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Wanted to ask the community what they would look for in a Prototyper that is specialized in prototyping for User Experience. Here's a couple specific things I am trying to gauge (but feel free to cover things not listed).

In this situation, the hire would be under a lead designer and would be prototyping up future concepts (both immediate functionality and more often next generation UX improvements/features) for both user testing and internal discussion, and as always happens with these types of prototypes, sales demos.

  1. Are there any specific skills/Keywords you would look for to help differentiate them from a regular front end engineer/Prototyper for general POC engineering?

    • From the perspective of we are looking for a prototyper with User Experience design skills rather than a Interaction Designer with prototyping skills
    • The best situation is of course a Interaction/UX Designer that it brilliant at coding as well, but those are few and far between. As this persons main roll would be prototyping out designs from a lead designer, we are weighting the coding skills over the design skills.
  2. What specific questions would you ask in the first phone interview to better understand the users UX and UX prototyping ability.

    • I would appreciate specific examples of "Situational" questions you have asked.
    • Specific questions that helped you verify the skill/keywords you listed above.
  3. When do you feel its appropriate to ask for a code sample for review

    • The reason I ask is the code will reveal quite a bit, ie. if I see dreamweaver image preloaders, I can assume that this person isn't comfortable hand coding and creating new interactions that arn't pre-existing
    • Prototyping is a specialty that doesn't need to be perfect code, as stated quick is better, but it also needs to be sustainable so it can be iterated on quickly. Additionally, even quick code can be organised nicely which may point to a better understanding and better hire
    • Candidate should be able to defend their code decisions and why decision X made the prototype quicker and allow for iteration even though its not how you would do it in a production environment.
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I've compounded your first and third questions and removed the fourth as they strayed a bit too Not Constructive; they were more begging for examples/opinions, too open ended. –  Ben Brocka Sep 4 '12 at 21:55
    
@BenBrocka I would think it would be more constructive to give your feedback and ask me to revise my question then to change my answer that drastically, and potentially change the meaning. I would ask in future that you do not rewrite/rephrase my posts for me, but rather extend your feedback and give me a change to respond myself. Thank you. –  Chris Janssen Sep 5 '12 at 6:47
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Don't hire "prototypers". Hire people who can build what they design. You'll get a nice freebie: they will prototype all their stuff as part of their design process. –  Rahul Sep 5 '12 at 10:20
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2 Answers 2

up vote 4 down vote accepted

Are there any specific skills/Keywords you would look for to help differentiate them from a regular front end engineer/Prototyper for general POC engineering

Depends on if you are expecting them to also be the UX designer as well. There are a lot of UX designers that can prototype and there are a lot of software engineers that can prototype. The latter may be able to create much more complex prototypes, but will likely need guidance from a UX/UI designer as to what they should be building.

When do you feel its appropriate to ask for a code sample for review

For UX prototyping, that's not technically an issue, since it's merely a prototype to convey a particular UX rather than any sort of software engineering. Sometimes (often) speed will trump code quality. And often code used to prototype may have no relation to the code being used to develop the final product.

What questions would you ask during the first phone interview that would help cull out the "pure engineers" to find someone who understands what a Usability prototype is trying to accomplish that is different than a engineering/POC prototype

I'd simply be straight forward with them and point out that you are in need of a UX designer with prototyping skills. Most engineers that don't do UX will quickly say so.

Are there any items that you would feel are red flags?

Hard to say without knowing the broader context here. Prototyping in and of itself is useful, but I'm not aware of your bigger project plan and process.

ADDENDUM:

Some additional comments per the updated question:

looking for a prototyper with User Experience design skills rather than a Interaction Designer with prototyping skills

I think once you find someone with a bit of cross-training, it doesn't necessarily matter which world they initially came from. It sounds like the key aspect you are looking for is someone that knows a bit of code, and knows a bit of UX/UI. And that's a good thing, IMHO.

Prototyping is a specialty that doesn't need to be perfect code, as stated quick is better, but it also needs to be sustainable so it can be iterated on quickly

Yes and no, IMHO. We all strive for sustainability, but ultimately, prototyping is messy. At least with UI prototyping, I find you can go a few iterations, and then it's more often better to just toss and rebuild as after the 3rd or 4th iteration, you now have something entirely different than what you started with.

I consider prototyping as throw-away as wireframing. The idea is to communicate ideas quickly so you can get to the actual coding sooner than later.

Candidate should be able to defend their code decisions and why decision X made the prototype quicker and allow for iteration even though its not how you would do it in a production environment.

That's a good point. And maybe that's a good question to ask. "What coding decisions would you make at the prototype stage vs. production stage and why?"

HUGE CAVEAT:

I emphasize the 'throw-away-ishness' off prototype code because I truly feel that's what it should be in an ideal world. Prototypes are to communicate complex interactions and flows to both business owners and developers. It's a way to communicate across all the stakeholders.

And that's where its responsibility should end. At that point, dev needs to start slinging real production code, and all teams now need to focus on the real-code and the iterations there.

Alas, I know that's often not how it works in the real world. I've been on prototyping teams where we make it explicitly clear that CODE IS FOR DEMO ONLY, NOT PRODUCTION and yet 6 months later we look at the trash that comes back from the off shored code-mills and there's our prototype code, complete with comments "FOR PROTOTYPE ONLY". Sigh.

Even worse, I've heard stories of dev teams taking Axure generated code and trying to build something from it (shudder!)

But, in either case, that's not the responsibility of the prototyper, and would still value speed and creative thinking over pristine code frameworks at the prototyping stage.

ONE LAST THOUGHT:

Final thought: be sure you are looking for people in an appropriate salary range. I see craigslist posting looking for UX people that can do PHP and JS at $20 an hour and cringe to even think about the type of people they're going to get applying for a gig like that. While not universally true, you do get what you pay for and for someone with a bit of UX skills and a bit of coding skills, you likely need someone that has experience, so be sure to pay accordingly (I'm in no way trying to imply that Chris is right or wrong about this aspect, merely pointing out that there still seems to be a lot of companies out there who don't realize what it takes to get good skill sets to apply)

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added additional "flavor" to the question to cover some of your questions. –  Chris Janssen Sep 4 '12 at 20:22
    
I agree with all your points as they align with my own thoughts and experience. As far as prototyping being throw away, it is a must. However, you don't want to be throwing it away every time you iterate. Nor do I want to pick up where someone else left off and have bizarre class or variable names and no comments so I don't know what the heck is going on. Someone who knows when its appropriate to slap the whole page as a background image and put a live "widget" on top for the thing your testing, and when the whole page needs to be coded out. Thanks for the answer. –  Chris Janssen Sep 5 '12 at 6:16
    
As usual we can depend on DA01 for a sane answer to the prototyping question. :-) –  Rahul Sep 5 '12 at 10:19
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I see @DA01 gave a very nice and detailed answer. I want to add some caveats which I believe are not in contradiction with his answer.

You said:

The best situation is of course a Interaction/UX Designer that it brilliant at coding as well, but those are few and far between. As this persons main roll would be prototyping out designs from a lead designer [...]

Consider not pairing two experienced designers if there is superior-subordinate relation between them. I would prefer inexperienced designer on a Prototyper role and a mentor-apprentice relation. You probably don't need tension, discord and disputes, you want a win-win situation.

@Rahaul said:

Don't hire "prototypers". Hire people who can build what they design.

Do you really want another cell in the chain of communication? This is a place where bottlenecks, blurring of responsibility, unwanted division in a team can happen. Plan for a healthy work environment with diverse tasks and share in achieving the result.

What specific questions would you ask in the first phone interview to better understand the users UX and UX prototyping ability.

I would start with simple questions:

  • What do you need to start prototyping? What kind of information, resource etc. you consider mandatory and what you are used to?
  • What is the effect of your prototyping? What will you deliver and why is it helpfull?
  • What are you prototyping for? Why prototyping is important?

Generally speaking I would try to check if the person's point of view on prototyping is consistent with yours. You can check technical skills when you meet personally and train technical skills. You probably can't change the thinking and the mindset.

When do you feel its appropriate to ask for a code sample for review

It's always appropriate to ask for a portfolio or for showing a work they are proud of. Nevertheless, I don't believe in:

Candidate should be able to defend their code decisions

A big yes if you hire a developer who will prototype, but if you hire prototyper - what do you expect to "defend"? In simple words, prototype is "a quick, functional sh*t" which will be thrown away. An experienced developer would not defend it.

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