As a manager with a technical background, I struggled for a long time to evaluate candidates for positions outside of my expertise – especially user experience designers.
Experienced UX designers are one of the most coveted talent assets among small businesses, especially those that rely on tech, which is part of the reason why designers have one of the highest turnover rates in the industry at 23.3 percent. But if you don't have a design background, it can be difficult to gauge exactly how much value a good UX designer adds to your small business – especially because the job title itself can mean so many different things.
UX design is influenced by multiple factors, which means designers need to know how to deliver high-quality work that satisfies multiple perspectives: managers, developers, executives and, of course, users. But because that blend of skill and personality is hard to quantify, some businesses end up missing out on all that UX designers have to offer.
If given the right work environment, UX designers offer a variety of skills to help a small business become more efficient, more user-friendly and more innovative. UX design is a spectrum, so depending on the strengths of the designer you hire, you can use these employees for everything from prototype mock-ups to customer research.
It took me years of hiring designers and finding their replacements before I began to truly see the possibilities that UX designers offer. That's why I put together this cheat sheet to help other managers. A UX designer excels in one or more of the following areas to help your small business thrive.
1. They can think through systems.
UX designers see the big picture. They have the ability to organize complex processes into simple solutions. When they talk about design thinking, they get excited about conquering major obstacles (even for innovative, enterprise-level solutions).
If you work in a field with countless moving parts, you need a systems thinker. Once on your team, these designers will spend their time interviewing stakeholders and users, following user journeys, and sketching different possible pathways. Be on the lookout for candidates who can turn the confusing into the efficient, and give them challenging, complex problems to work on from across departments to sharpen their skills.
2. They can be artistic.
Some UX designers lean toward more artistic thinking. They'll come with portfolios full of sketches, drawings, or digital animations and have an innate talent for compelling visual work. These artsier candidates might need someone to guide them on the technical side of things, but given how heavily UX design relies on sight, these workers make great options for companies that require eye-grabbing prototypes.
Artists know how to distill a concept down to its core and make that core as appealing as possible. Visual work takes practice to perfect, so if you give these artists plenty of time and space to hone their craft, it will pay off. Consider building more creative time into your UX designers' schedules to maximize their value for your small business.
3. They can gather customer insights.
Some companies have entire positions or departments dedicated to the user experience. But for smaller businesses, the designers need to know how to research, and UX designers know how to do this better than most.
When evaluating candidates, look for those with user outreach and interviewing in their profiles, but don't stop there. Interview to discover who asks good questions and shows empathy.
Build research and testing into every cycle of product development to give these designers a chance to improve the product using their unique skills. They know how to find the answers, but they usually need the go-ahead from management to flex their research muscles.
4. They can improve the product.
Some companies, like corporate innovation centers with agile teams, need to see working prototypes as quickly as possible. As natural tinkerers, UX designers are perfect for that role.
If you prioritize speed above all else, look for UX designers who demonstrate a history of learning new design tools, attending classes and maker fairs, and playing with experimental concepts. Within your team, open lines of communication between designers and developers so they can see how their designs are implemented and create even more efficient processes.
These designers are perfect testers of potential new tools, such as an Alexa skill or Bluetooth connectivity in a piece of hardware. If the team wants to implement a new technology for a new feature, let a UX designer team up with a developer to take a crack at it first.
5. They can also manage.
The best managers are process-oriented people. They stay up to date on trends by reading blogs, following thought leaders and attending meetups with fellow designers. Sure, UX designers know how to do the design work, but they also see how that work fits into the broader picture of an organization – a perfect skill for a future manager to nurture.
If your small business wants designers who could one day become more, look for people with a passion for human-centered design and a history of organized efficiency. These designers can speak capably with stakeholders from across departments, and they'll show an interest in the data that their work produces. These high-potential UX designers are introspective about processes and always ready to pursue improvements.
As a business leader, you should allow UX designers to adjust the processes around them after they get some experience in the environment. Not only will this improve business processes in the short term, but it could also help designers take steps toward future leadership responsibilities.
The future of UX design
According to research from Adobe, 87 percent of managers have made hiring UX designers a top priority. That should be good news and bad news for small businesses. The good news is that more and more businesses are realizing the value of UX designers, which means they'll have more opportunities to provide value. The bad news is that there will be more competition among employers for talented designers.
Given that artificial intelligence could transform some parts of human-driven UX design in the coming years, the pool of designers who can truly make a difference isn't getting any deeper. Companies need to know who they're hiring and get it right on the first try.
Perhaps the biggest reason UX designers are so hard to evaluate is because no two designers are alike. Some want to work closely with their teams, and others are more interested in the idea of working freelance. But the best designers add value through not only the quality of their work, but also the way they help their organizations see processes and problems in a new light.