Posted by: communicationcloud | January 12, 2012

How do user experience specialists fit into software companies?

What roles do usability and user experience (UX) specialists take in software development companies? How do UX teams organise themselves within software companies? What is the scope of their work? How do they fit with development processes? Here’s some insight from the the conversations I’ve been having with UX and usability specialists about their experience of working in software companies…

1. It depends on the way development teams are organised

Basically, the way that UX “teams” organise themselves – whether it’s a team of 1 or a team of 15 – is largely driven by the structure that’s already in place for development teams and the scale of those teams. Probably not very surprising insight, but it never hurts to confirm that assumptions match reality.

2. It depends on where the commitment to usability or UX comes from

The other general finding is that the number of UX specialists seems to depend on the organisation’s commitment to improving usability or user experience: where the commitment comes from the top of the business, based on strategic drivers, it’s more common to have one or several UX specialists per development project; where the initiative has come from a development manager wanting to take the pressure off developers by passing some of the UI design work to specialists, there’s typically a single UX specialist, with less detailed involvement in each product.

Again, not a particularly revelatory insight, but worth confirming.

3. Usability and UX specialists take a variety of roles in software companies

Some common ways of working:

A. A single UX-er defines standards, and advises and reviews designs across multiple development teams or a single large team. This sometimes includes working on the company’s website.

B. A single UX-er has detailed involvement in the entire user experience and UI design process for a single product or small number of products, including running or managing usability testing. This often happens where someone makes a strong business case for a particular product needing special treatment for its user experience.

C. Multiple UX-ers work on different development teams, independently of each other. Each UX-er may be doing either A or B from above. In fact, some development teams may just have a single UX-er, while others have several. Effectively each development team works as an autonomous unit within the business, and the UX specialists do the same.

D. Multiple generalist ux-ers work independently on different teams, as in C, but they coordinate their work via centralised standards, processes, and research and usability test administration.

E. Multiple generalist ux-ers work together – e.g. one focuses on design process, another on wording and copy, another on research/testing. There may be several of these groups of each specialism within the team, or there may be multiple teams of specialists – one fore each product. This seems to be common where development teams are based in different locations.

Related posts

I’ve summarised other findings from my consultations with UX teams in software companies in these posts:

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