20 June 2018
UX in the southwest - how to identify and hire good candidates.

Design is everywhere – from the website a company uses, all the way through to their sales pipeline, the delivery of the end-product and the customer service strategy that ties it all together. It’s what we call UX – user experience.

As with any operation with roots in the digital realm, however, the identification and hiring of good candidates is a difficult proposition… at least until education catches up. 

Until then, there’s a very real requirement for businesses, where user experience isn’t just a consideration, but is built in from the start of any meaningful strategy. The only thing missing from this formula is a diverse talent-pool.

Ben Curnock, Director at RedRock Consulting, spoke with Simon Norris, Founder & CEO at Nomensa – one of the leading user experience organisations in the UK, on precisely what businesses need to know when they’re hiring good candidates in this area.

Ben: Some of the world’s leading businesses are integrating UX into the very core of their company. What can smaller businesses do to match this undertaking?

Simon: We are seeing more and more companies thrive when they put experience at the heart of their strategy. Businesses that do not give user experience the attention it deserves will leave themselves open to market disruption – customers will simply go elsewhere.

We recently produced a whitepaper that outlined this and provided examples of how the unicorn businesses - Spotify and AirBnB, for instance - are using experience as a key differentiator. Any truly ambitious business will be looking at these companies as an example of how to succeed. Having a UX team which permeates every part of your business – one that strategically applies UX to every activity your business carries - will ensure you are customer-centric and will give you a competitive advantage.

Ben: Bristol is, according to a recent Tech Nation report, the most productive tech cluster in the UK. How is Nomensa supporting that?

Simon: Our team are a passionate bunch, and many of them like to get out and about speaking at external events and, of course, we host our own events such as World IA Day and Collaborate. Collaborate is our flagship conference here in Bristol – and it’s the biggest UX and design conference in the South West.

We are hugely passionate about supporting the local community here and with Collaborate. We wanted to bring a large conference and world-class speakers here to Bristol – something you would usually have to travel to London to experience. Bristol is a thriving digital hub – one of the fastest growing in the UK, and according to the latest Tech Nation report, it’s also the most productive. We like to give back to the digital scene by hosting events such as this.

Ben: What sort of culture do you believe works best for retaining UX specialists?

Simon: It’s no secret that hiring managers all over the UK are struggling to recruit UX talent (and regularly venting on social media about it). There is no single winning formula, but one of the things we find here at Novenas is that a variety of projects is important. A culture that caters to people with a thirst for learning, knowledge sharing, and collaboration is the first, second and third step to attracting the right talent.  

We like to give our UX consultants and designers lots of opportunities to mentor others, and to share the things they’ve learned on their projects with the rest of the team. This helps to foster a culture of communication that is essential for growth - especially when encountering a problem for the first time. There is always someone they can ask for advice on the best process to take.

More and more companies are wising up to the fact that they must offer their customers a seamless, human-centric experience whenever they come into contact with their brand. This is why UX is the most in demand design discipline. Companies that are not thinking about their experience, as well as those that are merely paying lip service to it, will eventually get left behind.

Ben: When hiring UX talent, what skills or backgrounds have you found to be most effective for on-the-ground candidates?

Simon: We’ve found that hiring and nurturing graduates from Psychology and Human Computer Interaction is a remarkably effective strategy. You’ll find UX specialists within most agencies and also within in-house teams - the issue is the differing standards between companies. Partnering with a recruitment consultancy who understand how your company functions in practice is a great step. One man’s Principal UX Consultant is another man’s mid-weight UX Consultant. Because the definitions aren’t clear, candidates coming into the market aren’t 100% sure where their skills and experience place them in a business.

You also find in some companies that UI designers are called UX designer. This can be confusing. Definitions are important, as is the benchmarking of skill sets. Some form of standardisation would be beneficial for the industry.

Ben: Once these UX specialists have been found, what’s the most effective way of bringing them on to your team? Benefits, CPD, salary?

Simon: Paying a competitive salary and benefits is always an important factor in bringing people in, but this is not the be all and end all. You need a culture that is driven to not just “improve” things, but to achieve experience excellence for your customers. Also, as candidates make decisions based on their potential co-workers and working environment, it’s important to have a team of people who are genuinely passionate about UX and for you to be able to show candidates where they will be spending their time.

If your walls are covered in scribbles and work, and people in the office are openly collaborating to solve design problems together, then this is a good sign to prospective candidates. UXers love interesting problems to solve, so don’t be afraid of sharing the problems you’re having, warts and all. If your website is underperforming and not converting as many sales as you know it’s capable of, then say it!