UX Architect

When I tell people I worked at Nielsen, the response I usually get is, “oh the TV ratings people.” While it is true that they are the “TV ratings people,” a more accurate description of them would probably be the consumer data people. If you need help deciding where the best location to open a new store is, or what demographics might be interested in your product Nielsen has the data to help answer those questions.

Nielsen Screen

My Role

Data doesn’t do you any good unless you can interpret it. And that is where I came in. I worked as part of the team tasked with developing the tools to allow users to analyze and understand data. The team I joined was part of a mature user experience design practice, one that I would describe as ‘doing it the right way.” With data being at the core of Nielsen’s business, it was naturally a driving force in the practice as well. The design process was heavily dependent on user testing and feedback. It wasn’t enough to think we improved the user experience, we needed to prove it with data. As a UX Architect, it was my primary responsibility to translate the business needs into designs that could then be user tested, interpret those tests, and use them to deliver better designs.

The Design Process

Step 1

Understanding Business Needs

Each component of the Nielsen products is essentially a different way to look at data; each with its own goals, challenges, and nuances. To understand these nuances required working with a BA and a business stakeholder. The knowledge gained here would be essential for driving a design that meets the business needs. I learned to leverage business’s product expertise to not only answer the “what’s” but the “why’s” leading to designs that more closely met the business needs, and also helped develop a good working relationship with business stakeholders.

Nielsen Screen

Step 2

Translate business needs into designs

The next step was to generate wireframes to outline the necessary UI to accomplish the business needs. In an iterative process of design, review, and redesign – we would move from low fidelity to high fidelity wireframes.

Nielsen Flowmap

Step 3

Test the designs

Even in a user driven design practice, it is not possible to test every aspect of a design. I would identify and prioritize areas that could benefit most from user testing, choose an appropriate methodology for testing, and establish the scheduling of user tests. I would build the prototype to simulate that portion of the application based on the wireframes. I then facilitated screenshare + clickable prototype + voice call sessions with users. I learned that there’s an art to creating a user test to achieve appropriate feedback. For instance, in a typical A/B scenario user test, I came to realize that users tend to like the first scenario better and randomizing the presentation of these scenarios became critical in avoiding data compromise from user’s instinctual reactions.

Nielsen UX Design

Step 4

Interpret and apply user feedback

User testing is only beneficial if you can understand how to use it to improve the design. I would use the results of the data to make updates to the wireframes and prototypes. This was done in an iterative process until I was confident the design met the users needs. The results of the user testing and the final design were presented to business stakeholders for approval.

Nielsen Screen

Step 5

Package the design for development

The design holds little value to the company unless development is able to execute on it. The next step was to work with business analysts to put together a package that would set development for success. This package included high fidelity wireframes, flow maps, style guides and functional specifications. I would conduct handoff meetings with development to ensure understanding of what was being delivered. I learned how important collaboration and building a good working relationship with business analysts is to producing one streamlined, comprehensive requirements package.

Nielsen Final Screens


Learning how to “hide the seams.” CPL, the main product I worked on while at Nielsen was an existing product that had a large number of components to it and we had team members working in parallel on different work streams. Our task was both to enhance existing components and also to add new features while staying within the technical limitations of the application. This presented a challenge of maintaining consistency across the application from the old to the new, and across components.

We were able to meet this challenge by:

  • Designing and utilizing a shared design library
  • Frequent design meetings
  • Peer reviews across work streams
  • Working closely with development to understand technical limitation


Longevity. The project was largely staffed by contractors. My initial contract was only for 50 hours. My contract continued to get extended for 2 years. At the end of the project, I was the last of the contractors to be let go, only when the project was completed.

Of the entire UX Architect Team; I was the only one permitted to do their own visual design, most worked with a dedicated visual designer.

What did I enjoy about working at Nielsen?

Working with a well established, mature UX team. I had great mentors that taught me a lot of about the right way to do user experience design. A few times a year we would have internal UX Summits to talk about the craft of user experience as an art and as a science. We shared presentations, had team building activities, and discussed ways to improve.


© Mike Nichols 2019