Each month in Ask UXmatters, our expert panel answers a reader’s question about any of a variety of user experience matters. To receive answers to your question in an upcoming edition of Ask UXmatters, please send your questions to: [email protected].
The following experts have contributed answers to this edition of Ask UXmatters:
- Pabini Gabriel-Petit—Principal Consultant at Strategic UX; Publisher and Editor in Chief, UXmatters; Founding Director of Interaction Design Association (IxDA); UXmatters columnist
- Steven Hoober—Mobile Interaction Designer and Owner at 4ourth Mobile; author of Designing Mobile Interfaces; UXmatters columnist
- Jordan Julien—Founder of Hostile Sheep Research & Design
- Gavin Lew—Managing Director at Bold Insight
Q: What are some of the challenges one faces when creating a UX department within a large, established company, and what are the best ways to overcome them?—from a UXmatters reader
“Are you creating a UX department or the UX department within your organization?” asks Steven. “This is a critical distinction. You cannot create a UX team and expect it to magically improve everything. Are you providing UX support to an individual product team or business unit, or are you trying to create a culture in which User Experience informs the way your entire company looks at your customers and pursues product development?
“The main difference is the level of buy-in you need to create each type of UX team. To support a product team or business unit, you must have the support of that team—or at least the team leadership of all constituencies. If Development or Product Management or Marketing doesn’t want you there, you’ll have little impact.
“But if it’s a small group, all you have to do is get in front of them and explain what you do,” suggests Steven. “I like holding workshops to help product teams understand the UX design process. If you can get a few hours with everyone, invite them over, deliver your pitch, and do some hands-on, collaborative work with them so they can see what it is that User Experience does to improve products.
“To create a UX team that works across an organization, you need the highest-level buy-in you can get—preferably from a chief officer, who will publicly acknowledge and back up the team whenever there’s a problem. Ideally, the UX team needs actual power that derives from a department head of suitable stature. A lowly Manager of User Experience cannot generally get a lot done because, when push comes to shove, a VP or a C-level leader will all too often opt for cheap, fast, technical solutions. If, as a UX leader, your stature within a corporation is too low, people won’t even read your emails or come to your meetings.
“In either case, in addition to a mandate from your company’s leadership, you also need a UX design process. User Experience needs to be involved early on in the product-development process, be part of every decision; and establish that its role is not about creating pretty, pixel-perfect designs, but about user advocacy. You need to document what you do for everyone. Think about setting corporate-level standards and guidelines for design, for architecture, and even ethical design.”
Establishing User Experience Within Your Organization
“Successfully establishing User Experience within your organization requires more than simply hiring a UX team,” answers Pabini. “Your corporate executives must be committed to delivering great experience outcomes. This means investing adequately in User Experience, hiring UX leaders and team leads who are peers with the leaders of the other disciplines in product development, and hiring sufficient user researchers and designers. Jim Nieters and I discussed many of the issues relating to leading successful UX teams in our Leadership Matters column, ‘UX Leadership, Part 2: What Great Leaders Must Do.’
“It is important for User Experience to establish a design process that both integrates well with an organization’s overall product-development process and enables UX professionals to contribute maximal value to the organization. Often, enterprises with long-established development processes that have never taken User Experience into account, resist making the changes that are necessary to integrate User Experience successfully. I have explored the design process in depth in my UXmatters article ‘Design Is a Process, Not a Methodology.’” Ensuring that User Experience delivers maximal value means doing user research up front, taking a strategic approach to UX design, and ensuring that multidisciplinary product teams make decisions collaboratively.”