We are in an era where the term ‘User Experience’ is still evolving and enterprises are still figuring out how to fit this piece of the puzzle into their organization’s structure. The field is new and filled with lots of uncertainties for the decision makers of an organization, but it is definitely promising and filled with tremendous opportunities!
Being a User Experience designer right now is an interesting and rewarding experience for the fact that the scope of exploring unknown lands is infinite and I feel proud to be one. The Internet obviously has a major role to play in the upkeep and growth of this field, and it has lived beyond its expectations up to now. There is a lot of stuff happening around UX nowadays. There are UX conferences, more blog posts explaining the need of User Centered design, and people surely are getting a better picture of the topic, day by day.
While this really is great news for us UX designers, we have miles to go ahead until we reach the pinnacle, where UX design will be considered most pivotal in a system’s design and development process. For this to happen, inclusion of Experience design in an enterprise scenario should be justified, i.e., UX should yield results in terms of tangible values like increased hits, high user conversion rate, improved task completion time and so on. I work for a large enterprise where people don’t have time for elaborate UX sessions and detailed demos on the benefits of embracing UX holistically. All that matters is the revenue, and it is the single tangible entity that defines the importance, or rather, it is what defines whether something deserves respect or not. Fortunately enough, the team which I am a part of within a large enterprise took the bold step of taking UX seriously and demonstrated the benefits of doing so, in our own way, to the top management.
This post makes use of my personal experience and wisdom that I have collected over time working in large enterprises, and I will try to present a detailed analysis of key points which will be decisive towards the making of a User Experience team, that delivers.
What is the need of a UX team?
The scope of this post is confined to large enterprises where revenue matters the most, where things are already working fine (in terms of revenue) and where there is very little awareness on the need of a good UI. In other words, where the word ‘user’ is often forgotten and has taken the backseat! The result will be ill-designed applications with significantly diminished user experience, insanely long task completion times and a huge dent in the reputation of the company, when it comes to the quality of interaction and the overall experience with the product. Though these negatives are obviously visible, people never realize the missing link, the reason is being unaware of the importance of a good UI, less tech-savvy customers who never demand a better experience and, most of the time, simply the lack of proper resources to get the job done!
Push for a UX team here! The challenge lies in convincing management, that this is the solution which connects the dots effectively. It’s just the beginning. Challenges will come like a landslide upon you, and only perseverance will work.
Starting to build the team from scratch
I am not a perfectionist, and I fully understand that there is no ‘perfect’ team. But without understanding what you are looking for, you will never be able to identify if you have found the right person or not. A great UX team is not one which is solely comprised of highly qualified or certified professionals, but one with productive, passionate and positive thinkers who have the right skills. So it’s not only important to identify passionate people, but equal weight should be given to identify the right balance of skillsets, before you go on a recruitment drive. My understanding so far on the right ingredients for a UX team has worked out well and I take that gut feeling forward.
1. Bring in the experts
Like every other trade, there is no replacement for the wisdom that experience brings to the table. Experienced and seasoned professionals are an integral part of any team. Make sure you have experienced professionals who are self-driven. In many cases, people land up recruiting misfits just because either the hiring team didn’t have an in-depth understanding of the required profile, or the process of evaluating the candidate was not effective enough. This is where the importance of effective recruitment process comes into play.
Be focused on the specifics of skill-sets you are looking for when you set out to hire a person. For example, while recruiting a front-end engineer, look for his preferences of tools and techniques, which will give you a better first hand idea on his expertise and way of working. This has worked for me most of the time. My point here is, make your recruitment process more creative and find out your own ways to get great talents aboard. Also remember, always be on the lookout for better talents than you, and create a team of greats and not a team of dwarfs!
2. Fresh people bring vibrancy to the team
Often, in my experience, freshers (trainees) are the most underestimated resources in a team. I believe if you are recruiting a passionate and enthusiastic fresh soul to the team, the amount of positive energy and raw talent that these people bring into the team is unimaginable. If harnessed and directed in the right way, they can be one of the best sources of productivity for a team. Provide clear direction to the trainee, clearly set goals and checkpoints along with continuously motivating and directing them to reach the target and let them grow to their strengths. The key lies in identifying their interests and letting them grow with those interests and passion. The dividends being paid back will surprise you.
3. Certification is not the ultimate benchmark
Professional education/certifications definitely is an added value but not a necessity. Personally, I have worked with people with certifications/design education and also with passionate self-educated professionals, and most of the time the quality of the output was directly proportionate to the level of passion displayed rather than the education/certification. My point here is, let’s not take certification as a benchmark while recruiting an experienced professional. As I mentioned above, there are gems waiting to be discovered, and the only way to find them is to adopt some really creative recruitment methodologies. This is really important for a domain like Experience design, where passion is paramount.
4. Referrals might not always work – screen thoroughly
I decided to include this point based on some of my bitter experiences in hiring referrals. The ideology behind bringing referrals onboard is to increase the coordination and productivity of the team, assuming that people will find it encouraging to work again with their ex-colleagues or friends. But this might not always work unless you have a solid screening process in place. Blindly roping in a referred candidate can be suicidal at times. I am not completely against referrals, but my point here is to never take anything for granted when it comes to building a team that matches your expectations. Backfires in hiring can prove fatal for the team in the long run, and can seriously hamper the team spirit and productivity if not dealt with in the right way.
5. Never go with the numbers – assess based on the quality of work
Numbers can be deceiving and may not necessarily be proportional to the productivity/quality expected. You might come across a beginner who does magic with code while you may also tumble upon a veteran with no basic knowledge at all. So lets come out of the number game and give respect to those who deserve to be on the team.
6. Make training/sessions/workshops mandatory in the appraisal cycle
Creative designers feed on constant inspiration and that is one single thing that can drive the show forward. It is essential for a design team to conduct frequent knowledge sharing sessions, and exchange ideas. Make training sessions and workshops mandatory, this will help bring fresh inspiration to the team and will promote sharing and bring a sense of pride.
Key Roles in a UX team
While I am not a veteran professional with many years of experience, I’ve had some career defining moments where I have been closely associated with teams struggling to establish the right balance in the team when it comes to Experience Design. The diversity in my career (a video post-production artist to a web graphics designer to a front-end engineer to a User Experience enthusiast) has been most helpful for this state of mind. It has enabled me to look at my team from a variety of perspectives and identify shortcomings and positives. From my limited experience, let me suggest some key roles which can make the difference in a User Experience team:
1. User Experience Architect
The User Experience Architect is the team’s visionary. Every product thrives on its own vision, and unless the vision is clear, the influence it has on a user’s mind cannot be directed in the intended way. Designing a good experience is meticulously planning a chain of events in which the users are involved, and helping them find what they are looking for easily and smoothly. A UX Architect’s job is to carefully sandwich the vision into the product, while helping the user to be happy and satisfied in using it.
- Should have extensive experience in driving the Experience design processes, as they might have to make key decision just based on his past experiences and wisdom.
- They should be passionately associated with a product’s life cycle.
- Knowledgeable in UX best practices and processes.
- Ability to generate a User Experience Document based on personas and scenarios.
- Deliverable will be in form of User Experience Document, Personas/Scenario details and a close association with the team at every stage to make sure the product is shaping up as they wanted.
2. Information Architect
The Information Architect is the authority when it comes to the information design of the product. A skillful Information Architect should be able to cruise along when presented with the challenge of organizing the information in a huge data-driven application with complex scenarios and screenflows. He will be responsible for laying out information and plays a key role in deciding the screen flows and interaction patterns to be followed.
- Should be an expert in various wireframing tools like Axure, Omnigraffle, Visio.
- They should be a master of IA techniques like card sorting.
- Extensive knowledge in standard UI interaction patterns.
- Deliverables will be wireframes, screenflows, sitemap and interaction design documents.
3. Visual designer
The role of a visual designer is crucial to a UX team’s success. Though the efficiency of a product is not skin deep, the skin does matter. The UX vision of a successful product is driven by a visual designer. While there will be numerous apps and services offering the same service or experience, the first impression and the visual aesthetics plays a very important role in carrying forward the experience of the product.
- A visual designer should be a magician when it comes to color combination, typography, visual hierarchy and importantly should be a great communicator of ideas through whatever medium available, as design is all about communicating ideas.
- Madly passionate about visual communication, colors, type and aesthetics.
- Share the passion and ideologies of the UX architect and carry forward the UX vision the same way as he would have imagined. This is a key requirement for a UX team to click, and this is often ignored and overlooked upon.
- A pixel perfectionist, and a critic lover.
- A Photoshop rockstar.
- Should have an open-minded approach to design, questioning each design decisions, and contributing to the Experience of the product in his own way.
4. UX All rounder (UX+ VD+Frontend engineering)
From my diverse career experience, this is a role which I feel will make the difference for any UX team. Someone who understands each stage of an Experience design process and who will be able to connect the dots seamlessly across each phase of the Experience design process will be an asset for the team. They will make sure that the UX vision of the product doesn’t get blurred across each phases. The primary job of this person will be to be involved in each phases of the Experience design process, collaborate with the experts of the respective phases (eg. visual designer, while in the designing phase, information architect during the wire-framing phase and front end engineer during the prototyping and front end development process) and make sure the product gets transitioned between them smoothly. This includes guiding the visual designer in authoring graphics/UI elements which doesn’t fall out of the scope for a front-end enginee, or which is completely non-implementable from a front end development perspective.
- Diverse and extensive knowledge in UX practices, Visual design tools & techniques
- Front end development concepts, tools & techniques
- A trend watcher
- Should be on the bleeding edge of all updates, tools and techniques
- A good communicator, and importantly a great team player.
- The key is communication in this profile, as this person would be working closely with almost all members of the team.
- Should have a strong hold on the concepts of each phases, and his/her experience will be put on test, while team discussions, as this person holds the baton for making convincing statements to bring the team to a common understanding and to clear out conflicts that are bound to arise in each phases of the Experience design process.
5. Front-end engineer
This is a key role in a UX team in my opinion, and I am surprised at the level of ignorance some enterprises (at least in the country I work in) show towards this role. Front-end development is when the product jumps into the first phase of life after much conceptualization and designing from other members of the UX team, and for that matter, this is the most vital part of the Experience design process. Front-end engineer’s responsibility will be to give life to the concepts and mockups and make them work on a browser or any other medium on which the product is expected to work on. The challenge lies in translating the ideas which are in the form of wireframes, documents and visual mockups into a working prototype. Working closely with the ‘UX all rounder’ will yield good results for a front-end engineer. In short:
- a front-end engineer brings together the 3 forms of an application, namely content, presentation and behavior.
- A rockstar in HTML/CSS/JS based techniques.
- Should be a cross-browser compatibility samurai.
- Should give attention to detail and should be able to appreciate design.
- Well versed with optimization and performance boosting concepts and techniques.
- Should have a solid understanding of the technology behind an application in which he/she is working on.
- A sharp learner of new techniques and tools.
- Ability to bring about a set of processes and standards, and in turn institutionalize the whole front-end engineering process within the organization at large.
6. Content Strategist
It is high-time we start thinking of content as one of the important parts of a product. The role of a content strategist has been a topic of discussion for a long time and the term ‘Content strategy’ itself is evolving. As an Experience design team, content should be considered as an important part of the product, be it web, mobile or any other medium. A content strategist will be responsible for shaping up the ‘tone of voice’ of the product. He sets the tone of the product by carefully planning the content. Here the content is not only text. It refers to whatever element used to communicate with the user. A content strategist might even have a call over the design element that the visual designer created, because it communicates something to the user. It is important to convey the right things in the right way to the user for a consistent ‘tone of voice’.
- A passionate writer and communicator.
- Should have impeccable command over the language and grammar.
- Exposure to latest trends and developments in the web world will make a content strategist more desirable.
- Ability to appreciate design.
7. Usability Expert
They are the Nielsen and Norman of a UX team. With much established techniques and tools available a qualified usability expert is always an asset to the team. They are responsible for assessing and making sure the product ships out as a usable unit. Most often, usability comments are best consumed at the initial stages of conceptualization, as keeping the very basic usability issues in mind can help the team move in the right direction. Also methods used to conduct user research and similar exercises can prove to be life-saving for highly sensitive which are:
- Extensive experience in conducting usability tests and other usability related tasks.
- Strong understanding on the working of the product, from a user’s perspective.
- A good communicator.
Building a productive team takes time, dedication and lots of effort. Bringing in just the right skills may not always work. It is always important to bring in a balance to the team, by smartly utilizing fresh talent, setting goals and enabling each of them to have a sense of belonging and ownership within the team. While everything above is based on my experience in the field there are lots of other factors that some into play while building a team that delivers. The attitude, the passion, the thought processes, everything can make a major difference. Personally I believe in having members driven by passion and interest in the field, rather than just professional and academic achievements, and this has so far helped us in bring the right blend of talent to the team.
These are the words of wisdom which my diverse career has gifted me with. I would be excited to know more about this topic from experts and passionate UX practitioners. Share your thoughts, experience, and suggestions on building a rocking Experience Design team!