UX Design As Leadership

By April 16, 2014March 18th, 2015No Comments

Perhaps the greatest obstacle I’ve faced is from organizations who have only a hazy idea of what UX is. Companies who don’t know what it is are often happy to let UX experts drive the process, while in places where the practice is recognized, it’s likely already been deeply ingrained in the project life-cycle. But what happens when companies hear about “this UX thing” without bothering to investigate it in detail? That’s when trouble happens, because it’s viewed as a shiny add-on item that can be neatly tacked on to any project, regardless of how much development has already been done.

UX Magazine has perhaps the most perfect quote I’ve ever read to sum up this awkward position:

“In many cases, firms and agencies have interpreted design as a conveyor-belt type process and UX becomes just another one of what feels like eighteen random stops in the design flow—another blip in the line to a finished product. Sadly, the interpretation is often that the UX team can take a product idea, do something magical that makes it a good “user experience,” and then provide a deliverable to the “creative” team to make it look good.

“For those who believe that user experience can be handed off as a deliverable—like wireframes—this process might make a little sense. For UX practitioners, however, the end product is the user experience, so the UX team needs to be involved all along the way, up until the very end, ensuring the final product is the best experience it can be. The UX team can’t just pass off a concept and turn it loose. They have to stay involved. They have to lead, and not in the traditional authoritarian sense, but with humility and by communicating the importance of user-focused design to the entire project team.”

The article then goes on to summarize the opinion of every UX practitioner: we need to be in the room from day one and our work doesn’t end until well after the project launches. Nothing particularly new so far–this is hardly a revolutionary idea–but what I enjoyed was that the article goes on to state that we need to step up and become leaders. It’s something that I’ve tried to do in my own career.

It’s one thing to complain about the status quo and state that you have no power. Power doesn’t come overnight. What I have found, however, is that there is often leeway for you to make a job your own, and what you do with that leeway can increase your influence and change the structure. For example, let’s say you’re working on a project with a stubborn project manager who doesn’t value the UX Process. You can complain to your coworkers, talk his or her ear off, and vent to colleagues all you want, but that’s unlikely to change things. A better course of action is to take an interest in how he or she operates, learn everything about it, and then start helping. Eventually a few things will happen:

  1. the manager will realize that you’re not just a crazy, unreasonable designer. He or she will likely start listening to you more.
  2. the company will see your value as someone dedicated to getting things done. They will be less likely to dismiss your opinions as time goes on.
  3. You may eventually get tapped to start leading projects yourself. Giving you reign to implement the changes you wanted in the first place.

Granted, this means straying from the traditional UX skillset. Maybe you really just want to design things. Or research things. Those are fine skills and I don’t want to dissuade anyone from pursuing those worthwhile crafts, but ultimately, shouldn’t our job be to move the field forward to the best of our abilities? I’d argue that the only way that can really happen is by becoming leaders that can implement change.

UX Magazine source article.