Labs Life: Introducing James Heaney

Welcome back to Labs Life – the series in which we introduce readers to team members from London and San Francisco. This time we speak to James Heaney, Senior Design Researcher from our London team, about what first led him to design research and his work at Sutherland.

Can you explain your job to me like I’m a 5 year old?

I help people design products and services around their users. Of course, I might have to explain what products and services are, and maybe what a user is, but I don’t think I can put it any simpler.

What did you do before you came to Sutherland?

I started my career working in film, distributing theatrical releases for the British Film Institute and then marketing the London Film Festival. Although in many ways it was my dream job, the work itself wasn’t always that stimulating. I had a friend who was a researcher, and it sounded much more interesting than what I was doing, so I moved into market research.

At my first agency, I worked on lots of brand positioning and creative development and then when I moved to a bigger agency, I gradually started doing more design research, and realised that I enjoyed it much more. I feel like the differences between market research and design research aren’t spoken about enough. Because, despite the obvious similarities, they’re very, very different.

Prior to the pandemic I went freelance, which couldn’t have been worse timing, but it gave me exposure to different types of projects. And just before I joined Sutherland, I was working on employee experience for Tesco.

James on holiday

If I went back in time and asked the ten year old version of you, what would they say that they wanted to be when they grew up?

A footballer, probably (I wasn’t a very original child). But I do remember briefly wanting to be an architect.

What is the unique talent that you bring to Sutherland?

I wouldn’t say I have any unique talents, certainly not compared to other researchers. I think I’m quite good at sitting with a problem until it’s solved. The Germans have a word that approximates it (of course they do): sitzfleisch. As far as I understand it, it means the ability to sit still long enough to finish something. I’m very good at sitting, basically.

What is your average working day like?

It depends what stage of a project we’re at but if we’re doing sessions then the days can be quite full-on. We generally do 3 to 5 sessions per day, with rolling analysis in-between, so you’ve got to be switched on for the whole day. Otherwise, I’m either preparing for the next project, which typically involves recruiting participants and producing research materials, or reporting on the last one, which is probably my favourite part of the job.

What has been your best experience while working with Sutherland so far?

There was a project last year which involved football, media and, of course, design research – my three biggest interests. That’s all I can probably say but it was a true career highlight.

What do you do for fun?

I love eating out, going to exhibitions and catching up on films I invariably miss in the cinema.

What inspires you?

Helping to develop new products/services is exciting. Solving problems for clients is also pretty satisfying. Mainly I think it’s having a tangible impact on the user’s experience – and, by extension, the business’s success.

What existing product, process, service or institution do you think would benefit the most from the application of some “design thinking?”

If you were to apply design thinking to the entire home-buying experience, I think you could come up with something that works far better for everyone. Except maybe estate agents.

How do you see the UX industry changing in the next few years?

Like most things in tech, I think AI will have a huge impact – both directly and indirectly. One scenario I can imagine is where the initial analysis is done by AI and all you would have to do is sense-check and embellish before writing-up. With AI advancing week by week, it’s probably not that far away.

Do you have any pets?

I don’t but I would love a cat!


Thanks to James! To meet more of our team Follow Us on social, or sign up for our mailing list below.

Snr Director, Marketing & Communications

Sutherland Labs
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