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Help! I need somebody… March 8, 2012

Posted by dantemurphy in building a team.
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The Beatles "Help!" album

My company, Digitas Health, is looking for some help.

We need an entry-level Interaction Designer/IA/UX to work on a platform project for a key global client.  The successful candidate will be trained on iRise, a state-of-the-art prototyping and specification tool.  This is a great opportunity for an energetic, talented, and passionate designer.  Full job description below.  If you are interested in working in our Philadelphia office, contact me directly or leave a comment below.

JOB TITLE:  Interaction Designer

DEPARTMENT:  Creative Services

JOB SUMMARY:

The Interaction Designer works closely with clients and agency team to intimately understand user needs, advocate these needs throughout the project development cycle. The methods and tools used to provide this support and advocacy include:

  • developing functional design documents and iRise prototypes (iRise visualization software training is provided with this position)
  • planning and performing user research
  • executing usability testing

Additionally, the Interaction Designer acts as a strategic partner within the agency, supporting ideation activities and creating infographics for projects and prospective new business.

DUTIES & RESPONSIBILITIES:

  • Create and present user experience solutions to internal teams and clients through sitemaps, wireframes, iRise prototypes, flowcharts and functional specifications.
  • Identify user needs, values, and mental models and develop representative profiles or personas.
  • Quickly understand and refine client strategy and develop content and functionality that meets both client objectives and user goals.
  • Collaborate closely with copywriters, visual designers, and programmers to design the user interaction model, information architecture, and user interfaces.

SKILLS & EXPERIENCE:

  • Bachelor’s degree required; any of the following areas strongly preferred: HCI, Interaction Design, Industrial Design, Computer Science, Media Studies, and/or Graphic Design.
  • 1-3 years of experience developing interactive web sites and applications as information architect or interaction designer.
  • A good understanding of user-centered design principles. Must be able to demonstrate an understanding of interaction design process and skills.
  • Ability to provide interaction-design and usability insights on projects.
  • Experience on site development projects, developing sitemaps, wireframes, flowcharts and functional specifications.
  • Experience with user experience research, both to uncover user needs and to test interaction design solutions.
  • Experience interacting with marketing, research and technical clients.
  • Understand how to use and effectively incorporate interactive technologies.
  • Expert knowledge of MS Office and Visio or other design software.
  • Working understanding of interactive front-end technologies (i.e. HTML, JavaScript, Flash, CSS, DHTML), browser and platform constraints.
  • Good understanding of common back-end technologies and platforms.
  • Pharmaceutical and Healthcare industry experience a plus.
  • Prior experience in an integrated marketing communications agency desired.
  • Uncompromising attention to detail.

Note: This job specification should not be construed to imply that these requirements are the exclusive standards of the position. Performs other duties (or functions) as assigned.

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Be the “1” December 12, 2010

Posted by dantemurphy in building a team.
1 comment so far

I’ve always had an affinity for point guards.  You know, the guy on the basketball team who doesn’t look like he’s on the basketball team…short, wiry, quick.  And it’s not for the spectacular behind-the-back passes or the occasional three-point shot as time expires.  It’s because they represent the essence of the game; five guys, but only one ball.  Individual achievement is dependent on the contributions of the team…and it all starts with the “1”.

In basketball, each of the positions has both a number and a name.  The shooting guard is called the “2”. The power forward is the “4”, and the point guard is the “1”.  He’s the guy who handles the ball the most, not necessarily because he is the most proficient scorer, but because it’s his job to create opportunities for his teammates.  His accomplishments are measured in assists, when a pass from him results in a basket by a teammate.  It’s hard to do once.  The best do it 10 times a game.

So what does any of this have to do with UX? 

Everything.

UX professionals, for the most part, are the darkly shaded area on a Venn diagram of technology, marketing, visual design, strategy, editorial, and research professionals.  Ours is the language of translation, enabling the capabilities of a technology to deliver meaningful content in an elegant presentation to the right audience in a way that drives revenue for the client.  On any given project, there might be eight or more disciplines contributing…and there’s still only one ball.  Somebody has to make it work.

There’s no formula to it, either.  Watch the great point guards of the game…Stockton, Magic, Nash, Kidd…they all had very different styles that were suited to the players around them.  And that’s the real point of this article; the way to be successful in a team environment is not to focus on the skills you have, but to use your skills to make the people around you successful.

Face it, the behind-the-back pass is no good if your teammate isn’t expecting it.  Some guys like to get the ball on their left, some prefer the right, some like to get a bounce pass while others prefer a lob.  In basketball, it’s all about knowing the skills and preferences of your team within the context of the play.

In the UX world, it’s less about the back-screen and the pick-and-roll than it is about understanding the way each collaborators skill contributes to the experience.  It’s important to use your skills and experience to make the technology meaningful, the content accessible, the campaign valuable…without impeding the progress of your teammates with stifling best practices and limiting design principles.  Too sharp a focus on the integrity and quality of your own work can work against you.

We talk a lot about things like mental models and influence maps, but we often do a poor job of abiding our own advice.  We argue with the creative director about whether a facebook page is what the customer really wants, or bicker with the copy supervisor about how many levels there are in the content hierarchy.  We may be right; we often are.  But it doesn’t matter, and it won’t make your project successful to alienate yourself and your practice from the other guys on the team.  Just like a point guard, you can only influence the play if you have the ball and your teammates know what you’re going to do with it.

When we look at the best teams, whether it’s on the basketball court or in the world of product and service design, it all seems to work so seamlessly that we often attribute the success to the role our discipline plays.  Ask someone in the biz what makes IDEO successful, and their answer will tell you a lot about what they do for a living; an industrial designer might say that the integration of form and prototyping into the design process is the key, while a technologist might say that including tech in discovery is the secret ingredient that makes the sauce.

The reality is that the secret ingredient isn’t much of a secret at all.  It’s the dedication of each person to the success of the team, the willingness to align with the unifying philosophy, do the grunt work, and most of all put the success of others ahead of your own.  And the easiest way to make it happen is to focus not on assignments, but on opportunities.

For a while, this might feel like compromise, but it’s really a process of learning how to make the most of overlapping and evolving capabilities.  As you dedicate your skills to the success of your teammate, not only do you build trust, you also teach her how to work with you.  When she faces a challenge for which she doesn’t have the answer, she’ll look to you for help and guidance.  This is your opportunity to exert more influence, or to try something new.  The good news, you won’t be going it alone.

Just this week one of my teammates thanked me for including him in a research project.  The fact is, there’s no way the project would have been successful without his input.  Even though I was in the leadership role, I owed my thanks to him for his execution and enthusiasm.  All I had to do was to call the play and pass him the ball.  So, for their role in making the project wildly successful…and for helping me to articulate this metaphor…I say thanks to my team.

Thanks Andrew and Keith and Chris and Michael.  Let’s run it again.  Who’s got winners?

By Any Other Name August 19, 2010

Posted by dantemurphy in building a team.
2 comments

Oh, how I am sick of the “you’re not a designer” crapola.  It’s a poisonous debate, one that so often divides people who should feel unified along positional statements and anecdotal experiences.

So why am I feeding this beast?

Because it’s a windmill, and I’m feeling Quixotic.

Like many of you, I’ve gone by a wide variety of titles doing essentially the same thing.  My first job in UX wasn’t really a job in UX at all, that was just the way I approached it.  Back then, I called myself a programmer.

As time wore on I was writing fewer programs and doing more analysis of data and creation of reports.  I was an analyst…but not the kind with a couch in his office.

Then came the web.  Thanks to Al Gore, I now spent a lot of time writing code, but not the kind that did anything; this code just put stuff on a page where people could see it, and maybe click on a link.  Suddenly I was…a programmer again.

It was around this time that the “polar bear book” came out, and I realized that I was an information architect.  Who knew?  I asked my boss if I could write a new job description and create a new title to match.  It was a watershed moment.  Since that moment 12 years ago, I’ve never had a job description I didn’t write myself.

In the intervening years I’ve considerably honed my craft, adding a broader understanding of design principles and business objectives.  I’ve had the opportunity to manage others who did the same thing I do.  And I’ve added an important skillset; research.

In fact, these days I probably generate more revenue for my company as a result of my research methodologies and activities than I do from making wireframes and site maps.  And in the midst of yet another dust-up over “what is a designer”, this realization caused me to question whether I really am a designer…or something MORE.

That’s right, interaction designers, the world doesn’t begin and end with us.

The good news is that most of us realize that.  We know that there are others who contribute specialized skills to the problems we solve and the products we make.  Whether we’re working with a visual designer, a software engineer, or a marketing guru, we understand and respect the input of those disciplines.

The skills these specialists perform may even be part of our repertoire, but there’s a difference.  As interaction designers, our focus is on crafting interactions that will result in an optimized experience for the user of our product or service.  We may apply typography or coding skill or an understanding of the competitive landscape, but our framing is all about interactions.

When we think more about the domain than the skills, the Venn diagram of overlapping disciplines makes a lot more sense.  Visual designers are focused on aesthetic, creating beauty or evoking a specific mood, even if they might use the same design principles I do when I create a wireframe.

Nobody owns a skill.  If you want to take ballet classes to become a better football player, do it.  Just don’t call yourself a dancer if your job is to score touchdowns.  And more importantly, don’t tell the left tackle on the team that he’s not a football player because he doesn’t know how to plie

This is where we so often go off the rails, telling other people what they are or are not based upon the skills we use.  It’s like saying that a person born halfway around the world isn’t really a person at all because he doesn’t speak the same language.  A person who doesn’t sketch, doesn’t write code, and can’t moderate a usability test is still an interaction designer if that’s the problem space he works in.

This is not to say that you have to hire him to work on your team.  Matching skills is important within a team or company as a means of managing expectations and mapping capabilities to career paths.  There are some who believe they have the magic formula for the work they do, and if the results bear it out, that’s great.  But it’s not the only way to skin a cat.

My preference is to focus more on the kinds of problems my team can solve than on their preferred tools and methods.  If most of the team uses Visio to create documents but one designer uses InDesign, that’s fine with me…as long as that person can train the rest of us to be at least conversant in that tool.  By hiring and training for diversity of skills and approaches, the aggregate capabilities of my team are always growing.

As a result, we’ve gone beyond the title of “interaction designer”.  Our problem domain is “user experience”, and the broad disciplines we apply to that problem space are research, design, and development.  As a result, our titling structure has three elements:

  • Level: from Associate to SVP, this represents an individual’s overall level of skill and experience in the UX field
  • Domain: this part is the same for all of us, and it’s the name of our department—User Experience
  • Practice: this represents the disciplines in which the practitioner is most skilled—research, design, or development

So a person on my team might have the title: Director | User Experience | Research and Design.

The key to this structure is that anyone can have more than one discipline in his title, and there’s no need for permanence.  A designer now can be a researcher in the future, just as I went from being a programmer (twice!) to being a designer and researcher today.

There’s an additional skill, too.  I call it “leadership”.  It can be an expertise in a specific discipline, like a principal, it can map to people-management, or it can map to the expansion of opportunity through business development, evangelism, and advocacy.

On my team, we don’t have a 4-skill person.  Honestly, I don’t see the need.  The nature of our work allows us to collaborate, share, and grow; nobody needs to be the whole show.  There are limits to how far a person will go on just one or two skills, of course, but if you have a team of passionate and smart people (which I am fortunate to have) they will keep growing and learning, whether within the bounds of a skill or into new areas.  The key is to make sure that everyone has at least one pathway for growth.

So this is my affirmative statement of self.

I am a designer.

I am a researcher.

I am a leader.

What are you?

How to Get Hired March 10, 2010

Posted by dantemurphy in building a team.
4 comments

I’ve been doing a fair amount of interviewing lately (business is good), and one thing I’ve observed is that many people do not do a very good job of selling themselves.  Since I would hate to miss out on a talented recruit, I’ve put together some simple things a candidate can do that I’ll remember…in a good way.  These aren’t the only things one should do to prepare for interview…with me or anyone else, for that matter…but I think they’re pretty essential.  I’d even dare to call them obvious…if more people did them, that is.

1. Take notes. And for God’s sake, bring your own paper and pen. (Bonus points if it’s a Livescribe.) Even if you have a photographic memory…or are wearing a wire…show me that you’re paying attention. This is especially relevant when you ask me a question, and I answer it. If you really cared what the answer was, wouldn’t you write it down?

2. Do your research. Tell me what you know about the company, the business, or the job. Unless a recruiter chloroformed you and brought you in with a bag over your head, you know the company and the job description, right? Tell me what it means to you, and why you’re interested. I promise to return the favor.

3. Converse. I don’t want a sales pitch, a stand-up routine, or 53 minutes of ass-kissing. I want to know who you are, what’s important and interesting and challenging to you. I want you to ask me “why”, to disagree with or challenge something I say…to have a PULSE. There’s a lot of work to do, and I would much rather do it with someone I like and respect than Billy Mays, Jerry Seinfeld, or Ed McMahon.

4. Draw something. Sure, your portfolio is fabulous (you did bring one, didn’t you?), but let’s see how you work. I don’t care what you draw, and there are no style points on a whiteboard. But until an idea is represented visually, it’s not tangible.

5. Follow up. A brief thanks is appreciated, but what really gets my attention is when someone says “I picked up that book you mentioned” or “here’s that article we talked about”. This is the kind of rapport I have with my colleagues…and you want to be one, don’t you?

Of course, you do still have to be smart, and passionate, and capable of doing the work…and if you are, these are the ways I’m going to get the whole picture…not by reading your resume. That only gets you in the door, it won’t be enough to keep you there.

Oh, and one last thing…which if you’re reading this blog, you already know. Stalk me. Not in the creepy park-a-van-across-the-street way, but online…check me out on LinkedIn, twitter, facebook, WordPress. If you got an interview, you can bet I did the same.

The Maturity Gap May 18, 2009

Posted by dantemurphy in building a team.
21 comments

It’s been a long time since I was entry level.  In fact, one could argue that I never was–by the time I knew that there was such a thing as Information Architecture, I’d already been doing it for years.  My path into the realm of User Experience professionals is not uncommon; a miscast developer with an empathetic heart and an appreciation for the often intangible things that make an experience delightful, I was a designer waiting to happen.  And with nobody else at my company interested in or empowered to effect the behavioral design of our software and websites, all I had to do was lay claim to the title and it was mine.

Times are different now.  Businesses have begun to embrace, even covet design, and UX consultancies are thriving even in dire economic times.  At the recent Interaction ’09 conference, Jared Spool led a panel discussion on this change and the potential scarcity of interaction designers and other qualified user experience professionals it would expose.  A link to the complete panel is included below.

Jared Spool’s panel at Ix09

The panelists each described the type of designer they were looking for, both in terms of skill and sensibility.  And while I agreed that the designers they described sounded great, I was dismayed by two things that I didn’t see evidence of; entry level hires, and a plan to develop those people into the superstars everyone wants on their team.

Of course, it’s relatively easy, when you work for frog design or IDEO or Adaptive Path (and others) to demand only top-tier talent and turn away those with incomplete credentials, unpolished portfolios, and imperfect instincts about design.  But when you’re the hiring manager at an agency without marquee recognition, or at a company looking to build or expand an internal design team, you can’t just roll out the red carpet and wait for the Josh Porter’s to come strolling up.

My question to the panel was this: what level of incompleteness are you willing to accept in a new hire, in order to turn that rookie into an all-star.  Skip ahead to the 53:00 mark of the panel and you’ll see why I walked away feeling that the panelists either couldn’t or didn’t want to answer that question.  (In their defense, as I mentioned earlier, they don’t have to think about this situation…yet.)

Like most people who ask a question at a conference of their peers, I had my own answer in hand and wanted to see how my thoughts compared to the thought leaders in my field.  And since they didn’t really answer the question, and it would have been presumptuous for me to answer it then and there, I’m going to answer it now.

At the individual level, the only criteria I demand of every person I hire are passion and intellect.  Experience is nice, and a mix of experience is absolutely necessary at the team level, but I would much rather hire a recent grad who has Louis Rosenfeld’s “polar bear book” on her summer reading list than the person who read it ten years ago, has been milling out websites ever since, but doesn’t know who Dan Saffer and Jennifer Tidwell and Barbara Ballard are.  I know this is true because I’ve done this time and again.

The results have been quite amazing.  Smart people who really love their job learn from experienced people at an alarming rate.  It’s like spending time with a pre-schooler…they notice everything.  And if you encourage their questions and theories, they will learn in two years what it took me ten to figure out because all I had to go on was instinct and trial-and-error.  (Mostly error.)

The key is to critique them and evaluate them on the quality of their process and ideas, remembering that it is equally important to recognize the achievements and the opportunities for improvement.  If the process and thinking are sound, even if they are not favored by your client, it is usually easy to quickly change course based upon your existing research by tracing back to a single “coin-toss” or judgment call.

Inexperienced designers do have one consistent shortcoming; the polish and aesthetic quality of their deliverables is often below par, simply because they are not as familiar with the tools and they haven’t had the repetitions.  Avoid the temptation to take over and beautify the prototype yourself (unless it’s mission critical); instead, work with your rising star patiently to continually improve and refine their documents and presentations.  Soon you will see that their fresh perspective extends beyond the product and into the process, influencing the way documents are drafted and presented or even the way in which problems are addressed.

Of course, while there are certainly more smart and eager entry-level candidates out there than there are Christina Wodtke’s, they still are a valuable commodity that you need to thoughtfully attract and retain.  Offer mentorship, access to training and professional conferences, and ensure them that they will work on meaningful projects and have client contact within their first 6 months.  Promise them the opportunity to experiment and learn by doing, but assure them that you will pay close enough attention to their work that they will be insulated from catastrophic failure.  Abolish the caste system at your workplace and give them the same tools that the senior designers have, especially if they are doing essentially the same work.

And above all else, map out a career path for them (and everyone in your organization, including yourself).  Make it clear that you want them to succeed and move ahead, that “a rising tide raises all boats” and that they will be recognized for their contributions.  Demonstrate that they have options to move to other departments or to define their own role, and make it clear that your vision for the department or agency is flexible and always evolving.

So why am I sharing my treasure map to the goldmine of untapped talent?  Because the integrity of our practice demands it.  As we continue to develop newer generations of Bill Moggridge’s and Bill Buxton’s, we’ll all benefit from the re-allocation of dollars from marketing to design,  And then, instead of the estimated 10,000 new designers Jared Spool postulated, we’ll need a million.

And I can’t make that many by myself.