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)!
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