How to make it as an in-house UXer

In-house UXers survival guide

Working as an in-house (a.k.a. client-side) UX professional can be incredibly rewarding, but it can also be very lonely, frustrating and damn right infuriating at times. As someone who has spent most of their UX career working in-house I thought it be useful to share what I think some of the key things are for making it as an in-house UXer.

Perfect your UX sales patter

Ok so you don’t have to suddenly become a salesman once you’re working in-house but it is crucial to be able to sell and evangelize UX because unlike an agency or consultancy you don’t have a sales and marketing team doing this on your behalf. This means at the very least letting people know that UX people like yourself exist within the organisation, outlining the sort of work you do and spelling out why UX is so important to the organisation in the first place. For tips on selling UX within your organisation take a look at my Selling UX article and pick up a copy of Selling Usability – User experience infiltration tactics and Undercover User Experience Design. Both books are stuffed with hints, tips and advice for how to get those user experience refuseniks within your organisation to ‘see the light’.

Work on your business cases

Agencies and consultancies generally don’t have to worry about writing businesses cases for UX because they’re usually brought on board once a business case has been put together. It’s a different story if you’re working in-house as you might need to put a business case together to outline why UX work should be undertaken for a project. If this is the case try to show the ROI (return on investment) for UX work and remember that people are not going to buy in to user experience because it’s the right thing to do, they will buy in because of what it can deliver to the organisation.

Love thy neighbour

Building good internal relationships are key for in-house UXers because not only will you probably be working with the same people week in week out, you’ll also want to win allies for the UX crusade within your organisation.

Broaden your UX skill set

A lot of agencies and consultancies have specialists for different UX disciplines, such as user researchers, information architects, usability testers, interaction designers and content strategists to name but a few. This is a luxury rarely afforded in-house where it’s often down to you to carry out the lion share of the UX work for a project (which is a good thing – variety is the spice of life). This is why it’s important to have a broad UX skill set, to be a jack of several trades, and a master of some. To find out more about the sort of skills that I think are important checkout my What makes a good UX designer? article.

Increase the UX project mix

Working in-house you often don’t the opportunity to work on the same breadth of projects as you might if working within an agency or consultancy. A good way to increase the mixture of UX projects you get to work on is to try to initiate some internal design projects (think Google labs if you can swing it) and to utilise your UX design skills elsewhere with the organisation. For example, you might make some suggestions for improving the company Intranet or try to get involved with products where UX design has traditionally not been carried out (internal systems are perennial examples of this).

Keep your UX skills up-to-date

It’s perhaps not as easy to be exposed to the latest UX thinking, techniques, methods, debates and discussions when working within the in-house company bubble, which is why it’s really important to keep your UX skills fresh and up-to-date. Make sure that you find the time to read UX books and blogs (like this one!), attend as many UX events, conferences and training courses as you can and never pass up the opportunity to connect with fellow UXers (see below).

Connect with fellow UXers

An audience at a UX conference

UX conferences and events are a great way to connect with fellow UXers

It can sometimes be lonely working in-house (cue the violin music). You might work within a small UX team or even be the sole UXer within your organisation and so might be starved of like minded company. This is why it’s important to get out there and connect with fellow UXers as much as possible. You’ll feel better for sharing ideas, discussing problems that you’re experiencing and generally talking UX. You could hook up with a local UX group; join a UX discussion group such as UX exchange; or even persuade your manager to let you attend a UX conference (you’ll be amazed at where continual nagging can get you). You’ll be surprised at how much UX related stuff there is out there for you to get involved with.

Be realistic about the design process you can undertake

For any in-house UX project it’s important to be realistic about the design process that you can undertake because whilst a design consultancy such as Cooper might be able to sell and subsequently follow an extensive UX design process – you’re unlikely to be able to do this in-house (at least not initially). Often there simply aren’t the resources, know how or appetite to do this in-house and you’re only setting yourself up for monumental disappointment if you think that you’re going to be able to replicate what they do. Try to find a design process that fits your organisation’s way of doing things and be realistic about how much UX design work you’re likely to be able to fit in.

Focus on delivery, not deliverables

To quote Cennydd Bowles and James Box from their excellent Undercover User Experience Design book, “We believe in delivery, not deliverables. Some people practice user-scented design, not user-centred design. They churn out documents – sitemaps, wireframes, specifications – but they’re not interested in what happens next. UX is a mindset, not a process – it lasts all the way until the site is live, and after”. A UX designer should be judged by their designs and delivery, not their deliverables and whilst an agency or consultancy might feel compelled to produce exquisitely beautiful documents to make their clients gasp in delight, you hopefully shouldn’t have to. That’s not to say that your deliverables shouldn’t look professional, but don’t spend any more time on deliverables than you really have to. Ultimately it’s delivering the right user experience to the end user that counts.

Recognise when to bring in outside help

The A-team

If you have a problem, if no one else can help, and if you can find them, maybe you can hire…Some outside help. Da da daa, da da da

It’s not always possible or indeed desirable to do all UX work in-house and it’s important to recognise when bringing in some additional UX resources makes sense. It could be that you need help with the UX workload, want to bring in a particular specialist or simply because some stakeholders will respond more favourably to someone from outside the organisation telling them news they don’t want to hear. Whilst outsourcing some aspects of UX can certainly make sense be careful with what you outsource. For example, whilst outsourcing activities such as UX training and usability testing can work quite well, you really want to keep the core of the UX design work in-house.

Create an in-house UX community

Even though there might not be too many fellow UXers within your organisation it doesn’t mean that you can’t create and foster a community of people who share your interest and passion for user experience. You’ll be surprised at the number of people that are likely to show an interest in learning more about user experience, from developers and business analysts to project managers and technical authors. There are many ways that you can help create and foster a strong in-house UX community – here are just a few suggestions to get you started:

  • Set-up regular get togethers to discuss different aspects of UX.
  • Arrange UX knowledgeshares and try to get external speakers to come in to talk about a particular UX topic.
  • Set-up an internal UX blog or newsletter.
  • Organise a UX book club.
  • Set-up an internal UX mailing list where people can post UX related questions.
  • Organise trips to UX related events and exhibits.

Utilise a UX resources library

Most agencies and consultancies have the benefit of years of accumulated UX templates and example deliverables to utilise, so why not set something similar up within your organisation? If you think that something might be reusable then stick it in the library because you never know when something might come in handy for a future project.

Don’t stop til you get enough

Follow Michael Jackson’s sound advice and “Don’t stop til you get enough”, enough of whatever your performance indicators (a.k.a. KPIs) are that is. Working in-house you should not only be able to see your designs through to delivery but also should be able to continue to assess and improve them once they’re out in the real world. To find out more about the importance of continually improving the UX of your product, and how you might go about doing this take a look at my Evolutionary UX design article.

Don’t give up (good things come to those who wait…)

It can often be very frustrating working in-house when there is a constant push back on carrying out UX work. It can seem like a continual battle to get UX included on projects – but try not to get too disheartened and recognise that organisational change happens very slowly (we’re talking an eternity in some places). Taking an organisation from UX newbies to old hats takes an awful lot of time and effort (not to mention blood, sweat and tears) so try not to give up too early because good things come to those who wait…