Essential power-ups for growing a UX team

Polymorph has grown in leaps and bounds since I joined the team in 2015. Many people have come and gone, and many things have changed. But core to our culture — a deep curiosity that has enabled us to keep learning — remained as strong as ever. It is a constant that has never changed and is evident in how our UX discipline has evolved with the company. 

Below we share a high-level overview of the most fundamental improvements our team made to prepare us for growth and raise our standard of excellence. 

Power-up 1: The all-powerful lens of research 

The first and most profound step we took in growing our UX design capability was changing our own mindset about the value of research. The fact that research is the first step to design, and not an optional step, seems so obvious now, but it took many years and conversations to implement.

Back in 2015, research was a practice that only large organisations with bottomless pits of funding could do. The shift came when we realised that we were already doing a lot of research, but we were doing it poorly. Acknowledging that enabled the team to grow and explore into a much healthier, professional research practice that delivers unending insight into research participants’ lives.

This directly impacted how we sell UX. In the past we would bill for UX Design and UX Research separately. Today, we bill for the work related to the discipline, irrespective of the people or processes involved to get things done. This allowed us way more wiggle-room when it comes to structuring project teams, with almost always more than one UX professional involved, each focusing on a different aspect of the discipline. 

In recent years we’ve been intentionally democratising research, mentoring within the team context, in order for other team members like Product Owners, to more actively take part in gathering research feedback, but optimising the time and budget where time and budget is in short supply.

Power-up 2: Golden scaffolding

Much of our team’s structure, processes and documentation was scattered across endless folders in the cloud. As a hybrid team, the joy was real when stable digital whiteboarding platforms became more prominent. The very first Miro-board in our UX team was our Operations board, becoming the centre-point for all things UX process.

The value it brought was a bird’s eye view of the team structure and, importantly, an intentional strengthening of that structure. It also gave us a single source of truth for how we operate as a team, and how we get our work done. 

This digital whiteboard is an ever-evolving base of operations, and importantly, is open to every team member to contribute to or improve upon.

Power-up 3: The gift of foresight

There is a very present tension in the UX industry between specialists and unicorns. The solution seems obvious: you should be able to specialise and work in a certain sub-discipline in order to form in-depth knowledge and skills. However, unicorns are in high demand. The fact remains that UX is a vast body of knowledge and organisations like startups, scale ups and smaller agencies won’t necessarily have the resources to appoint specialists. 

On the other hand, many UX Designers prefer to keep a broad portfolio of skills in their back pocket. Call it boredom, call it a challenge, but specialisation is also not for everyone. How have we approached this conundrum?

Our team members are embedded across project teams and often find themselves involved in more than one project at a time. Knowing the strengths and weaknesses of each team member allowed for better scheduling and learning opportunities, as well as a better spread of specialisations. 

We developed a career guide where we continually explore each other’s strengths and weaknesses with regard to UX. It has allowed each team member to identify their long-term career goals and the steps they need to take to reach their goals.

Bonus power-up: Chameleon-like adaptation skills

Recently, the team has started learning low-code platforms like Flutterflow. Read about the Why and How of Flutterflow in this post.

Another huge leap was to leave Adobe XD for Figma as our primary prototyping tool. We were late to the party with this adoption, and already there is an exodus of Figma users after Adobe acquired Figma. However, for us it has never been about the bandwagon, but about the right tool at the right time.

Here’s the bonus power-up: I doubt we’ll ever stop designing our User Experience Design discipline in order to work well as a team and deliver on interesting solutions. We keep uncovering new insights and ways to improve our skills and offerings.

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