As part of the Product, Change and Digital Delivery team here at Futureheads, I get to chew the fat with people doing some really interesting work, and I've always been fascinated by what motivates these people.
To that end, a few months ago, we launched FFS. Otherwise known as Futureheads Five Stories, this is a regular interview series where we speak to people who have interesting stories to tell. We aim to find out more about their career in the digital world, and the lessons they've learnt along the way.
And we couldn’t resist the acronym.
For this edition of FFS, we're joined by Experience Director Matt Pollitt.
What’s the story of your career so far?
It’s a bit of an unlikely one actually. After a little bit of a misspent youth, dropping out of school at 16 then scraping into university when I was 21. If anything it goes to prove passion is worth more than grades.
I left university with a media technology degree (a Desmond 2.2) and was based in Hull, an area which at the time had few technology companies. After a quick stint selling second hand cars ( they had an m3 and a Mercedes cl500 in the garage and I figured if I worked there I would get to drive them), I ended up getting a phone call from an old university lecturer in 2007 who asked me if I could make ‘applications for mobile in Adobe Flash’. I told him I could, and then spent the next month of my notice reading many books so I could actually do it when I got there.
In the end, I actually turned out to be pretty good at making ‘mobile stuff’ and ended up setting up my own (very) small business doing that for a European funded company in Hull - making a video sharing platform for Nokia devices in Adobe Flash Lite(!).
At that time I also ran the UK Adobe user group for Flash Lite, and through that ended up meeting the guys at ustwo. After meeting the infamous Mills™, I ended up moving down to London to work for them.
After three amazing years there, working with some of the best people in the industry and on some frankly amazing projects (channel 4's youview channel and 40d portal, Intel, Sony Erricson and many others), I ended up leaving for a job that paid more money than I had ever seen – but I ended up hating. After six months, I packed it in with no backup plan, then ended up setting up my own digital design agency called 5K with two guys I had previously worked with.
We ran that together for four years, during which we got to create some great digital products for some of the national banks and well-known global brands. We built an amazing little studio in the heart of Shoreditch and built an awesome team that I am still proud of to this day. We ended up merging the business ( the polite way of saying we shut down ) and went our separate ways in 2016.
After that, I worked in a freelance capacity in a number of businesses, and have recently spent some time rebalancing my work/life situation. By that I actually mean I have got a life outside of work and made time for my amazing family and life that I had previously been neglecting. I now try to work at least two days from home so I can tuck my kids in at night twice a week, and enjoy working from the East Sussex countryside as opposed to burning the candle at both ends in London five days a week.
I currently work as an Experience director at Keel, working with an amazingly passionate team to help create digital experiences that reinforce a brand's core mission and goals while creating actual value for the business and its customers - as opposed to just creating marketing white noise. It’s an exciting blend of amazingly talented content makers, traditional & digital designers coupled with experienced strategic marketing folks. Coming from a purely digital product background it is an exciting challenge to work with the team to tie these different threads together, creating brand experiences that unify customers experiences of online, off-line and face to face content and services.
What advice would you give to yourself when you were just starting out?
Ask questions if you don’t understand something. Get your ego out of the way. You aren’t expected to know everything from the get-go.
Don’t say anything if you don’t have something useful to say. Don’t be afraid to listen instead of talk in meetings - normally the only person judging you for that is you. I would probably tell the old me to stop being such a little gobshite, but then that's part of my journey. Leading onto ….
Don’t have regrets. It’s better to fail than regret trying. Don’t be afraid to fuck up. I actually voluntarily fucked up loads, so I wouldn’t really have to tell the old me that - but felt it is one of the most important things I have learnt. Normally when something I think is going to be really bad happens, it ends up opening other doors that are much better for me in the long run.
Focus on what you are actually doing day to day instead of how much money you are making. If you spend five out of seven days a week doing something or being somewhere that you hate, all the money in the world won’t make you happy. Find your passion and get fucking awesome at it. Then the money will sort itself out.
You can’t control how other people think and feel. So do what you think is right, go with your gut and don’t be afraid of external criticism. But be humble and admit when you are wrong. And learn from it.
And most importantly avoid negative people like the plague - it is catching! A negative workplace is toxic, run away quickly. Surround yourself with positive people and you will be much happier not only in your work but in life!
What do you love most about what you do?
There are two things always make me happy - working with clients that want to push into new territories, not just treading the beaten path, and surrounding my self with super talented people that make me question my own abilities on a daily basis. Nothing upsets me more than the words ‘ that's how we have always done it’ and the acceptance that comes with that. In a discipline at times which can be based on ‘let's do what has worked before, with little tweaks’, I love it when clients and team members have the guts to try something new and creative.
I absolutely love hands-on UX work, but I also love building teams of people and empowering them to do the best work that they can. I love finding passionate people and building an environment where they feel safe to experiment and fail - enabling them to push the boundaries of what is possible across all digital mediums.
What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned over the course of your career?
Remember your career is not the thing that defines you. However good you are or legendary the work you do is, it never lasts forever. It can be your passion, and you can be successful - but the minute you let it define who you are you risk losing sight of what is important - and risk your happiness in life.
Make sure you take the time to enjoy the work you do, and the people you work with. Don’t just focus on your future career. Enjoy the day to day successes - and the failures. Use all of these experiences to work out what makes you happy, and how your work can help reinforce that. It might be the type of environment you work best in, the people that you surround yourself with, the type of projects you work on. In fact, it might even not be doing what you are doing right now. If so, just make a change.
Make sure you work out how your work fits around the life you want to have, not how you grab a little life in the time you are not working. Otherwise ... whats the point? After all, no one I have heard of wishes they had done more wireframing or user testing on their death-bed.
And finally, you don’t always have to be right. I tried that for many years and it was exhausting. Once you let go of that you can focus on what is the right result for what you are working on or doing as a team. Egos take projects that have the potential to be amazing and make them less than they could be if UX / Design / Development professionals focused on what was the best result for the users - rather than on fighting their own corners. Take on other people's point of views and be open to different approaches. The joy of our type of work is that there are always different ways to achieve the same goals.
What do you think is going to be the biggest challenge in our industry over the next twelve months?
Is this where I use words like AI, VR, AR, 3d printing and blockchain?
Personally, I think the challenge is always the same. Technology changes rapidly, and comes and goes, it's our job to figure out the best way to harness it and make it useful in everyday life - and accessible for everyone. For me, the challenge always lies in creating companies and environments where real change can happen and real value is added. Mostly, however, I also think it how we centralise the message of what we do as an industry, and not trying to silo user experience design or other disciplines - but accept that only by working together can we create stuff that is actually epically great.
To be honest, I have no clue so I have tried to stop worrying about the problems of tomorrow lately. If we all focus on making better today, then we can just enjoy the challenges that will make life interesting down the road when they turn up.
A little bit about Matt
Over the last ten years, I have worked with some incredible teams to deliver groundbreaking digital products and services across mobile, TV, the web and beyond. With a background in mobile application design and development, I have helped to define, craft and deliver digital solutions that are used by people every day around the world for clients like Sony Ericsson, Channel 4, Intel and RBS.
From setting up and running my own digital studio to working within other businesses, I take massive pride in bringing together and running small and large cross-discipline teams to ensure a focus on high-quality digital experiences for the people they are designed for. Over the last decade, I have worked on a strategic level with business owners across industries to help define and deliver new products to market, as well as reimagine and refine existing services.
You can stalk me on LinkedIn, I always love to connect with and chat to people doing interesting things.
Want to take part in our FFS series - or fancy a chat about the state of digital? Say hello at firstname.lastname@example.org.