With many of the American sports, other than the MLS and MLB on their close season break, we took the opportunity to speak to Matt Walker, Senior UX Designer at Sports Illustrated. We learn more about their design process and imminent plans to redesign their site (SI.com) using the principles of UX/UI design. 

1. Hey Matt, please introduce our UK audience to Sports Illustrated and your role within the organisation 

Sports Illustrated is an American sports media franchise owned by Time Inc. Its self-titled magazine has over 3 million subscribers and is read by 23 million people each week, including over 18 million men. It was the first magazine with circulation over one million to win the National Magazine Award for General Excellence twice. Its swimsuit issue, which has been published since 1964, is now an annual publishing event that generates its own television shows, videos and calendars. {source:Wikipedia}

Sports_Illustrated

 Current Sports Illustrated website (SI.com) which is being revised by Matt and his team.

I myself am a Senior UX Designer for the SI.com website. I started here last August having previously been the Design lead at ESPN Fantasy Sports for 8.5 years. I work on our website and mobile products team. 

2. How big is your design team at Sports Illustrated?

I can only speak about the SI.com part of Sports illustrated. We currently have 4 members on our team. As a company we have taken a stronger approach to our online efforts than we have in the past, so as we grow the online offerings, I am sure the product and design teams will as well. 

3. How has UX/UI impacted upon the development of Sports Illustrated in terms of visits, engagement and subscriptions? 

We have spent much of 2016 working on a complete redesign for SI.com. We expect a launch later in the summer before the football (NFL) season recommences. I believe the reaction will be very strong, but mostly positive with site engagement increasing over time. Since, historically, we have been such a print focused company it might take some time to condition our users to a new site and direction, but I believe we are laying out a great foundation for 2017 and beyond to really create the types of online experiences we as a team are capable of. The new site will be much more user friendly.

4. What impacts your decision to make design changes? Do you have analysts, or do you use insight tools beyond Google Analytics? 

A number of aspects impact design changes. First and foremost our main catalyst would be to clean up some backend legacy code that we believe needs our attention. We have a great new team of developers that are really fantastic and we are relying on them to make sure we bring everything up the high standard we believe fits a brand as established as Sports Illustrated. 

The other things we rely on is our analytics team, our editorial staff that is tasked with making great content and the product team as a whole that has a strong vision of where we believe the web is today. Right now our focus is to bring everything up to the level we expect, then we will rely even more heavily on our metrics and user testing to drive us forward. 

5. Are there any particular UX tools you would advocate for designers to use? 

As a team we rely on Sketch, Invision and a number of other tools to create visual concepts for the team to focus on. I myself am still a strong advocate of Photoshop and Illustrator. We are always looking at new technologies to see if it will help us grow. The main thing is that the developers are getting the assets they need from us in the way they are most comfortable implementing them. 

6. What is your driving motivation behind what you do as at Sports Illustrated, and what continues to fuel your inspiration? 

As a senior member of the team, I can say my main motivation is sports fans and how they consume content. As someone who has loved sports all of my life and always liking to solving problems, it gives me great joy to have an impact on how millions of people could potentially get their sports content easier and in a better, more user friendly way. Having worked at ESPN Fantasy for so long, I loved to talk to folks on how they used our Fantasy products with such passion. Even just in everyday life I could hear people discuss Fantasy sports or the product I worked on, and it made me very proud and excited that I could implement their ideas and even improve the way they enjoyed live sporting events. The last product I worked on at ESPN, the Tournament Challenge app, had an instant impact on how people I spoke to every day got to enjoy the NCAA tournament. I thought that was as rewarding as it gets. I believe we are going to have the same type of impact here at Sports Illustrated. We have a great team that really cares about what makes digital products great. 

7. What key tips and advice would you give to aspiring designers looking to succeed at the highest level? 

What I always tell young designers is you really have to love it. ALL of it. Take advantage of being young and ask as many questions as you can, and work as many hours as you can to keep getting better. Younger designers can afford to sacrifice pay for great experiences or to take chances that you may not be able to do later in your career. My first 5-10 years in the business were spent working tons of hours and creating the core philosophies that would shape me to this day. As you get older and life gets more complicated (family, house, bigger bills, etc.) you will be glad and thankful that you built a great foundation when you were younger. 

8. Do you envisage any significant developments in the design industry over the coming year? 

Since this is my 20th year in the business I tend to take a very cyclical view of design. Anything new that comes along tends to be reminiscent of something that I have encountered before. I worry less about new developments coming to the market and more about keeping things simple and easy to use regardless of changes to the industry. I guess that officially makes me the old cranky guy!

9. Finally, for our UK audience. Why should they subscribe to Sports Illustrated? 

I would say you should visit SI.com in the coming year because we are going to mix great story telling in the world of sports along with a growing digital presence that will allow you to follow sports with a focus on the user. We are not in bed with the sports leagues so we don’t have any interests other than that of the user. That is getting harder and harder to find in sports.

About Matt Walker

Senior UX/UI Designer with 20 years of creating rich and award winning interactive experiences across multiple platforms and devices. His creative work has been rewarded with multiple awards, including a Webby Award, and he also helped bring ESPN Fantasy Sports to the number one Fantasy platform in the world. Matt's success is a product of his passion for architecting effective product and experience strategies, applying analytical and creative thinking to ideation, evaluation, and end-to-end design execution.

You can follow Matt Walker on Twitter here and connect with him on Linkedin.

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