Episode 010: Collaborating with In-house UX Teams

Hosted by:
With guest: John Golden
June 30, 2017

Mahtab   Welcome to episode 10 of The Crux of It. I'm Mahtab Rezai. I'm the Principal and CEO of Crux Collaborative. We are a user experience consulting firm specializing in regulated industries. Today, I'm joined by my partner, John Golden and our conversation is going to serve as part two of our earlier conversation about in-house UX teams.

Today, we're going to be talking about what we've observed and how we work with UX teams as well as what attributes of UX talent contribute to UX success within organizations. That was a lot of UX in a few short sentences. Hi John.
John   Hello.
We're a lot of UX here.
Mahtab   Yes, that's true. I felt like that's all I was saying there for a minute. Okay, so let's start with a little bit of context. Tell me a little bit about how the landscape has shifted over the last decade that we've been doing this.
John   Well, I think from our perspective, what we saw in the beginning was UX consulting was very specialized and outsourced by most of our clients, especially our larger clients. They didn't have their resources internally to be able to support that type of a thing. They didn't have the facility onsite to be able to do it, a usability lab or that type of thing. Now what we're seeing more and more is that clients are building internal UX teams to be able to support the various business units that they have. Especially some of our larger clients.

I do think though that some of the medium sized or the smaller businesses that we work with are either putting one person in charge of UX and usually that person wears a lot of hats or those we see are more of those types of clients are surfacing looking for things around an application that they're designing.
Mahtab   So when it is one person, in your experience is that person doing the work or is that person facilitating or trafficking the work?
John   I think it depends. A lot of it depends a little bit on the corporate culture that we see with our clients. I think it's more successful sometimes when we have somebody that's sort of split 50-50. Where it doesn't work is when we have somebody within a company who's what I would call a UX silo. Where they are closely guarding the solution. They're not collaborating with people. They're not talking to users. They're not really understanding. They're just cranking out wireframes or documentation sort of in a vacuum, and then trying to make those solutions work.

I think that one of the things too, if you think about trends is that from a technical standpoint, so the technical teams seem to be more aware of the fact that user experience design is a really important and critical factor in developing a product, refining an existing application, that sort of thing. Where it fails in an organization is when the technical team looks at the UX person or the UX expert as a wireframe machine. We just need a few wireframes. We just need you to design this little piece or part rather, than looking at the whole, and how that's going to impact a business process or expectations from a target user.
Mahtab   I typically hate conversations about semantics but I think this is one where what you said could be restated also as: when they look at them as UI as they want elements of the user interface and not thinking holistically about the user experience.
John   Yeah. I would say that's another thing that we've seen sort of an interpretation of. A UI designer is different than a UX designer.
Mahtab   So when there is internal user experience, be it one person or a whole department of many roles, how can an organization be strategic in using UX resources with both their time and budget? What are some things we've seen?
John   I think one of the things that we see when we're really successful with a client that has an internal UX team is using our team as an outside opinion or resource. So sometimes an internal team will get very focused, and not be able to see outside of the box. Especially when we're doing things like concepting, doing some initial user research on an application, establishing benchmarks, that sort of thing. Especially for a redesign of a product or creating something new.

We've seen that where will support a team that way and to be quite honest, a lot of the teams that we work with are just spread too thin. So what's really great, is we have a lot of experience in certain markets, and then having that knowledge and being able to hit the ground running in a financial services type of an application, or health insurance benefits, that those types of markets for us we have deep expertise in. It's regulated industry, so we're able to very quickly support a team and augment things that maybe they're spread thin in, usability research or helping them try to come up with a concept or...
Mahtab   I think like when it's an established product, sometimes we're able to bring in some new or different thinking about that product because if the team has been doing it for a long time and they are mired in it -because they have needed to be- we're able to sort of infuse some new thinking, which is helpful. Just to come in to add a few additional thoughts or lenses of how to view something and then I think what's interesting is sometimes you have the exact opposite, which is like it's a brand new thing, and that can be really overwhelming too for an internal team when they're looking at total white space.

So to have us come in, if we have deep expertise in a vertical to be able to say, "Okay, these are some known trends and patterns in this space of how you present this type of data," or what the best practice is in this regard. So to help leap-frog them forward. So it works really well in either case. On either end of that spectrum.
John   Right. And I would say also, to validate things. Sometimes, especially when we have a great UX resource at the client, sometimes that person has a challenge selling their idea or their direction even if it's based on feedback and things that they've gathered from users. So sometimes bringing us in to validate the fact that yes, that's a good direction and did you think of these other four or five things along the way?
Mahtab   Absolutely. To sort of help give some structure to that, because I think that that aspect of the individual who's there ... We have so many of our clients say, "Could you please say that when we get into the meeting? Because I've been saying that for weeks or months and I'm not being listened to."
John   Exactly. Yes.
Mahtab   So having that external voice, but also having the user's voice. Because I think there's nothing as compelling as a few clips of video of watching people say things like, "Well, this doesn't make any sense!" or, "I have no idea how to do that!" that will silence an internal stakeholder who's insisting that their idea is right when it's just an internal group. But once they have compelling evidence about end-users not being able to use it, then it's a lot easier to get past or through those differences of opinion.
John   Yes, for sure.
Mahtab   Yeah. Alright. So what are some attributes of a good UX advocate? What works well? Who do we enjoy working with and what have we found successful?
John   Like I mentioned earlier, we want somebody that is willing to collaborate with us and not look at us as competition, or have sort of an adversarial viewpoint about us being involved in the process. We're there to support them and the business objectives and user objectives that they have established. They also, in my opinion, need to have a really good understanding of the types of users that they're working with. So who's coming to the site? What are they doing? What are some of the trends? What are some of the things that they're doing or want to see?

They also have to have the ability to collaborate within the business, so really being able to engage the technical resources, the subject matter experts. Get people's opinions and understand exactly what the business needs to do and what's going to make the application successful in the end.
Mahtab   Absolutely. And to really help us to navigate that as well. I think that such a key point that you made, is that when we're able to establish that we're there to support them and make them look good, and to the degree that they can provide the context, the input, the background that we need to understand both business and users, that makes such a difference.
John   Yeah. It makes a huge difference.
Mahtab   Alright. I think that is all for today. So let us know if you have any feedback about what we shared or questions.

Thank you for listening, you can find us on SoundCloud, iTunes, Google Play, Stitcher and on Bye


Hosted by: Mahtab Rezai
Principal & CEO

Mahtab has spent nearly two decades as a user experience designer, researcher, strategist, leader, and mentor. She has designed user experiences for companies ranging from startups to the Fortune 50.


With guest: John Golden

John believes there is a simple and streamlined approach for every complex problem. He approaches each project with the user’s goals in mind first in order to create a solution that is effective and meets the needs of his client’s business.
View John’s Bio


Let us know your name and email address and we’ll send you our newsletter.

First Name

Last Name

Email Address



Thank you!