Meet Dan Ramsden, Creative Director for UX Architecture

Dan talks about building teams to solve complex problems, his theatrical past and his love of magic.


Photo of BBC UX&D Staff

In this instalment we meet Dan Ramsden, Creative Director for UX Architecture. He talks about building teams, his theatrical past and his love of magic.

How do you explain what you do for a living to a child?

I talk most about how I help teams to work together. I might say, “A lot of the time my main job is about building teams – because a good team can achieve much more than a set of individuals can.” And then I give them some advice about eating more vegetables.

If they ask about what sort of team, I talk about information architecture and say some of things I mention in this article. And if they still have questions I lie and tell them I’m really a fireman or a dolphin trainer.

Name one favourite thing and one challenging thing about your role?

We have great technology and incredible people at the BBC. And I love complex messy problems that open up a range of opportunities depending on the people I work with and the ways we choose to frame and define the situation. So the scale of the BBC is both my favourite thing and the biggest challenge.

I’m Creative Director for UX Architecture and currently, Design Research. These are home to two of the specialist disciplines in UX&D – so figuring out how best to lead two different disciplines and around 30 brilliant practitioners is also a challenge.

What was your journey before coming to the BBC?

I studied English Literature and Philosophy at University and have a Masters in Cultural policy and management. That led to my ‘first’ career managing a theatre company. From there I got interested in digital experiences and made a jump to a digital design agency where I concentrated on content design and information architecture. I started at the BBC as a UX Architect in Education and became Creative Director of UX Architecture in 2014. Looking back I see a strand about sense-making and meaning-making, and how I believe the invisible influence of a designer can empower and shape the meaning you draw from an experience.

What’s the worst job you’ve ever done?

It feels unfair to call one of my jobs the worst. My first job was selling cameras – which I loved – and since then I’ve been lucky to find enough things in all my jobs to make me happy and keep me challenged in the right ways.

I might have been lucky to never have been offered a job I’d be miserable in. But I also tend to be a pretty hopeful person. I‘ve been able to think of any work challenges or disappointments as things to overcome or change – so in work I’ve always been happy. Thinking about life in general, I’m much happier and fulfilled being married to my brilliant wife Sam than I ever was when I was single – so maybe being single was the worst job I’ve done.

If you could explore any other profession, what would it be and why?

If my job didn’t exist I think I’d still be doing something focused on building teams and trying to help people make sense of things. There might be a Dan Ramsden in an alternative universe who is a writer and theatre director, rather than a design director. I like sharing ideas at conferences – so something where I get to think, practice and share would be important. And I guess being an actual fireman or a dolphin trainer might keep the imaginary children that I meet a little happier.

If you could travel back in time and give yourself one piece of career advice, what would it be?

“Never complain without a commitment to play your part in improving the situation.”

Like most designers I’m full of ideas and I don't always manage to communicate them clearly or convince people that they’re the right thing to do. Earlier in my career I’d let frustration get in the way of my effectiveness to communicate, convince and deliver.

So I’d tell myself to develop a little more emotional intelligence and be a bit more of a reflective practitioner. I’d probably also mention imposter syndrome – and how it’s OK if at points in the future I feel out of place and as if I’m making it up as I go along because life is a bit of an imperfect improvisation…

What’s on your playlist right now?

Today I started off with ‘The Cutting Edge’ which is the entire studio recording of Bob Dylan between 1965-66. Then I enjoyed Janelle Monae’s album ‘Dirty Computer’ on the drive home. Last summer I listened to the ‘Complete Sherlock Holmes’ during my commute between Sheffield and Salford and I just finished the audio book of James Acaster’s ‘Classic Scrapes’ – so it tends to be a mix of music or words depending on what I want my brain to be doing.

What do you do to switch off from work?

My hobby is magic so I spend a bit of time reading about and playing with ideas connected to magic. I like the fact that most magic is achieved by an invisible choreography of elements – from managing attention to exploiting the ways our brains work through to using invisible technologies. Magic stimulates and provokes the kind of ideas I’m interested in and gives me something to do with my hands when I’m stuck waiting for a train.

In a world where anything is possible, what is the single most exciting thing you would do with technology?

I’d invent ‘consensual telepathy’. Language is probably the most advanced technology we have for sharing ideas and collaborating, but it still feels pretty imperfect. I wouldn’t want to get rid of that imperfection completely, but it would be nice to have a mode we could turn on to share ideas directly with other people. We could dip into another brain and understand exactly what they mean or feel.

Reading back over that sentence it does sound like the summary of an episode of Black Mirror – so the consensual part is designed to overcome some of the ethical questions. Maybe I just want people to have a bit more empathy, so on second thoughts, I’d want to invent infinite Toblerone.

What drives or inspires you?

I’m inspired by the idea of teams and by the actual teams that I’m part of.

I’m also inspired by brilliant individuals. I once heard a quote that when you see a good performance you want to be a little bit more like the artist, but if you see a great artist perform you come out wanting to be a bit better version of yourself. Every time I see a performance by Nick Cave (and The Bad Seeds) or Teller (in Penn and Teller) I’m inspired to try to be a bit better and more intentional in the things I do and create. And often when I work with my colleagues I’m inspired to up my game to help us achieve brilliant things. So I guess I’m inspired by talented individuals and driven to build teams that make the most of their talents and help us achieve things we couldn’t do alone. 

Where next?