Genuine user experience (UX) design is much more than just cosmetic. It’s not about attaching a pretty interface onto a clunky software application—or, to use an old expression, “putting lipstick on a pig.” UX design is a way of doing business, not just choosing the right colors and fonts.
To realize the full strategic value of UX within your IT organization, you need to do more than hire a few UX designers and encourage them to consult with IT developers on occasion. (For more on the benefits of incorporating UX design across your organization, read the article “Design thinking: User experience takes center stage.”) You need fully integrated and committed multidisciplinary teams that incorporate seven different categories of skills.
The Foundation: the 7 key IT Talents
- UX designers: UX designers are primarily focused on how an application behaves and how well it enables users to accomplish a task or achieve a particular goal. Because any given problem—say, a new workflow application to speed invoice processing—may not have a single right answer, UX designers collaborate with other disciplines, such as product management and development, to explore many different approaches to solving it. The overall responsibility of a UX designer is to ensure the logical flow of user actions within an application.
- UX researchers: Skills in UX research are key to helping the application team validate the solution your organization is building. Your team must answer the question, “Are we building the right features?” Everyone on your team must champion users’ needs. However, some members must also develop the skills to interview, observe, and interact directly with your target audience. Your team needs to answer two important questions for any given development effort: Who are our users? and What problem does our application solve for them? Research should be a continuous, iterative effort throughout the course of a project.
- Information architects: The information architect takes the work of the UX researcher and UX designer to build site architectures, wireframes, and functional specification documentation for applications, providing a framework for the tactical execution of UX design.
- Visual designers: A visual designer focuses on crafting the visual language for your applications. Visual language is a key element of your organization’s brand and reflects the elements that make your application appealing to end users.
- Front-end development engineers: Regardless of whether your UX team is responsible for delivering production-ready code, it needs to have the technical skills to build interactive prototypes and proofs of concept, and to understand different technologies to deliver the best user experience. Partnering with your development counterparts will increase the collaboration process and your ability to iterate and validate the application with your end users.
- Accessibility designers: It’s essential that accessibility requirements are not an afterthought, but instead are built into the design and development framework from day one. Delivering accessible applications is not only a sign of good corporate responsibility—it’s also a way to protect your organization against legal action. Accessibility specialists should have domain knowledge about regulations such as Section 508 standards, web accessibility standards, and assistive technology tools.
- UX strategists: The UX strategy role is comparable to that of the enterprise architect. UX strategists facilitate the conversation between different areas of the organization, working at the enterprise level to tackle problems that impact multiple applications and/or business units, often without the constraint of being tied to a particular feature or application release date. There is an incredible business value and organizational impact of having people in your UX team that can concentrate on enterprise level problems and have some flexibility that is not necessarily time boxed with a particular feature or product release.
The Evolution of UX in the Organization
Many organizations are evolving and realizing the need to expand the UX skills and talent. Companies like UBER include Content Strategy, Data Science and Copy Writing in their design team. Others like Hook & Loop, the Design studio at INFOR, go beyond the norm and include animators and filmmakers. The message is clear:
“Embracing diversity of thinking and cross functional perspectives, poises your team to create disruptive solutions.”
The Revolution: UX earns a sit at the leadership table
UX leaders must continuously highlight the business impact, value creation and strategic contribution of the work their teams are doing. The leadership conversation should clearly articulate how design grows and drives business strategy and plays a critical in the overall Customer Experience, Some examples include:
- IBM – design is a leadership function both in the software area as well as global business consulting with IBMiX. They just published the IBM Design Thinking process
- GE – has a strong design team and the role of Chief Experience Officer and has a multi-billion dollar bet on GE Digital.
- Honeywell has a 5 year plan (video) where the CEO has placed design as a top strategic initiative.
- John Maeda from Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers publishes the annual #DesignInTech report where he highlights some of the most important trends in the industry including the raise of design leaders at the table.
Generalists vs. Specialists
Depending on the size of your team and the scope of your budget, you will derive the most benefit by including people with a broad set of skills and strengths in a few particular areas. You don’t have to hire specialists to fill each of these roles—you can meet the cross-disciplinary needs of your team with generalists: designers who can do research, developers who understand design, and visual designers who can define the detailed interactions of the application experience.
As long as your team incorporates the appropriate skills and works effectively in collaboration with product managers, business units, and developers, you’ll be on the path to deliver a solid user experience.
What other roles would you include? What works in your organization? I invite you to join the conversation, share your perspective, add a comment, participate in the discussion.
For more on the benefits of incorporating User Experience across your organization, read the article “The C-Suite Embraces Design Leadership.”