UX design then and now
“We need to set up a UX team.” If you overhear these words, then you know it’s time for a change. More precisely, it’s time to join the UX wave and ride it. But… how?
Once upon a time, developers were free in designing web sites, mobile apps, and software in general. Relating UX studies, if any, were carried out by external service providers. Nevertheless, as early as 1985 User-Centered Design was introduced in a paper by Gould and Lewis. Here they made the first approaches to what we know as UX design today.
Within their concept an important key finding is specified: No designer, developer, product manager nor business analyst can put themselves cognitively in a user’s position. This still applies today and is the reason UX studies are (and have to be) conducted.
The importance of UX is increasing, more and more enterprises set up UX departments. While some of them already own huge UX teams, others are just beginning to hire staff with UX prefixes in their job description. If you rate your company in the latter case, this article is for you.
When you are planning to set up a UX team, you may find yourself asking:
- Which tasks have to be done?
- Which roles does a UX team need?
- What kinds of tools does a UX team work with?
- Which challenges must be faced?
This article will help you to find answers and offer support for difficulties you may encounter meanwhile.
Budget and task management
There are things money can’t buy. But one thing money actually can buy is a good UX team. In other words: The first step for building your team is to look at your budget. Accordingly, the two competing questions are: Which roles do we need vs. which roles can we afford? Make your decision based on that.
Next, you will have to arrange tasks. Which tasks refer to the UX team, and which ones are done by other departments? Besides, when assigning tasks, make-or-buy decisions are an important factor. You have to define which task areas are fulfilled in-house and which ones can be outsourced.
There are pros and cons to outsourcing UX services. Possible fields of work that you could consider outsourcing are:
- Target group analysis
- Participant recruitment
- Testing sessions
- Analysis of testing sessions
Outsourcing saves time and lets you focus on your core competencies. You get access to an external professional’s knowledge, which may enrich your UX projects. Additionally, externals have an objective perspective on your work because they are not too involved in the company. It can also be cheaper than hiring and increases your UX team’s scalability. This way, you avoid under- or over-hiring.
But of course, there is another side of the coin. Leaving your work to others means a loss of control. As a critical example, when sensitive data is shared. Hence, not to be involved in each step of a UX process may lead to trust issues.
Furthermore, if the Head of UX decides something according to externally found results, the team could start questioning the methodology or the service provider itself. On top of that, you need to invest a lot of time in communication with your external professional.
In sum, outsourcing is a reasonable way to add the competencies your in-house UX team is missing. Conversely, hiring people brings new remaining knowledge to your company. But letting your in-house team do the work improves their expertise. So, make-or-buy will be a decision you have to carefully make for your individual situation and future strategy.
Hiring a UX team
Let’s have a look at the most exciting part of when you set up a UX team: Who will be your new team members? A UX team consists of multiple roles. But often, they are not quite distinguishable.
This is why the following list of roles is to be understood as an overview and not as “HR’s law of hiring for UX”.
Why roles are often not distinguishable
When you set up a UX team, combining different UX roles in one person is common. There are two simple reasons:
- Agile approaches: UXers often work in agile project constellations. As a result, role definitions may only be defined for working in a certain process.
- Budget: Not every company can afford to hire a huge UX team. So they go with who they have and make their employees’ jobs cross-functional.
Common roles in a UX team
The following chart shows the most common roles of a UX team.
Head of UX
- leading the team
- managing projects
- managing budget
- ensuring the team’s working quality
- propagating a UX mindset in other departments
- integrating UX processes into product development
- facilitating collaboration between design and engineering
- determining KPIs for UX projects
- ensuring a UX project’s quality
User Requirements Engineer
- identifying the context of using a product
- defining requirements for use
- assessing prioritization of requirements of use
- defining organizational requirements for UX projects
- conducting UX research (e.g. target group analysis or interviews)
- presenting insights to the team and other stakeholders
- managing and documenting UX knowledge
- evaluating the product in various stages of realization
- conducting usability testing sessions
- creating test reports
- monitoring of performance indicators
- evaluating studies/analyses
- creating study/analysis reports
- presenting information in the product in a user-friendly way
- defining navigation structure
- creating an information structure that enables users to efficiently locate what they need
UX Designer I
- designing/defining interaction between humans and the system based on the requirements for use
UX Designer II
(User Interface Designer)
- creating mockups and interactive prototypes
- creating the final interface
Enabling a UX team to get started
When your UX team is staffed, their workflow needs to be defined. Since workflows are rather company-specific, we focus on interaction with other departments and helpful tools.
Integrating a UX team in your organization
As UX affects the whole company, a UX team has to be well integrated into the organigram. UXers play a cross-functional role in connecting product management, design, and development. Thus, the main part of linking your team to the other departments means designing their interfaces.
The most important partner for a UX team is product management. Product managers (PMs) receive information from user research and specify product feature implementations based on that. Second, UXers and developers work together in feedback-loops. Third, the designers (if not already included in your UX team) are responsible for the looks and also strongly collaborate with UXers.
For creating an efficient workflow, there are two important criteria:
- Involved departments must have an understanding of what UX design is
- Communication channels with involved departments must work well
To achieve this, a UX team should disclose their work process to the whole company. Explain your steps, communicate your outcomes, and share relevant insights.
Tools for UX teams
A UX team needs tools. In the following, we give a general overview of UX related tools. This has no claim to completeness because each UX team has individual requirements. How a list like this will look in your case, also depends on your outsourcing preferences.
Let’s take a look at a few helpful additions for your UX team:
- Virtual whiteboards for visualizing thoughts, workflows, etc.
- UX repositories for the curation of data, insights, and UX related content
- UX analysis tools for monitoring and analyzing key indicators
- Software for conducting usability tests and (remote) interviews
- Prototyping software
Keep in mind that the best tool is not able to replace badly structured workflows. Tools are your assistants, choose them wisely and let them support what you do. Therefore, match them with your workflow and its context, not the other way around.
Facing challenges while setting up a UX team
When setting up a UX team, you’ll be faced with several challenges. The following section explains different issues and how to handle them.
Challenges regarding setting up a UX team
Having read the section about common roles in a UX team, you know how many people you could theoretically hire. But to be realistic – you probably won’t hire them all at once.
Also, no UXer excels at everything at once. There is no fantastic developer designer guy who perfectly conducts user research. Following this reasoning: Don’t post vague job advertisements looking for people that don’t exist. Instead, look at your company’s context and put your team together like a puzzle. This means you might have to combine some of the mentioned roles.
If you work at a company that has a good understanding of UX – congratulations! If not, you may first have to convince your co-workers how important UX is.
Some people still mistake UXers for UI Designers and wonder why you need a whole team of them. To avoid misunderstandings it is important to brief the whole company about what a UX team does. Also, this includes the team itself: You may have added members not originally coming from the field of UX. For them it is important that spelling their new job description with a “UX” prefix does not automatically mean they are prepared to do UX.
Challenges regarding research
Relevant information regarding users’ thoughts about a product can be found almost everywhere. But to exploit all this information, it first has to find its way to the UX team.
While doing so, an obstacle often standing in the way is the “research dictatorship”. This term describes the mindset that only UXers are allowed to do UX research. As a consequence, input only comes from one source.
A possibility to overcome this fallacy is using a well accessible UX research system. Such systems provide open access to information regarding UX. Having a UX research system, each employee can contribute to the UX process.
Challenges regarding sharing data
Democratizing UX processes may imply worries about data security. Since this topic is rightfully gaining more and more relevance, these worries are understandable. Especially in the European Union with the GDPR updated in 2018.
A UX team has to manage a lot of sensitive data, for example, personal information about users. To overcome concerns, UXers must communicate why they need the data as well as how and how long they will store it. A UX repository can be a safe way to manage data in one central place.
One argument for not sharing data with or between UX teams could be internal politics. We’ve seen teams that did not want to share insights with other teams of the same organization since they realized them with their budget. In an extreme case like this, you have to reconsider your company’s mindset. But this overtakes a UX team’s responsibility.
Finally, a common fear of User Researchers is that if everyone has access to research output, their conclusions could be drawn out of context and misinterpreted. Instead, they rather seal off their findings and thereby hinder building up knowledge in the organization. Again, a research repository might help in that case, when findings can be easily traced to the context and raw data as well as point to the conducting researcher as the contact person in doubt.
Challenges regarding a distributed team
If you work in a company that is spread across multiple locations, your UX team might be distributed as well.
In order to still create an efficient workflow, consider the following: First, you need to define your communication methods and communication intervals. Create communication rituals for your team, e.g. daily meetings. Subsequently, always share your findings. Storing your UX knowledge in a central place will make this easier. And by that, as a positive side effect, you create a “single point of truth”.
Challenges regarding knowledge management
Unquestionably, another orchard of obstacles is the topic of knowledge management. Actually, each employee is a possible source of information. But not everyone is aware of that. This problem is called bad research memory.
To harvest your coworkers’ hidden knowledge, create an information infrastructure supporting storage and linkage possibilities for insights. Again, UX research repositories can be handy for that.
Along with that, UX repositories avoid so-called research silos. This term describes an isolated system that does not cooperate with others. Consequently, information is shared, but not connected. The solution to this problem lies in aligning everyone’s work towards one shared company goal. By this means, each employee learns how to handle information for contributing to the company’s goal. Additionally, an exchange between teams should be encouraged.
Challenges regarding collaboration in knowledge management
When you have integrated all relevant departments into your UX process, the journey is not over yet. When several people collaborate, you encounter different styles of work: Some people may leave little notes while others store huge files.
To ensure a consistent granularity of information, define guidelines. In doing so, define what kind of information is relevant and how it is stored. On top of that, you should set up an obligatory onboarding process for teams that are newly integrated into the process.
Altogether, putting effort in UX is not a nice-to-have any more, but an essential part of product management and development. To successfully set up up a UX team, keep the following in mind: A company-wide UX mindset is essential.
Without a company culture that is open to working user-centered, you cannot succeed. Therefore, thoroughly prepare the company for UX processes. Make UX a holistic process involving your whole company.