The following experts have contributed answers to this edition of Ask UXmatters:
- Carol Barnum—Director of User Research and Founding Partner at UX Firm; author of Usability Testing Essentials: Ready, Set… Test!
- Steve Baty—Principal of Meld Studios; Past President of IxDA; UXmatters columnist
- Drew Davidson—VP of Design at ÄKTA
- Nathaniel Davis—Director of Information Architecture at Prudential Financial and Founder and Curator of DSIA Research Initiative and DSIA Portal of Information Architecture; UXmatters columnist
- Pabini Gabriel-Petit—Senior Director, User Experience and Design at Apttus; Founder, Publisher, and Editor in Chief, UXmatters; Founding Director of Interaction Design Association (IxDA); UXmatters columnist
- Jordan Julien—Independent Experience Strategy Consultant
- Tobias Komischke—Director of User Experience, Infragistics
- David Kozatch—Principal at DIG
- Cory Lebson—Principal UX Consultant at Lebsontech; President, User Experience Professionals’ Association (UXPA)
- Baruch Sachs—Senior Director of Human Factors Design at Pegasystems; UXmatters columnist
Q: Why is it so hard to find good UX people?—from a UXmatters reader
“How do you define good?” asks Pabini. “Different organizations have different needs, so should hire UX professionals who can meet their specific needs—people who are good for their organization. Employing boilerplate job descriptions doesn’t help companies to do that successfully. Because user experience gained traction as a profession only relatively recently, most UX people are somewhat inexperienced and can successfully meet the needs of only certain organizations or projects—typically, those in product domains that are similar to domains in which they already have experience.
“Do you mean great? There are a select few UX people who have the depth and breadth of knowledge and experience that would enable them to satisfy the needs of most organizations and projects—except in very specialized domains in which they lack experience. These are great UX professionals.
“If a UX professional has the dedication, the work ethic, the ability to think strategically, the curiosity to learn continually, and the creativity that it takes ever to achieve greatness, gaining the level of expertise that it takes to be great requires 10 years or more because it depends on a UX professional’s having succeeded in diverse work experiences. With diversity of experience comes the ability to think outside the box and synthesize innovative UX design solutions. Achieving the level of expertise that it takes to be a great UX professional also requires a deep understanding of human factors and cognitive psychology and the design principles that derive from them, as well as expertise in user-centered design methods.
“Because great UX people never stop learning, their level of expertise will forever remain greater than that of most UX professionals. So, why is age discrimination rampant in the UX community?
“Can your organization attract and keep great UX professionals? That depends on the value your organization truly places on user experience, its willingness to cede ownership of UX decisions to User Experience, and its commitment to integrating the UX design process fully into the product development process. Most UX job descriptions—even for high-level jobs—are far too tactical to attract great UX professionals. Judging by the job descriptions that I’ve seen, it’s clear to me that, while most companies would jump at the chance to hire a 10X software developer, they haven’t got a clue that they should be trying to hire 10X UX professionals or how to identify them.
“But even if an organization has the sense or is lucky enough to hire a great UX professional, that organization’s leadership needs to create a culture that will enable that UX person to succeed. Some software development cultures are antithetical to the adoption of UX best practices. In fact, UX job descriptions often demand very specific skills that are no longer considered to be best practice. Because user experience is a relatively new profession, UX best practices are continually evolving. Companies should hire great UX professionals who can show them the way to succeed in user experience, not define UX jobs in ways that would discourage great UX people from even applying for them.”
What Does Good Mean?
“It’s always hard to find good professionals—as in experienced professionals—in any field,” replies Nate. “That’s because, when good UX professionals become available, they don’t remain available for long. Since there are many types of UX professionals, make sure that you are realistic about what good means for you and your organization. Finding a good UX professional might become easier if you force yourself to specify a baseline level of skills that you can accept now and define the desired competencies that you think your candidate could acquire efficiently in the workplace, over time.
“The DSIA UX Design Practice VerticalsPDF that I’ve defined cover eight distinct practices that are common in the domain of UX design. You can use them to help you identify the essential UX design competencies for particular roles.”
“I recognize two key factors behind this situation,” answers David. “User experience is still in its infancy. It was barely a job description twenty years ago—and the UPA changed its name to UXPA only last year! It takes time to develop a profession. Also, user experience requires a skill set that is both broad and deep. Knowledge of human factors and cognitive psychology; good UX design and written communication skills. Most people are likely to have one or two of the necessary skills, but rarely do they possess all of them together. These skills, along with sensitivity and patience when dealing with others, are what make a good UX professional.”
“UX may look easy,” challenges Drew, “because just about anyone can put buttons on a wireframe or learn how to use Photoshop to make slick mockups. Unfortunately, this sometimes means that anyone who has these minimal skills may claim to be a UX professional. Good UX people almost always have a strong background or interest in social or cognitive sciences. They realize that creating wireframes and mockups happens only at the very end of a longer process. They also understand that the true value and the spirit of an application begins with its first workflows, overall architecture, and the design patterns that a UX designer employs. This deeper knowledge is rare, and it’s not something that can be taught in a short course on UX design or by being the so-called designer on a few projects.”
Great UX People Are Really Hard to Find
“Good UX people are not really that hard to find, but great UX people are,” asserts Baruch. “With user experience becoming such a driver of commercial success, good is not good enough anymore. And in reality, how many people are there who are great at anything? We should be looking at this lack of great UX professionals as a positive thing. It helps all of us—both inside and outside the UX community—to recognize the value and influence of user experience on projects. Having a great UX person is a strategic win and a differentiator on a project. We also need to remember that what we consider to be user experience these days is still immature and ever evolving. That makes it hard to find an abundance of great people who are practicing this craft.
“And it is because of the commercial implications of good user experience that we often find ourselves lacking the patience to grow good UX people into great ones. I compare this to the challenges facing Bourbon and Rye Whiskey, which, for years, was unappreciated, so no one drank it. Now its popularity has exploded, and every distillery in the US is trying its hand at making it. But the demand is no longer for good whiskey, it is for the hyper-premium, great whiskey—of which there is a very short supply because no one foresaw the demand coming and cultivated the good stocks into great products. This is the time for us to identify and groom those good UX people who have the potential for greatness.”