How to Become a UX Development Team Leader

Original author: Robert Hoekman Jr
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Suppose you are managing a team of UX experts (user experience, User eXperience).

And better to say that you do not manage the team. Say you just want to do something good. You are a consultant. You are a beginner. Your position is not important. And your rank, too. The important thing is that you want to create a great UX - constantly now and all the time.

It doesn’t matter what your status is, in what situation you are, boss or loner - you have the opportunity to lead a team and raise the bar where this bar is constantly below the height at which it should be. As a professional in UX, I created and managed UX development teams in different companies. He worked as a consultant with dozens of clients on hundreds of projects. And here is what I learned about this work. This knowledge can be applied, regardless of whether you work inside the company, or advise it from the outside, whether you are an interface designer or a team management veteran.

Do it yourself what you demand from others

The leaders I met who managed to win the respect of their environment had several things in common. One of them: they never required people to do what they themselves would not do. Take out the trash, make coffee or stay to work overtime due to the new product requirements that suddenly arise - team leaders do the same as everyone else: they do the development.

Even if you are already at the top of the corporate ladder and you need to be respected by default, there is no other way to demonstrate your reputation than to put your experience into action. Develop something yourself or shut up.

Don't get annoyed

This is part of a simple popular psychology, but still: we show the rest how to relate to us. If we jump out of the chair at the slightest danger, we teach people to scare us. If we are always annoyed and restless, we teach people to avoid us. If we push others away from us, we teach people not to trust us.

If the director puts off the team’s favorite project for three weeks in order to deal with some unimportant things in another project, which will still be collapsed anyway, and because of this you sigh and roll your eyes - you teach the director what you need treat as a hindrance, not a leader. No matter what happens - remember that your reaction and your actions affect how others will see you the next time you need any action or reaction. Stay calm in any situation, and you will receive all possible respect necessary for the successful completion of projects.

Do not be distracted by trifles

In any office in any company, hundreds of distractions happen every day. They can prevent you from starting a new product, fixing old bugs, or leaving work at a reasonable time.

There are managers who treat caprices as emergency situations. The chief engineer may suddenly join the team. A design change request made by the CEO’s best friend may be received. Or there may be a person in the company who, during his break, walks and distracts all other employees.

Distractions are different, but none of them matter. Product development and management is a marathon. Relax. Panic and despair will not bring the moment of completion of development closer. And they certainly won’t make the development more enjoyable. Learn to rise above all this. Look in perspective. Everything else is like billboards along the road. You will be distracted by them - you will get into an accident. Learn to ignore them.


Express your opinion

Someone hired you. Theoretically, this happened because you know something. And suddenly, for some reason, as soon as you were hired, you forgot everything. You stopped offering your knowledge, showing your passion, and you began to be afraid. You began to worry about your position, rather than worrying about what you should do.

Actually, it’s your job to know when something goes wrong and be able to report it. If you can confirm your statements with facts, and convince everyone that you know what you are doing, your job is to do it.

Refuse to follow bad ideas. Do not stop expressing your fears, show your ambitions and knowledge. After all, it was your passion for creating interfaces that brought you here. If you are not needed here, leave from there. Refuse to work where you don’t want to take reasonable arguments from a person who is worried about the right job. If something went wrong, and you can reinforce your arguments, you should have the opportunity to voice them. If you cannot do this, find a place where you can do it.

If you're a beginner, then proving your arguments with facts at first can be tricky. You may also not immediately see the prospect. First get enough valuable experience, and then start to express your opinion. If you prematurely try to gain leadership, it can ruin your reputation.

Take criticism well

You do not want to feel resistance when you criticize others. You need other people to be able to control themselves long enough to ponder what you tell them and decide that you can be right.

Similarly, others should be able to criticize you. Do not be a person rejecting any feedback they don't like. You need people to see problems in what you do. You need other people to know that you can accept objections. Take criticism well - because you expect the same from others.

Invent, Turn On, Consider

When you try to determine the vision and strategy of a project — and this must be done for any project, regardless of its size or importance — involve other people in this. And not just to make a good impression on them. Do this because you cannot properly define a project without talking to shareholders and team members.

You can be a genius, but this does not mean that people achieve better results in the form of an organized group than alone.

A well-managed group is one that has a clear leader who makes the final decision, and at least one “adversary” who has to find flaws in ideas, make people prove their viability and think through their ideas properly.

Also, such groups should not consist of a large number of people - they should consist only of those whose opinion is very important for decision-making. You need to collect opinions, learn about all the options - but also do not forget that there is a big difference between superficial opinion and the ability to understand the essence of the problem. In addition, having spent a lot of time thinking about all the options, you will later begin the direct implementation of the project.


Boost your education

Companies are not made up of UX specialists alone. They consist of marketing specialists, accountants, sales people, product managers, superiors, programmers. The company may not have other UX specialists at all. But you need a group of people who can make good decisions about design, because you cannot make all of them alone. And you don’t have time to fix all the mistakes that people who are not UX savvy will make.

Therefore, you need to arm them. Armed with the ability to understand the essence of the problem, knowledge, techniques, best practices, design standards - all that can be used to make good design decisions. Explain all your recommendations. Give examples of design standards that apply to your case. Explain how to make decisions so that people can at least try to do it on their own. And do it all the time.

If you start from scratch, this practice will pay off soon. But you will enjoy it; people will begin to respect you for your knowledge; and someday all this will pay off. People with bad ideas will turn into people with good ideas. They will become people who will help you do a wonderful job.

Train them to train

The main part of your job as a UX specialist is not to design, but to sell your ideas. You need to convince people that your recommendations are worthy, thoughtful, and most likely correct. They are based on your experience and research, which you can provide during the presentation of your idea.

The same is true for all other professionals in your team. If you are part of a team, be sure to teach other people how to sell your ideas. Make sure that they know how to prove their point of view, and that they understand that it needs to be done. If you cannot convince people, you will not succeed. The same is true for them.

Clear the way

Dear Managers: There are many differences between management and leadership. But to argue about this makes no sense. But the point is to understand the difference between what really needs to be managed and what is usually managed. Often these are different things.

Usually run by people. Managers think they are paid to organize, delegate and track. It is a myth.

People want to do their job well. This part of human nature. They need them to be proud of their achievements. If it seems to them that they cannot do it, this usually happens because they think that circumstances do not allow them to do it; because their version of what “good work” is different from yours; because you cannot correctly evaluate what is "good." In any case, the best way to solve the problem is to deal with it directly.

In addition, you have an advantage that is not available in other industries: you work in the web industry. People begin to do this work from the heart, they become absolute fans of this work, they love it, they eat it for breakfast.

You do not need to manage people working in the web industry. You need to manage things that prevent these people from working. Your job is not to tell them what needs to be done, but to remove obstacles from their path so that they can do what they already want to do. Clear their path, give them the space needed to do their work.


If you do everything in your power to give them what they need to do the job, but they still don’t do it, then you have a problem. But most likely this will not happen.

Let them improve

And again for managers: once in my team there was a novice designer who really wanted to engage in strategy. He told me about this at least three times, while we unsuccessfully tried to get rid of technical debts. He felt that he was doing less than he could, and wanted to do something more.

Soon after, the project I was working on came to the stage of development. The first step was to define a strategy. I really wanted to do it myself. But I gave this part of the work to him. I said that I can always tell him something and answer his questions, but at the same time he can manage the project.

Unbeknownst to him, I myself asked him questions during the course of the project, which should have pushed his thoughts in the right direction. And he excelled in this project, and proved his worth in many ways and in many people. He learned in the process various things, which, in the end, made him a strategic thinker.

I repeat: people working in the web industry already want to do something wonderful. They want to learn, they want to do more, build more, design more and deliver more projects. They are hungry - so feed them.

When someone needs a chance to improve their skills, find an opportunity to give them that chance. When a project suitable for a person appears, give it to him. Even if you yourself want to do it. In 9 cases out of 10, this person will prove himself. And both of you will benefit.

Make an impact at every opportunity

Every UX professional has an internal and external part. To be a leader on this front, you must be a leader both outside the team and inside. Every time you talk to people who are not UX professionals, use this opportunity to explain and show them how you make decisions. To talk about how users see and perceive things, and how your company should want them to see them.

We teach people how to relate to us. All UX specialists on the planet must behave rationally, carefully, intelligently, and be dedicated to their work, so that other people in their organization treat them the same way.

Hire people right

And again for managers: a few months ago I was sitting in a chair in front of an audience at the Capitol Factory in Austin, Texas. Next to me was Harry Max, vice president of design for Rackspace, and the person whom people will forever remember as the developer of the first shopping cart on the site.

We all gave our lectures and took questions from the audience. Several dozen people looked at us, and none of us knew what questions they would ask us. The third or fourth of them made us worried: "How do you determine who to hire?"

That is, when you invite crowds of candidates to your place, greet them, answer questions - how do you know which one is good and which one is bad if you don't know anything about UX and how you can evaluate its success ?

This question is not easy to answer. You can write volumes, and such volumes have already been written - about what UX is, why and how much it affects a business, and what skills are needed to successfully run your business or project. People who include UX in their title have different experiences. Some have a degree in cognitive psychology, someone is an expert on usability. Some have just graduated from design school. There are even those who have been doing this for many years in the organization in which they are treated as a special kind of typesetters.

You need to distinguish these people from each other. There is one way to choose a good professional or person with good potential: look for the person asking the best questions.

A UX specialist can ask different questions: about users, about business, about problems, about needs, previous decisions, team, goals. A good UX specialist wants to see the whole picture.

They don’t choose colors - they ask questions to understand how, where and when to use which of the colors. They do not develop appearance - they ask questions to determine significance, priorities, meanings. They do not wait to be told what to do. They are the leaders.

If you are interviewing a candidate for UX, and you yourself are asking all the questions, you can end the interview. This is not the specialist you are looking for.

Always mind psychology

Psychology is at the heart of design. Everything else is the art of decoration or something else. Design is a plan, and a plan needs a certain result. For design to be successful, human psychology must be at its center. No user will relate to the product the way you want it until you think about why he is addressing him, how he will work with him, and then you will not take all this into account.

Something can be used to convince the user of the value of the product. Something in order to move him to certain actions. Something will surprise users, reassure, make you laugh or cause irritation. Whatever your intentions, this approach must be applied to all design decisions.

However, it’s easy to forget that others don’t think of your product the way you do. They do not understand that psychology underlies design. One of my clients said just like that: “There is so much psychology!” And I replied: "You are in the business of sales - and develop your product just like that."

Talk about psychology. Explain to people that UX is much more than checkmarks and radio buttons. UX is a psychology applied to design.

Share merit

People like it when they get what they deserve. They also like being praised if praise is appropriate. Therefore, share the merits. And people will love you.

But among other things, this will allow you to bring the matter to an end. This, of course, is counterintuitive, but when you share your merits, people praise you in return. Concentrate on building a team of people who respect each other. Focus on building a reputation for your team, not for yourself. Worry about doing the task right, and not about putting your name on the project. Do not worry - you will receive your praise.

Be unreasonable

“An intelligent person is adjusting to the world,” said George Bernard Shaw. - The foolish insists on adapting the world to himself. Therefore, all progress rests on unreasonable people. ”

It sounds selfish - but it is not. This does not mean that you need to redo everyone so that they look like you. This means that you need to try to raise the world to your quality standards. We need to try to make the world so that it fits the standards. You are a designer, so use your special features.

If something turns out badly - get rid of it. If there is a flaw in something, point to it and suggest improvements, because the complaints themselves are useless. If you didn’t do something that needed to be done, tell me why, and if this is an important enough thing, grasp it. If only you worry about something, but do not care enough about it, then it will not happen by itself.

Progress comes when people work on it. They defend their point of view. They make good arguments. They convince, they dispute, they prove. This is how the seat belt was invented. That is how user experience has become a common concept and a necessary thing. 15 years ago, far fewer people worked on it. It was difficult then, but it was worth it.

Do not be intelligent - be successful.

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