The following experts have contributed answers to this edition of Ask UXmatters:
- Drew Davidson—VP of Design at ÄKTA
- Nathaniel Davis—Founder and Curator of DSIA Research Initiative and DSIA Portal of Information Architecture; UXmatters columnist
- Steven Hoober—Mobile Interaction Designer and Owner at 4ourth Mobile; coauthor of Designing Mobile Interfaces; UXmatters columnist
- Jordan Julien—Independent Experience Strategy Consultant
- Tobias Komischke—Director of User Experience at Infragistics
- Daniel Szuc—Principal and Cofounder of Apogee Usability Asia Ltd.
- Jo Wong—Principal and Cofounder of Apogee Usability Asia Ltd.
Q: How do you discern whether a UX designer is any good? And how do you teach others to spot good UX designers?—from a UXmatters reader
“I’ve stopped trying to spot good UX designers,” replies Jordan. “It’s like trying to spot a hungry cat. You can’t see hunger. So you have to understand that, when a cat gets hungry, she starts meowing, rubbing around your legs, and pawing at her food bag. Similarly, you can’t see talent. This goes for finding good talent in general—not just good UX people. Talent is contextual to the team and the environment in which it operates. The best UX professional for one team could be the worst UX professional for a different team.
“I wouldn’t use something as obvious as past work to evaluate whether a person is good at something. It’s hard to know the role that anyone’s had in the creation of a thing. It’s better to ask about approaches to team integration and collaboration, the processes and tools that they use, team environments with which they’re familiar, the ambitions they have, how well they know themselves, and other things like that.
“The goal should be to find out whether a specific individual would be a good UX designer for a specific team or teams. We shouldn’t generalize. I’d never teach anyone to spot a good UX designer or a bad UX designer. Instead, just identify whether an individual has the traits, qualities, experiences, and mindset that you need to create the best team possible. And, remember, sometimes a different approach is exactly what a team needs.”
Looking for a User-Centered Approach to Design
“You need to do design work with a designer to assess his or her ability,” recommend Dan and Jo. “Good designers exhibit a set of skills that enable them to leverage stories that come from learning from the people for whom they’re designing a product. They convert these stories into opportunities to create value for both those people and the business. In other words, good UX designers understand that the work they do is not meant to meet their own needs, but the needs of the people for whom they’re designing. They also understand when to introduce their opinions and how to back up their opinions with relevant experience or good design rationale.”
“The most important criterion that ÄKTA looks for in a UX designer is the ability to be extremely unbiased and, based on evidence, truly see things from someone else’s perspective,” says Drew. “Our research-driven process often produces findings that are not what the clients—or even perhaps what we, as designers—had expected or would like, but they’re valid findings. And, it’s fairly easy to spot people with this ability by showing them a mockup during an interview and asking them how they’d approach a project to improve it. If their response is a thoughtful series of questions about the user rather than a laundry list of specific changes, they’re much more likely to be a true user-centered designer.”
Evaluating UX Designers’ Soft Skills
“When hiring UX designers, don’t look so much at the final design in a designer’s portfolio,” answers Steven, “but ask them about how they interacted with others on the team, how they collaborated with the rest of the team, and how they sought to improve the overall product. It is important to give credit where it is due. Soft skills are critical; a UX designer who cannot work with others will not be able to bring his or her user empathy to solving the difficult, technical solutions for a product.
“Ideally, good design is not felt in the gut, but proven. Usability research can validate a design, but other metrics such as seeing improvement in your organizational goals—for example, increased numbers of sales or users—can be indicators, if you control for all other changes. User experience is about more than just user-interface design, so UX designers need to be able to influence parts of a system that are not under their direct control.”
“The skills of good UX designers,” advise Dan and Jo, “include, but are not limited to the following:
- listening—actively listening to the people for whom they are designing a product to understand their needs and goals
- bridging—taking users’ stories and bridging from them to observations that they can group and refine further
- iterating—looking at observations from users’ stories and iteratively analyzing them to see whether there is additional goodness within them to help identify new insights
- changing perspectives—zooming in to see the details and also zooming out to see the implications on the whole system—that is, moving from the tactical to the strategic
- adapting—being open to new stories and variables that require tweaking the current direction of a product or service
- aggregating—analyzing stories, observations, and insights and knowing how to group them in tangible artifacts, so they can reuse the learnings to meet future business needs
- communicating—clearly communicating to the people on a project and in a business, independent of their role
“These soft skills reside within a practice framework that enables good UX designers to understand the elements at play holistically.” If you’re interested in learning more about practice frameworks, Dan and Jo recommend that you read their UXmatters article “Holistic Thinking on Transitioning to a New Practice Framework.”