TEI 189: Building UX in product teams — with Sam Horodezky

Breaking down myths and misconceptions about two popular — but sometimes opposing — roles.

UX is a hot topic and for good reason. The right UX skills on a product team can make the product more successful. The wrong skills waste money and time. Many product managers and leaders make mistakes when adding UX roles to their product teams — but you won’t be one of them because of this discussion.

My guest shares the common mistakes and how to avoid them. He organizes UX skills into three categories: research, interaction design, visual design. Using the right skill at the right time during the development of the product is important. Otherwise, you’ll encounter the square peg in the round hole problem and no one is happy with that.

My guest has been a product manager and is a UX specialist with more than 15 years of experience. He has built UX teams from scratch and now helps organizations build and manage successful teams. His name is Sam Horodezky.

Summary of some concepts discussed for product managers

[5:33] How do you describe the roles of product manager and UX professional?

Some product managers intersect more with technology, and others intersect more with design and have less technical capability. Some people have an equal balance between the two. User experience includes research to find latent needs based in ethnography or anthropology — going on site and watching someone use your product. This also includes usability testing. It also includes interaction design, which is 50% working with requirements and 50% working with the user interface. Interaction designers often get into micro interactions like drag and drop. The final stage of user experience is the visual designer, who takes the UX and makes it look attractive. There’s often overlap between interaction design and visual design.

[13:50] How do the two roles overlap?

I see conflict right now between product managers and user experience researchers. Both are trying to work with customers to obtain information and the skill sets are very much in common. UX is a hot field right now and there’s a lot of new blood coming in, with many people coming from design schools. There’s no standard accreditation for UX and it’s a source of tension in the field. You can’t just go look for a particular degree, you have to look a lot deeper. Hopefully we will get to a standard degree, but it might take a while. Not all UX designers are coming from the perspective of trying to understand how a user’s brain works like a product manager might be.

[17:35] What are the steps for creating UX capability on a product team?

People often think they need a UX person without understanding which of the three components (research, interaction, visual) they need. The common reaction is hire a junior initially, which is not enough to change how a product is built. A UX person will always be taking work away from someone else, so there will be ownership tension at the start. They need to figure out a way to interact with product management, engineering, marketing, and other parts of the organization. Anyone looking to hire a UX person should be looking for someone who can create a process that integrates all of those pieces, which a junior level person can’t do. The key is to get a more experienced person with room to grow — maybe someone with 5 or so years of experience.

Teams looking to add UX also need to watch out for the “UX unicorn,” or the person who can do all three components of UX. Like the name suggests, that person does not exist. Startups in particular are always looking for unicorns. You have to decide what type of person you want based on what your need is. For example, if you have a relatively straightforward application, then you probably don’t need a visual designer. If you have a well-defined business plan, then you do not need a researcher.

[25:10] Once you figure out what type of person you need, what comes next?

Teams grow and, over time, you’ll realize that you are missing some competencies. When people get a taste of UX, they love it and end up wanting more. If you’re hiring someone who is not visually inclined, you’ll need to be prepared to hire someone who can fill the visual role. Once you have that first, more senior person on the team, you can begin hiring more junior people. Over time, you’ll fill in the holes that you have, whether it’s usability testing or visual design.

Useful links:

Innovation Quote

“Design should be as simple as possible, but no simpler.” -Paraphrased from Albert Einstein


Thank you for being an Everyday Innovator and learning with me from the successes and failures of product innovators, managers, and developers. If you enjoyed the discussion, help out a fellow product manager by sharing it on your favorite social network.