5 Tips for New User Experience Teams

As more and more organizations continue to build out their Experience Design (XD) capabilities and their User Experience (UX) teams we are asked more and more often for tips to help expedite the UX teams success in bringing UX capabilities and focus to the organization. Here are 5 tips and some useful reads for anyone that is building out a new UX team or has a relatively newly formed one.

1. Build a team of complementary skills that can work well together

Building a team can be challenging, especially when there are several disciplines that come together for User Experience – psychology, content strategy, management of change, information architecture and various design disciplines….to name a few.

It is wise to not aim for a team full of “unicorns”, rather it is often more fruitful to hire people that, while knowledgeable and competent in a variety of UX skillsets, specialize in one or two. This enables focused individuals that can work with the other UX team members to create successful and well balanced experiences. For example, you may want someone who specializes in research, someone who is a great designer, someone who is really good at strategy and transforming needs into capabilities etc. If you are just starting out, who you hire will depend on your current needs and priorities.

2. Look for a true UX mind-set

There are clearly domain skills that enable the tactical elements of User Experience Design (UXD) to be carried out, however, there are other attributes to look for in your UX team members. One of these is their mind-set. There are several aspects to a UX mind-set including:

  • Ability to take criticism – sometimes designers may hear feedback on their designs that are not favorable. They need to not react defensively, but understand the underlying reason for the feedback – especially if it is something that comes up consistently or is a trend.
  • Empathy – when designing experiences, you need to be able to understand and share in the feelings of others. This not only helps design experiences for your users or customers, but helps you work cross-functionally while respecting the perspectives of others.
  • Ability to identify patterns – seeing the patterns or correlations in structured and unstructured data can help the UX designer identify issues and openings for innovation.
  • Eager to experiment and learn – the rate of change in which the world is evolving is getting more and more rapid (shocker). There are new techniques, technologies, methods, and ways of doing things everyday in today’s modern age. While the concepts and utilization of UXD in its various forms are steeped in years upon years of history, new applications of the discipline and ways to unlock its power are forming to solve the plethora of user and customer problems that exist. For example, with the access to data, there are enhanced ways to use insights proactively. It is imperative that UX team members stay up to date and have a driving curiosity.
  • Ability to work in the “grey” – there are always unknowns, there are always uncertainties, and UX team members have to be able to work in this environment. Here, skills like making the best decisions based on what is known, balancing efforts and experience impact, and maintaining a clear view of the big picture will help them operate in the “grey”.

3. Balance experienced veterans with less experienced professionals

I remember when I first moved out of the A.I. field, and started a role in Experience Design (because I had finally figured out that I loved the brain, human behavior, and technology). I started and very soon after was paired with another employee to grow out the organizational focus on UX. This employee had decades of experience compared to me. It was one of the best partnerships possible. Not only had he led a fascinating life and was one of the most interesting people I have ever met to this day, but I learned from his experiences in UX -- what had failed previously, his successes, and everything in between. Combining these insights with the ideas I had enabled us to be more successful in our UX goals.

When creating or building out a team it is extremely valuable to balance experience with the vibrancy of fresh talent. Look for the skills that you cannot teach easily, look for a genuine passion in making people's’ lives better through design, and look for people that understand how to use harmony and conflict of opinion in a productive way for innovation. It may take time and effort on your part, but it will be worth it! We all know the stress and impact of a wrongly matched hire.

4. Create a lean, valuable UX process

Over the years, the word “process” has received a bad rep – often having been butchered by people’s experience with badly designed, sub-optimal processes that often cause more effort to implement and cause a loss of sight on the outcome desired. However, processes, when designed well and with flexibility, aimed to enable and empower people, have several advantages. They can drive a common understanding and drive the right people coming together at the right moments to enable the right discussions and decisions before investments. In fact, a UX process can help you create experiences that people want and need, as well as save time and money.

A mistake often made is to create a process that others perceive as heavy weight, or “added work to their plate”. Starting small with key process touch points throughout design that bring maximum value is a better catalyst to organizational adoption. This can help bring a gradual introduction to UX methodology, which is especially easier to digest if your organization is lower in the UX maturity.

Once you start with this lean process, remember to track the business value of the efforts. This will give the foundation to grow out the practice to more projects, products and services across the organization.

5. Build cross-functional relationships

For some organizations this can be a challenge, but it is a critical part of the UX manager and team’s role – the ability to build relationships, and dedicating time to the efforts around this.

Several leaders, managers and individual contributors, will play a role in delivering the holistic experience. They will be stakeholders, and provide input to your team as well as be the consumers using the output.

It can expedite the team’s success and the organizations UX maturity when the UX practice stems from inclusion. While there are many things to discuss, some of the critical include:

  • Understanding what the team does and what their goals are.
  • Introducing the UX team.
  • Introducing how you can help – how you tangibly bring value to what they do.
  • Education and awareness of UX and what it means to the organization.
  • Gathering their feedback and input – what they need, where they think you can help.

For those organization’s where UX is an after-thought (I kid you not, someone once actually said to us “yes, we do UX, after it exits development we test it with some users”) staying in close step with the cross-functional teams can help raise UX in the life cycle, and you will find people coming to you earlier and earlier in their process.

In Summary

Starting and building out a great UX team can certainly be challenging, but it is a journey that leads to huge organizational impact, and competitive advantages. As you grow your UX practice out don’t forget to:

  • Build out a mix of skills that complement each other – with deep expertise and great competence in key areas.
  • Hire for the UX-mindset – those traits that are not as easy to train in or teach.
  • Balance the insights of vast experience with the freshness of newer perspectives in the domain.
  • Create a lean process that will not overwhelm cross-functional teams that can demonstrate the tangible value of UX and start with a defined scope – for example, a particular project, or product feature.
  • Spend time building meaningful cross-functional relationships across the organization at all levels.
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