As a leading, full-service product development consultancy, our firm is always in competition for talent. Often, much larger (and richer) firms compete with us for the same limited pool of top-tier candidates.
Several years ago, we faced severe challenges in finding and landing software designers with the UI/UX development skills necessary to meet our clients’ needs. After several months of fruitless search, we either could not find the right talent or convince the few we did find to consider leaving their current gig to join our firm. Furthermore, in those few cases where we did find potential hires willing to consider a move, it was often at grossly inflated salaries we couldn’t reasonably afford.
I reached out to an old friend in a high profile, senior level design leadership position for both sympathy and advice. He confirmed our observation. The talent we wanted was in short supply and they either would not be interested in us and, if they were, we could not afford them. His advice? Build your own. More specifically, knowing the unusual diversity of our design team, he recommended we build our team from within. Given that we saw no other choice, indeed, this is what we did. The results have been outstanding.
Other companies can accomplish what our company did – build its own team of UI/UX experts. Here are some factors that can help:
1. Have a design team that understands user experience.
The good news is that design thinking is deeply embedded in current product designer thinking in both the hardware and software worlds. What that means is that the talent you already have likely knows how to think about product design and user experience regardless of whether that product is hardware, software, or both. The terminology might be relatively new, but its tenets are old and embedded in other skillsets.
2. Have experienced hardware-oriented industrial designers.
There is no substitute for experience in order to build a team with industrial design “know how.” If the team has a bent toward product and technology rather than the softer side of design, these team members can apply their experience and wisdom into a new product development area. Many experienced industrial designers enjoy the ability to broaden their work experience across both hardware and software design and often bring insights not always found in transplants from other occupational fields.
3. Bring in entry level industrial design talent.
Many university industrial design programs are now training their students across hardware/software boundaries; teaching user experience in all types of product categories. Additionally, students are routinely exposed to and become experienced with the diverse toolsets and techniques used in both the hardware and software design domains. Having a team familiar with the broadest spectrum of product development methodologies and tools can be extremely beneficial.
4. Invest in teaching your hardware designers the “tools of the trade.”
There are processes and tools employed in the software world which are different from the hardware world. At our firm, we invested in training our industrial design team members in the specialized tools used for software design. Tools such as wireframing software applications are extremely helpful and improve efficiency and, in comparison to many other applications routinely used, such tools are not particularly challenging to learn. For the more ambitious members of an industrial design team, learning to do simple coding and animation demos can facilitate both internal and client communication. Additionally, knowledge designers acquire while working alongside their engineering counterparts improves the quality of their deliverables to adjacent software developers; something we’re finding to be increasingly true as hardware and software converge.
5. Co-locate your designers and software developers.
Prior articles have addressed the value of having software developers in tight collaboration with software designers. This close collaboration results in the end product having both the look/feel/flow of a high-quality application while also helping software developers better understand and thus realize the product design vision. Collaterally, having industrial designers and software developers co-located (or adjacent) improves communication across functional lines and helps designers better understand what is possible/easy/optimal for the developers to implement. Further, co-location allows software developers to provide solution-oriented suggestions to the design team.
These factors helped our firm build out a competent and highly creative UI/UX & GUI team. With patience and hard work, other firms can follow the same model. If the need is there, it is worth the investment.
As our firm has found, it was easier to build our own capabilities and develop them to a world class level than to “bang our heads against the wall” trying to compete with the large, high profile corporations for the few experienced and high-salaried UX/UI & GUI designers in the market.
Mitch is the President and Cofounder of Intelligent Product Solutions (IPS), a leading product design and development firm. He honed his deep knowledge of product design on the strength of a 30-year career with companies that manufacture commercially successful products for the consumer, industrial, and DoD markets. Prior to launching IPS, Mitch was VP of Engineering at Symbol Technologies. Always espousing a hands-on approach to design, he holds a portfolio of numerous United States and international patents. Mitch holds a Bachelor of Science degree from Hofstra University, a Master of Science in Mechanical Engineering from Columbia University, and an MBA from Fairleigh Dickinson University. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.