Why Your First Hire
Should be UX

Janis Yee
4 min readSep 11, 2015

Most tech startups generally begin with a strong engineering-focus to get off the ground. They decide they want to create an app so they hire developers to start building things and then add an Agile project manager to organize it all.

“Let’s start off lean, because it doesn’t have to be pretty now.”

A common problem arises when a shiny new UX Designer joins midway through the project because your developers don’t have the time nor expertise to make your product user-centric. By then you could be too far along to take action on the research that uncovered a boatload of required changes. Your scope will creep and you don’t have the budget to adjust. Everyone is overworked but your new hire will stand in the corner pondering his / her job security. No one will end up delighting in your product and you can’t articulate why.

Remember, having a UX Designer on the team is never about making your thing subjectively pretty. It’s about making it work for your audience.

Think about this person as your user advocate who can help you balance your users’ needs with those of your business and development team.

The value of being experience-focused from the start will help you get a better handle on your project. A good UX professional will start off by asking the right questions with a childlike persistence. This skepticism will help you stay lean, move closer towards building the right product, and helps you solve the most important problems first.

Here are the things that your UX hire may investigate at different points in the process.

You may recognize these as questions you or your team have already worked through without a UX specialist.

Before you begin

  1. What problem are you trying to solve and for whom?
  2. Why are you making this? What is the context?
  3. What format will best convey this functionality? What are you building? Mobile app? Kiosk? Wearable? What makes the most sense for your audience?
  4. How do we measure success?

At the start of the Project

  1. What’s your strategy?
  2. What are your priorities?
  3. How do we break down your big end goal into manageable pieces?

During the Project

  1. What are your assumptions? Can we launch without X and assess later?
  2. How do we balance user needs with feasibility and scope? Are we building the happy path for users?
  3. How do we validate and test as we go? Continuous feedback is critical here.

After launch

  1. What did we learn? How can we improve and adapt?
  2. How do we maintain a feedback loop?
  3. Are we still solving this problem for your audience? Is the product effective?

Every member of your startup becomes so used to wearing their version of the UX hat that it can become difficult for you to justify hiring your specialist.

Here are the most common UX hats I’ve encountered at many places I’ve worked at:

  • The Customer Service team is conducting User Research.
  • The Project Manager has created the Backlog, and the IA.
  • The Product Owner is doing the Wireframes, Interaction design, and Content.
  • The Front-End Developer is working on Accessibility, Usability, A/B tests.

Sound familiar?

A key thing to consider here is whether these things should exist within the realm of the team members above. There’s no doubt that the entire company should be experience-focused but recall that they need to focus so you may need the specialist to offset the tasks here.

Your UX Designer is also a great strategist.

The difference with how a UX professional will work and think is in how the information gathered is synthesized into action items. Your team may not question every move they make and you may not have a grasp of the holistic impact of subtle changes.

Instead of asking “How should X look?” your hire will ask “Should there even be an X there?” or “why is X necessary at all? How does X improve the user’s experience in the context of their daily lives?” You can start to think critically about your features and how they relate to your goals, which in turn will keep your product lean.

This process is absolutely more disruptive when the questions are asked mid project. You can -nudge, nudge- avoid this disruption by hiring said UX Designer from the beginning. It is their job to audit every decision in order to steer the ship towards smooth waters. This hire will help organize the upfront research that will validate your ideas. Your product will be more concrete and they will work with you on your goals.

Is your budget limited and you need this person to also wear multiple hats? Consider that he / she can also be your project manager, product owner, or branding specialist as well. A UX professional will help guide your product development so you can focus on leading the team and building a remarkable company.

Smart companies begin with a focus on experience first.
Why not consider hiring UX first?

Janis Yee

Teaching and inspiring others about holistic experience design in digital and beyond