Don't look for a flying unicorn that can sing, write code, and do UX

Scan any job-posting site to see what a mess the Usability and User Experience (UX) world has got itself into. Job titles such as User experience researcher, user researcher, user experience designer, usability specialist, human factors expert, interaction designer, information architect, user experience expert, user experience architect, user interface designer create an alphabet soup that make it difficult for recruiters to know which candidates are right for which positions. These vague job titles are a symptom of companies and recruiters who don't know the field well enough to know what a user experience team should look like, or whether they have found good candidates or not. The not so long-term effect of this is obvious: unbalanced teams lacking the right skills and experience, teams that lack an authoritative voice and, ultimately, products never inspire anyone.

Creating great user experience takes more than a single person. Having the same person conduct ethnographic research, create the site taxonomy, create a content strategy, create a great visual design, create an engaging interaction design and then code the front-end is worse than having a wolf guard a hen house. Many organizations have asked for advice on building a user experience team. We usually say that great usability and user experience is the results of an integrated cross-function team. Start at the top and hire the right person for the critical leadership role. When Usability People drive the design and development, you are assured of a solid User-Centered design.

A well-balanced user experience team will represent a number of disciplines and skills. Remember that you will never find all these skills in one person. You should not expect your initial user experience hire to also be a user-interface designer or an ergonomist or an information architect. They are likely to have a good working knowledge in these areas but you should focus on the main user experience strengths when hiring. You must write job postings that are specific. Avoid the temptation to shovel in every role and responsibility you can think of. Otherwise, you'll send a signal to candidates that you don't know what you are doing, and the strongest candidates will hesitate to apply.

Ask any of our Usability People if they ever received an email from a recruiter about a usability or user experience job that required user research, usability testing, visual design skills, information architecture, UI (HTML and CSS) coding. I probably used to get at least one or two a week. I usually would laugh and tell them that they are looking for a flying unicorn that can sing and write code. (Some in the recruiter world call these "purple squirrels" )Sometimes nowadays a client will ask if I have a connection to someone that can do all of these things. I’ll tell them that Usability People do not wear capes, live in metropolis and work for the Daily Planet.

So, who should you present as your first User Experience hire? The candidate should be able to apply industry standard user experience methods and design standards. Does the candidate know about user experience? You should not have to probe very deeply to discover this. The candidate will know about the ISO 9241 standard and will be able to recite a fairly decent definition of that usability is. They should have no problems being able to discuss User Centered Design and will probably try to sell their understanding of UCD to you.

The candidate will know which user experience methods are appropriate for a given situation, and will know how and when to modify methods to accommodate limited budgets and aggressive timelines. They should be able to explain the differences between the many different forms of usability testing and be able to articulate when and why each method would be more appropriate. The candidate should also have experience with a range of other user experience methods and techniques, including field research, Heuristic or expert reviews, card sorts, and persona creation.

Most importantly, the candidate for your User Experience Leader should communicate well. Good communication— including the ability to write well — is a reliable indicator of a person's ability to put their thoughts into a coherent idea or argument, and to inform and influence others. Good communication is also a vital ingredient in managing and motivating a team. It is also a great indication of someone's ability to see a project through to the end, because when, as the end of the day, after all of the participants have gone home, someone has to write up a report and present it to the development team.

Want to know more? The Usability People are here to help. Contact Us Today!