How to Make Your Company’s User Experience Effort Succeed

You’ve undoubtedly heard that user experience (UX) is a key competitive advantage for your product or service. You know you need a UX person in your organization. And even though you’ve never hired a UX person before, you’ve posted an opening that lists the job requirements you saw in another company’s UX posting. Fingers crossed, that results in a good hire and a positive UX outcome for your product.

Will hiring a single, hands-on, UX person solve it?
In a quick analysis of current UX/UI designer job postings, many of them include most or all the following requirements:

  • Conduct user research to uncover customer needs
  • Lead multidisciplinary design sessions to define product features
  • Create user flow wireframes
  • Produce pixel-perfect artwork
  • Conduct usability testing
  • Assist with front end coding

It’s my assessment – after addressing UX for hundreds of products and services – that you will be hard pressed to find one individual that meets all these distinct requirements well. And also based on experience, better UX designs arise from having more than one person undertaking UX activities. Two (or more) people can provide deeper coverage across the required skill sets. Discussion and give-and-take between UX peers leads to better outcomes, stronger design rationale and speedier results. A lone UX person is often at a significant disadvantage when it comes to fully exploring the design space and defending design decisions.

In the current marketplace, there are many individuals relatively new to UX who are looking for jobs. The ones who believe they meet the entire laundry list of requirements above are often lacking the depth of experience to be self-aware about their actual competencies.

That creates an awkward situation. You don’t know what you don’t know about who to hire for your UX position. The candidates don’t know what they don’t know about undertaking the work. The likelihood of creating a less-than-optimal UX situation at your company is high.

A lot of people mistake lovely graphics for good UX. Good UX is so much deeper than the visual skin job.

You need more than lipstick on the pig
Because many of the items on the laundry list above are subtle to communicate (except for front end coding, which I would argue isn’t truly a UX skill), UX candidates are often assessed by their visual portfolio. It’s easy for candidates to share visuals and easy for the hiring party to look at them and like them (or not).

Many times, visual design becomes the primary focus of the UX effort, and drives who gets hired as the sole UX person.

I’ve recently tried a few products that looked incredibly beautiful and professional. I was initially surprised at the level of refinement, knowing that they were created by early-stage startups. But that appearance was superficial. The screen designs belied the fact that it was difficult to understand where I was in the app or complete basic tasks. What I could accomplish was significantly more difficult than it should have been. Clearly, no one took the time to design a good flow for product interactions. Sensible behavior is an essential component of an interactive product’s experience.

Be careful not to fall for good visuals alone! A lot of people mistake lovely graphics for good UX. Good UX is so much deeper than the visual skin job.

What do you need?
Before you need a hands-on, individual contributor, you need a UX strategy. You need vision, direction, and big picture goals for the UX. You need user research to ensure you aren’t getting sidetracked by your own biases in defining your product and an initial framework for the product’s behavior that looks out ahead of near-term agile sprints.

You don’t necessarily need an in-house person for these strategic tasks. You do need someone who has significant experience applying design thinking and user-centered UX processes.

Once your strategy is in place, you’ll be better able to define who, specifically, you need to add to the team. You might already have a product manager that can undertake user testing. Or a developer who has good instincts around interface design coding. Or a marketing graphic designer that might be able to help with screen design.

If you don’t know what you don’t know about UX, you undoubtedly will not achieve deep success in UX with one relatively junior UX designer. Invest in figuring out your UX strategy first, and then advertise a position with a clear sense (and a more realistic list) of what you need that person or persons to do.

How does this perspective on UX capabilities relate to your situation?

Swim provides strategy, advising, user research and other valuable services that enable startups and companies lacking in UX skills to position themselves beneficially for growing an in-house UX effort. Principal Gitta Salomon serves as a fractional VP of UX to help put companies on the right track.