How to Build An Amazing In-House Product Design Team

 Schoolwires Product Design Team

While conversing with some of my UX pro peers recently, I discovered that in-house design teams at software companies are extremely varied in make up. Some places have great team dynamics and others really don’t. At my company Schoolwires, we have a completely awesome Design & Innovation team with members that work incredibly well together, not only from a personality stance, but from a combined powerhouse of skills stance. So today, I’m going to focus on answering  the question:

What does it take to create a killer in-house Design and Innovation team?

1.      An Incredibly Innovative Vice President

At my company we have a VP of Product Design and Innovation who is one of the most contagiously creative, innovative people I have ever met. You go into what should be a mundane meeting with him, and come out feeling inspired every single time. He also has a vision of the future of technology that reaches out decades. He’s always thinking about the next next, with his finger on the pulse of the latest and greatest apps and software and technology trends.

2.      A UX Manager Who Thinks in Wireframes and Dreams Code

Our Manager of User Experience literally thinks in wireframes and dreams code. She hears a concept and immediately starts brainstorming the wireframes in her mind. She is incredibly talented, and has a background in code, so she not only pictures design in her mind, she knows how to MAKE the things she envisions. She’s also a mobile developing/designing genius. Cap that off with being a phenomenal, supportive manager and you’ve got Sara.

3.     Three Creative UX Architects Who Love to Design

We have three fantastic architects on our team who really enjoy designing. Our architects do the data layer/api/business layer work for all of our projects, but they also lead designs and create wireframes at times.They are able to tell us at a glance if what we hope can happen is actually feasible. If we had to wait until our designs were passed off to development to find that information out, we’d end up with hours and hours of additional rework time. Don, Heather and Craig are the key to keeping us agile.

4.     Two Extremely Talented UX Designers 

Our UX designers are fantastic.

Danelle makes our CMS interface and our mobile apps look like works of art, and can kick out gorgeous high res mockups on a dime! She is constantly looking for the latest and greatest design tricks and tips, and brings fresh ideas and concepts to our products on a regular basis to ensure positive user experiences.

Kelly is an epic interaction designer. She comes up with new innovative ways to make our products even more interesting and user friendly! She focuses on a user centered design approach to ensure that our latest features and product enhancements will positively impact the lives of our clients.

5.      A Content Strategist With A Background in Psychology

Our Content Strategist & UX Editor Jennifer loves conducting user research & usability testing regularly, writing user friendly microcopy to ensure consistent voice and tone,  reviewing and collaborating on designs to ensure usability, analyzing product statistics to identify trends, and discovering all the ways we can make our clients lives easier through design.

The 8 of us work together exceptionally well because we work in an environment that supports open sharing of ideas. We all have the utmost respect for one another, and our leadership team has made it clear that every member of the team is valued, as are their opinions.

It’s also accepted team wide that no one is perfect, nor are they expected to be. Sometimes we’re right, and sometimes we’re wrong but the safe environment for sharing both good and bad ideas leads to incredible collaboration and ultimately stronger, more innovative, user friendly products.

You don’t have to go freelance to love your job! Our department is living proof that in-house design team utopia does exist.

How much money is your life actually worth?

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Yesterday I had the opportunity to video chat with a friend who I haven’t seen in years, we just recently reconnected. 

When I met him he loved his line of work and the company he worked for. He worked as a designer at a startup with an awesome culture and amazing management. He was healthy mentally and physically and his eyes sparkled when he talked about his job, which he found very fulfilling.  He had a great work/life balance. His love for his job and the work he was doing directly affected every aspect of his life in a positive way.

When I video chatted with him yesterday I hardly recognized him. His company had experienced rapid growth, which you’d expect to be a good thing. He was making much more money than he had been 5 years ago when we met, but during the course of the rapid expansion, new management had been put into place. The new management had removed the flexibility & work life balance and had sucked all of the joy out of the workplace culture. As an added bonus the new management was verbally and emotionally abusive to employees. 

The company was doing great financially, and paid extremely well, but nearly every employee in my friend’s department had grown to hate their jobs and going into the office. The employees had started to leave the department in a steady stream. Rather than identifying the source of the problem (management), even when people leaving directly pointed it out, the HR department took the stance that the people leaving just “couldn’t adapt to rapid growth.”

My friend’s eyes have lost their sparkle, they’re dull and empty now. His health is failing due to high blood pressure induced by extreme stress. His doctor basically told him that if he can’t get his levels of stress under control that he’s at great risk for a heart attack. 

I was stunned. I asked him why in the world he still works at the company. He said that he’s looked for other jobs but can’t find anywhere that he can make as much money as he’s making now in his area, and that he hates to leave a place he’s invested so much time in. 

My next question was, “How much money is your life worth?”

I then followed with, “This job is literally killing you. Could you take a pay cut and do a less stressful job at a company with a better work life balance and still live comfortably? If not, could you downsize your home and trade your car in for a cheaper model and live comfortably making less money? If so, then what is the point of staying where you are in that horribly toxic work environment that is destroying your life? Is cutting your life shorter by 10, 20 or 30 years worth an extra 5-10k a year while you’re still alive? Is dying in your early 50’s really worth staying at this place?”

He emailed me this morning to let me know that he had started applying for other jobs when we ended our chat session. 

Are you feeling trapped in a toxic work environment? Get out of it. You’re never actually as trapped as you feel. Evaluate your priorities. Bump health and quality of life above money. If you’re having trouble moving money lower on your list of priorities, look in the mirror and ask yourself: “How much money is my life actually worth?” 

Titanic Workflow Mentality: How To Lose Talent & Sink Your Company

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Today I had a sad conversation with another UX pro who is battling a really tough workplace culture problem. I have now dubbed it “Titanic Workflow Mentality”.

Sometimes you come across a person in an organization, or a band of people who slam on the brakes when new workflow ideas come through. Rather than constructively reviewing pros and cons, or keeping the positive aspects and tossing the negatives, they shut the door in your face, lock it and throw away the key.

Change is scary. Very few people on earth like the idea of change. Some changes are bad. Some are great. But if you stay stagnant, especially if your company is experiencing rapid growth,and keep doing things the way you always have for old times sake, your talent will leave and your competitors will zoom past you and laugh when you choke on their dust.

I’m fortunate to work for a company that is packed full of extremely talented people who are visionaries in the fields of software and mobile design, development and architecture. I legitimately feel pity for people who are trapped in team cultures like the one I described in the first paragraph.

If you’re starting to sense a “Titanic Workflow Mentality” coming from above (God himself could not make our old school work flows more perfect!), then it may be time to jump in a life raft and row like crazy toward a new company. Otherwise, you’ll wind up going down with the rest of the ship. And likely, the sinking experience will be full of stress, anger, extreme levels of frustration and lots of finger pointing, before it finally goes under.

If you do choose to stay and wait it out, or really feel that things could improve, get with other folks with positive attitudes in your organization and protect your positive small team culture like your company’s success depends on it (because it may). Even in the worst situations, a pocket of positive energy can go a long way in turning things around.

If you are full of anxiety and dread, are grinding your teeth to powdery nubs and have lost the will to get out of bed to go into work in the morning, start applying elsewhere though. Life is too short to work long term in a place that makes you miserable.

Stop Sucking the Creative Energy Out of Your Design Brainstorming Sessions

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Have you ever woken up in the morning and thought, “It’s a bright new day! I’m going to go to work and suck the life out of the rest of my design team until every one of our designs is completely devoid of creativity!” I’m going with probably not.

Yet every time I go to a conference I encounter design team members who work with sarcastic jerks who disrespectfully crush their good ideas as well as their bad ideas.

I’m not saying that you should never say an idea won’t work, so you end up developing something awful. I am saying that team respect goes a long way in creating an incredibly creative, innovative work environment.

I recently wrote an article about how everyone on earth will have some great ideas and some terrible ones during their lives. The way you react to both the bad ideas and the good will make or break your team culture.

When someone tosses out an idea that won’t work, rather than rolling your eyes and publicly shooting them down and berating them (which effectively embarrasses them to the point they never want to pitch another idea), toss out something like, “That’s an interesting perspective, what if we tried XXXX instead? Or, that may not work for this particular project because of xxxx, but what if we took the idea a step further in this other direction?”

I’m not saying that you should never say no to an idea, or that you need to coddle your team. I’m saying that you should say no in a professional respectful way. Because at the end of the day, the person you just rolled your eyes at may have had an epic epiphany 2 minutes later, that you’ll never hear because you undermined his or her confidence.

Tone and attitude go a long way in design brainstorming sessions. Create a climate where designers are comfortable sharing all of their ideas without the judgement, the good and the bad, and the results of your brainstorming sessions will instantly increase in productivity.

I know this works, because I work on one of the most incredible teams on earth. We have the utmost respect for one another, we share ideas without fear of judgement, and as a result we come up with incredibly innovative ideas. And as an added bonus, every day for the last 4 years I’ve woken up excited to go to work in the morning.

At the end of the day, design team culture is the key to innovation.

UX Job Resources

This weekend I met quite a few people who asked for UX job search resources. I decided to compile a list here for anyone who is interested, or searching for a UX job! I hope these resources help you on your journey into the best career of all time! 🙂

P.S. My company is hiring a UX designer right now!
http://www.schoolwires.com/careers 🙂

UX Job Sites: 

http://uxjobs.org
http://uxmag.com/uxjobs
http://jobs.smashingmagazine.com/?search=ux
http://community.uxmastery.com/forum/community-center/jobs-board
http://uxjobs247.com
http://www.justuxjobs.com
http://www.uxjobsboard.com
http://www.onwardsearch.com/User-Experience-Design-Jobs
http://UXswitch.com

On Twitter:

@IA_UXJOBS

@FutureheadsUX

UX Networking:

http://linkedin.com
Join LinkedIn UX groups and network! It’s a great way to find out about career opportunities!

http://twitter.com
There is an AMAZING community of UX professionals on Twitter. Search UX and you’ll find all kinds of really spectacular professional connections! 🙂

Recommendations?

If you know of any other awesome UX job resources, please feel free to leave them in the comments and I’ll add them to this list! 🙂

UX Professionals: Don’t Fear The Fakers

I’ve had several worrisome conversations lately with UX pros and even with students entering the industry who have expressed fear and concern that fakers are going to hijack the UX industry. The fakers they refer to are described as folks who are new to the industry who are self proclaimed experts. I have a few thoughts on this subject.

1. UX is a massive field that incorporates numerous sub specialties. For a person to stand up and say they are an “expert in ux” is to say that they are an expert in every sub specialty of an industry that shifts and changes every single day. There are core principles and theories that are timeless and remain the same, but there are only about 5 people alive who could stand up and proclaim to be an expert in every single sub specialty of UX that exists. So in short, I wouldn’t trust a self proclaimed “UX Expert.” And, they’ll out themselves quickly with lack of knowledge if they’re trying to pass off as one. On the other hand, a new person sharing an epic new idea is just a UX community member contributing something awesome. They’re not “faking” anything. They’re just sharing a new awesome idea, and should be celebrated for doing so.

2. There are members of the UX community that have been part of the UX industry for decades. I have the utmost respect for those individuals, they paved the way for the incoming wave of UX professionals whose mission it is to make the world a better place by designing better experiences.

3. One of my favorite aspects of the UX and design communities is that they have always been so welcoming to new comers. I don’t want to see this growing fear of fakers destroy that amazing aspect of our community. We should continue to boost one another up, and pros mentor when possible while continuing to learn new things each day.

4. Our entire industry was created by a group of individuals with innovative ideas that focused on ways we can improve the world around us, and those individuals confidently strode forth proclaiming those ideas. The next wave of UX pros are the future of the industry. They aren’t threats to our profession, they include among them the next generation of visionaries. If we start to discourage them from sharing their new ideas, by making them feel unwelcome, or irrelevant, or “fake,” we’ll be abruptly making our industry irrelevant to the rapidly changing future of design. The newest UX pros and their ideas are our future.

5. Just to be 100% clear, I do not consider myself in any way, shape, or form an expert in any facet of UX at all. I use this blog to share ideas and tips and tricks that work for me, and tools that make my life easier as a UX pro. I’ve been working in the software industry for nearly a decade, have a background in Psychology and I designed and coded my first website way back in 1997 (Yes, it had a scrolling java ticker. I still feel shame.), but I was only introduced to, and fell in love with UX as a career choice 3 years ago. It combines all of the things I love most into one neat, passion inducing package. I consider myself a student of UX, definitely not even remotely close to anything resembling expert. And honestly, I think that anyone who is truly passionate about UX would very likely consider him or her self a lifelong student of UX as well. There are always new exciting things to learn.

6. There are definitely experts in subcategories of UX and there are generalists who work in many facets of UX. There are also the men and women who literally wrote the books that got the industry recognized and on the road to becoming one of the most sought after and in demand careers of this decade. And those folks are on pedestals for life. They are our industry founders and deserve tons of respect for all the blood sweat and tears they have put in to making the UX industry what it is today. These people can call themselves UX experts all day long if they want to, because that’s exactly what they are.

In summary, I want to thank the individuals who founded the industry, and again reiterate that I have the utmost respect for those individuals. And to the future UX innovators, be confident but not cocky. Respect the foundation the industry was built on, but don’t be afraid to let your voice be heard. Your innovative ideas are what will continue to launch our industry into the future. Sharing your new exciting ideas doesn’t make you a faker, it makes you a valued member of our UX community! Thank you in advance for the epic contributions you’ll make to our industry!

Does your job fuel your creative energy?

You know what I love about my job as a Content Strategist and UX Editor for our Product Design and Innovation team? Everything.

One of my favorite aspects is definitely working with a team of incredibly creative, innovative people. We have photographers, print makers, font addicts, nature lovers, writers, painters, craft makers, house flippers, code dreamers, you name it. It’s an eclectic group of people who all bring their own perspective and spin to our products.

One of the coolest things about working with such an incredible group of folks, is that the creativity is almost palpable. You can feel it humming around the team when we’re  in the office. We work extremely hard, but in the downtime during coffee breaks we chat about our latest creative hobbies, share pictures of pieces we’ve done, sneak previews of things that are in progress, and it’s just generally an incredibly creative atmosphere.

After a particularly inspiring day at the office (our next project is completely awesome, can’t wait for launch!!!) I  had one of those nights, where I experienced the spine tingling creative compulsion make something beautiful. Ever get that feeling, that if you don’t create something beautiful immediately, you’re going to explode?

I picked up a camera and started shooting things (fall foliage, trees, the crescent moon) and spent the evening editing.  When I was done, and had a few pieces I loved, I realized that I had been attacked by a fit of creative energy that stemmed from working in a job that FUELS my creativity, rather than a job that detracts from it. I get to spend my days thinking of new innovative ways to do things, and the job is actually multiplying my creative energy exponentially. Add to that the fact that spending time with the awesome team of people I work with is like being perpetually wrapped in a cloud of creative innovation,  and you’ve got a definite win.

When you get home from work, are you energized? Are you inspired? Do you have those fits of creativity that crawl through your spine demanding that you create something amazing?

If you’re drained, exhausted, mentally fried, or creatively sapped when you get home, there’s a good chance that you’re in the wrong field, or in a toxic work environment.

Free yourself and find a position and team that inspire and fuel your creativity! Then you’ll never “work” another day in your life. You’ll just spend your days doing something you love with “your people” while making bank! Life doesn’t get much better than that.

UX Pros: To Code Or Not To Code, That Is The Question.

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Ever feel like you’re beating a dead horse? (By the way, who came up with that saying? It’s horrible.)

I’ve read about 92,763 articles for and against UX pros learning to code over the past several years.

Pros:

1. You’re a double threat and it opens job opportunities.
2. Companies don’t even understand what UX pros do half the time, they expect you to code even though it’s not a normal thing for a UX pro to do.
3. You will understand what your dev team is talking about when they start discussing API calls and jquery plugins and magical javascript tricks during meetings.

Cons:

1. People will start expecting you to do 2 jobs. “Hey look, this person does BOTH things! We can just hire 1 person! Cha-ching!” Which = less time to devote to user research.
2. You’ll get roped into coding more than you expect, which is great if you really enjoy it, and not if you don’t.
3. The already insane amount of free time you spend reading tech blogs will multiply exponentially when you get into sites like github, and suddenly you’ll want to learn every language ever created. Or, you won’t but your employer will expect you to.

So, what’s the answer to the age old question, “As a UX pro should I learn to code?”

It’s simple, really.  Just ask yourself this one easy question:

“Is learning to code something I feel passionate about?”

If the answer is “YES!!!!,” then you should absolutely learn to code!

If the answer is “Ummm… not really,” then you should NOT learn to code.

Just about every UX pro I’ve met is extremely passionate about his or her work. They love their jobs and it shows.

If learning to code will add to your daily excitement and passion then do it!

If you have no interest in it at all, and you’re only considering it because you’re feeling pressured by bloggers who tell you it’s something you should do because they said so, then bag it and continue focusing all of your energy and passion on what you love!

Keep UXing it up, loud and proud! 🙂