy) degree and desperately wanted to make something useful out of that! I remember being told that most anthropologists go into insurance (for some reason) and I was glad to not be part of that. More realistically, I was working as an account manager for dxw and started doing the user research there as I thought that all those research methods modules should go to good use. Since then I’ve done lots of bits of other jobs, but I’ve always started with an anthropological approach.
How do you manage your backlog (i.e. cards on a wall, Jira, Trello, Sprintly..)?
Trello. Trello trello trello. Trello. I’ve used Pivotal, Rally, Jira, Fogbugz and Asana for projects and I have hated each of them for different reasons. They mostly have far too many features, the UX is made of hammers. Complicated projects can strain against it a little bit, but for most of what I do it doesn’t need point estimation or burndown charts or that sort of thing.