Head of anything is evocative of responsibility, power and knowledge, but what does Head of User Experience (UX) really mean and how do you know if your getting one?
User experience in its value and effectiveness is geographical and sector based, that is to say it means different things to different people by country, by business and by route to the role (in-house HR or agency service). With this many variants how can anyone be sure that they have hired a Head of User Experience?
One of my colleagues in a recent contract described User Experience as turning the turd (poo) into a piece of glitter covered turd. If this is the expectation it’s not really surprising if the wrong people get senior roles, then the incompetent lead.
What I want to show is some basic indicators about hiring a Head of User Experience;
Please don’t be offended if it’s what you do for a living (recruitment or employment agent), glean what you can and discard anything you don’t need. 🙂
Who, What, When, Where, Why.
Who do they know and how do they deal with them?
They must know users; understand user drivers and perspective for every project just as they must know the client stakeholders and leaders with the environment that they are working in. The level of knowledge will vary, as much of the information is second hand from Lead and Senior designers or researchers. But the Head of UX will have both their own knowledgebase and be able to elicit extra business and strategic information not visible to other ux practitioners.
Can they let their team work or do they micro-manage? It’s really important when working with a new (to the Head of UX) team that the teams strengths are encouraged and supported. UX is one of those skill sets where diversity of experience is critical in evolving multiple parallel project solutions within a team of peers. Giving the team rights over the group output is critical to maintain quality and to challenge narrow thinking. How they manage, mentor and train people is key to the future of the team? How will they deal with internal applicants for the job they have just got? Conflict is a given in any location where people are, what are their stratagies for conflict? Watch out for people with an ‘I problem’ if it’s all about them they cannot see other people. Get references from colleagues as well as employers, you can find them as connections on Linkedin.
What do they do for a living, how do they describe themselves, their UX work and their colleagues?
How do they describe what they do for a living, a couple of years ago recruitment agencies where told by someone that ux people only focus on the user and that should be their response when ask who they focus their efforts on. Wrong, ux is a service that is based on creating a meeting point between people, organisations/businesses > providers and products/services > content. Any Head of User Experience who does not know this is not a Head of User Experience, it’s a business. It’s a great business that gives an audience access to the content they are looking for, makes it easy to interact with and enables communication with the content provider, but it’s still a business. Watch out for divas they upset clients and stakeholders alike a Head of UX is a savvy business person and knows which things to fight for and which things to mitigate as a risk.
Do they have a process? Can they describe the process and where it came from, how it has evolved through their experiences and which projects made the most change or option routes for it.
When did they acquire their skills?
People involved in user experience who have the kind of experience to be a Head of User Experience come from diverse backgrounds. A colleague of mine started in the US DoD (in the 1980’s) designing graphic manuals for troop training and another NATO information systems. Find out what else they have done and how they evaluate their experiences, because their experience underwrites their other skills and gives them a breadth of understanding about various sectors that may not be on their CV’s. For instance I have had lots of experience setting up business banking accounts, some really lousy (maybe for another post), some grossly inefficient (some excuses of epic proportions) and others utterly fabulous. Ask them to describe an experience, evaluate it and provide a solution to any problem they have encountered. For people like us it’s easy, for example I’ve had a fix for the supermarket self checkout bottleneck for years, it’s obvious.
User Experience in its current form is a fairly recent naming when I meet practitioners with experience before 2005 described as user experience, I know there is something wrong depending on where in the world they say they got their experience.
Where and with whom do they associate?
Confirming the professional level of a person is now quite easy with Linkedin, connect with them and have a look at their connections, if they don’t know any senior people outside of ux they are not senior themselves. It’s a cultural thing we tend to mix with people at or above our own level when thinking professionally, occasionally people come on the radar where they a worth following to see where their career goes. Yes, Linkedin again, if you don’t use it, you won’t know what your missing.
Why do they think they fit?
Based upon their research, they should know enough about the role, the people, the ethos and the clients or stakeholders to be able to pitch a reason why they fit in.
Don’t ask a Head of User Experience;
Don’t ask for a portfolio asks for a presentation. Presentation ability is required when working the board of directors, client stakeholders and when conducting pitches with new business or internal advocacy. Look for the narrative, a really good ux presentation has a story that it’s telling ‘What is UX?’, ‘How can UX help my business?’, ‘Project name UX concepts’, ‘Project name user stories’ etc. Also look for substance over style, the presentation must be meaningful and hint at critical thinking and creative talent, really flashy presentations make me concerned when they lack any real information, interpretation of data or concepts that have a provable pathway from researched insights.
Finally get references
I mean get real references, as if your job depended upon it, because it and your future reputation do. User Experience is still a small field, when someone with little or no experience gets a Head of User Experience role the first question we all ask is what was the agency that did this? When I am really unsure of an applicant (due diligence is critical in client services) I use a private detective, just give them the CV and ask for verification.