The Role of UX in Enterprise WordPress

An interview with Cathi Bosco, XWP UX Architect

User Experience (UX) is something we have come to embed within all of our projects. Cathi is one of our resident UX Architects and with a decade of experience has proven invaluable to the way we execute on the interaction between users and the things we build. She has a wealth of knowledge and experience, so in this post we run a few questions by her about UX, its place in the modern open web, and how she brings good UX practices to our work here at XWP.

Q: What do you do at XWP? What’s your day-to-day look like, and what’s your big picture impact?

In the role of UX Architect at XWP, I work on client projects by embedding with engineers and agile teams. We work on amazing tech solutions at large and enterprise scale. I also work to define UX processes and methodologies for the wider company. All team members making decisions about plugins, products, and websites are actively making design decisions and part of my goal is to continuously improve our collective design maturity. My work involves all aspects of UX tasks (user’s needs) including collaborating with clients and understanding their business goals. I conduct research studies, execute product design, visual UX/UI design, analysis, and consult. I’m capable of a lot of tasks but excel at a select few like, visual design, stakeholder and user interviews (qualitative research studies), mapping,  problem-solving, communication, and cognitive thinking.

User experience design (UX) is 100% a team sport so we always work very collaboratively across teams and channels. There can never be enough collaborative synergy.

WFH may be new for some, but it’s been the norm here for 15 odd years. Where are you located and what’s your setup like?

My studio is in Madison, Connecticut, USA. Over the years my husband and I restored an old circa 1854 farmhouse. I have worked from almost every room in the house as we gradually restored it from a crumbling shell to the finished home it is today. Now my studio is outside of the house because we transformed an old post and beam outbuilding into a separate studio space. It’s taken many years but it’s been worth the effort. The short walk outside to work and then home at the end of my day makes managing a work and life balance so much easier. Although it is often a struggle since I really love what I do professionally. 

Q: In recent history, what are the most interesting things you’ve worked on and why?

I’d have to say working on the official Unsplash WordPress plugin is very exciting! Also, working with Google on AMP and AMP Stories specifically was really interesting. I still spend a lot of energy thinking and talking to audiences about the problems we can potentially solve with open AMP Stories. Publishers like National Geographic, Washington Post, CNN, BBC News, Wired, San Francisco Chronicle and others have been experimenting and publishing with this new media over the last year and so have I.

Research shows us that the web needs more highly performant, short format content solutions. I think we all know that content with ads needs to be a better experience for users too. AMP Stories solves these problems with an incredibly immersive experience, inclusivity, & speed.

For Instagram, Facebook, and Snapchat, these stories disappear after several hours or a day. They do not show up in search engine results and they exist in a closed proprietary system – all independent walled gardens. I would also argue that the fear of missing out (FOMO) due to the “disappearing” aspect of the stories features can be a dark pattern for users. This contributes to users constantly checking their phones and promotes unwelcome addictive behaviors. Yes, users can selectively archive stories to display as highlights, however, our research shows this is not an optimal experience either. The content is inaccessible, time-sensitive, and full of low contrast and distracting graphics.

With the official AMP plugin and AMP Stories for WordPress, it is possible for a content creator to absolutely own their own content. This is something we are always advising clients to do and I can’t emphasize how important this is if we hope to have an open web for the future!  As content creators we can have control, we can decide how long our content will last. This work really interests me. There are good use cases for both lasting content expressions and the casual, conversational, and discardable story. With AMP Stories done the WordPress way, we will not be locked into dark patterns and we can publish quality content within our own domains. Plus, our stories are searchable and SEO optimized, with ads that publishers can control are part of the value prop of these tools. Sharing and interacting with one another’s Stories is still evolving. I am really excited to see all of the creative possibilities that will hopefully emerge. 

Q: Your area of expertise is UX. What role does UX play in the success of a project? When is it most important to invest in it?

Of course, no two projects are the same when we consider business goals, user goals, use cases plus their contexts, products, websites… I could go on. (This is actually why our UX Collective (UXATT) is called UX All the Things!) Invest in UX at the beginning of problem-solving and keep investing. To start my teams typically prioritize conducting a solid heuristic evaluation, identify use case scenarios, stakeholder and user interviews, problem framing, along with some qualitative value proposition research as we immerse ourselves into any project. From there we often move into journey mapping (one of my favorite tactics for surfacing the evidence of friction), drafting flow carts and iterating visually while collaborating across internal channels and teams. 

Example version of one of the product flow chart maps for the AMP plugin

One of the most powerful functions of our work is to facilitate important conversations among engineers, agile teams, other designers, and stakeholders.

UX Design is not just UI or how things “look”. We are working collaboratively to facilitate the work our teams are collectively working on together. You cannot do great UX work without deep collaboration across internal teams. UX is not a shiny deliverable. In addition to creating friction-free interactive experiences, great UX teams also work hard to improve customer experience (CX) through identification and successful communication of value propositions for improved conversion behavior throughout various scenarios and platforms. This is another aspect of some of the important collaboration that happens with internal teams like marketing teams, copywriters, UX writers, and UX analysts. My teams work both strategically and tactically. Conducting A/B tests while measuring metrics and implementing research is important too.

Evidence based decision making is one of the most valuable contributions we make for both a stakeholder’s business and for usability or user’s needs.

We need enough research to get the job done right.

Q: In your personal opinion, what is “the one big UX issue” you’re seeing prevalent across the web industry at the moment? What should everyone rally behind and fix?

Great design should include accessibility, performance, and security. It’s irresponsible to fall short with any of these 3 pillars. If it’s not accessible, performant, and secure, it’s not usable.

Q: What does WordPress do well with its approach to UX? What can it improve?

I think WordPress is great at empowering people to own their own content. That is some great UX!

WordPress needs the following written governance policies to be a healthy ecosystem:

  • Community Code of Conduct
  • Diversity and Inclusion Policy
  • Code of Ethics
  • Privacy Policy
  • Conflict of Interest Policy
  • Accessibility Policy

*There is some written governance for the community events and WordCamps, but not for the actual open-source project. We need to consider maintainers and contributors both sponsored and volunteers.

Q: Broadly speaking, how should web teams approach good UX research and the implementation of its findings?

To start, work with a small UX design team that has a proven track record. They can show (by example) the impact of this work. Bringing in a team to collaborate will teach your internal teams how to begin to maximize this work through project experience. That is how teams and companies can begin to raise their level of design maturity.

Successful organizations maximize the benefits of evidence based design decision making, it’s great for both business and usability. 

Q: At XWP, we have an Unleash budget. What cool thing have you bought/done through it in recent months?

Recently I traveled to Thailand to give a presentation at the WordCamp Asia conference, even though the conference was canceled due to coronavirus precautions, we were still able to go, unplug, and visit the ancient world, ruins, temples, shrines, and palaces. Unleash budget helped pay for my airfare and hotel in Bangkok. It was thrilling to fly from New York directly over the North Pole, although the 33 hours it took to return home were challenging.

Q: What’s your work station like? Any tips for us other remote workers?

I have a large glass conference-like table for working collaboratively at, with two giant monitors. I also have a standing desk workstation, I need to use that more often! There’s a lovely greyhound here, plenty of natural light, an entire wall with eraser board paint and sticky notes plus some colorful living room chairs. I’m extremely fortunate to have a wonderful studio and great remote teams to work with.

Q: What tunes are you listening to right now? What’s on in the background while you work?

Birds chirping – I rarely put music on as I work super immersively and I am mildly dyslexic so it can be distracting for me. Although, I often blast out a couple of dance moves in the afternoon to some Talking Heads song or something to get me out of my seat and moving!

Q: Bots have gotten out of control and Captchas just aren’t filtering them out. To prove humanity, WordPress Core contributions now require a video submission of your best celebrity impression. What do you do?

My best Elaine Benes from old Seinfeld episodes… 

Supporting our team and clients during the spread of COVID-19

XWP is committed to the safety of our team members and the continued support of our clients and the delivery of their projects.


As we continue to hear reports of how COVID-19 is spreading and impacting the world, we remain committed to the safety of our team members and the ongoing delivery of services and support to our clients and the WordPress community through our Open Source endeavors.

Safety for our Team

We are fortunate to operate in an industry and under a business model that, by comparison, is less directly affected by the impact of COVID-19. We have, since our inception, been a 100% remote team. This means that implementing a practice of self-isolation during this pandemic is easier to facilitate. Our team members are equipped through the provision of company resources and processes to operate at full capacity from their home workspace.

We have an internal community program (called Unleash+) that provides funds to team members for products, activities, and experiences that enhance (unleash) their personal lives. We are reworking this program to help provide team members with extra resources for gaining access to items and services needed during this time.

Delivering for our Clients

Our remote operations mean we are well equipped to continue to deliver in full to our client and partner commitments. Working remotely is normal for our team members and they will not need to adjust to a new way of doing things. Additionally, if a team member were to contract the illness, there is no risk of further spread amongst the team.

In a time when our clients’ internal operations are adjusting to cope, they can rest assured that the team they have in us is ready to support them.

We are also offering support to our clients and partners in advice around transitioning internal teams to remote. We have 15+ years of experience in remote and have a wealth of experience we are willing to share. 

Some Changes

We can’t deny that there are some changes to regular operations. Our teams have always enjoyed engaging at, supporting, and running events around web tech and Open Source. For the foreseeable future, all event attendance by XWP team members for business or community contribution purposes is cancelled.

Along with this, we occasionally meet in person with certain clients. While 95% of client engagement is remote, this facetime often brings value to our projects. As with events, this will also be on hold for the foreseeable future and we will work with clients remotely.

We will reassess these restrictions when appropriate and as the nature of this pandemic evolves.

Love in community 

In times of fear, look for those doing good!

It’s so easy to become lost and burdened by the cycle of news. Of course, we should remain informed, but remember that the world we live in, the world burdened by this pandemic, is one made up of communities. If we look within our communities, we can see everywhere signs of goodness in people. Help, care, love, and support shines when there is darkness. Be inspired by the goodness of others and find ways you can shine for your community.

Optimise Sydney 2020

On the 26th and 27th of February, XWP, Google, and News Corp hosted Optimise in Sydney. The inaugural event brought over 110 media, publishing, and web professionals together to dig deep and learn more about the opportunities for business of WordPress, AMP, and other modern Open Source tech.

Our ambition for the event was to bring together the incredible expertise we are fortunate to have within our network of partners and have it shared across the APAC industry. Our ambition was more than met with some incredible feedback coming in post-event. We are now establishing the groundwork for hosting the event in North America and Europe. Stay tuned for news on this.

Am I AMPable?

Short answer: Yes.

Long answer: One of the highlights of the sessions was the presentation of a simple proxy tool that lets you drop in a URL and have it assessed for AMP validation. It leverages the AMP WordPress plugin to parse the page, render it AMPlified for visual checks, and generate a report of AMP validation errors. For anyone exploring the benefits of AMP, but wanting to first understand the gap between their existing implementation and the ideal AMP state, this tool gets you 80% of the way to a clear plan of action. We’re working on having this tool more widely accessible and are hoping to announce something soon.

Slide Decks

There was a lot of amazing content spread across many sessions and you would need Sherlock-level retention to be able to recall it all. Future events will have the sessions recorded, but for now, the slide decks from the different sessions are here below.

You + AMP

We work closely with Google on enterprise AMP implementations. Get in touch if you’d like to learn more.

Meet (X) in St. Louis: Let’s catch up!

We’re excited to announce quite a few of the XWP team (19 of us?!) will be attending and speaking at this year’s flagship WordPress event—Wordcamp US 2019—taking place this weekend, November 1-3.

This year’s annual event covers many interesting topics from user experience and visual regression testing, to advanced usage of javascript frameworks and how to address the emerging legal changes to internet privacy.

A few we hope you’ll catch: Two of XWP’s engineers, Alain Schlesser and Jonny Harris, are presenting on Friday. Alain will talk about “The Cost of Contribution,” and Jonny will tackle questions surrounding the REST API and Authentication. Plus, XWP contributor Bridget Willard will also conduct a workshop on how to craft effective bios for your internet presence.

Aside from our presentations, we’ve got a big portion of our team in attendance this year, and we’re always excited to talk about how we want to build a better web together. 

So whether you’re contributing to open source projects like WordPress, looking to build advanced editorial workflows, or maybe you want to learn how we’re building some of the fastest sites on the internet, or are looking to level up your large site with the leading engineering WordPress firm, we’re around to chat all weekend. 

Plus, we’re hiring for frontend engineers and project managers—so if that’s you, don’t be shy and apply!

XWPeople in Berlin for WCEU 2019

Drop us a message at the form below and we’ll find time to connect during WCUS.

The Final Transmission

TL;DR: We made a digital treasure hunt. If you like a bit of a brain challenge, you should give it a go.

The development of a new Visual Identity is a lot of fun. Reflecting on history, understanding culture, considering the future and then bringing it all together into something that visually reflects it all is great. The roll-out though can be somewhat… academic.

So, to have some fun, we made a game around it all. Without giving too much away, we pulled together a trail of digital breadcrumbs, cyphers, cryptic messages and clues and wrapped it in a story that represented the stage we were at as a company and the release of the new visual identity.

Result == a lot of fun. Collective efforts, a dedicated Slack channel and long page of documented findings took the team through the game’s story over the space of about 2 weeks.

We had fun making it. The teams had fun playing it. We thought we’d share it with you.

So to start the game, all you need is this message from one Sam C.

Enjoy!

Systems are operational. Mission Phase 3 has the green light.

Instructions are delivered here as per operational security requirements. The system is old and the original architect is retired, so you’ll need to follow the breadcrumbs.

Everything you need to start is hidden in this image, or so they tell me. I don’t know where or how. I guess that’s what they call “security through obscurity”. Good luck and see you on the other side.