Building A UX Team

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A designer, writer and speaker based in Belfast, Christopher has founded a number of successful digital startups. As a User Experience (UX) consultant he has … More about Christopher ↬

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As the spotlight has focused on the potential of design to transform businesses, we’ve seen a growing need for designers across a wider range of specializations. The number and types of roles have increased and, as UX continues to become a sought-after business differentiator, these roles will continue to diversify. What do you look out for when hiring team members? In this article, Christopher Murphy outlines how to go about building a UX team, which attributes to look out for when hiring, and he will suggest some avenues you can explore to find team members.

(This is a sponsored article.) In my previous article, I explored the rise of design, in particular focusing on the emergence of design as a business driver. As the spotlight has focused on the potential of design to transform businesses, we’ve seen a growing need for designers — and related team members — across a wider range of specializations. These specializations include:

  • Design Researchers
  • Creative Directors
  • Content Strategists
  • Copywriters
  • Graphic Designers
  • UI Designers
  • Marketers

Of course, this list isn’t exhaustive and many designers undertake a cross-section of these roles by necessity. One thing is certain, however, as our industry has matured, the number and types of roles have increased and, as UX continues to become a sought-after business differentiator, these roles will continue to diversify.

As design has become recognized as a potential driver for business growth, many companies have begun to bring user experience (UX) design in-house, building their own UX teams. Equally, as UX has grown in importance, many small businesses have been responding to the opportunity by broadening and deepening their teams, thus enabling them to undertake larger and more profitable projects.

In this article, the ninth in my ongoing series exploring user experience design, I’ll outline how to go about building a UX team, identifying the attributes to look out for when hiring team members, defining a number of core disciplines to consider when building a team, and suggesting some avenues you can explore to find team members.

T-Shaped People, FTW!

When I first starting to work on the web in the early to mid-nineties, all that was required was a knowledge of HTML (and life was so much easier!). Over time I added CSS and JavaScript to my mix of skills, keeping a close eye on developments and adding to my skill set as needed.

For some time it felt like you could hold all of the web’s tools in your head; HTML, CSS, and JavaScript were complex, of course, but they were manageable. Fast forward to today and the landscape has evolved considerably, with new tools that we can add to our toolbox developed at an increasingly rapid rate.

As UX has grown up, we’ve started to see an inevitable specialization of roles, reflecting the complexity and diversity of our industry. This shift towards specialization is to be welcomed, it echoes an industry that is not only maturing but is also reflecting on the best way to achieve different outcomes. It’s a shift that is positioning carefully considered teams front and center.

The once fashionable idea of ‘unicorns’ — who know everything there is to know about everything — has, thankfully, been superseded by a focus on building teams, comprised of specialists with a deep understanding of their respective areas, who are able to work as part of a collaborative, multidisciplinary team.

With this shift towards collaborative teams comes a shift in the types of people we need to look for when we start to build a team. To function effectively, team members need to:

  • be skilled in communication, able to express their thinking clearly to others;
  • have an appreciation of the importance of feedback, and be able to facilitate the feedback process;
  • be able to collaborate with others, working as part of a multidisciplinary team;
  • have an understanding of the broad landscape of disciplines that now comprise UX; and
  • be able to articulate and present their thinking to others.

Put simply: soft skills matter. To work in a collaborative environment requires empathy and an ability to work with others. It also requires an awareness and understanding of the various disciplines that come together to form the backbone of user experience design in the 21st century. Enter ‘T-shaped people’.

Tim Brown, the CEO of global design company IDEO, defines T-Shaped people as having two kinds of characteristics: the vertical stroke of the ‘T’ represents their depth of skill in a field; whilst the horizontal stroke of the ‘T’ represents their ability to collaborate across disciplines. Brown identifies two characteristics that T-shaped people have:

"First, empathy. It’s important because it allows people to imagine the problem from another perspective – to stand in somebody else’s shoes. Second, they tend to get very enthusiastic about other people’s disciplines, to the point that they may actually start to practice them. T-shaped people have both depth and breadth in their skills."

When building a UX team it’s important to ensure that the candidates you consider possess these characteristics or, if they don’t, have the capability to learn them. By hiring, or working with, team members that possess empathy and perspective you’ll build a stronger, more effective team.

The ability to see problems from others’ perspectives is critical. Seeing a problem from the perspective of another team member underpins collaboration; equally seeing a problem from your user’s perspective is — as I’ve noted in my earlier articles in this series — critical. This ability to see problems from others’ perspectives is crucial when we build multidisciplinary teams.

A Multidisciplinary Approach

Within the field of UX, we are increasingly working with multidisciplinary team members who combine a knowledge and awareness of many branches of learning or fields of expertise. Designers will be a part of that mix, of course, but designers aren’t the only members of a team you need.

When thinking of a team it’s important to widen the frame of reference and look beyond the core strength of design. Take a look at any successful product and behind it you will see a team that is comprised of a wide range of individuals, encompassing: design across a range of aspects; business and strategy; marketing and storytelling; analytics; and many, many other disciplines.

When building a team, it’s important that the team is well-rounded with a cross-section of individuals who are used to looking at design problems in different ways. This becomes increasingly important when we consider the growing rise of digital product design.

In order to build a successful digital product, it’s important to consider:

  • Design Researchers
    The ones who drive a design based on user research and a wider understanding of the benefits of design research.
  • UX Designers
    The ones who afford a high-level view of the design process.
  • Content Strategists
    The ones who lead a website or product’s content focus, starting with content as a skeleton around which a design is built.
  • Copywriters
    The ones who create written content at both a macro- and micro-copy level.
  • Visual Designers
    The ones who create a design’s overall visual approach.
  • UI Designers
    The ones who design the interface between the product and the user, and the various interactions that underpin the design.
  • Front-End Designers and Developers
    The ones who handle the build at varying levels of complexity.

It’s a measure of how complex our industry is that we’re still finding terms to describe many of these roles. It’s also a measure of how complex our industry is that the above list is only scraping the surface.

In addition to the above list (which is broadly design-focused), it’s also important to consider project managers, business strategists, marketing experts — the list goes on. With such a long list of potential team members, it becomes quickly apparent that (good news for us!) there is considerable scope for working in our industry.

To become a lynchpin team member it helps to immerse yourself in as many of these areas as possible. The more you learn about different disciplines and their different ways of working, the more indispensable you become.

Finding Team Members

You might be considering hiring a full-time team member or a freelancer, but you still need to find these people. Where do you start and what should you look for?

First of all, if you’re considering expanding your team — and the roles you’re considering will be long term — it’s important to put some time in. Unless you’re willing to pay a recruitment firm, there’s no substitute for doing some good, old-fashioned research.

The last thing you want to do is hire someone in a hurry, then live to regret it later. Spending time getting to know different individuals and exploring their work in depth pays off in the long run. Doing so helps you to find individuals who are a better fit for your company’s culture.

Unsurprisingly, there are many design-focused communities that you can explore. As you begin your search, look for individuals who are active in those communities. It’s impossible to list every community, but you might like to consider:

  • Behance
    Owned by Adobe, Behance’s mission is to “showcase and discover the latest work from top online portfolios by creative professionals across industries.” The site’s ‘Curated Galleries’ are a great way to discover different designers organized across a range of creative fields.
  • Dribbble
    Although it’s come under fire occasionally, there’s no doubting the fact that Dribbble is a great place to discover designers. It’s known as the place “where designers get inspired and hired,” and is well worth exploring.
  • Product Hunt
    Billed as “the place to discover your next favorite thing,” Product Hunt might look a little out of place on this list, but it’s a great way to discover active participants within the design community.

In addition to the above resources, it’s also worth looking for designers who are actively working on side projects or who are contributing to open-source projects.

When interviewing potential team members, I’ll always ask if they’ve worked on any side projects. Side projects are a good indicator of a person who has a passion for their subject. They’re also a useful beacon, helping you to identify individuals who are actively learning and who have the project management skills to develop their own projects.

However, not everyone wants to undertake a side project. Another attribute that’s worth looking for is an individual’s contribution to other, perhaps open-source, projects. Someone who is actively contributing to an open-source GitHub repository is someone who has passion — and passion is hard to teach.

There are also numerous job boards, that act as a matchmaking service, connecting designers who are looking for work with companies who are interested in hiring. Adobe’s platform, Adobe Talent, offers you that ability to “hire from five million creatives on Behance.” Smashing Magazine has its very own Smashing Jobs, designed to help designers and developers alike to find jobs and connect with great companies.

In Closing

As UX matures as a discipline, so too have the number of different specializations. As the field has grown, so too have the opportunities. Instead of putting all your eggs in one basket and searching for an elusive ‘unicorn’ designer, a better approach is to build a team of individuals who can work well together.

When building a UX team, it’s important to focus on soft skills as well as hard skills. Look for T-shaped people with experience of working in a collaborative environment. And remember, a great team is comprised of individuals who work well together, so don’t forget that personality goes a long way. Building a team takes time, but the effort you put in more than pays off. The more rounded your team is, the more opportunities will present themselves to you.

This article is part of the UX design series sponsored by Adobe. Adobe XD is made for a fast and fluid UX design process, as it lets you go from idea to prototype faster. Design, prototype, and share — all in one app. You can check out more inspiring projects created with Adobe XD on Behance, and also sign up for the Adobe experience design newsletter to stay updated and informed on the latest trends and insights for UX/UI design.

Further Reading

Smashing Editorial (ra, il, mrn)