Our careers are more than bullet points on resumes. Think of your own career, with its unexpected turns and unanticipated opportunities. Remember how you weathered the ups and downs of our economy. Fagan’s career story naturally has its own twists and, relative to UX, is summarized as follows.
Early UX Experience
Elizabeth G. Fagan
Fagan operated EGF Consulting, her sole proprietorship, continuously in Chicago between 1993 and 2000. She wrote user guides, then Windows Help systems. She was involved with Winwriters (now called WritersUA), the definitive resource group for Windows Help authors. When Microsoft moved to HTML-based help systems, she taught herself HTML and started writing those.
Fagan met and worked with Gloria J. Gery, an originator of user-centered design and the author of the groundbreaking book Electronic Performance Support Systems (Gery Assoc; September 1991). Together they designed software interfaces for United Airlines (Apollo booking software) and Montgomery Ward (POS application). Fagan learned the practices of customer-centric design. She performed user research and created user profiles and personas. She created a competitive analysis worksheet. Her project teams engaged in many rounds of usability testing with paper, Visual Basic, and HTML prototypes. Not only were the new interfaces easier to use, but completion rates of tasks such as booking reservations and completing sales rose markedly. Good user-experience design was good for business.
One day an email from a Microsoft recruiter arrived asking Fagan if she wanted a full-time, permanent job as Help Author at Microsoft’s main campus in Redmond, WA. Fagan was a Chicagoan married to a Chicagoan. She turned down the permanent move to Seattle, negotiating instead a contract and temporary housing. She worked on the Help System for Windows at Microsoft in Redmond. She also participated in Microsoft’s usability-testing regimen.
Working for Oprah Winfrey
Video on Oprah.com
On returning to Chicago, Fagan started coding websites. She earned a Web Developer Certificate (DePaul University, Chicago, IL). Right out of school, she became a contract front-end coder for Oprah.com, Oprah Winfrey’s official website. She was hired full-time and ultimately promoted to Manager, Web Development. Fagan worked for Ms. Winfrey for a total of five years. Her close-knit team worked long hours, and they had a lot of fun.
It was an exciting time to work on websites. They grew from static pages to multifunctional online experiences. The Oprah.com team was a small one; everyone did everything. At first, they passed around content in emails and FTPed whole pages to the site. Soon they were working with Interwoven Teamsite, and productivity soared. Oprah’s fans enthusiastically flocked to her website and openly discussed its design on message boards. If fans did not understand or like something, the Oprah.com team came up with something better. It was on-the-job, guerrilla training in user-experience design.
Oprah.com’s Business Model
Although the web team created an online storefront for official Oprah Winfrey merchandise—tee shirts, coffee mugs, and certain items from Oprah’s annual “favorite things” lists—Oprah.com was not a major eCommerce site. The site’s revenue became linked to advertising. Fagan and the front-end coders worked hard to incorporate dynamic banner and right-rail advertising slots for every page on the site.
Slideshow on Oprah.com
Plenty of advertisers were interested in Oprah.com. And web traffic was not a concern; Oprah.com had become Chicago’s most visited site. The challenge was to maximize the number times an ad was served. The answer was to create discrete web pages—thousands and thousands of them—with lots of links for cross traffic. Each episode of The Oprah Winfrey Show was accompanied by dozens of web pages. Each of Oprah’s endeavors—her book club, her charity work, her magazine, et al—was featured on Oprah.com. Shortly, advertising revenues more than supported Oprah.com. The front-end team, Fagan included, coded a lot of web pages.
At the World’s 4th-Largest Bank
Serving more than 47 million customers in 71 countries, the British bank HSBC is one of the world’s largest banking and financial services organizations.
HSBC hired Fagan as a contract web author and designer in 2006. A full-time offer came within weeks. The User Centered Design (UCD) team asked that her new role utilize the web-related skill sets she had acquired thus far. She was told to create her own job title and description. Fagan became HSBC’s full-time Principal Content Developer, a position that combined writing web content; designing the web pages she wrote; then coding and deploying them. She was also tasked with evangelizing UCD across the enterprise. To that end, she marketed her services across HSBC, writing white papers and giving presentations to support her efforts.
Fagan considers her most interesting project at HSBC to be rewriting and redesigning the websites of Beneficial and HFC. Widely recognized names in the American home mortgage and refinancing sectors, the companies were recent HSBC acquisitions. Though Beneficial and HFC served different markets, they had merged. Their websites were identical but for branding. Fagan’s project team performed multivariate testing on different versions of the Beneficial/HFC.com home pages, an exciting process that produced interesting metrics. Going forward, analyzing metrics became integral to UCD’s process.
User Experience Architect/Designer
Web teams have evolved into large groups with highly defined roles. Fagan found her natural fit as an information architect, interface designer, usability expert; in other words, User Experience Architect or Web Designer. Her most recent projects have been working on responsive designs for large eCommerce sites such as Walgreens.com and Grainger.com. At Grainger, she led a small team to win the internal award Best Shopping Cart & One-Page Checkout Experience. The design became the basis of Grainger.com’s live shopping cart and checkout.
Fagan regularly works with product owners, product managers, project managers, graphic designers, content writers, user researchers, SEO experts, and others. Based on site metrics, she can create user profiles and stories. She can perform competitive analyses. She is able to create HTML prototypes and perform usability testing. Fagan advocates the user while negotiating trade-offs with stakeholders. Her designs are reinforced by her deep knowledge of code. She prefers to vet wireframes with engineers to save time and money. And she never forgets that doing business with customers is every website’s primary objective.
From Elizabeth Fagan’s Resume
Fagan’s professional user-experience positions include the following.
Senior User Experience Architect, Grainger.com
W. W. Grainger is a B2B company with headquarters in Lake Forest, IL. The company provides mechanical parts and supplies to businesses and organizations. Grainger.com is regularly in the top 15 in annual online sales worldwide. Federal, state, and local governments are typical customers. The site was recently rated a “Best eCommerce Website” by eCommerce Insiders.
- Senior user experience architect, user experience designer, web designer, interface designer, collaborator, team leader, mentor, award winner
- Wireframes, sitemaps, workflows, prototypes, agile, scrum, JIRA, Axure, Microsoft, Visio, Photoshop, Acrobat, user personas, user stories, user research, epics, usability testing, mobile, tablet, app, responsive design
- Chicago, contract, 06/2012–03/2013
User Experience Designer, Walgreens.com
Walgreens is one of the largest drugstore chains in the United States. In December, 2014, Walgreens bought Alliance Boots, the European drugstore giant, creating Walgreens Boots Alliance, “the first global pharmacy-led, health and well-being enterprise.” Walgreens filled approximately 894 million prescriptions in 2015. Walgreens.com supports 5.2 million visitors per month.
- User experience designer, user experience architect, information architect, interface designer, user‐acceptance tester, web‐content writer, content manager, content strategist, front‐end developer, collaborator, mentor
- Deerfield, IL, contract 02/2010–06/2011
Principal Content Developer, HSBC.com
Serving more than 47 million customers, HSBC is one of the world’s largest banking and financial services organizations.
- Web‐content writer, content manager, content strategist, user experience designer, user experience architect, interface designer, web designer, front‐end developer, collaborator, team leader, mentor
- Chicago, contract to full‐time, 10/2006–07/2009
Manager of Web Development, Front-end Developer, Oprah.com (Harpo Studios)
Oprah Winfrey’s official website evolved from a v1.0 site that frequently crashed to a richly featured, multifunctional internet experience that became Chicago’s highest-traffic website.
- Front‐end developer, coder, web designer, user experience architect, user experience designer, interface designer, information architect, web‐content writer, content manager, collaborator, team leader, mentor, manager
- Chicago, contract to full‐time, 05/2000–05/2005
Sole Proprietor, EGF Consulting
Fagan operated a sole proprietorship specializing in writing and related skills between 1993 and 2000. She restarts EGF Consulting from time to time between full-time and contract positions. For her clients, she writes anything from marketing communications to a monthly column to help systems and user guides. A leading usability practitioner mentored her into the field of user experience; Fagan designs web and software interfaces, performs user research and usability testing, and other tasks. On occasion, she publishes photos, opines in a white paper or proposal, or writes front-end web code. Clients and projects include: