Hallway Studio

June 13, 2018

Last week the head of product for a small company asked me what the right size, skills and make up was for his UX team.

Across the industry we’ve seen a trend towards smaller ratios of UX designers to engineers.

Ratios of Designers to Engineers
Source: Tech Crunch

My team serves about 30 clients with User Experience and we typically run at ratios of 1:7 for designers and 1:10 for Product Managers. This is sometimes smaller based on the clients needs, timeline and what has already been done.

One of my great mentors used to always say “don’t build the church for easter Sunday.” The idea being that you need to have capacity to cover your usual needs and let things get a bit crowded on those busy times. His phrase works as well for heads of UX as it does for engineers building something.

When I was a UX director I was responsible for a platform supporting 60 sites and additional data products. There was no way I could get budget for and staff a team big enough for all the work I had to do. There were also skills I really needed some of the time and it didn’t make sense to have on-board all of the time.

I had a core team including research, interaction design and visual design and I supplemented with contractors who knew us and could jump in when needed. I also was always developing relationships with staffing agencies, design agencies and potentially employees. It gave me the flexibility and capacity to cover Easter Sunday, Christmas Eve and all the days in between.

So what should a head of product or UX do?

Build an actual team > A rockstar can’t get it all done alone¬†

Build a deep bench > Develop relationships with people who understand you and you can put in when needed.

Hire generalists, contract with specialists > Having some generalists who can do research, interaction design and visual design will help you move quickly, have strong relationships within the company and have deep customer and product knowledge. Contract when you want heavy duty information architecture, research, strategy or visual design for a specific effort.

Have good standards and practices > Having a consistent way of working makes it much easier to bring in others to help share the load. This includes your design system, tools and how you do things like user recruiting and delivering to Engineering.

Get some juniors > A team full of seniors can be tricky because they cost a lot, they don’t collaborate too much and are likely to leave because you have no career path to offer them. Bringing on junior designers helps with all those things.

The ideal UX team is one that can flex and adapt and getting there isn’t that hard if you know how to work it.

Image: A old, random illustration



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