Chart the Uncharted: How to Build a UX Design Team for Your Company 


You’re the design leader at your company, so you’re saddled with the heady, difficult task of improving the user experience. And you can’t do it on your own anymore. You need to stand up a design department within your org — one with the bandwidth, tools, and training to actually improve the UX.  

But building UX design as a discipline within your already established company is anything but straightforward. Getting it wrong isn’t an option. You’ve worked too hard to sow the seeds of design within an organization that for too long didn’t prioritize UX at all.

Don’t worry. We’ve got your back. What follows is a guide to hiring the right designers for your organization based on its design maturity.  

The Unique Difficulty of Hiring the Right UX Designers 

UX design is a relatively new discipline. It’s a mere millennial, minus the skinny jeans. Design directors, heads of design, CDOs — this leadership tier is even newer than UX design itself. Remember when the field was all rogue designers shoehorned into non-design departments and managed by developers or project managers? 

Now you exist. And the UX design industry is at an inflection point. There’s consensus that effective UX design is crucial, especially in the travel industry. Customers literally blacklist airlines for a lifetime when a poor user experience leads to an incorrect booking. And that’s just one example. 

The increased focus on UX design means you need your own team. But who do you hire? You won’t have your pick of the crop. Designers are in high demand. And design recruitment is an expensive and time-consuming process. Hiring is hard when there isn’t one proven roadmap for integrating design into your organization. 

Raising Up the Wrong Design Team Is Risky 

Despite the difficulty of finding and onboarding the right people and the unique moment UX design is in, you have to build out your team correctly and purposefully. You know what happens if you don't…

  • You incur the steep costs of hiring and training a wrong-fit designer just to have them leave before you realize a return on your investment. 
  • You lose the trust and rapport you’ve painstakingly built with developers and others who are finally UX design champions. 
  • You’re left in the same position you’re in now: no team to support your growing list of UX design initiatives. 

The stakes are high, so let’s get into the right and wrong ways to hire designers. 

Common Hiring Missteps Design Leaders Make 

Hiring gaffes come with sizable risks. That much is clear. But what are the mistakes design leaders are prone to make when looking to fill out a department? 

Most commonly, they bring in UX designers who are not senior enough and bury them in work they can’t handle until they burn out. Sure, these inexperienced designers might rise to the challenge. But more than likely, they’ll simply leave. On the flip side, leaders sometimes hire other senior designers when what they really need are green designers right out of college or design bootcamp to complete production work. 

The last potential hiring mistake design leaders make? They hire generalist or just-out-of-college designers when they really require specialized designers to meet specific needs. 

3 Levels of UX Design Maturity to Inform Your Design Team Needs 

You can hire the right people for your design team by pinpointing its maturity. Doing so sets you up for success in getting these designers situated within your organization so they can do their most transformative work

There is an established design maturity scale to help. For our purposes, let’s consider three levels of design team maturity and how they dictate whom you should bring on board. 

1. Low Design Maturity Calls for High-Level Designers 

If you’re a design team of one, your company has low design maturity. It’s probably the level we see most often. The designer to developer ratio in these instances is insane: about one designer per 50+ developers. 

Companies with low design maturity must be slow and deliberate when hiring designers. First, designers should be multi-disciplinary and experienced — and ideally have a background working within organizations at a similar design maturity. Moreover, these designers need to be given agency and authority to construct their own roles, work cross-functionally, and have a seat at the leadership table. 

Why? Because the role of a designer in a low design maturity org involves so much more than design. The person you bring on at this stage has to evangelize to non-designers, creating UX design believers in other departments to enable cross-functional work. Only someone with seniority and, frankly, guts will have what it takes to persuade entrenched teams to work this new way. 

Senior-level designers are few and far between. Remember, design leadership is a fledgling field. And they will flee to greener pastures if they’re not given enough decision-making power. It will likely be challenging to find this person. But it’s worth taking the time to do so. They can be your right-hand (wo)man and a force multiplier for you. 

2. Mid-Level Design Maturity Means It’s Time for Specialized Designers  

It’s safe to say your company has progressed to mid-level design maturity when that second senior person you hire is just as overextended as you. Ideally, you should look to expand your team before they’re burned out. 

Another sign you’re ready for more help? The UX design production work you want to  accomplish is specialized. For example, a car rental company struggling with low conversion rates on their site needs an interaction designer, not a visual or user interface designer. 

When you’re at this point, look for niche designers based on your unique UX design needs. These people can be more junior. Just be sure you have more experienced designers on-hand that these specialists can report to. You’ll begin having design managers at this level of design maturity. 

3. Fill Out Highly Mature Design Teams with Entry-Level Hires

Admittedly, there are not many companies at this third and highest level of design maturity. And yet lots of design leaders hire as if they are at this level. They bring on green designers when what they really need are senior designers to forge a path for the design department. 

You’ll know you’re authentically at this level of design maturity when you have more people to serve as design managers to oversee these new and younger designers. And when you have an overflow of production work suitable for inexperienced designers that’s not getting done. If this sounds like your company, make sure you create career development paths for these junior folks to grow their skills and fill in gaps on your larger team. 

As the head of design, you should firmly be a part of the company’s leadership team by now, contributing to strategic business decisions

The UX Design Team of Your Dreams Is in Sight  

Hiring UX designers who are appropriate for your company as it stands today is the only way to assemble the team you’ll need in the future. That starts with honestly assessing your design maturity. Keep in mind — an unbiased assessment might require an outside partner with the ability to take a bird's eye view of your unique situation. That's why we're here to help.