If you give a designer a job

It’s much like if you give a mouse a cookie

In April 2018, I was at Leah Buley’s The UX Team of One workshop. I was pleasantly surprised to see a few participants were there for the sole purpose of understanding UX to bring it into their organization.

As a “First Designer” myself, I thought of a few things that would have helped ease my transition that I would want someone who was thinking of bringing a a designer in to know.

I immediately thought of the children’s book If You Give a Mouse a Cookie, which goes like this:

  • If you give a mouse a cookie, he’s going to ask for a glass of milk.
  • When you give him the milk, he’ll probably ask for a straw.
  • When he’s finished, he’ll ask for a napkin.
  • Then he’ll want to look in the mirror to make sure he doesn’t have a milk mustache.

…and so on.

Why do I bring up this children’s book? Because it’s a great illustration (hah, yes, pun intended) for what happens when you bring a new function into your company.

If you give a designer a job, you might think — I’ll get some wireframes and some nice screens and it’ll be great. But what you don’t know, is that if you’re getting a good designer, you’re getting a whole lot more than you asked for.

  • If you give a designer a job, they’re going to want to understand the business problem, so they’ll ask to sit in on the kickoff meeting.
  • Then they’ll want to understand their audience, so they’re going to ask to do some research.
  • To do their research, they’re going to ask for some users to talk to.
  • Before they can talk to the users, they’ll ask for some sticky notes. To write on those sticky notes, they’ll ask for sharpies, of all shapes and sizes.
  • With sticky notes in hand, they’ll ask for a wall to display and categorize everything on. They may get carried away and cover the whole room!
  • With findings in hand, they’ll be so excited by the problem that they’ll want to map out the steps a user flows — and they’ll ask for big pieces of paper to draw on. Thank goodness you already gave them sharpies.
  • As they think, they’ll wonder how others have solved the problem, so they’ll ask for competitors to review.
  • They’ll ask for content to place inside a wireframe, which means they’ll ask for a copywriter.
  • To get to the details, they’ll ask for wireframing software. They’ll wireframe a solution.
  • Then they’ll want to make sure what they designed is possible, so they’ll ask to talk to developers to make sure it’s feasible.
  • They’ll want to make sure the visual design works with their initial vision, so they’ll ask to see the finalized visual design.
  • Looking at the finished product, chances are they’ll want to do some research on how it’s doing …

Now, my little story doesn’t cover all the possible scenarios of a designer — this is a pretty basic from nothing to something. But the gist of the message, no matter where you’re bringing a designer in — this is not inserting a step into your process — this is bringing a whole new process in.

So you — as you prepare to bring someone in, or perhaps are struggling with how to move forward, here are some tips I’ve learned as the “First Designer” and gathered from others who have also been the first designer.


1. Prepare Yourself

I hope the first thing you noticed is that a designer is going to be asking for a lot! Are you prepared to give them the users, specialized software, and social capital they need to be successful?

Users

They will need you or someone else to authorize talking to users– sending out surveys, scheduling phone calls, listening over customer service calls, etc. Any way they can be in contact with users will help them create their best work.

Specialized Software

I have at least 5 different tools I use on a day-to-day basis that no one else at my company uses: wireframing software, research software, testing software, etc — is the budget ready for that?

Social Capital

Easily the hardest part of my job has been building social capital and it came more easily because of the social capital of my supervisor. If the designer you’re bringing in is not at your company’s equivalent of a senior level, they will need a champion at that level to get them in the right meetings and help them be successful.

2. Know Design and Know Who You Need

Know Design

You and the different groups of people your new designer will work with will need to have a definition of design. You have the good character to bring on a designer, so you at least know something about it, but the more you and others know about it, the smoother the introduction will be.

When others in the design industry describe what design is, you’ll likely see a venn diagram chart. This is a big topic, and even the design community can spend days hemming and hawing on the topic. The definition of design I work from I describe in this article, UX is not small pieces of other disciplines .

In my words, Design is the totality of:

  • Visual design (the colors, typography, imagery)
  • Information Architecture (the categorization and pathways)
  • Content Design (the words and layout)
  • User Research (the understanding of an audience)
  • Development (the final built product)

Know who you need

If this is your first time bringing a designer of any kind, you are looking for someone who has working knowledge in each of the above areas (and heads up — that’s likely not someone straight out of college). Eventually you may look for design specialists within those areas — an information architect, a user researcher, etc.

3. Understand The Process

As I said before, you’re bringing a new process into your larger process with a myriad of potential deliverables.

Process

Unfortunately there are a ton of ways to describe the design process and in every company it will eventually flesh out differently — but I encourage you to dig deeply into understanding at least one framework, try it out, and iterate from there. I think this article does a really nice job of explaining it.

I believe that the biggest thing you can do to accelerate the success of your new designer is to work with your people to determine how the new designer will fit in to your current process and to have a common framework of how you will proceed forward the first time.

Deliverables

Inside that process, you will have deliverables. This is a great image from Leah Buley’s workshop The UX Team of One that describes the many activities/deliverables that a UX Designer will expect to start doing once they start work.

For the sake of brevity I won’t explain the deliverables, this is a pretty decent overview.

4. Prepare Your People

Other leaders must champion design

Design is deeply collaborative — it is at its best when it is cross-functional.

Who are the leaders of the development, graphic design, project management, and business analyst teams? They will have to champion your new designer. They are essential to getting the designer in to the right conversations.

Reframing the Design Landscape

Additionally, Design has already been happening at your organization, whether it was explicitly called that or not. Who has been writing the words, building the layout, determining the flow? You? Developers? Writers? The CEO? Unless you didn’t have any of this before, then someone was doing the design work.

They may be really excited for your new Designer — they will say they are glad to jump out of things that are not their expertise and get back to things that are more in their wheelhouse.

But, humans don’t have a great track record for dealing well with change and allowing others to take pieces that were previously under their purview. So, be watching for rubbing points as a new process and framework is worked out.

Let me be clear — I’m not saying they or you shouldn’t have a voice anymore. There is history that is extremely helpful to your new designer of why things are the way they are — but they must be on board with and allow your Designer to start having a voice.

Of the 4 steps I’ve outlined, this is the most important and can be the greatest barrier to your designer’s success.


Thank you for taking on this challenge; it is a worthy one

This is not easy. Because of its cross-functionality, design is inherently challenging, but I hope that if you’re armed with this knowledge, your designer will not land in chaos, but in a place that is ready for them. Your users will thank you for it.


Many thanks to Jorunn Newth from Designer Hangout for her help in refining and clarifying my thoughts.

Ashley Crutcher is a Digital Designer at InterVarsity located in Madison, WI. She tweets at @ashleyspixels and enjoys cuddling with her furkiddos, working with yarn, ringing handbells, and thinking too much about everything.