How to hire a user experience designer

So many people are billing themselves as user experience designers nowadays. It’s reminiscent of the late nineties, and unfortunately even today, where everyone was a web designer or web developer. So how do you know if you’re hiring a suitable user experience designer?

It is actually somewhat straight forward, though it depends on the reason(s) you have for hiring her. If you’re hiring her to work at your international interactive marketing agency then what you need from her is substantially greater than if you’re hiring her to consult with you on your small business e-commerce site.

Luckily, in 2004 Scott Hirsch, Janice Fraser and Sara Beckman came out with a great research article, Leveraging Business Value: How ROI Changes User Experience published by Adaptive Path. This article does a great job of breaking down the different stages of user experience expertise. The stages can be matched to the needs of your organization and what resources, mainly budget, you have available. Here are the stages that Adaptive Path found user experience designers fall in:

  • Stage 0:
  • “On-time, on-budget is the baseline metric for success, but that does little to evaluate the project’s contribution to business success. As companies advance, success is understood in terms of the value that a project has delivered…In the earlier stages of the model (’0′ and ’1′), it may be that an overly complex process is unnecessary because the level of investment is too small to warrant costly analytics, or the Web strategy may be so simple that success is easily realized. However, it is more likely that organizations can recognize increased value by adopting a more complex (re: thorough) means of assessing user experience value — and thereby setting up an ex-ante process for recognizing possible projects and prioritizing those projects based on expected returns.” (Hirsch 27)

  • Stage 1
  • “As companies progress, decisions about which projects to pursue are based on more strategic, value-based criteria. The shift from intuition-based decision making to behavior-based decision making has important cultural implications for the organization [and ux designer], because it introduces rational criteria that can be measured. More-advanced companies [and ux designers] have transparent, rigorous process for comparing projects.” (Hirsch 27)

  • Stage 2-4
  • “The most advanced stages (’2′ through ’4′) make a more and more compelling case for ex-post analysis for the purpose of assigning accountability, measuring success, and advocating for resources. At the later stages, companies [and ux designers] can use ROI to aggregate project data after a portfolio of projects has been implemented…A small firm with a Web site that serves mostly a marketing support function may have little or no need for a full-blown project valuation process that utilizes such ROI calculations.” (Hirsch 27)

Leveraging Business Value, p. 28

Of course the smaller the budget and the less access to existing metrics you have, the lower the stage of user experience designer you need. If “on-time and on-budget” are what’s important, then a stage 0 user experience designer, who operates off intuition might be sufficient. However, if you have the budget and you need to be able to prove the success of the project to your company, then you really need at least a stage 1 user experience designer who can show definitive behavior changes. Of course, user behavior and value do not always correlate. Behavior metrics look like this:

  • Conversions
  • Visits
  • Facebook Likes
  • Facebook Engagement

Stage 2 user experience designers will work with you to alter your users’ behaviors in line with your value metrics. Notice though, that for a user experience designer to do this your organization will either already need value metrics or will need the budget to determine these values. Value metrics look like this:

  • Each lead generated is worth $1
  • A qualified visit is worth $0.10
  • An unqualified visit is worth $0.01
  • A qualified email address is worth $0.05

Stage 3 and 4 user experience designers are rare as individuals, but if you are hiring a user experience consulting firm or agency of record, they should be able to provide you with a strong analysis of the success of the project and work with you to identify other projects within your organization that can benefit from user experience design. And at this stage the benefit the user experience designer is talking about is an adequate return on your investment and not simply behavior changes.

How can you tell what stage your candidate is at?

Make sure you ask the right questions. Ask your candidate about previous projects he’s worked on, about why you should hire him and about his approach. If he says that his approach is based off his n-years experience with something or other and his past successes were on-time and on-budget, but doesn’t offer any other metrics, then he’s most likely a stage 0 candidate. If he speaks more to affecting behavior metrics and his past successes seem to hinge on behavior metrics like conversion rates, visits, and engagement, then he’s probably a stage 1 candidate. However, if the candidate is able to tie in business value directly to the user experience design then he is more likely to be a stage 2 or 3 candidate. The depth of his answers will help you determine how well he is at selecting valuable metrics to target, analyzing the success of the project and using the ex-ante metrics to inform and decide upon future projects. Always be sure that he is able to give concrete examples and he’s not just repeating something he read on a blog that morning.

Is that it?

No, but it’s a great start. A question we’ve left out of this is how effective the strategies the user experience designer employs are at affecting user behaviors. If the UX designer doesn’t understand the principles that make their strategies effective, then they won’t be able to identify new opportunities. Instead, they’ll only be able to enact the same strategies over and over again, until they read some blog article with some neat new trick. We can break this criterion down into stages of experience too, but that will have to wait for another blog post.

Need help with your organization’s user experience? Contact me today!

Hirsch, Scott, Janice Fraser and Sara Beckman. Leveraging Business Value: How ROI Changes User Experience. Adaptive Path, 2004. Online.

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One Response to How to hire a user experience designer

  1. Pingback: How to hire a User Experience Designer / IA

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