Hiring the Right UX Manager | What to Expect from this role ?

Summary: Hiring the right UX managers, like hiring UX designers, requires diligence in understanding its role, functions, and business value. Managing UX requires a deep understanding of how design is delivering value. UX managers require a seat at the table, equal to a Dev or Marketing manager. Senior managers also require strategic placement, including ‘C level’ authority. 

Getting repeat ROI from UX Design 

The ultimate business goal of UX Design efforts is to repeatedly achieve a good return on investment (ROI). Many organizations and teams invest in UX design and lose sight of the strategic nature of UX. Instead they focus on generating tactical deliverables and business value, i.e. Creating more easy-to-use and beautiful designs. Don’t get me wrong, the tactical value of UX design efforts is real. However, it does not help scale and strengthen efforts across the team, organization, or enterprise. It is common to have one-time success with UX and then to have stalled internal efforts. This often results in the hiring of a UX design or consultant, or abandoning UX until it is better understood. In this case, UX gets lip service, but no momentum to grow. 

Far too many organizations miss the ROI piece of UX design by thinking UX management is a design level or front-end Web development role. Job posts circulate freely with the call for “UX Managers” with HTML and Adobe Creative Suite experience. The idea is that “managing UX” is about getting a UI into shape. It is partly about that, but like a design or dev manager who manages a team and overall output, a UX manager manages the production of quality UX as a deliberate system for producing products and services. 

Why the popularity of UX managers?

UX managers are becoming increasingly more popular in many organizations. What’s driving this trend? The need to brand, standardize, and maximize the ROI of UX:

  • Brand with UX: UX should provide a differentiated design and design style for the organization. Example: Salesforce has leveraged UX since its inception. Their UX management strategy involved developing a Design System (Salesorce Lightning Design System), with special fonts, icons, and UI’s unique to Salesforce. They even host a Design Leadership Summit. Note: A Design System is a set of standards, guidelines, UI patterns and re-usable ‘approved easy to use’ assets, enabling more efficient software development. 
  • Standardize UX: The more consistently your team creates user experiences (from research to design), the more likely they will be producing long-term results. Example: Credit Union USAA has been building UX maturity as part of its mission to provide excellent customer experience to its members. Scaling their UX management strategy included creating a Design Language System (DLS). Note: A DLS is the same as a Design System noted above, and a marker of a UX management strategy. USAA embeds a member from their UX team onto every product team. They even opened a UX Design studio and conduct Human-Centered Design Education sessions for UX innovation and ROI to establish deep roots. 
  • Maximize ROI of UX:  ROI comes from moving your organization toward Outside-In Design. Users provide the outside part via user research (Field Studies and User Testing).

Adobe has been conducting many studies in conjunction with Forrester lately on the power and value of User Experience Design ROI. In addition to creating a tool for tactical UX Design (XD or Experience Design), they have even created Adobe Experience Manager and Adobe Experience Platform for Customer Experience management. Note: This is not an endorsement of Adobe. They are merely trying to compete with many other good tools that have robust Design System management like InVision and UXPin. This example shows that Adobe has created a set of tools for improving asset and tactical UX because there is ROI from UX. User Experience driven businesses have an average revenue growth of 15% compared to 11% for those led solely by Engineering, Product, or Marketing groups. See: The Business Impact of Investing in Experience

When managers aren’t managing

Too many UX managers (and ROI opportunities) are wasted on organizations and UX managers who pretend to manage UX. BTW, a lack of regular ongoing user research is the biggest signal of lip service UX. Also, How Your Team Defines “User research” can hurt your UX

How Your Team Defines “User research” can hurt your UX

Poorly hired UX Managers likely stem from the bad habits of hiring UX Designers, as if their job is to sit behind a screen, pushing pixels and writing code. It should be about learning from watching and listening to users.  This is a big problem currently in China, where UX Managers often code or work on designs more than they lead UX research, strategy, or higher-level ROI of UX activities. 

What’s in your UX Management strategy?

Organizations that desire both fast-track growth with UX ROI and to take UX to the next level in terms of repeatable success need a UX manager. Next, developing a UX Management strategy with repeatable processes and procedures should be a critical goal and task for your UX Manager(s).

The UX manager role is a pivotal and operational one. If you hire the right UX manager, they will feed the organization with valuable design leadership e.g., Developing Design Systems, providing specific UX skills training to their teams, and educating the wider organization. The big benefit to product managers and engineers is just-in-time UX research and design solutions to Agile UX efforts, problems, and business pain points.  UX managers help UX research and design teams perform the right research at the right time and in the right way. They then help guide and differentiate UI and Visual design production. UX managers are also champions of UX and organizational change. Clearly, hiring the right UX manager is vital. However, if you don’t position that person for success, the right hiring will go for naught.

UX managers require a full seat at the management table, equal to a Dev or Marketing manager. Senior managers (UX Directors, Chief Experience Officers etc.) require strategic organizational placement, including ‘C level’ access and authority. Without this, you may hire the right UX manager, diminishing their effectiveness.

What to remember when hiring the right UX Manager 

  • UX managers are not managing UX Design as a tactical deliverable. Rather, they are managing the process of UX design and delivery. 
  • ROI of UX efforts comes from consistent and repeatable processes: technique refinement, standards-gathering, design governance, asset creation, and reusability. 
  • UX leadership means your organization can benefit from UX product or service strategy to grow the business, gain new customers, engage customers or employees, and deliver business value. 

Check out this video for some practical tips on Crafting your UX Strategy plan:

Image: Frank Spillers discusses how to Craft your UX Strategy in his very popular UX Management course (available from the Interaction Design Foundation). 

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