20 September 2021

The current state of UX in Belgium (2021)

Delivering and optimizing a fantastic online user experience is one of the most difficult challenges for any business. With COVID-19 forcing people to stay indoors over the past months, the increase in online shopping that we have witnessed in recent years has now truly skyrocketed. Especially in sectors like retail, there has been an explosion of online customers (who didn't order anything online in the last 12 months?!) and in other industries the digitalization of products and services seems to be simply unstoppable too. In short, UX is more relevant than ever before.

This article is a continuation of this one published in 2018.

Looking back, what are the differences in the Belgian market? Which companies are hiring more UX profiles? What skills and competences in UX are the most sought after? What's the average salary and daily rate in the industry, and how is it trending?

I'll try to give an answer to all these questions. Again the insights come directly from my experience as a long-time UX Recruiter by taking a daily pulse of the market and in addition, data coming from LinkedIn and studies facilitated by Ariad.

What's the size of the UX talent pool and its seniority?

(Illustration by Pablo Stanley)

Compared to 2018 I observed an increase in LinkedIn users identifying as UX professionals in Belgium. In 2018 there were 1.5k professionals, today 2021 I can find 2.4k matching results. Where it really gets interesting is in breakdown in terms of years of experience. There seems to be an important distance between the more junior segment with less than 2 years of experience and the more senior professionals in Belgium, with the vast majority counting with 5-10 or 10+ years of experience. This could indicate a significant barrier for less experienced UX professionals to enter the workforce; or that potentially many professionals moved into UX after gaining related experience in different roles. Another feasible option is that these junior profiles aren’t LinkedIn users yet.

It is also relevant that from the example below, 907 people are in their current position for less than 1 or 2 years. Is this due to a high demand for UX professionals, or are we facing rather low quality employment where turnover is frequent? Further, during the last 10 years we’re witnessing that job-hopping is on the rise and in contrast with past generations, the Millennials and Gen-Z feel way more positive about the fact of changing jobs every 1 or 2 years.

Tip: If you're looking for a place where to connect with these professionals and expand your network, my best recommendation is to join and connect with the people from UX Antwerp, the biggest community of UX professionals in Belgium. They organize monthly events in and around Antwerp and Brussels to connect UX professionals and encourage continuous learning. Below is actually me introducing Ariad at UX Antwerp :-)

The war for UX and Digital talent

It is a dynamic market. 30% of UX professionals in Belgium have changed jobs in the last year or are on the job for less than 24 month.

Based on my experience talking to designers on a daily basis, the market is clearly showing a shift towards consultancy type of jobs and freelance activities plus people are seeking greater flexibility and autonomy in their work rather than being tied down by the constraints of a traditional five days a week contract.

As an example, at Ariad we recently published our "Income and Insights 2021 report" (Our survey of 500+ professionals working in digital fields across Belgium offers an up-to-date look into competitive compensation in different roles, industries, locations and more.) Our research shows that a larger portion of UX professionals are working on a freelance basis: 34'7%, compared to the same category working on a permanent basis at just 26'3%.

From our study, we think that 58% might stand out to a lot of people. This represents the number of currently employed digital professionals who are either actively or passively looking for another job, and likely to change within 6 months. This represents not only freelancers, but permanent employees as well.

There is a fierce war for talent when it comes to digital profiles – more so if you are looking for those rare talents who are at the peak of the digital profession. But despite all the hype, companies are struggling to build a truly digital enterprise. Talent is key in constructing and implementing a successful strategy that puts the customer first, and stays ahead of digital transformation.

Jeroen Van Ermen - Ariad CEO and founding partner

Which companies are hiring UX talent?

Traditionally, I have observed companies in the telecom, banking and the public sector to be the biggest employers, however the emergence of others has caught my eye, namely retail, automotive, and gambling. This is due to the presence of companies like Colruyt Group, Toyota Motor Europe and Gaming1.

Together with these corporate companies there is a large list of digital agencies and studios providing services in consultancy or staffing services frequently hiring UX professionals too. Worth mentioning: Pàu, Namahn, Emakina, Movify, Afelio,World of Digits, Monkeyshot, Internet Architects, Anais Digital, Ordina, Bothrs, icapps, uFlow, Made, In The Pocket, Humix, U-Sentric, and of course Ariad and many others.

During 2020 many of these companies stopped their recruitment activities due to the economical impact of Covid-19. This was especially tangible in the hiring of new freelance consultants, even some of them were dismissed as a form to control budget expenses. Other companies really struggled to adapt their hiring process and onboarding of new employees to a 100% remote context (learning the hard way how to design HR Agile processes!) Since January 2021 the situation is reversing and companies are hiring again, maybe with more emphasis on hiring internal employees compared to the past.

When it comes to hiring UX professionals, here at Ariad we mainly focus on project staffing and contractors, we're specialized in finding the top medior to senior digital talent. In short, the A-players can be "plug & play" consultants for any company and solve real problems. (Since 2015, I’ve helped 100+ awesome UX professionals get a great new job, and still I enjoy it as much as day 1!)

From this overview, I think it is important to mention the idea of staff turnover in the UX industry, given that those companies that stand out as major employers also take the first positions in the ranking of past companies. This likely means that the workforce moves from one company to another.

Not everyone is made for working in a large company. When I'm interviewing UX designers I offer them career advice and I make sure there is a fit with the corporate company culture. From my experience, UX Designers describe the context of working for corporate companies as a double-edged sword. On the positive side they always find good stability and interesting budgets but the negative part is that as they climb the corporate ladder, they find themselves designing a little less everyday and they're more and more involved in stakeholders meetings. Tobias van Schneider, who is a reference in the industry, explains it really well in his article "The Slow Decay of a Designer".

From my experience, UX Designers describe the context of working for corporate companies as a double-edged sword.

Javier Cuadra, Head of Recruitment @ Ariad

The challenge: Scaling up UX in your organization

Belgian companies are in the process of leveling up the UX maturity of their teams and organizations. Picture this situation, a company has several designers in the team but they don't participate in the meetings where strategic decisions are taken, does it sound familiar? I hear this story frequently when I talk to senior designers and UX Managers. It is one (already important) thing to have a dedicated budget for UX, but to have a customer-driven organization is quite another that frequently requires even some change management.

The objective of future-facing companies is to make UX an integral part of the strategy, tactics and operations by playing a visionary role. Creating awareness, evangelizing best practices and showcasing successful processes that proves the ROI of UX is a long-term process that includes getting buy-in from stakeholders.

Tip: There are great frameworks out there to run a sanity check on the UX maturity of your organization. I would suggest checking out the Corporate UX Maturity model by NNGroup, the Design Maturity Model by Invision, or the Researcher–to–designer–to–developer ratio by NNG too.

What's in demand now?

With so many people either changing jobs or hiring for their team, let's focus on what type of profiles, personalities, and pay ranges are common--and which might be coming next. Read the next article for details on these topics and more.