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By Reynhardt Uys
Reynhardt Uys is a User Experience Strategist for Human Factors International in South Africa, within its local subsidiary UX Best Practices (UX BP). Reynhardt runs the technical team in SA. He has worked in UX in SA for 12 years, as both a consultant and corporate UX manager.
It’s a truly exciting time to be involved in the User Experience Design industry within South Africa. Business Executives are steadily starting to recognize user centric design, customer experience and usability as not only surface level design requirements, but also as key differentiators of their future competitive positioning. The result is an increase in demand for UX work and resources. An interesting feature of this growth is that it is not limited to the UX agency environment. Many companies are also seeking to create or expand in-house UX design capabilities and teams, creating new internal UX posts or opportunities for long term UX resource contracts with vendors.
So from an industry perspective, these are exciting times. However, growth brings challenges. Not least of these challenges is that the demand for UX resources needs to be met with an adequate supply of skilled workers. I have personally seen companies go through multiple cycles of recruitment, without hiring anyone into new UX posts, a major frustration for the UX Manager. Recruitment agencies also feel this challenge directly, either providing piles of CVs that end up being rejected, or not being able to find anyone meeting the criteria outlined in the customer requirements brief.
On the other side of the coin, companies also make some hiring errors, such as not recognizing that UX is a specialized skill set, or hiring someone that knows the lingo, but does not have the real experience and knowledge to be effective in the role. Added to this, once you have invested in finding and embedding a resource them in your organization, you also face the reality that retaining experienced UX practitioners can be a challenge.
If you are considering hiring UX staff, here are 5 tips that may aid you in the process:
1. Recognize UX as a Specific Skill Set
Usable and compelling design does not directly come from a candidate that has lots of experience in graphic design, marketing, development, business analysis or any other related field. Identifying an effective practitioner is not obvious, or related to how logical or analytical a person is, and is certainly not a factor of an individuals interest or experience in using the web or applications personally.
To attract and select the right kind talent you need to be hiring against the specific activities of user research, usability and persuasion design and user validation that form the discipline of User Experience Design. Outline activities like contextual inquiry, user profile and persona development, design of information architecture and navigational structure, detailed task flow, wireframe and content design, persuasion design, usability testing and creation of design specification. Ensure that the role description as well as the recruitment brief, reflects UX activities clearly and that you use these to shortlist CVs.
I generally sit with recruitment agents and internal HR teams prior to going out with advertisements, holding discussions around the blend of core UX skills needed for a role, versus business skills and also technical skills from related fields that could add value. Be clear on the minimum skill set required for the role to avoid a pile of applications on your desk that do not reflect real UX skills.
2. Assess Candidates for Real Skills and Knowledge
In the interview, ask questions that uncover the breadth and depth of skill, knowledge and experience that the participant possesses. I like to use questions like: “So you refer to having done usability testing in the past, could you describe the process you followed and the deliverables you created?”; “You mention having designed a mobile application, could you give me some real examples of how user insights affected your design outcomes?”; “Could you explain some of the principles of usability for visual design?”. These types of questions quickly separate out real UX practitioners from those that are not.
It is also always advisable to set some practical assessment for short listed candidates. A good approach is to get them to evaluate a poor design, describe its issues in usability terms and recommend and sketch out design improvements.
3. Blend Internal Resource Development with External Recruitment
In a resource constrained market, having the ability to develop UX skills internally can be a real solution to long-term resource management. A blend of internal company knowledge and experience, and externally acquired skills, builds a stronger UX team both in terms of capability and organizational acceptance.
A UX skills development path; that is based on internal and external UX training and certification, as well as UX mentoring at all team levels, provides an environment where skills can be built, rather than bought. This type of program also attracts and retains talent for your organization. The new UX team is often exciting and aspirational to staff in other areas of your organization as well. Making this team an internal career path option builds your organization’s talent management capabilities.
4. Consider Balancing the Load with External Resource Partners
Outside of the need to staff a core UX team, situations will often arise where UX work load is variable, increasing and decreasing based on the nature of application lifecycle management. Hiring more permanent staff does not deal with this issue, and outsourcing projects or project deliverables carries the risk of design misalignment across and within channels.
An option to consider here is working with a resource partner that can scale your team size up through high-load periods and/or when you need to utilize specialized skills (e.g. international research & design) and senior strategic resources. In this model you retain overall control of your design environment and its outcomes and standards and remove the capacity when it is not needed. This model will also adjust slightly based on your internal UX capabilities and evolving UX maturity & skill levels.
5. Don’t Rely on People Alone, Build UX Process
A common mistake made by companies starting up UX teams, is the assumption that hiring great people will naturally result in great design outcomes. World class UX design can only come about when skilled UX resources are working in systematic and integrated UX and systems development processes. If you just rely on great UX people then, you will likely run into the situation where they feel dis-empowered to perform their work within the organization. This introduces the risk of staff leaving or carrying, but never achieving the heights of success everyone envisioned.
It is also noteworthy that UX process and method design are specialized activities in themselves, which use reference frameworks that are customized to specific business cultures, objectives and operations. This step must be followed by process implementation and compliance management development activities. Just because a senior UX designer is great at application design-- does not mean that they can come into your organization and write and implement quality UX processes and methods.
As with an internal skills development program, demonstrating a growing UX practice maturity will attract and retain quality UX resources for your organization, as well as get the most value out of your investment in them.
UX Strategist; Human Factors International Inc.
Mobile SA; +27 82 350 2879
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