How to get the best from your UX and UI teams – advice from those in the know

8 Aug 2016

With more and more businesses now hiring UX and UI leads, recruiters need to know what and who they should be looking for.

At a gathering of UI and UX leaders in Harvey Nash’s Dublin office, we discussed the sticking points when it comes to these fairly new roles, and the recruitment challenges they have encountered.

Hosted by Gavin Fox, head of practice at Harvey Nash Technology, contributors to the roundtable discussion included Ciaran Hanrahan, UI designer at Visible; Ronan Fitzpatrick, director of digital and mobile at Aer Lingus; Declan Cassells, UX design lead at KonnectAgain; Gerard Fitzgerald, user experience manager at GloboForce; and Jason Power, former head of design at Paddy Power and now head of brand at KamaGames. (Despite the make-up of the panel, I was assured that UI and UX are not solely for the boys and this discipline enjoys a much healthier gender balance than most in the tech sector.)

Future Human

We discussed what it takes to secure and grow in a role that effectively didn’t exist five years ago and, for that advice, I urge you to check out their tips for UX and UI jobseekers. But as well as advice for employees, the panel had plenty more for employers, on how to build, manage and retain great product development teams.

Inspirefest 2017

Know the difference that one letter makes

First in the discussion was the need for clarity. What is the difference between UI and UX, and why is the distinction important?

While agreeing that there is an overlap of skills between the two – a Venn diagram, if you will – members of the group still contend that there are “fundamentally different skillsets”.

“That one letter has a big difference” said Jason Power, and to find both in one person would be “a unicorn” – a rare beast that would be difficult to capture.

“Those guys certainly do exist … but are they going to come and work for you, that’s the question,” said Power.

Gavin Fox acknowledged the frustration for recruiters as the demand for unicorns is real from organisations missing the distinction while Ronan Fitzpatrick noted the difficulty he has in presenting this difference to a CFO signing off on budgets.

Gerard Fitzgerald relayed his experience of outlining the need to hire a lead UI designer to his superiors. “It was actually a lot easier than I thought,” he said.

Fitzgerald clarified for them the difference between UI and UX, and why he needed someone to own and govern the UI department, create a style guide and ensure consistency across the board.

“When I put all that down and I presented it to them, they actually bought into it. But what I did have to do was, I had a senior UX role open, so I had to switch that role into a senior UI role.” Unfortunately, even with a well-conceived argument, UI and UX hires are still counted on a two-for-one basis.

Consider the chief design officer

According to Fox, Harvey Nash’s CIO surveys indicate that the role of the chief design officer is rising in prominence owing to the need for a proper digital executive to drive this department and run mobile platforms, while having the mix of marketing and IT knowledge required in liaising with both UX and UI leads. Companies such as Intercom and HubSpot are considered leaders in this respect, and others are taking note.

“I think there’s a role for a chief design officer within a lot of organisations,” said Power. “And I don’t just mean in terms of digital.”

Power sees the CDO as somebody who will see product development right through to marketing to whatever else is needed, and at a higher level in the organisation so that this overseer is given a voice at the top table. “Everyone’s aware that it’s a serious issue, but somewhere down the line it’s not serious enough to bring it to that level,” said Power.

On a lower level, you will find many companies have product owners, but a C-level executive is often needed to iron out fraught interactions.

“We have a lot of product owners in GloboForce – six or seven repsonsible for specific parts of applications and working with different UX and UI designers,” explained Fitzgerald. “There can be tension between the two … Unless you have something at a level around a chief design officer, it’s very difficult to counteract or go above product owners in terms of recommendations.”

Beware of toxic hires

This business is all about teamwork, and the last thing you want is for your team to get poisoned.

“If you hire a toxic person. That can have ramifications across the organisation. It can infect every area,” said Power.

According to the Harvard Business Review, avoiding a toxic worker is worth about $12,500 in turnover costs while even the top-performing 1pc of your staff only added about $5,300 to the bottom line.

“There’s a difference between someone who challenges you and someone who just complains,” said Power, so look for constructive dialogue from your candidates and hires. As Fitzpatrick put it, a toxic employee will say, ‘I don’t think we should do that’, while a disruptive employee will say, ‘I don’t think we should do that, we should do this.’

“You mightn’t want somebody toxic but you might want somebody disruptive,” Fitzpatrick explained. “You can be disruptive without being toxic.”

Don’t hire like for like

Declan Cassels pointed out that recruiters’ natural biases and the process of hiring for a cultural fit means that many organisation end up hiring more and more of the same type of people, leading to homogeneity – which isn’t good for your creativity.

It’s important that your culture-based hiring doesn’t negatively impact on your diversity and to recognise that someone can have the same core values as you but, at the same time, be quite different.

Allow your employees to learn, lead and grow

You don’t want to hire destructive employees, and you certainly want to avoid creating them.

“You could have a perfectly good employee for a few years and they can become toxic, especially if there’s no career plan,” warned Power. These employees may be well paid, but feel that their role is stagnant.

“They’re not exactly about to leave but what they’re going to do is they’re going to start disengaging,” said Power.

“They say that’s the worst employee: company loyal but disengaged,” Fitzpatrick observed. “That leads to the biggest frustration for everybody.”

As he sees it, all employees will ask what they will learn from a role by staying for a number of years, which means companies must impress upon their staff that they have a model for career progression. However, this model mustn’t be limited to moves into management.

“Some people don’t want to do that. It’s not that they don’t want to interact with with other people or work as part of a team. It’s just that headache of managing everyone else,” said Fitzpatrick.

All were in agreement that not every employee is going to progress into people management, and not everybody can. Additionally, promotions into management can mean the loss of an eminently productive team member.

“You could end up promoting someone until they’re useless to you,” Cassells explained.

For Fitzpatrick, it’s a question of offering your employees “a career path that’s different than the traditional HR view of what a career path should be”.

Fitzgerald recommends offering two alternate routes: people management or subject matter expert. That way, employees can grow to become either a specialist or a principal. In GloboForce, only the IT department has implemented this model, but it has potential elsewhere in the business.

Looking for jobs in tech or science? Check out our Employer Profiles for information on companies hiring right now.

Development team image via Shutterstock

Elaine Burke
By Elaine Burke

Elaine Burke is editor of Silicon Republic, having served a few years as managing editor up to 2019. She joined in 2011 as a journalist covering gadgets, new media and tech jobs. She comes from a background in publishing and is known for being particularly pernickety when it comes to spelling and grammar – earning her the nickname, Critical Red Pen.

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