Maybe I am too deeply connected to the Lean Startup / Lean UX / Agile UX circles in London, and what I am about to say is patently untrue because of confirmation bias, but one reason I haven’t written here much is because I have gotten very few requests of the “I am totally uninitiated in UX for my start-up” kind. It seems like tech start-ups are convinced of the value of UX from the start; the only wrangling I am dealing with know is how much to invest in it.

Still, how much to invest? What level of person to get? I have complained about it before, but I think I need to repeat it: if you are investing heavily in developer talent, why are you trying to go on the cheap with a junior or part-time UXer? You seriously want to spend your investment in dev talent to make software of which you have no idea if it will function for your target population before you release it? You want them iterating on a confusing implementation of the core idea, without proper guidance and process how to break out of this rut and start making software that fits you market?

Looking for a UX Designer just based on whether they can tart up your app or site is not going to get you the best value. It may seem cheap to get an up-skilled digital graphic designer, but the value in UX is knowing the processes with which you find out how your idea is viably brought to life, which includes helping decide for whom it is, how to find out what is important and what is secondary in your product, how to track what is hitting the spot and what isn’t, what many forms on inquiry to use to get insights, and how to translate those into something to build. There is actual science, craft, and experience-based lessons to answering these questions. Can you afford not to get good answers?

I was recently asked by a founder how to screen for a good UXer if you aren’t in the field yourself. There are plenty of heuristics, and besides the standard question of making sure you find someone you want to spend 70 hours a week with, I recommended the following:

  • Make sure the portfolio tell stories of how the questions I mentioned above were answered by the candidate in their projects. If all you see in a portfolio about projects is wireframes and finished screens, this person does not understand what UX is supposed to bring to the table, and they were just a cog in a big machine.
  • When looking at the portfolio, make sure you feel a mix of both recognition (“Yes, this looks pretty straightforward”) and a sense of innovation, and sometimes even both in the same project. You want someone whose thinking you can relate to, but who will augment you and your team in ways you currently lack.

Since I am answering fewer questions for start-ups, I will probably open this blog up to discuss the practice of UX more–as much as I can working in a big agency that wants to keep its secrets, of course.