A modern approach to creating a top-notch UX team

Where does a great user experience come from? It’s a team that consists of these 7 skills.

User experience as a term is fairly new. As Don Norman explains, it encompasses everything a customer encounters when interacting with a company. Practically, this is the job of everyone at the company, so UX tends to focus on digital or virtual touchpoints. Still, communicating the brand plays a large role, so those digital touchpoints, in design and tone need to follow the brand philosophy. A good example of this is an error message on a login form, if the company wishes to communicate that they are friendly and helpful, they should avoid harsh language and reproach and perhaps even indicate a sense of humor in that error message. While it seems like a small bit of text and easy to do, this is rarely the case. The UX role champions design and delivery of a delightful experience, but should also understand and educate the company on with whom they are engaging with, and measure their satisfaction. It’s also important to iterate and respond to feedback.  When customers report that an experience is “easy to use” – it is an achievement of many roles and disciplines, here is an outline of my experience on what is needed to make up a high performing team.

Team construction

 Leadership – responsible for team progress, course correction, presentation to clients/management, critiques, and creative leadership. Is deeply involved in both the ease-of- use and desirability of the product as well as the alignment of the priorities and problems being solved. Comes up with ways to help the team bond together and tracks that they are progressing and not bored or overworked. Buys the donuts and picks up the tab at the bar.

experience designExperience designer – responsible for keeping track of all the moving parts while keeping the whole in mind. A person with good analytical skills, but enough experience to know when things are getting too arcane or complex. Understands conventions. Can do the math. Can tell a story, and revise that story to enthrall a potential audience. Has the maturity to call something done but still plans on making “one more small change” based on new learnings or patterns. Prototypes using wireframes.

designVisual Designer – good with expressing the brand, and creating desirability in a User Interface without resorting to too many ‘tropes’ such as transparency, drop shadows, gradients, or elaborate effects. On the other hand, perhaps those are all good things to use, so they should be able to defend a choice as either trend setting, or overused. They used to be a master of Photoshop but is now happier using Sketch or Figma to iterate faster. Can extrapolate their work into design systems. Prototypes using still images.
content strategistCreative Technologist
– mocks up higher fidelity prototypes in HTML/CSS. Able to use libraries to quickly test out effects and changes that dynamic data could bring to the design. Can demonstrate CSS3 animations to add personality to the static design. Can include data visualization so knows d3 or google charts to quickly demonstrate design issues. The key to this role is quick throwaway, non-testable code. However, when it comes to delivery this person can clean up the structures so development can hit the ground running.

creative technologyContent Strategist / UX Copywriter – Gathers content, organizes it, applies information architecture techniques to understand what is actionable, what is primary, what is secondary to feed design solutions. Works with the business to understand how content is kept fresh and pertinent. Can create tone and style examples, or helpful text that guides users through a process to keep the content on point. Can perform audits and catalogs based on SQL/Excel. Can create filtering/sorting techniques. Manages the non-text assets as well, so figures out the ideal sizing and cropping techniques to manage imagery, video, virtual spaces or whatever is next on the content horizon.

researcherUser Researcher/tester – Responsible for understanding and representing the users in an actionable way. Finds out the sticking points of a particular approach and learns the psychological triggers that can make or break a design. Creates journey maps and other artifacts to create flow diagrams and maps out the project to focus on critical points in the journey to user happiness. Helps with storyboards and other diagrams that marry user goals with the design. Tests in progress and prototype work with representative users to guide the team on in-flight improvements. Understands technical challenges such as security and state management to aid delivery.

developerFull stack developer – there has always been a firewall between design and development, for no real reason other than skillset. In an ideal team, the development process is ongoing, and everyone can weigh in in some manner to polish the product. A UX/Designer that isn’t proficient in CSS or HTML is becoming more of a rarety, but understanding MVC structures, JSON and coding business logic can be challenging. Therefore by integrating this talent, the product can be viewed holistically. It’s my experience that a difficult coding challenge is most easily handled by changing the design, freeing up the role to think more holistically about iteration from user feedback.

What should you expect to get with this team?

Realistically, I’ve been in projects where I have fulfilled each of these roles myself. And that may certainly be the case in your organization. I recommend UX team of one, and other books on how one person can make user-centric, delightful designs. I have also been in design-focused teams that left out much of the creative/UX work to focus on comps and selling a brand vision. I believe as customers become more demanding of good UX, telling the story of how the interaction makes the user feel and behave in beneficial ways to the business become the best way to pitch work. If you are an internal team and trying to build a case for design thinking, it may be best to start with a research and prototype focus. I think that low fidelity descriptive prototypes are just as compelling as high-fidelity static images. If fidelity is important, I recommend a UX designer + Creative Technologist. This may skip the ‘design’ phase, but if you are looking for fidelity, animations in CSS and the myriad of real design choices possible in CSS put most drawing programs to shame. Also, going to HTML will start to help answer structural questions, enforce reuse and create cleaner designs by understanding the rules of repeatability.  In my next post, I’ll talk more about tools and processes.

Ideally, this is a cross-functional team, meaning that different points of view co-exist and learn from each other how to support the end goal. Whether it is with 1-2-5 or 50, the user is in charge, and the structure of the team should support being open and iterative in the approach to create the most desirable product. If you cannot support the full team, just help create touchpoints where these roles can work together. If many of these roles are grouped in one person, leadership should give them the creative freedom those roles deserve, and support them in making several interlocking decisions. The biggest challenge is having the individual or team lock into an approach before going through the real process of learning – experimenting -testing and iterating that make great interaction design the most rewarding endeavor for those who like to evolve systems rather than just set arbitrary rules.

My next post will describe some team activities and tools you can use to make the team focused and productive.