Meet the Team: Ashley Hearton

November 24, 2020
7 minute read
Cristian Halati

Our Meet the Team series continues!

This week, we speak to Ashley Hearton, User Experience Researcher at Phlo Digital Pharmacy. In this UX Researcher interview, Ashley discusses the importance of user research when developing products, her research and design strategy, shares tips on building a first-in-class user experience and reveals her future projects at Phlo.

Tell us a bit about your educational background and your previous roles before joining Phlo.

My design experience has been very diverse and has shaped how I approach strategies to design problems. I graduated from Strathclyde University in Product design and pursued a Master’s at Loughborough University in Industrial Design.  

Before Phlo, I worked in London as a Junior Designer/researcher at a design, strategy & research consultancy, where I worked on a multitude of projects with the BBC. Phlo is my second role since graduating which has led to me specialising in design research. It’s exciting to help Phlo build its research team and give patients a say in their healthcare.

What attracted you to work for Phlo, and what does your role entail?

During one of my projects at Loughborough University, we had a brief for the RSA design awards, one of which was aimed at ‘improving everyday well-being’. I was attracted to a healthcare & social problem, as I find social design problems to be a complex but very interesting field that focuses on people-led practice.  

I wanted to understand the psychological effects behind amputee stump dermatitis and how I could design research-led interventions through understanding the problem thoroughly. I discovered how user psychology and social & cultural influences can determine the effectiveness of the product itself and how strategy is key to implementing design interventions. After discovering this way of thinking, I’ve never looked back!

My role as Phlo’s UX researcher entails a tie between design, research & strategy. I carry out continuous reviews of our services, experiences, and listen to both our patients’ and team feedback to find ways in which we can keep delivering our first-in-class service to patients. Where we feel we can make improvements, we both design and run research sessions depending on what learning we are looking at. I map our user journeys, speak to patients, generate insights, and build design strategies for best practices on implementing meaningful design changes. I work primarily with our healthcare strategist & UX/UI designers within the wider design team and collaborate with the developers to implement changes.  

Why, in your opinion, is user research important when developing products?

People-led practice is the only way to effectively design interventions that work with and respond to our patients' needs in a proactive way. Research is the foundation of all types of design solutions, from services to apps to systems as it sets your expectations - it can change how you interact with and use the service as well as how you feel about your experience. You design without direction if you fail to research the problem, so by understanding our patient's behaviours, attitudes, and motivations with our services we can better meet our patients' needs.

Tell us a bit about your personal research strategy and your number one priority in your job

Exploration. When I initially approach a research piece, I will spend time just exploring all facets of the area in question e.g. reviews, transitions between platforms, language & tone, review each individual platform, speak to people within Phlo about the subject area. Then I’ll aggregate and map out any themes emerging and draw on different inspiration points to dig deeper into why these themes are emerging. I look for patterns not just across but out with Phlo looking at social & cultural factors including bias which could influence issues.  

I’ll pick the top theme from 5 presented to our design team whom I collaborate with throughout the process. From here on in, it’s designing the research plan including the strategy we’ll take, planning & running the sessions, carry out analysis, and write the design report ready for UX changes to be implemented.  

My number one priority is collaboration throughout the whole process: with patients, the design team, the wider-team, and people out with Phlo through research.  

Can you tell us a bit about your next research project for Phlo?

We are looking at our ‘request and ordering’ stages to understand how we can design our patient experience to improve how patients can interact with our service, making receiving medication as easy as possible. We are running research e-events in December 2020 and can’t wait to hear what people have to say as it will help us continue to provide a first-in-class service!

We are building our ‘Patient Experience Group’ here at Phlo for early 2021 as we want to include our own patients as we grow to help create an experience that flows. We strive to empower patients to manage their medication hassle-free, so we want to ensure Phlo's online pharmacy experience is accessible to all our patients. We will provide a thank you for patients taking part in our e-events and helping us build the perfect pharmacy with them!

What would be your one piece of advice for building a first-in-class user experience?

Good design is thorough and end-to-end, all lived through the end-user. My advice is to use a holistic approach to whatever your designing, even small changes can affect how people interact and feel about the rest of an entire experience.  

What piece of advice would you give someone wanting to get started with user research?

Be bold, present yourself with a strong vision, and always look for what you can get involved in. In the consultancy, bouncing around London & the UK for different projects daily taught me invaluable interpersonal & skills.  

Reach out to other professionals in the field, you will be surprised how willing people are to speak to you, it will benefit both juniors and seniors alike. Start-ups present great experiences for growth and development so put yourself out there and say hello. Lastly, a wide range of backgrounds can specialise in user research, from nursing to psychology to design - all of which I’ve worked with. Different backgrounds can add so much to a team dynamic, how the team approaches problems, and ultimately the end-product.  

What do you like to do in your spare time?

I like to look for hidden relationships between us and the world, cultures and society. I’m also a big storyteller, so get fascinated by seeing the world from a new perspective and creating a world within a world for others to interact with. So I like to experiment with these relationships through photography. I like to edit the photos afterward to add a stronger theme to them to draw viewers into the image. I have my own photography site aimed as a user experience, where I post my images and viewers can make up their own stories to the thread of images which gets updated monthly, it’s good for escapism - especially in 2020!  


What motivates you, and what are your core values?

I’m motivated by building, whether that be with Lego, on a video game, or designing interfaces/services - I like to see how we can build a new way of thinking and functioning. Since my course was part of the DMEM faculty at Strathclyde University, it gave me engineering principles such as logic, analytical thinking & ingenuity which I translate to systems and services.  

I like to be challenged by a design problem and measure how well it has worked - then keep going until it is right. I am also motivated by impacting a user experience - improving the UI or way somebody interacts with something to break barriers and empower people to do their best. That's what good design can do. I value challenging the way we think about the world and I believe in purposeful design.  

Any resources that you personally find particularly inspiring or useful?

I have a subscription to the Interactive design foundation, which is helping me to keep developing the UI side of my skill set for when I create design concepts. I also read articles on medium, books, and watch documentaries. My top two books are ‘Emotionally Durable Design’ by Jonathan Chapman and ‘Good services’ by Lou Downe.  

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