UX Designer as a part of a SCRUM team
14.01.2021 - Read in 6 min.
How do UX Designers work in a SCRUM team? What experiences has our guest Wojtek had during over 10 years of working as a UX Designer? Read our interview based on episode of Drive with IT.
Let’s begin with how a Polish philologist like yourself became a UX Designer.
Back in the days when this profession was still new, it was undertaken mostly by graphic designers. It was natural that a person designing a page or an app took responsibility for its looks, and partly even for the way it works.
My road to this point was longer. Several years ago, when I started my journey with the so-called advertising industry, not many people in Poland knew about UX. Instead, usability was a more commonly used term. There were no studies available. You had to explore and learn on your own. While cooperating with graphic designers or developers, I was naturally present during the creation of websites. At the beginning, I was simply watching how they are made, I was suggesting my ideas. To me, this resembled solving puzzles or riddles, which I had enjoyed since I was a kid.
Were your predispositions helpful?
The willingness to analyse things is certainly helpful. Graphic designers primarily focused on visual aspects, and not necessarily on how to make things work in an intended way. I never wanted to do graphic design as such, I cannot even draw, that’s why I focused on how things should work and be arranged (even in black and white). I knew that at a later stage, somebody will take care of the visual layer and polish it. We try to make sure that the products we create are useful and user-friendly, comfortable in use, and to ensure they are well thought out. So that the user feels good using them (UX Design). But the visual side is important as well, therefore we usually cooperate with graphic designers and UI designers. People buy with their eyes, and this is their first contact with the product. It’s obviously nice to use good-looking products, but at the same time they have to work as intended, be reasonably designed, and should not be too demanding. Less is more.
You then went from a small agency to a large company with multiple teams and a complex structure.
How were you received by developers, who tend to focus on the code, and not on how the user might react to the product?
It was a new situation to me due to several reasons. I had never worked like that. In my previous company, we had gradually stopped engaging in the development process. More and more often, we had been working for clients who came to get the UX part only and wanted us to check their app or build a mock-up. They then took those readymade mock-ups, test results, or layouts, and deployed them on their own. Back then we had no contacts with developers. For a short period, we had developers in our team, and that was when I learned that you cannot do everything you planned, and ideas must be consulted. Then the cooperation ceased and I learned how to work in the waterfall model. We were given a task of building a complete UX mock-up, and then somebody took it from us and proceeded with the work. Oftentimes, we did not even see the end product. Nobody came to us to verify it against the mock-up or to check if the developers’ work complied with our design. When we were able to view the finished project, issues emerged, as the product was finished, and yet at the last moment it turned out that half of it needs to be corrected. This caused problems.
What does the cooperation between a UX Designer and a development team look like these days?
We had to blaze a trail, and I think that we had to be embraced, prove our worth and the sense of our participation. Some developers had never had anything to do with UX, or maybe they had only heard about it. Many of them believed that they knew how things should work and look, as they used various apps, they trusted their gut feeling, and they had already completed numerous projects before. I think some people may even feel reluctant or be afraid that a UX Designer may stir things up or change the concept when all the work is already done. To sum up, my task was to convince my co-workers that we’re here for a reason, and we’re an integral part of the team. Read the article:
,,What to keep in mind when introducing a UX designer into your scrum team”.
What should a UX Designer know during such cooperation?
It has to work both ways: UX designer must adapt to a given methodology and understand it. They must know what the development team is doing, and it must all work in harmony.
Before learning SCRUM, were you tempted to do the entire work right away and design flawless and complete apps?
I occasionally still am :). At the beginning, it felt strange to me, as I was used to delivering a complete mock-up, which then got approved by the client and was handed over to the development team. It was obvious to me that the client should receive a complete product that operates in an intended way. Otherwise, we would have to implement expensive corrections. It was difficult to switch to designing bits and pieces, or to know that even if we have designed more, only a certain part will be developed at this particular moment. I had to learn that during the review stage I must remember about all the things to be added in subsequent sprints. It was a challenge, but I found it to be of great value. Such cooperation requires trade-offs. No side can stick only to their views and not all ideas are great. Oftentimes, developers have more insight on technical solutions, and the mechanics we design can be achieved with the use of a different solution that can be deployed faster.
Do you feel responsible that while designing an app/interaction and working in short iterations, you have to consider the future?
That things designed during a given sprint impact the entire project and what happens next? That you shouldn’t limit yourself and cannot find yourself in a cul-de-sac?
Yes, it’s difficult. That is why apart from a required part, I try to prepare a little more and think in perspective, which means that I try to insert or at least predict components that will be needed in the future. Naturally, after informing developers that these things are not in scope at this stage. But I try to reserve places for them in the mock-up. We have to predict those things. We need forward thinking.
After designing a mock-up, is there anything else for you to do? Or maybe once you hand your work over, you’re free to go?
It depends on the actual project. Usually, large parts of the mock-up are designed at an early stage, before it is handed over to the development, or developers work on a particular part and I can think about things to be designed in subsequent sprints. The further in time the development, the less opportunities to come up with additional parts of the design. I am needed to suggest solutions when we hit the wall. When something designed a while ago turns out to be impossible to realise or too time-consuming. Then, there’s also the often-overlooked human factor. After all, we are not robots. Sometimes developers predict a certain user behaviour that we failed to anticipate. Without us, developers would have to deal with all such situations on their own.
Does a UX Designer conduct product tests as well?
Yes. Even though a team always includes a tester, it’s good when we can click through the current deliverables – both in DEV and PROD environments. Firstly, we bring a fresh pair of eyes. And secondly, we focus on different things, we usually pay closer attention to compliance with layouts, to check if deployed components are compliant with the initial design. We may devote less time to verifying how things work on different devices, as we assume testers will do that part. In my opinion, we’re also important during the testing process because as co-authors of the mechanics we have a full view of the project and we know a lot about the product and its intended shape (or at least we should). This knowledge allows us to identify spots where things don’t work like they’re supposed to.