Enterprise User Experience: Building a UX Group | Hosting a Get-to-Know-UX Event

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A column by Janet M. Six
February 22, 2010

In this edition of Ask UXmatters, our experts discuss two enterprise UX topics:

Every month, Ask UXmatters answers questions our readers have about user experience matters. You can read our experts’ responses to your question in an upcoming edition of Ask UXmatters! Just send your question to us at: [email protected].

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Building a UX Group

Q1: The company for which I work already understands that user experience has tangible value, and each business unit invests resources in User Experience. The next step, in my opinion, would be to have a common, cross-unit organization to facilitate the UX process. Where should we start?—from a UXmatters reader

The following experts have contributed answers to this question:

  • Steve Baty—Principal Consultant at Meld Consulting; Director of IxDA; UXmatters columnist
  • Pabini Gabriel-Petit—Publisher and Editor in Chief, UXmatters; Principal User Experience Architect at Spirit Softworks; Founding Director of Interaction Design Association (IxDA); UXmatters columnist
  • Michael Griffith—User Experience Director at Hewlett-Packard
  • Joel Grossman—SVP Technology & Operations at Leapfrog Online
  • David Kozatch—Principal at DIG
  • Paul Sherman—Principal at Sherman Group User Experience; Vice President of Usability Professionals’ Association; UXmatters columnist
  • Daniel Szuc—Principal Usability Consultant at Apogee Usability Asia; Founding Member and President of UPA China Hong Kong Branch

Evaluating Your Options

“There’s not a one-size-fits-all answer to your question,” replies Pabini. “I recommend that you read Jim Nieters and Garett Dworman’s excellent article, ‘Comparing UXD Business Models,’ which provides SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats) analyses of four common organizational models for UX groups. They gathered the data for their article during their ‘Comparing UXD Business Models’ SIG at CHI 2007, in which many UX leaders participated. The article covers the following business models:

  • centralized funding model
  • client-funded model
  • distributed model
  • internal consultancy model

“Your ‘common, cross-unit organization’ corresponds to their ‘client-funded model’.”

Thinking About What Approach to Take

Daniel answers, “The key components of your question are

  • common—resources that are consistent across your stakeholders, to whom you sell UX services
  • cross-unit organization—a group that works across different teams, projects, and business units
  • facilitate—knowledge you can pass on so others can facilitate User Experience and knowledge you can use to facilitate User Experience
  • process—having methods in place that scale

“As you put a plan together, think about the following questions:

  • How do you want to package and communicate your UX services?
  • What UX methods do you want to include in that package?
  • How can you simplify the package so it scales well and allows for learning across product teams?
  • What UX knowledge is a core part of your service offerings, and what do you want to teach and pass on to others?
  • What skill sets do you have on your UX team now, and what future skills do you need to build or acquire?
  • What is the current and future positioning of your UX team?
  • What common tool sets do you need to build up as central resources, and what do they look like—for example, UI guidelines or design patterns?
  • How do you know when your package of UX services and your UX process are working effectively in your organization?
  • What do you see as success for your UX group?

“As you start to come up with answers to these questions, you will progress toward the development of common resources that let you scale your services both within and outside your UX team,” concludes Daniel.

Making the Business Case

“Where should you start? At the top, of course!” exclaims David. “For this to work, first you will need the buy-in and enthusiasm of C-level decision makers, including the CEO. When management makes a concerted effort and communicates their commitment to user experience throughout the organization, things will start to happen. Next up, the CFO: Will each department or business unit receive a UX budget? Or will they have to borrow funds from other resources like product development, marketing, advertising, or client services? Without a commitment of funds specifically to User Experience within each unit, you will have Kumbaya—that is, everyone patting themselves on the back about how sensitive they are to user experience—without any real change.”

“Start by preparing a business case, outlining the expected qualitative and quantitative benefits that will accrue to the organization,” suggests Joel. “Define a series of milestones that take you from the current state of affairs to an end-state that will maximize the benefits you’ve identified in the business case.”

“I have been where you are,” responds Paul. “I can tell you what you’ve probably already realized: there’s quite a gulf between an organization’s recognizing the need for User Experience and actually changing its processes and culture to embed User Experience in the product ideation and development cycle. Honestly, I could—and probably should!—write a book on this, because getting it right requires your handling a lot of moving parts. With all that said, I’ll draw on the advice I gave in ‘The User Experience Team Kit: How to Hire a UX Team and Incorporate User-Centered Design Methods into Your Software Development Lifecycle Process,’ which I released under a Creative Commons license.”

“I’d be cautious about moving toward a centralized service model in this case,” warns Steve. “Think instead about what you’re hoping to achieve through that move:

  • consistency of approach
  • efficient use of resources
  • shared customer or user insights
  • shared UX principles across interactions and touchpoints”

Getting Started

“Don’t wait for your company to do something or approve your plan,” asserts Michael. “Start a LinkedIn group today—or a Facebook group, a blog, or a Google group. You don’t want your company’s infrastructure to slow you down. UX people have an amazing passion. They will follow you. Later, if you can show your company how you have rallied a sizable group of UX people who are sharing and contributing, they will see the value—and can formalize it, if necessary. For inspiration, read Tribes by Seth Godin.

“You should consider making the group private and by invitation only. This is important if the content is proprietary, so it will not be open to the public or open to search.”

Building a Good Team

“Make sure your team has all the core UX disciplines covered,” recommends Paul. “That is, make sure you have the following skill sets on your team: user research, usability testing, interaction design, information architecture, and visual design.”

“You should be able to adopt a consistent approach—that is, methodology, documentation standards, common interaction models, and pattern libraries—
without centralizing the different units’ UX resources in a single team,” suggests Steve. “In parallel to your ongoing project commitments, form an internal project to work on these other aspects of UX practice and agree on such standards. Achieving this may require an organization-wide UX Lead who can drive the process.

“Deriving a set of shared UX principles may be harder, but is a valuable undertaking. What are the experiential characteristics all UX professionals are attempting to incorporate into their designs? Where are the commonalities? Why are there divergences? Are these due to differences in brand characteristics or a stylistic choice on the part of a designer?”

Implementing User Experience Practices

“Gain buy-in by moving forward incrementally,” recommends Joel. “A good first step would be to identify a small number of distributed UX resources who could form a preliminary working group. Ask those folks’ managers to commit a certain portion of their time to developing organizational standards, processes, templates, or workflows—whatever would be most immediately beneficial to the entire organization. Then begin to scale up the effort. Identify gaps in the organization where a centralized set of resources would be most productive—again in terms of the benefits you’ve outlined in your business case. As the value of the UX group accrues to the organization, refer back to your original milestones. Armed with empirical data, demonstrate the value the organization could derive by proceeding to the next milestone.”

“Try to make your counterparts in other disciplines aware that you need to change your ideation, design, and development processes to successfully implement user experience,” offers Paul. “If you don’t explicitly make room for user research, ideation, and design iteration in your processes, you will not be successful in implementing UX practices.”

Usability Research and Testing

“Advocate for conducting foundational user research as a means to better inform Product Management as they plan and direct the evolution of their products and services,” continues Paul. “Too often, Product Managers rely only on market-level, quantitative data. The value of User Researchers is that we can bring them rich, qualitative, detailed data about the goals, motivations, constraints, and abilities of the individuals who make up their target markets. Make sure you get a research budget. For example, try to budget between US$10,000 and US$60,000 for user research expenses, depending on the size of your product team and the number of products you support.

“You can spend as little as US$1,000 or upward of US$75,000 on usability testing and user research equipment. In any case, I recommend building your team and budgeting the research dollars first. There are so many inexpensive usability testing technologies. It doesn’t make sense to build a fantastic lab at the beginning.”

“Sharing customer or user insights involves implementing a system for collecting, recording, and analyzing research data, so they are readily accessible to all UX professionals within your organization,” adds Steve. “The exact nature of this system depends on your specific needs and style of research—for example, surveys versus video-taped usability sessions—and the nature of the products or services you’re designing. Typically, sharing user research insights involves conducting post-research briefing sessions, during which your entire product team can see and discuss the research findings.”

Defining Your UX Organization

“Once you have all the players on board and actual funds set aside, I recommend that you appoint a Chief Meaning Officer, who would have responsibility for coordinating meaningful user experiences,” suggests David. “This person would coordinate with the team members within each unit, constantly asking the question: Are we providing meaningful experiences for our users? If the answer was no, they’d need to tap into their budgets to create change that would benefit the user experience.”

“The efficient use of resources is where a centralized model makes the most sense,” admits Steve. “However, business units may prefer to have the certainty of an available UX resource and sacrifice efficiency in favor of that certainty. If you adopt a distributed model—which is my recommendation—consider loaning any slack or underutilized resources to other units when they need more people.

“You are facing a very real challenge in reaching a point where your organization’s UX group can produce consistent, high-quality work. I would hesitate to complicate that challenge by introducing structural changes at the same time; which would be further exacerbated by the need to design, adopt, and sell a service model to the rest of the organization.”

“Organizations like to know you have a strategic plan for User Experience,” concludes Paul. “Create one. Even better, make sure it aligns closely with the organization’s financial and other business goals.” 


Godin, Seth. Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us. New York: Penguin Group, 2008.

Sherman, Paul. “The User Experience Team Kit: How to Hire a UX Team and Incorporate User-Centered Design Methods into Your Software Development Lifecycle Process.” Sherman UX, June 10, 2009. Retrieved February 8, 2010.

Hosting a Get-to-Know-UX Event

Q2: Our company will be having a get-to-know-each-other event to ensure a common focus and equal participation between our company’s new UX group and existing groups. The other groups are not very familiar with the practice of user experience. Do you have any activity suggestions for this event?—from a UXmatters reader

The following experts have contributed answers to this question:

  • Michael Griffith—User Experience Director at Hewlett-Packard
  • Caroline Jarrett—Owner and Director at Effortmark Limited
  • David Kozatch—Principal at DIG
  • Paul Sherman—Principal at Sherman Group User Experience; Vice President of Usability Professionals’ Association; UXmatters columnist
  • Janet Six—Principal at Lone Star Interaction Design; UXmatters Managing Editor and columnist
  • Tony Tulathimutte—UX Writer and Researcher at Bolt | Peters

Planning Your UX Event

When organizing an event to introduce your new UX group to your company, Michael recommends: “Make it a UX event and bring in a dynamic speaker of note from outside your company. Have you ever heard the joke that the quality of a consultant is directly proportional to how far they traveled to be there? Use this idea to your advantage. It will show that User Experience is much bigger than your company. It will show that your UX people are plugged into a much larger UX community and are on the cutting edge of User Experience. It will show the passion your UX people have.

“Remember, other groups’ first exposure to User Experience needs to be both entertaining and educational. The details about how User Experience will work within your company can be secondary. In other words, don’t bore your audience with org charts and process flows. If they are intrigued by User Experience, they can ask for more information. World Usability Day happens in November. You should definitely plan an event around that date as well.”

Engaging Participants

I agree that a company’s first exposure to User Experience needs to be both entertaining and educational. First, make user experience personal to the participants. I like to seed the conversation by showing a personally bewildering user experience—for example, trying to get an automatic paper towel dispenser at a local restaurant to see me and give me a towel. That’s a common, frustrating experience. Right away, other people start to share their stories of frustration with bad user experiences. At this point, user experience becomes personal. People are exasperated with products and often feel that in their core.

Second, show that solutions to common problems do exist and how you can solve them by applying basic UX principals. Interact with all of the participants who want to participate. Also, be sure to show qualitative improvements in factors that are important to people outside your UX group. You need to speak their language to be most effective.

Third, tell them that you can apply UX principals to your company’s products, too, and customers will appreciate a better user experience. Remember the 3 P’s when introducing User Experience: make it personal, possible, and probable.

“I have a simple, two-word answer: no PowerPoint!” exclaims David. “Use the event as an opportunity for interaction—after all, you’re in the interaction business! Ask participants to write down questions they have about user experience on index cards—how analog!—before the event. After introductions, pass the cards to the User Experience team, who can take turns answering them. Doing this puts the focus on the members of the other teams and their needs and provides a great opportunity for two-way communication. Designate someone from the UX team to be a DJ and play some good tunes before and afterward.”

“Create a honkin’ big—as we say in Texas—process map that shows the role User Experience plays in the ideation, design, development, and release planning cycle,” suggests Paul. “Also show your design and research artifacts—personas or user profiles, persona goals and activities, high-level wireframe designs, iterated designs, and visual comps. Show what the design process flow looks like.”

“How about a listening exercise?” asks Caroline. “Listening to each other is a core skill for collaboration. UX folks know how challenging it can be to listen really attentively—for example, during a series of usability test sessions. Search for active listening exercise, and you’ll get plenty of suggestions.”

Getting Others Invested in User Experience

“The best way to get non-UX people invested in user experience is to have them watch a user research session,” asserts Tony. “If possible, set up a 15-minute demo session with a real participant as a starting point for conversation. This helps the non-UX people to see the value of user research. When we do our remote user research, we like to gather everyone into a conference room, project the computer screen onto the wall, and recruit participants online, using either our recruiting tool Ethnio, a form-building tool like Wufoo, or Google Docs forms. You can also go the traditional, two-way mirror route and have participants come to your lab to experience using the user interface. Either way, getting everyone to watch the session together gives everyone something to talk about.” 

Product Manager at Tom Sawyer Software

Dallas/Fort Worth, Texas, USA

Janet M. SixDr. Janet M. Six helps companies design easier-to-use products within their financial, time, and technical constraints. For her research in information visualization, Janet was awarded the University of Texas at Dallas Jonsson School of Engineering Computer Science Dissertation of the Year Award. She was also awarded the prestigious IEEE Dallas Section 2003 Outstanding Young Engineer Award. Her work has appeared in the Journal of Graph Algorithms and Applications and the Kluwer International Series in Engineering and Computer Science. The proceedings of conferences on Graph Drawing, Information Visualization, and Algorithm Engineering and Experiments have also included the results of her research.  Read More

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