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How to choose the right user experience designer for a startup company

Omri Ginzburg | February 2015

Do you have an innovative entrepreneurial idea? Are you an up-and-coming start-up company? Do yourself a favor and get a user experience designer for your team. Having trouble choosing one? Here are some pointers that can help you find the perfect candidate.

Managing an up-and-coming start-up company requires high efficiency and working under time and budget constraints. Since most of the money goes to paying the employees working on product development, the staff selection phase deeply impacts the success of the company.

You have the option of hiring the services of a UX\UI person. This title usually refers to a graphic designer who also does user experience designs. But if you ask a UX\UI person if they ever do user research or usability testing, set goals, build a navigation 

This kind of research can help you adjust your concept and strategy to fit the target audience and market. And most of all, it’s good to have another person besides the biased entrepreneur to help figure out whether this “magical” idea for a product is even worth developing.

The user experience designer should be the first worker you hire for your team

Hiring a designer as early as possible significantly reduces the risk of creating something no one’s interested in and minimizes the chances of failure even before you get started. Through user research, interviews, and preliminary usability tests, the UX designer can confirm whether this type of product appeals to users or not. It’s better to know this before you waste your precious time and the investors’ funds.

tree, design a screen layout, or do A\B testing, the answer will usually be no. A graphic designer who’s also trained in user experience might design a better interface than a graphic designer that is unfamiliar with the basic rules of human engineering and cognition, but that still doesn’t make him a user experience designer. UX Design is a process, not the application of some rules in an interface. If a graphic designer wants to take on the role of UX designer, he must follow all the UX design stages, not just the basic user experience principles. It’s mainly a matter of time. The complete process takes time and can’t be done simultaneously. Without a general screen layout, navigation tree, wireframes, and the approval of the product manager/entrepreneur, it’s not possible to start designing anyway. So basically you won’t have saved any money, and your team member will end up doing both, first the user experience design steps and then the graphic design. Graphic design and UX design are closely related because the latter’s creation goes straight to the graphic designer, but UX design is a position in its own right, just like graphic design.

Job description - User Experience Designer for start-up company

The job description of a UX designer at a start-up company is different from that of a designer working for a major high-tech enterprise company or some other big project. 

In Israel (also known as the Start-up Nation), some UX designers work exclusively in the start-up niche. Frequently, the UX designer is much more experienced in new product development process than the entrepreneur. The UX designer’s experience can help prevent many blunders in the early stages and can be very valuable in future product decision making. The UX designer’s ultimate goal is to understand the product’s business objectives and design a user experience that delivers the desired business value when the target audience encounter with the product.

The differences stem primarily from the unique structural and organizational DNA of the start-up world. Due to permanent shortages of manpower and tight schedules, the job description in a start-up company usually includes responsibilities for areas that aren’t taught in professional UX design courses. In a perfect world, the role of the UX designer is on the cusp between graphic designer and product manager. The UX designer receives functional requirements from the product manager, translates them into display and behavioral guidelines, sends them over to graphic design and later on runs usability tests on the product. The problem is, in most cases companies don’t apply a proper product management function in the early stages.

This means the entrepreneur hands over the brilliant idea directly to the UX designer. In the absence of a product manager, it’s the UX designer’s job to determine the functional requirements, prioritize them and then start the working on  the UX. The UX designer’s intimacy with the entrepreneur and his influence on these requirements cement his power in the development chain. The UX designer will quickly find himself having a say in business decisions and even making serious strategic decisions on the product’s future.

As part of the UX design process, the UX designer must do user research to better understand the users' needs.

Both the UX designer’s influence on the company’s business decisions and his understanding of the users’ tendencies make this position especially significant in the start-up management.

Who is right for the job?

User experience design combines several disciplines: Ergonomics, cognition, marketing, technology, design, and more. Therefore, UX designers come from diverse professional backgrounds. And besides the basic UX design toolbox, the UX designer also brings the knowledge and experience he gained over the years in his original field (graphic design, psychology, product management, software development and engineering, marketing, entrepreneurship, etc.)

Unlike certain areas whose professionals come mostly from similar backgrounds (e.g. - software developers who come mostly from a technological background), each UX designer comes with fundamentally different experience.

The experience of a UX designer who started out in a graphic design studio, built many brands, and devised many visual concepts will be very different from that of a UX designer with a technological background who started out in development and rubbed shoulders with development team leaders, product managers, QA engineers, architects, and project managers.

The start-up world is a technological environment at its core. When determining the order of development, making modifications, or prioritizing product features the technological implications of the change must be taken into account. How long will it take to develop the modification? Will this kind of changes require further adjustments to the product? Does the product currently contain the information required for the modification? How long will it take to test the new component, and more...

A UX designer with a background in technology, professional experience from his original field, and the tools to learn and understand the product’s data structure can help you make the right decision. In terms of everyday communication within the company, the developers will have an easier time explaining the difficulties and obstacles. And when you have to integrate with a new external system, you can send your ‘technology expert’ to the meeting without you at ease.

Start-up companies hold daily discussions on business targets and the future of the product. The environment is very dynamic and open to change. Often the product is transformed completely overnight. A UX designer with an entrepreneurial background has a much more open approach and isn’t afraid of changes. The UX designer works closely with the interface developers, answers questions routinely, and eventually guides and approves their final work. At some point you will probably hire a graphic designer. Before long, the UX designer will find himself managing other staff members. Managerial experience is certainly appreciated and can help in the job

If you followed my advice and plan on hiring a UX designer early on, keep in mind that a UX designer with a background in technology can help you analyze and understand the complexity of developing and implementing such a product, in addition to offering innovative and high-quality user experience concepts.

Technological background, entrepreneurship, and some managerial experience are key to the UX designer’s success, but the most important thing is their suitability for the team. It is therefore recommended, before the interview stage, to examine your future (or current) team and try to understand its strengths and weaknesses. Ask yourself questions such as: Do I plan on hiring a product manager anytime soon? What about a project manager? Should I employ a full or part-time graphic designer? In house company employee or freelancer? Do the entrepreneurs have a background in technology? How much experience can I require for each positions, considering the salary I’m offering? And so on.

And above all, make sure to choose a UX designer that will best complement the existing (or future) team, based on your observations.

To sum things up...

In conclusion, UX design for a start-up company is a position that entails various, diverse, and important duties. Therefore, the background of the UX designer deeply affects his chances of success and suitability for the job.

If we’re considering two UX designers at the same skill level, the one with a technological background will probably have the advantage over the other, when it comes to niche start-up companies.

If we accept that it’s in the best interest of a start-up company to hire a user experience designer as early as possible, we should equally emphasize the importance of the UX designer’s background.

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