UX is a fairly new discipline, and one that’s evolved from being a ‘design’ focused role to being a ‘user’ focused role. The emphasis on how users feel when interacting with a website, app or device is growing, and that’s why UX jobs are extremely popular in tech.
“You cannot understand good design if you do not understand people; design is made for people”. – Dieter Rams
If the current pace of change is any indicator, things will keep evolving in the next few years. This means that as a UX professional, you’ve got to understand what you might be doing 5 or 10 years from now.
If this is on your mind, then you’ve come to the right place. In this article, we’ll take a close look at the evolving structure of a UX team, impending changes on the horizon and how this impacts a hiring manager’s decision on whether you’re the best fit for the role.
For that, we reached out to a panel of 3 experts – Julian Munford, Senior UX Designer at hipages, Ryan Hoffman, Senior UX Designer at HotelsCombined, and Cory Lebson, Author of The UX Careers Handbook – with whom we discussed the future of UX.
Without further ado, let’s dive in.
Specialization Vs. Cross-Functional: Which Is Better?
The UX team has expanded in size and specialization over recent years, you’ll currently see roles including UX Researcher, Content Strategist, Visual Designer, Front End Developer, UX lead that all sit within the department.
Within larger tech companies and enterprise, you may have 7 people on the team, each focusing on a specific area, for agencies and startups, expect fewer people with a broader understanding.
Having this ‘jack of all trades’ skillset will be particularly important within fast growth companies as sprints revolve around team goals, rather than individual ones:
According to Julian Munford from hipages, each team member shoulders the burden, with the exception of specialists specifically for design. “As we’re a small team everyone does a bit of everything. As the business and team grows, we may consider hiring for specific roles like researcher but for the time being we do whatever needs to get done.
“Our team members spend around 50% of their time gathering research and 50% of their time designing new products and features,” he continues. “The only aspect of UX and Experience Design we don’t do is UI design, this is because we have two awesome UI designers who just do UI design. We still sketch, produce screen flows and complete the interaction designs, then our designers turn our wireframes into amazing new user interfaces.”
Ryan Hoffman of HotelsCombined agrees with the cross functional focus. For his UX team, it was important to fulfill every role. “We are a cross functional team that work across the entire UX spectrum.”
Hoffman explains how team members are tasked with responsibilities. “We follow the ‘Double Diamond’ process which we have broken down into Research, Synthesis, Ideation and Validation. Once team members are assigned features and projects, it is up to them to complete any tasks they deem necessary to get the job done.
“For example; They may start their research by running a workshop and doing a survey, then synthesise those insights into a Journey map, which will help inform their ideation of sketches and a prototype, which they will then guerrilla test out on the street. Each team member also comes from a UI design background and we are tasked with putting the pixel perfect touch on our solutions as the last step of the process.”
As Julian and Ryan stated above in smaller teams it’s often a necessity to take on more job responsibilities. You simply don’t have enough people and everyone has to take up some of the load.
At Envato, for instance, UX teams work in an agile way in sprints, while also involving developers and a product manager. If you’re looking to start your UX career with a smaller company, it makes more sense to embrace the cross-functional mindset, since you’ll have to wear multiple hats!
“The best thing about being a generalist is that every day is differen,!” Hoffman shares. “When you have technology like ours, with so much scope and so many moving parts, we need to be flexible and agile in the way we work. A big benefit is that any of us can pick up any project in any state and take it to completion.”
For Munford, the greatest benefit of being a cross-functional UXer is ownership. “We own the details of the experience design for all new features and products.
“We first work with product managers to define the problem space and then conduct whatever activities are needed to realise a solution that meets and exceed the needs of our users. We conduct research to fill out knowledge gaps, use our insights to help shape how the product works then collaborate with people across the company to design potential solutions. We work closely with our engineers to understand how new features and products integrate with our existing product portfolio and our service teams to understand the likely impact any changes will have with our audiences.
“We then collaborate with our UI designers to translate our ideas into the final product vision. When the product is released we then work with our product managers and data scientists to monitor how the new feature/product is performing. This will probably involve us conducting some qualitative research to help explain the quantitative data that we gather. Through this monitoring and research we identify new opportunities and the cycle continues.”
What is the Near Future of UX?
So what does the future of UX look like 5 or 10 years from now? As a UX professional, keeping a finger on the pulse of the UX design space is critically important to your future success.
“At this point, I’d say that UX is pretty mature as a congealed profession, but the industry that is evolving is really around technology,” shares Cory Lebson Author of The UX Careers Handbook. He continues, “It’s hard to say how exactly UX is going to adapt to changes in technology but it will. Design will advance to incorporate whatever mediums emerge. Research will advance to be able to get effective findings from research of the latest and greatest. We think that we know what technologies are going to be the most prevalent in the long term but something could come up and surprise us as is often the case!”
For Hoffman, the future belongs to generalists. “The banks, insurance and consultancies were the first players to bring on-board UX capabilities. But more and more businesses are understanding the need and value in bringing a User Centered Design function in-house, without those historically big budgets associated with UX. This doesn’t mean they can’t have UX. It means those huge teams of specialists are going to become a luxury and small teams of generalists are going to be the key players for all businesses going forward.”
What Hiring Managers Look for in UX Candidates
The ideal UX interview process will test you for technical skills, as well as your ability to empathize with your users. While having a portfolio can definitely give you an edge, knowing what hiring managers really look for in UX professionals is also vital.
Munford looks at the person first and the technical skills second. “Experience, passion and cultural fit! If someone is missing a technical skill we can teach this but we need to make sure our new teammates will be happy working in our fast and frantic development environment. As we do release quick and test a lot, we prefer people with some CRO experience or experience of an iterative design philosophy as we strongly believe done is better than perfect!”
For Lebson, the ability to work well with a team is one of the most important considerations. “There are soft skills [that] are also critical for everyone, such as the ability to communicate in person, through words and often through pictures. There is a critical need to maintain flexibility as technologies and business needs change. UX practitioners also need to be team players as UX is hardly a field where one will go it alone.
“But each type of UX role will have different specific skills. For example, an interaction design should know the basics of the web, CSS and HTML and should understand what it means to create low fidelity design concepts and wireframes. Both interaction designers and visual designers should have at least basic knowledge of how to use specific Adobe CC products. A user researcher should understand the basics of common user research activities and what it means to log sessions in a way that leads to effective design recommendations.”
Most Important Advice for a Career in UX
Hoffman promotes generalization. “Have a go at everything! Try new techniques. Read as much as you can and think about how you can apply it to your work. Go to a hackathon and learn from different people with different backgrounds. Network and delve into how other designers and businesses have solved their problems.”
Hoffman continues. “One of the most important things I’ve learnt is that our individual stories are why we are valuable. Businesses who are looking for people who think the same way as them are not the ones you want to be working for. Diversity in how you approach a problem, in how you think, and in how you do is your greatest asset.”
For Munford, it’s about all focusing on the end user. “Don’t forget what the U in UX stands for. It’s your privilege to work directly with your organisation’s audiences and they’re your greatest asset, reach out to them as often as you can. Don’t just keep what you learn for your designs, make posters hold lunch and learns, spread your insights around your organisation however you can. This is how you start to build a customer focused culture.”
A role in UX isn’t for everyone. The right candidate must be comfortable in an ever-shifting environment. He or she must be curious and people-focused. UX requires flexibility and those who aren’t able to quickly adapt need not apply.
UX will always be a human-centred discipline, the core principles won’t change. Even if UX becomes more specialized and fragmented with the increase of tools, research, platforms and technology, more than anything today’s UX specialist must have a skillset and passion that makes them adaptable and versatile for whatever is to come.