Should every agency have a UX team? close

Nick Peasant
Nick Peasant
In Musings
24th January 2013
Should every agency have a UX team?

I want to discuss whether user experience (UX) should be baked into the brains of every hire you make or if it merits being totally separated out within the agency.

It is really interesting looking through various blog posts that debate the subject and I realised there were so many views of what a UX designer does and what parts of the project they are involved in. I was curious as to which point when the UX designer’s job finishes and the graphic designer’s job begins.

A good place to start is to define what exactly a UX designer does, then look at the benefits of having a UX team within an agency versus not having one at all. Having recently worked on a project where I was heavily involved in the end to end experience of an e-commerce website. I’m a trained graphic designer but I’ve not been classically trained in UX. It was interesting to see how the roles differ.

What is User Experience design?

User Experience design (abbreviation UX, UXD) – A discipline focused on designing the end-to-end experience of a certain product. To design an experience means to plan and act upon a certain set of actions, which should result in a planned change in the behaviour of a target group (when interacting with a product).

A UX designer’s work should always be derived from people’s problems and aim at finding a pleasurable, seductive, inspiring solution. The results of that work should always be measurable through metrics describing user behaviour. UX designers use knowledge and methods that originate from psychology, anthropology, sociology, computer science, graphic design, industrial design and cognitive science.

What's obvious from this is that UX designers are not only creative but also need acute analytical thinking.

Benefits of having a separate UX team

  • It allows the graphic designer to invest more time in what the site/product will look like.

  • The UX designer will have a different background to the graphic designer and will approach the project with another set of ideas based on psycholgical/scientific knowledge which will improve the end result. I believe that to a certain extent it is important to take graphics out of a design early in the process to fully understand the problem.

  • By having a dedicated UX team you are more likely to be up to date on new technology and on new UX trends as they research and follow other UX teams and blogs, as I do with graphic design. Without this you are relying on other members of the team to keep to to date with these things and have a keen interest in it.

Benefits of having UX baked into every new hire

  • In my experience being involved early in the UX wireframing stage has been good to think about the design layout early and take into account the user journey.

  • This has led to a smooth transition from the wireframes to the actual designs as we talked the client through our vision for each section in a consistent manner. There was no handover between UX and design.

  • Throughout every project you are constantly making improvements to the UX and design and you are in constant conversation with the developers on how things could work more efficiently. Sometimes what you’ve decided early on in the wireframing stage may not work that well in practice so having being involved in the entire process as a designer I am able to make an informed decision when I change things.

  • The biggest benefit to making UX a cultural value is it fosters ownership and responsibility throughout the entire team. A department or job title assigns responsibility upon itself. Removing that definition means it is a collective task, not ‘someone else’s problem’ and as you can see from the definition above, UX spans multiple disciplines.

Andy Budd wrote an interesting piece in .Net magazine where he said there is a trend at the moment to jump straight into sketches and create working prototypes. Effectively employing a lean and flexible approach to user experience. And I definitely agree on that.

There are those projects that require a lot less initial investigation and this allows you to do this. However there are projects where investing heavily in UX at the beginning before starting design pays back hugely with a much clearer ongoing process and set of objectives.

I can also see a genuine need for an independent team of UX experts in companies like Amazon for example as they will rarely do a big design change but instead are more likely to make changes to the UX and the customer journey from doing in-depth research into their audience. This is where the Job title 'UX designer' really makes sense to me.

At Codegent our opinion is that within agencies we all should understand and take responsibility for UX, especially the graphic designer, and I think it makes the job far more rewarding and interesting.