Category Archives: Design Management

#MuC15: “What exactly is a UX manager?”

Today at Mensch & Computer 2015 conference, Ulf Schubert and I held a panel on the topic of “What exactly is a UX manager?”. I’ve been interested in that topic ever since I started managing UXers, about two years ago, and have been looking for ways to improve my skills at UX management, looking at various programs but not quite finding the one I wanted to go with. So when the Call for Papers for the MuC15 conference went out, I realized this was the best opportunity to get the discussion started – in the German-speaking countries (there’s been a lively discussion on the international stage anyway, e.g. Brandon Schauer, Margaret Stewart).

When Henning Brau, Ulf Schubert and I started talking about the format of the session, we quickly realized there were at least two definitions of “UX Manager” (obviously, I’m more interested in Type 1 UX Managers):

Type 1: UX Manager as Creative Director or UX Lead: Person responsible for a product or product area, leading the UX team:

  • UX Lead (leadership in terms of direction and creation)
  • People manager

Type 2: UX Manager as Change manager: Person within a product area or the company responsible for the topic of “UX”, leading and shaping the topic, often without personnel responsibility. Also known as “Design Czar”, “Chief Design Officer”, “Design Executive Officer”.

This morning, we had a lovely group of about 20 participants with a variety of backgrounds and occupations, ranging from students to people in various UX roles to quite a few UX managers from all industries. From our group of attendants, about 1/3 considered themselves a Type 1 manager, about 2/3 Type 2.

After quickly going over Brandon Schauer’s characteristics of a UX manager, we started with position statements:

  • Mitch: Big challenge in how to properly lead a team while also trying to still contribute meaningfully to the product’s design
  • Ulf: In the long run, UX Managers of Type 2 will become extinct as they fulfill their jobs.

We then engaged in a Fishbowl-style discussion with various participants taking active roles in the conversation with topics covering:

  • Organizational structures in various enterprises
  • How roles change over time
  • Whether or not Type 2 managers will become extinct (may have to do with the Corporate Maturity Scale: Nielsen, HFI
  • How to split your time between leading the team and creating strategy (and whether or not that would be a great point in time to insert another layer underneath you)
  • How to become a UX Manager

Overall, a most satisfactory session – I quite enjoyed the conversations and the energy in the room. A big Thank You to all the participants and my Co-Chair Ulf (and Henning, who couldn’t make it today)!

What exactly is a UX manager?

Just stumbled across a (slightly older, 2012) article by Brandon Schauer at Adaptive Path on “Just What is a UX Manager?” – really good analysis and also very insightful comments. Been having a somewhat challenging journey myself defining the line between a senior-level individual contributor and a product’s UX lead. Brandon has some great points around UX Managers:
– Balancing the outside with the inside
– Not doing it themselves, not the work nor the solutions
– Being translators
– Measuring
– Nurturing a team
– Making tradeoffs

He also provides an outlook:
– UX Managers’ heads will explode
– We’ll have to partner more closely with new peers
– We’ll need to define experience strategies
– We’ll have to master even more
– We’ll have to scale up teams

I’m loving the challenge, and I’m happy I’m not alone on this journey.

Business Week: Design vs. Design Thinking, and what’s “Design Thinking” anyway?

In his article, "Design Vs. Design Thinking", Business Week's Bruce Nussbaum offers some great insight into the current struggle between business schools, design schools, designers and business people around who actually defines "design thinking" and what "design thinking" actually is supposed to mean:

My own current thinking is that designers must play a critical role in the creation of this new field of design thinking. The whole core culture of design is essential to design thinking. In fact, I would argue that the rise of Web 2.0 and social networking reinforces the traditional design focus on empathy and integration – human factors, the user interface, culture. Web 2.0 technology is behind the boost to design in the corner office as businesses delve more deeply into the lives of their customers–who are demanding to be part of the process of creating and designing stuff. Social media reinforce their desire to participate.

But design thinking is such a new field that it's not clear whether design schools or business schools will develop the formal concepts and methodologies that turn it into a broad, deep and powerful tool of organizational change.

The fact is that design thinking (or whatever we wind up calling this new field) is being created at the borders of design, business, engineering and even marketing. And I don't know which institutions will take the lead in promoting it.

Read the full posting on Business Week

Staying motivated

Beautiful article on how to stay motivated in the creative field:

Whether your chosen medium is pictures or language, food or formulas, everyone has the capacity to be creative in their work. But we can often lose our motivation to create, making it difficult to stay focused and excited on a project. So how does one keep their creative well from drying up?

Read more in Kevin Cornell's article on A List Apart.

A Country-Wide Exercise in Marketing

Switzerland is very beautiful. You've got the tremendous landscape – the distant Alps, the blue lakes, green meadows. And Switzerland is very prosperous. I've stopped counting the number of extremely expensive cars I've seen these last weeks (Aston-Martins, Rolls Royces, Ferraris, Lamborghinis). Zürich especially "breathes" money and stability. The quality of service is impressive – people are very conscientious, and especially the civil servants so far have struck me as very friendly. Plus, the quality of the edibles and ingredients you can buy even in the supermarkets is so far from everything we were used to in Germany that we regularly end up buying much too much because we want to sample everything. This, together with Switzerland's well-known neutrality, is expressed best through one symbol: the famous white-on-red Swiss Cross ("Schweizerkreuz"). The Swiss are (rightfully) proud of their country, and they show their pride everywhere. You cannot walk through the city without seeing at least a dozen Swiss Crosses.

There are some stores (like the "Schweizer Heimatwerk" on Bahnhofstrasse) that seem to offer only those articles that show the Swiss Cross. And there's quite a bit of them. Likewise, you seem to be able to get about every article where at least one brand has chosen to use the Swiss Cross as part of their design and packaging. The omnipresence of the symbol and its re-affirmation through all the high-quality experiences strikes me as one of the best-concerted exercises in marketing I've come across so far. The Swiss Cross symbolizes outstanding quality. Those employing it profit from it, but it also feels as if everyone using it it has subscribed to a certain voluntary self-commitment as well.

Design of the organization and design quality

In an interview with Jeffrey Veen of Adaptive Path, Irene Au, Director of User Experience at Google, talks about her background, the way Google as a company works and innovates, and what she thinks is important to be able to ship great products:

I think it?s really important to be very pragmatic about what you?re building, and how quickly you?re building [it]. There?s a balance [that must be struck when pursuing] something that?s really perfect. When you?re innovating very rapidly, sometimes you just don?t even know how things will be used and what [they?ll] be used for. So sometimes it?s just important to get it out there. Being able to adapt to the conditions and the environment?that was kind of a survival skill that I had to learn.


There are so many things that are so fascinating about Google. The way this company is designed, the whole organization is completely inverted. There?s incredible empowerment in all levels of the company. A lot of start-ups, they start out flat, but then as they grow as companies, they become more hierarchical and more silo-ed. Google has done an amazing job of avoiding that. So the company still operates in a very flat way. People are very much empowered, and there?s a lot of freedom and flexibility to explore and pursue your passions. If you really believe in something, you can absolutely go make things happen. That [makes it] very easy to build things.

I think a company’s setup and design process are vital for the resulting design quality.When companies start giving engineers and designers freedom and power to innovate, trusting them rather than controlling their every move, and handing over responsibility for complete tasks, people will be motivated to create truly great products.

Nice write-up on “what is User Experience Design?”

Kimmy Paluch over at presents a nice write-up on what actually constitutes User Experience Design. These elements add to the overall idea of user experience:

  1. Interaction design
  2. Information architecture
  3. Usability
  4. Human computer interaction
  5. Human factors engineering
  6. User interface design

Kimmy continues to say,

User experience is the culmination of all of these parts into one field. Although, user experience design does not wholly contain these fields (that is to say, some research and practices in each of these fields falls outside the realm of the user experience) it does serve to unite many of the principles so as to improve each of the facets of the user experience.

The following image nicely shows the interaction of the various disciplines:

Image showing the disciplines contributing to User Experience Design


The post additionally covers an evaluation of uxd as a form of design and some thoughts on the design process. Definitely worth reading!

Design Management and Writing

Ralf Beuker over at Vol. 2: describes his impressions from the Amsterdam Design Management Institute (DMI) conference (March 29?31). He gave a workshop on “Blogging for Design Leadership: What Corporate PR Can’t Tell!” and was asked how he found the time to fill his blog while doing “real” work as well. He references a post by Eric Karjaluoto over at ideasonideas titled “Designers must write”. Eric thinks writing is an essential part of design, and he finds himself writing all the time:

I believe that my true job description would begin with this phrase, ?Write and respond to email.? That?s what I do all day. I send notes to designers, clients, and suppliers, and then I task manage the fallout from these messages. I send persuasive emails, abrupt emails, congratulatory emails, friendly emails, and so many others. In fact, I?m even composing this blog article in? You guessed it, my email application. Although I may not open Photoshop on a given day, my email application is never inactive.

He thinks for designers not to use their verbal skills is “negligent and wasteful”, as language is power, and design is not only visual:

In my mind, designers fall into one of two categories. The first is a craftsperson. These individuals can utilize the specific tools of their practice with precise skill, and enjoy a very highly specialized knowledge of their craft. I would classify type designers as part of this category. I have the utmost respect for their craft. It is fraught with complex challenges and requires a master?s eye to command.

The next, and in my mind more powerful (by this I do not mean relevant, but rather as one commanding greater influence) category of designer, is one that sees her/his role as a communicator and will go to any length to convey a message or idea.

He closes by comparing writing to pilates for design ? training those skills to keep them alive and increase / improve them while you go.

I think this is a very valid point. As designers we need to be able to express ourselves and our ideas, to convince people of our design rationales, to create enthusiasms for the convications we hold. Verbal expression is an extremely powerful medium, and we need to take every chance we have to use and thereby improve it. It’s not only “a picture is worth a thousand words” ? the same is true vice versa.