UIEtips: Building and Managing a Successful User Experience Team

Jared Spool

June 8th, 2009

Producing a usable design takes time, money, and resources. It also requires the User Experience team’s dedication to focus on customer needs throughout the entire design process.

Knowing how to identify and communicate the value of a User Experience project will gain you design strategy approval and support throughout the organization. Most organizations we work with understand the need for UX efforts, yet they still struggle with how to best incorporate the team into the development process.

Back in 2006, former UIE staff member, Christine Perfetti interviewed Sarah Bloomer and Susan Wolfe, two premier User Experience experts, to discuss how organizations can make their UX practices a success. I find this interview is still dead-on three years later.

One of the most frequent questions we’re asked is how do you go about setting up a UX team. What criteria should I use in the hiring processes, and how do I get executive buy-in on the UX vision?  To answer these questions, and many others, we’ve asked Sarah Bloomer to present our next UIE Virtual Seminar, Upgrading Your UX Team. We’re offering the recording of this presentation at no additional cost when you register with the promotion code MYARCHIVE.

Are you challenged with building a UX team within your organization? Is your team struggling to get support and buy-in from your organization? How have you gotten your organization onboard? Join the discussion below.

14 Responses to “UIEtips: Building and Managing a Successful User Experience Team”

  1. Jennifer Dolan Says:

    I agree with many of the points raised by Susan and Sarah. I started a usability/UCD function at my company, and I too started with usability testing. That was the easiest way to dive in – by starting to prove the benefits using an existing project. Eventually, I started to work my way further and further back in the project lifecycle.

    I also agree that tailoring the message of UX work to your specific audience is key. Helping each project team role understand the benefits that apply to them specifically goes a long way.

  2. Donna Colarossi Says:

    Excellent article. I am interested in other suggestions and ideas that proved successful.

  3. Shane Morris Says:

    Sarah and Susan mention a few techniques for promoting UX work within the organisation. I thought I’d add one of my favourites: design walls. I’ve had success on many projects by simply sticking up UX work artefacts (especially design ideas) in a high-traffic area of the organisation and soliciting feedback. Whether or not you get feedback, it’s a great way to get across the message that, yes, someone is taking responsibility for the UI!

  4. Mia Says:

    It was interesting to read of the roles suggested for a successful UX team and the flexibility of how many people can fulfill these roles. We’ve had several internal discussions about how this team should be structured and what job titles we should use.
    The User Experience team at my workplace is made of ‘producers’, who are responsible for interaction design, IA and usability initiatives, and a ‘web designer’, who leads the visual design effort.
    The UX team is part of the Product Management department, so we have a very close relationship with the product managers and share business goals. This works well: they are as committed to user-centred design as we are, because they know the result is a more competitive, profitable and preferred web site.
    The web designer role was originally in the IT department and we recently shifted it into the UX team. This has proven invaluable as the person can be closer to the strategy and goals of an initiative and we can prioritise their time to be much more involved in user-based evaluations, prototyping etc. instead of them just reacting to a brief and churning through design production.
    The ‘producers’ all have different strengths and backgrounds: one person is strong on content, another on usability, two on interaction design, although we all perform tasks across the board.
    Our UX team’s growth will focus on bringing in people with specific strengths to fill the gaps, and enabling us to separate design and evaluation, to reduce bias.

  5. Michael Says:

    What a timely article! UX teams seem to be a real flavour of the moment in the UK, where once it was the role of the lone ranger – literally – solely defending the usefulness of UCD.

  6. Kurt Morris Says:

    As long as we’re talking UX, may I point out that hyperlinking “here” (“You can read the interview here.”) is generaly considered sub-optimal? It would be much more useful to the user, for example, to drop that sentence, and instead hyperlink the verb “interviewed” earlier in the paragraph.

    This would be especially helpful on this page, as the hyperlinked “here” construct is used twice, and in successive paragraphs — I can’t scan the page as readily, since I have to stop to suss out which “here” the link is leading me.

    UX isn’t only visual/interaction design. Usability implicitly includes content as well.

  7. Zoe Says:

    I’m the lead designer at a university department. I’ve been really interested in starting to perform usability tests on our sites instead of just blindly producing work and hoping that our users are following our assumptions of who they are, what they want, and how they interact with our sites. I’ve had interest from my teammates about pursuing this, but my problem is that I’ve never performed usability testing. I’ve read about it, so I have some idea how it might go, but what I desparately want is to sit in on a usability test to see how it’s done first-hand. I feel this would make me feel much more confident to go out and start trying to implement a UX team where I work. Does anyone have any ideas of how I could sit in on usability testing? I’d love to find a local usability mentor.

  8. Daniel Szuc Says:

    Design Wall:

    Hi Shane, we are doing that very thing at the moment on a project.

    Where we have made a small cubicle called the *UX Design Studio* pinning up not only the process before builds, but wireframe sketches, design treatments and providing an opportunity for people to visibly see what is being produced. Its great!

    We also have a number of people coming by to visit, look at the walls and we have worked out a system of moving current work (sketches) from one part of the wall to the right as it moves foward and then archives.

    Very cool!

  9. Web Strategy by Jeremiah » Web Strategy: Beyond Usablity –Designing using ‘Bottom Up’ Techniques and Mental Models Says:

    [...] At many large web companies (I’ve friends in several of these groups) there are entire teams devote to each one of these layers of user experience. At smaller companies, a small group of folks has to cover many of these. Learn more about UX teams from Jared Spool. [...]

  10. Sokol Domniku Says:

    User Experience team are very usefull. Not just because of their celerity to contribute for different develomeninng aspect’s for the organisation, but the knowledge that is most important in this case to be escort to the other members of the group.

  11. Jim Jarrett Says:

    I agree that the article is spot-on, and aligns with much of my experience over the last few years building and leading a user experience function within a large organization (actually, doing it twice at different scopes). I would emphasize three of the recommendations:

    1) Embed UX work in the development cycles (this often requires adapting to multiple dev processes used across different teams). Learn, use, and promote “agile” methods.

    2) Foster executive stakeholders that are strong advocates. The higher in the organization the better. With access to funding. Respected (even if not loved) within the organization.

    3) Hire designers with usability evaluation skills first (rather than focusing on user researchers and usability specialists without augmenting the design capacity of the organization). Also, visual design is critical to most products these days; don’t overlook this when hiring designers.

    One caution, however… no matter how well you do all these things, a faltering economy (or failing individual company) and/or regime change (your executive stakeholders leaving for example) will put the function and your team at risk. The engineers who actually build the product or service will always be more valuable than those of us who define it.

  12. Lexi Says:

    The organisation first needs to have the mantra of user centred design.

    After that, I think it takes an understanding of the organisation, people and processes (or project lifecycles) to work out where best your (and your team’s) skills will fit in. I’ve often that once I understand the people around me it’s much easier to embed UX into the development cycle. For instance talk to a developer, see how you can work with them, and what type of thinking they need from you. Once you’re a player in the team you then have a bit more room to promote and prove the worth of UX.

    When hiring, it’s valuable to get the interviewee to take you through the process he/she goes through when completing a project. What was their role? How did they work with their development team to complete the project? What user research was undertaken? How did this impact on the final design of the product? Can they show a portfolio of documentation; research analysis, wireframes, sitemaps, through to the final product? etc.

  13. User Experience Design Career Development – Part 2: Beyond the Path Says:

    [...] UIE resources on UX management [...]

  14. links for 2011-02-16 | Michael Ong | On9 Systems Says:

    [...] UIEtips: Building and Managing a Successful User Experience Team » UIE Brain Sparks (tags: ux organization) [...]

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