Tech hotshots: The rise of the UX expert

As the digital world shrinks down to a screen the size of your hand, demand for user experience designers explodes.

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The Creative Group's Farrugia insists that the more cross-disciplined a designer is, the better, with the ability to combine good design and layout background with technology skills encompassing HTML coding and JavaScript. "The ideal is this hybrid person who's both right-brained and left-brained, high tech and high touch."

That pretty closely describes Michael Beasley, a designer for Internet marketing agency Pure Visibility in Ann Arbor, Mich. He got a BA in both English and music from the University of Michigan, and then stayed to get his masters' degree in Human-Computer Interaction from its School of Information in 2005.

"That's where I got my approach to interface design," Beasley says. "The multidisciplinary approach taught me design, human cognition and usability principles and methods. I also got a good understanding of how organizations work and information flows. That made me a pretty well-rounded person."

That kind of background sits well with IT managers like Masiero, for whom good design goes deeper than rounded corners on icons. "I want you to be a wizard of understanding the mental model of the user and translating that into the behavior of the application. You have to always think about making the user comfortable, about not creating any friction between what the user expects to happen and what the application expects from the user."

"Designers who understand human interaction are one step ahead of everyone else," agrees Farrugia. "They are rare and precious commodities."

Grow your own UX team?

With so much in the business world dependent on the success of mobile applications these days, most companies feel they can't forego development until colleges or vocational schools churn out more graduates with the ideal mix of design and coding sensibilities.

In the meantime, they cope by forming multidisciplinary teams to stand in for one perfect UX expert. "A designer might not be able to program, but they should be able to have a reasonable conversation with a programmer so they understand the impact of a design decision," says Quesenberry.

Farrugia has seen these hybrid design teams form more frequently over the past few years. "We've been coaching people in the design world to learn interaction and Web and digital skills, so they've been adding to their portfolio. Vice versa, people on the technical side are interacting more frequently with the front-end team to understand usability, personas and usage scenarios."

Beasley concurs that it frequently takes at least two to tango. "A really creative designer may help [the organization] make big leaps to a whole new level of quality. But the quantitative side is just as important. Designers would do well to get more comfortable with the technical side, to build up those skills and knowledge."

Frequent contributor Howard Baldwin last wrote for Computerworld about HTML5.

Copyright © 2013 IDG Communications, Inc.

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