What roles do UX Managers play?

Summary: It is important to get clear on the question ‘What roles do UX managers play?’ in your organization. If your UX managers are not delivering value beyond the design, they are missing key growth and organizational impact opportunities. 

Also, see tactical team roles in UX Management starts with understanding UX Roles

UX managers are critical in keeping senior leaders on track with design goals, needs, and building culture. Design leadership involves managing down, up, and across the organization. It extends to the overall brand, team, and design vision. UX Directors influencing enterprise-wide efforts also create value for the business and the triple-ecosystem (business, service, and users). 

The key management roles in UX

UX management requires leadership. It’s not enough to do tactical UX; you have to be strategic, meaning managing the process, program, and higher-level ROI of UX. Let’s start with a common role that Senior UX Designers often play, the UX Lead…

UX Lead

The UX Lead is a senior-level role (5-10 yrs experience) responsible for leading the UX team and ensuring the delivery of high-quality user experiences. They provide guidance, mentorship, and support to UX designers, researchers, and other team members. The UX Lead collaborates closely with stakeholders, such as product managers and developers, to align UX strategies with business objectives. They also advocate for human-centered design practices and drive innovation within the UX team.

Responsibilities of a UX Lead:

  • Overseeing the UX team’s work and ensuring it aligns with user & business goals.
  • Providing guidance and mentorship to UX designers, researchers, and other team members.
  • Encouraging collaboration with stakeholders to define UX strategies and objectives.
  • Advocating for human-centered design practices within the organization.
  • Keeping the UX ‘delivery team’ focused on excellence in the design strategy as well as organizationally. 

UX Manager

The UX Manager is responsible for the operational aspects of the UX team. They oversee project timelines, resource allocation, and budget management. Additionally, they collaborate with cross-functional teams to integrate UX processes and methodologies into the overall product development lifecycle. The UX Manager plays a crucial role in facilitating efficient collaboration between UX designers, researchers, and other team members to ensure the timely delivery of high-quality user experiences.

Note: The term “UX Manager” is very loosely defined. It might be a “Design Manager” as in Visual Design (Creative Lead). UX managers that only attend meetings in “low UX maturity” organizations can not scale UX efforts. Some don’t even have a UX team; they are the team. Many organizations enjoy playing ‘UX Theater’ with this role, sadly. 

    Responsibilities of a UX Manager:

    • In some Orgs, any definition, sadly is “Designer;  Person responsible for UX; Person managing a design- not a team or process”. 
    • Managing project timelines, resource allocation, and budget for UX projects.
    • Collaborating with cross-functional teams to integrate UX processes into the product development lifecycle.
    • Facilitating collaboration and communication within the UX team.
    • Evaluating team performance and identifying areas for improvement. 
    • Improving UX process repeatability. 

    UX Director

    The UX Director oversees the strategic direction of the UX team and aligns it with the overall business strategy. They are responsible for establishing UX best practices, setting standards, and ensuring consistency in user experience across multiple products and platforms. The UX Director also works closely with executive stakeholders to advocate for the value of UX and its impact on the organization’s success.

    Responsibilities of a UX Director:

    • Defining the strategic direction and vision for UX within the organization.
    • Setting UX best practices, design standards, and guidelines.
    • Collaborating with executive stakeholders to align UX goals with business objectives.
    • Advocating for the value of UX and the importance of human-centered design.
    • Pushing teams further while protecting teams from feeling undervalued or overstretched. 

    CXO (Chief Experience Officer)

    The CXO is a high-level executive responsible for overseeing the entire UX across all touchpoints and channels. The CXO ensures that the user experience is consistent, cohesive, and aligned with the organization’s brand and values. They collaborate with various teams, including marketing, product, and customer service, to create a holistic and exceptional customer experience.

    Note: While the CXO role is not very common, it was in 2021 one of LinkedIn’s top 10 “C” level hottest roles. It’s there but not as visible. As with any UX management position, any organization that values UX at the senior executive level will have senior titles like “CXO” or “UX Director”, “DesignOps Director”; “CCO”, “CXO” or “VP of Experience”…

    For example: Two of our clients, Nike, hired a “Director, Service and Experience Design” while Providence Health and Services hired an “Executive Director, Human Centered Service Design”. 

    Many Orgs make up their own titles, and that’s fine. The strategic function of the role is what matters, not the title name. Misusing a title as noted above “UX manager” as someone who manages the design, is bad for your long term organizational health.

    Responsibilities of a CXO:

    • Developing and implementing an experience strategy across all touchpoints.
    • Keeping current with innovation methods like Service Design and Inclusive Design. 
    • Collaborating with cross-functional teams to align business goals with customer needs.
    • Setting up UX metrics to monitor customer feedback and data to drive improvements in UX as well as in the UX team.
    • Advocating for customer-centric practices and driving a culture of customer focus within the organization.

    Design System Manager

    The Design System Manager is responsible for establishing and maintaining a cohesive and scalable design system within the organization. They are critical in ensuring consistency, efficiency, and collaboration among design teams. The role does not stop at the Design System, however. A Design System is one tactical and strategic aspect of UX maturity and reflects a DesignOps effort (operationalizing design success). In this way, Design System Managers may work with DesignOps Leads, see below, or play that role as well.  

    Tasks performed by a Design System Manager:

    1. Developing and documenting (or managing their team doing this) design system guidelines, including components, patterns, and best practices.
    2. Collaborating with designers, developers, and other stakeholders to implement and maintain the design system.
    3. Conducting regular audits and updates to ensure the design system remains up-to-date and relevant.
    4. Providing training and support to design teams to encourage design system adoption.
    5. Managing design system documentation and resources for easy access and reference.
    6. Working closely with product managers and UX designers to align the design system with product development goals.

    The Design System Manager plays a crucial role in streamlining design workflows, improving consistency, and fostering a unified design language across the organization. A Design System is a leadership opportunity to elevate brand and design success for developers but also for the wider market and ecosystem (of eg. third-party developers). Google’s Material Design was created to reign-in Android’s wavering UX/UI and became a standard used to guide consistent, easy-to-use designs from mobile to desktop. 

    DesignOps Lead

    DesignOps follows the efficiency role of DevOps. The two actually play together to reduce Technical and Design Debt. DesignOps Lead focuses on optimizing and streamlining design operations within the design team. They facilitate efficient collaboration and ensure designers have the necessary resources and tools to perform at their best.

    Tasks performed by a DesignOps Lead:

    1. Creating and implementing efficient design processes and workflows to improve productivity.
    2. Kicking off a Design System (or replacing the role of Design System Manager).
    3. Managing design tactical and strategic needs (eg tools and processes to support design team needs).
    4. Planning and coordinating design team resources, including staffing and project assignments.
    5. Identifying areas for process improvement and implementing solutions to enhance design team efficiency.
    6. Supporting the professional development and well-being of the design team members.
    7. Collaborating with cross-functional teams to ensure smooth communication and project execution.

    The DesignOps Lead is vital in enhancing the design team’s effectiveness and ensuring that designers can focus on their creative work with minimal operational obstacles.

    DesignOps Director

    As a senior leadership role, the DesignOps Director oversees the entire design operations function within the organization. They develop strategies to optimize design processes, tools, and resources across multiple design teams and projects. This newer role can replace a “UX manager” role, which, as noted above, can be distorted based on how an organization perceives its UX management tasks. A DesignOps DIrector offers a clearer path to UX management and has a role defined by the DesignOps community beyond the organization to lean on.

    Tasks performed by a DesignOps Director:

    1. Defining the long-term vision and strategy for design operations across the organization.
    2. Collaborating with other departments to align design operations with overall business objectives.
    3. Establishing key performance indicators (KPIs) to measure the effectiveness of design operations efforts.
    4. Managing design-related budgets, resource allocations, and forecasting.
    5. Identifying opportunities for automation and process improvement to enhance design team efficiency.
    6. Mentoring and guiding DesignOps Leads to ensure consistency and effectiveness across teams.

    The DesignOps Director is crucial in optimizing design operations, driving efficiency, and enabling the design teams to deliver high-quality work consistently.

    Design Program Manager (DPM)

    The Design Program Manager is responsible for overseeing and coordinating multiple design projects and initiatives within the organization. They ensure that projects are delivered on time, within scope, and aligned with strategic goals. The DPM plays a more tactical role, while also looking at keeping organizational health in check. 

    Tasks performed by a Design Program Manager:

    1. Defining project scopes, objectives, and deliverables in collaboration with stakeholders.
    2. Align design team resources to the right meetings; ensure Product Managers are supported with right resources.
    3. Execute on the Ops roadmap and keep project execution on track. 
    4. Coordinating and communicating with cross-functional teams to ensure seamless project execution.
    5. Monitoring project progress and addressing any issues or roadblocks that arise.

    The Design Program Manager plays a newer role in driving successful project outcomes, managing stakeholders and UX resources effectively, and ensuring the overall success of design initiatives within the organization. The role was established in 2013 at Meta (Facebook), for example, which grew this role to 150 DPMs over ten years– highlighting the importance of this role. 

    Conclusion: UX management roles are crucial for effective design management. They provide leadership, guidance, and strategic direction to ensure user experiences align with business goals and consistently deliver exceptional value to customers. By recognizing these roles’ importance and responsibilities, organizations can foster a user-centric culture and elevate overall organizational effectiveness while serving customers with consistent and delightful experiences. 

    What roles do UX Managers play? In your organization? Comment below…

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