On GOV.UK’s “How designers work”

Friday, March 15th, 2013 at 1:42 pm

Earlier this week, Peter J. Bogaards tweeted a link to a curious quote from the recently published GOV.UK guidance on what to look for when hiring a designer for a Government team:

Looking at the specific guidance, most of it is very good:

How designers work
Designers and front-end developers should work together in one team, designing in-browser. This is a better way of working, avoiding silos and ensuring that decisions are made with complete awareness of the implications.

As a result, the people you hire should already have worked like this, or at least understand it.

When building a team ask to see examples of work and ask the designers to talk you through their contribution….

I totally agree with this. Designers and front-end developers working together in harmony is a wonderful thing and in turn enables us to create wonderful things.

But I’m not so sure about the next piece of advice:

Avoid CVs that emphasise the terms “ux” and “creative”. Especially avoid “creative directors”. These people are probably not a good fit for your team.

On a purely practical level, if you threw away every CV that had the word “ux” or “creative” on it you’d probably be left with a very small pile — if you had a pile at all. Being flippant for a second, imagine this structured as advice for a football coach:

Avoid CVs that emphasise the terms “striker” and “defender”. Especially avoid “captains”. These people are probably not a good fit for your team.

Looking firstly at creative: if a designer isn’t creative, what are they? Isn’t that the entire core of a designer? “Creative designer” seems like a tautology. Creative director is named as such as it describes a position of leadership, seniority and experience. If you’re looking for someone of mid or junior experience, then no, they probably won’t be a good fit.

If I’m not looking for the word creative in a CV, what words should I look for? Digital designer? Visual designer? Web designer?

Now looking at ux, this is where my feelings are slightly stronger. Why should I avoid “ux” designers? If you’re trying to build “user-centred products” then the designers who strive to build such things are often marketing themselves exactly as UX designers. There’s no definition of what UX is either on this page — nor any explanation of why they should be avoided.

Instead of UX designer should I be looking for interaction designers? Information architects? Web designers? Multimedia designers? Interactive designers?

I’m really curious as to why GOV.UK gave this particular advise. It doesn’t give any reasons why creative and ux designers should be avoided — nor what to look for instead. I was hoping to get some insight into this by looking at the Job description templates but unfortunately they’re hitting a 404 page at the moment.

I hope they can clarify this advice in the future — otherwise I think their advice is likely to confuse more than assist.

2 Responses to “On GOV.UK’s “How designers work””

  1. Ben Terrett says:

    Hi James,

    I’m Ben, Head of Design at GDS. Thanks for taking the time to read to read the manual and giving us feedback.

    The guidance is very firmly in beta and will change a lot in the next few weeks. In fact we’ve deployed several changes today. (You can submit a pull request if you like https://github.com/alphagov/government-service-design-manual) The design stuff definitely needs more explanation. That paragraph is particularly wooly and you’re right to ask for clarification. I am planning to add that very soon.

    Nowhere do I say “avoid “ux” designers” I say “avoid CVs that emphasise the terms “ux” and “creative” ” I literally mean CVs that EMPHASISE those terms.

    I mean avoid UX and creative as nouns because we need them as adjectives.

    Let’s take “creative” first. A CV that emphasised that term would probably be an advertising creative which is not what we’re looking for. Of course we want designers (and developers and policy people) who are creative, but I think there are other ways of demonstrating that than putting the word in your CV a lot.

    UX is harder, but similar. We strongly believe that UX is the responsibility of the entire team. From how fast the servers are to how the copy is written to what the structure of the url is. (It’s worth looking at my colleague Frances’s talk on this http://fberriman.com/2012/06/14/designing-better-user-experiences-txjs-2012/) Too often when UX is seen as a distinct discipline it leads to it getting brought in for a week or two at the end of a process and that is not what we want.

    We would also see UX as more of a design / user research crossover and that’s not what this section is about. Again the desire is to avoid an overuse of the term. We would of course never exclude anyone with UX in their job title, but we are looking for makers and doers who understand user experience, just like we are looking for makers and doers who are creative.

    We can’t build user-centred products with just UX experts. We need a whole organisation focused on user needs which is why our first design principle is start with needs. https://www.gov.uk/designprinciples#first

    Thanks for raising this issue, we could definitely phrase this better. I’ve made some changes to the file in GitHub, you should see this deployed on Monday afternoon.

  2. James says:

    Thanks for commenting Ben. I definitely agree with all the points you make and glad you could clarify those points.

    Your point about UX as a discipline is interesting. I agree it can sometimes mean getting someone in at the end (or the start) of a project only for a few weeks, just so the UX box can be “ticked”. Of course for it to really work it needs to be an embedded part of the entire process (and must continue past launch).

    If the entire project team can be user-focused, that’s fantastic. But in teams where that’s not the case I think the UX title will still be needed. Even when teams are user-focused, it’s still so easy for business, politics and even personalities to overshadow the needs of the end user.

    That’s where I really like the rest of GOV.UK’s principles… if you start with the user at the very beginning, hopefully that will enable the project to always be putting the user first.

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