Nexer turns 15 today

Photo of Hilary Stephenson

Managing Director

A few of the things we are looking forward to as we celebrate turning 15 as a team.

Today, we turned 15. We’ve had a blast, of course but rather than repeat what I wrote when we turned 10 *, or document a journey that just might not be interesting to anyone outside of our team, I want to focus on the great things to come, where we still see challenges and what we plan to do to address them. Read this as jobs to be done, not achievements unlocked.

Diversity and inclusion beyond the pitch

Firstly, although we talk about it a lot, and we’ve made some great progress  in places, diversity is meaningless if you don’t look at all of its forms and intersections. Inclusion needs to go way beyond the imagery and words in the products we build. We have been fortunate to grow in the last two years and this has led to us revisiting our recruitment processes. Sadly, the traditional post job ad>get CVs model is broken, even when you feel like you’ve explained your ethos, culture and objectives to a recruitment partner. I also think the “informal chat” through your immediate network negates what you are trying to do as an inclusive employer. This exchange captures that particular problem well: 

Hate to break this to you but your "DM me to learn more" tweet to prompt people to apply for your open jobs is creating inequities and welcoming unnecessary bias into the interview process. Heres why:

March 5, 2022

Instead, it requires a deeper partnership and an honest look at who you’re excluding through current practices and networks. We need to do more than talk the talk. So, for this reason, we are launching today our  dedicated partnership with Diverse & Equal, where we aim to recruit and mentor new user researchers, service designers and product managers for our work in the health, public and charity sectors. We have a degree of cultural diversity in the team but to tap into greater potential, we have to invest and do more. There is little value in winning contracts for clients on the strength of an “inclusive attitude” if you can’t build the teams and nurture talent that delivers on that promise. We could have tried to do this through building our own training academy, as others have done, but we feel this partnership will unlock so much more:

Annette Joseph MBE, CEO and founder of Diverse & Equal: “Innovation in tech needs diversity, which is why we are on a mission to increase the number of talented people from under-represented backgrounds in the industry. Nexer Digital has long since recognised the need for a range of backgrounds in their team and this partnership is an excellent way to support its continued commitment and ensure its team is representative of the users of its products and services.”

We have also recently recruited through the Love Circular UX bootcamp, which again broadens the scope of our recruitment and strengthens the diversity of our team. Alongside this, we are also delighted to be supporting the Homeless Inclusion Futures initiative from the inimitable Lauren Coulman and Noisy Cricket, which seeks to remove barriers to employment and coaching employers in inclusive hiring. We are happy to be learning from our partners at AND Digital and Paper on this groundbreaking project.

Finally, we are exploring a cultural exchange programme at work, where team members from across the Nexer globe get to live and work in different locations. At this time, the situation in Ukraine, where we have 2000 colleagues currently displaced or trying to work focuses our minds on a more global sense of team and place.

Ready, willing and ableist

To take this objective to build a diverse team further, we are also developing our plan for moving through the Disability Confident employer scheme, where we are more supportive of hiring and giving paid work experience to disabled people. We are at the start of this journey but want accessibility to shape who we hire, as well as how we work. To do this, we need to explore the tools we use day in day out and the assumptions we make about who can use them. Some of those assumptions come from our own privilege and we need to do better. Corporate software and the tools of designers remain inaccessible to many. If we really want to embrace co-design and the development of products and services that engage and serve diverse audiences, we have to take a long hard and honest look at the methods and tools we use ourselves. Conversely, we want to explore the popularity of plugins, overlays and third party accessibility products, as their uptake suggests we might be missing a trick in dismissing their usefulness. We will undertake research that shows why these tools might not be the answer for all but in doing so, understand their place in a broader accessibility context:

I know I say this every time accessiBe comes up on my timeline, but: accessiBe and entities like it thrive because of ableism – because one-click solutions are attractive when you have no idea how to engage with disabled people and no expectation to do real work on your ableism.

April 29, 2022

Our accessibility practice is thriving and we are sensing a renewed energy in the industry, akin to the early days of working with WaSP, SOCITM and Bobby Approved (showing our age a bit there).

This will not only allow us to revisit our own tools, and our opinions on so-called solutions, it will also mean we work with more partners in our accessibility work and inclusive usability testing, so we continue to learn from others working in the field and ensure we bring in ranging experience to our research, design and testing activities.

Words count

We are underway with publishing our own inclusive language guidelines, a project led by our internal content team and inspired by the people-centric content work at NHS Digital, Scope and Emma Parnell at Joy. We remain committed to working with our chosen charity, Diversity Role Models, which helps us explore heteronormativity and inclusion in our design work across the charity sector. We will take all of this thinking into our #LettersHack event later in the year, which will explore communications used in primary care from patient, clinician and GP admin perspectives.

Participation and power-sharing

Taking our research methods a step further, we have been exploring ways in which we can rethink our research and design methods, such that participatory design becomes a reality. This is hard in a commercial agency model, where ideas are partially formed for projects that are capped by time and budget, but it feels like a challenge we want to tackle. For years we have been “bringing people” into our research. We recruit diverse participants and our methods are solid in terms of research, observation and insights but this isn’t co-design. I feel really excited about the skills, personalities and attitudes in our team, and look forward to discovering how we can learn from wise people such as Alastair Somerville, Dr Sarah Knowles and our commitment to the Responsible Tech Collective, where we build an understanding of co-production and how we can apply it in a commercial, partner model for our clients. From our work in health product and service design, we know how hard it is to spend meaningful time with patients and clinicians. So this feels like quite a tough nut to crack!

Finally, I feel like saying I don’t want to go anywhere else to work, although having typed it I can almost feel a future “that aged well” comment. The only aspect of my journey I wanted to reflect on in this post would be the amazing relationships forged at work; some stretching back over 20 years. They continue to make it a great place for me. Those, coupled with the things listed above that we will invest time, money and energy into make me feel like we have lots still to do.

* In case anyone does want to read what I wrote when we turned 10: https://www.nexerdigital.com/news-and-thoughts/from-macclesfield-to-malmo-and-back-a-few-times/