User Experience Hiring Strategy

Many of you will have seen Jason Mesut’s excellent presentation: “Truth and Dare – Out of the echo chamber into the fire” (http://www.slideshare.net/jasonmesut/truth-and-dare-04). In this post we look at how the points he raises can be used as part of a User Experience hiring strategy.

What is seems to me Jason is saying, is that we should go back to breaking ourselves down by category as opposed to the ‘catch all’ title of User Experience. Back to the days of the Information Architect, the User Interface Designer and the User Researcher.

Jason goes on to produce this diagram showing what he considers to be the four ‘pillars’ of User Experience:

I think it would be naïve to assume that anyone that calls themselves a User Experience Consultant is going to be an expert in all four of these areas. In fact, I’d say it would be almost impossible, not least due to the left brain/right brain split that runs through the centre of the box. In my experience it’s very rare to find someone with equally muscular lobes; one generally can curl a little more than the other.

However, I don’t believe that the solution to clarification is going back to pigeon-holing User Experience Designers into different specialist areas. What a sad world it would be where you are confined to your own little square, with no way to reach out into the others.

But you need your best man/woman on it right? Well, no. What you need is your best man/woman in that particular problem area to oversee the work of any other member of the team if that is the main focus area of the task. The advantage of this is that you get a wider view of the problem from angles the ‘specialist’ may not even think about. I think putting a pure Information Architect on an IA task would be a mistake and lead to a very narrow field of thinking. After all, they’ve been doing this for years, why do it differently? Better to have them oversee someone whose strengths lie in Experience Strategy, for example, allowing both employees to learn from each other.

Certainly for me, my strengths lie in the understanding and visualisation of problem spaces, but that’s not to say that I don’t believe an understanding of the overall market environment and trends isn’t essential to my work. Wireframes without context are just a doodle.

In terms of this mutual support I’m also not certain that all of the above activities should be seen as purely the preserve of the UX discipline. Whilst I’m all for educating other disciplines about the importance and range of UX activities, I’m not sure if a ‘land grab’ of roles of roles and responsibilities is necessarily the way forward.

I’ve worked in plenty of cross discipline teams where the planning team is heavily involved experience strategy and user research and of course there is a good deal of cross over with creative and coding teams when it comes to interaction design. UX should be looking for collaboration and a fresh angle from these in-house support mechanisms.

Another way to address these issues is in the interview process itself. Build a team around you who can cover as many of the 4 squares as possible, with their own various configurations. Some will tend more to some areas then others, but this is an opportunity for them to mentor people with weaknesses in those areas – not to become specialists. Using this method you can create a team which is constantly growing and self-evolving.

Of course, people may be reluctant to ‘map’ themselves in this way, particularly in an interview situation, as it can highlight areas they are not as strong in. Everyone of course, wants to present themselves in the best possible light to their potential employer and show they are capable of any task you will throw at them in their new role. A refusal to do this may in fact show that they aren’t entirely sure what they do short of some UX buzzwords, or even worse where their passions lie. For this reason, I suggest the interviewers do the exercise too.

This has two benefits; firstly it shows what type of person would help fill in the ‘gaps’ the team currently has, and secondly, it gives the interviewee the confidence to draw their map and describe what their skill set really is. Of course you run the risk of them just drawing something to fill in the gaps in your chart, so show it to them afterwards.

By knowing more about who you are hiring, your User Experience deliverables will produce a more holistic view of the problem and enable your team to grow in the direction it needs to.

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