Over the past decade many companies have formalized the role and function of a user experience (UX) team within their corporate structure. At the same time a significant number of user experience team managers have visibly risen on the executive ladder. Today I know of at least a dozen UX VP positions, with many more individual leaders managing teams at the director level and a few at the SVP level. This trend in UX mirrors the growth and maturation of the industrial design discipline as it moved from a consultancy-based practice to a well-defined, internal corporate function during the 1970s and 1980s.
As an individual ascends through the various management levels, there is both a need and an opportunity to play a business leadership role. However, most user experience professionals do not have a general business backgroundit needs to be acquired independently. This special section discusses those particular characteristics unique to the leadership role of the UX corporate function. One way to view the challenges and opportunities provided by this maturation process in our field is through the lens of a 360° business analysis approach.
Collectively, the contributors to this special issue have decades of user experience leadership and management experience. Several were management trailblazers within the US HCI corporate practitioner community. Many could have written on any one of the 360° dimensions. These articles provide a collection of their tips, tricks, and perspectives on how to make the teams they lead, as well as the entire UCD process, successful within a business context.
Figure 1 illustrates the 360° view, representing the key dimensions facing today’s UX leader: working with C-level executives, developing and marketing peer organizations, and building and running the UX team. Additionally, as the role and scope of the UX leader grows within a company, the UX leader works with both internal business organizations, such as sales and support, as well as external organizations ranging from governmental agencies to the press/analyst community.
There are no “one-size-fits-all” recommendations that can be made because every management situation varies by company culture, product domain, competitive market place, and international location.
Figure 2 notes some of the key questions that can define your particular situation. Individual articles in this special section address the two most important of these orthogonal dimensions, the funding model and the organizational model.
Finally, another critical dimension affecting UX management approach is the type of development process used to create software. The most challenging of these, from a UX perspective, are the new Agile or “Extreme Programming” methods covered in the closing article of this section. While it is also of great importance, the topic of globalization and its impact on UX team management will be left for another day.
One consistent theme throughout the articles is that having a dedicated user experience function by itself is necessary but not sufficient to create great products. To deliver quality results, the entire company needs to play its various functional roles with the same level of end user focus and commitment. However, it is the user experience team leader that uniquely has the opportunity to become the catalyst to embody this change inside a given corporate environment.
As more and more of our HCI community’s members achieve high-level, business-leadership positions over the coming decade, the flow of creative, innovative, and excellent products will certainly continue to accelerate. This will benefit the entire product ecosystem of end users, customers, corporate executives, shareholders, and, of course, the dedicated profession of UX specialists itself.
I would like to thank the authors for their enthusiastic contribution to this special issue and their collective wisdom in helping to shape it. I owe special thanks to Mark Vershel, who is interviewed by Kristin Desmond. Mark provides a unique, high-level view as a former Borland senior executive.
About the Guest Editor
Daniel Rosenberg is currently the senior vice president in charge of user experience for SAP, which he joined 18 months ago. Over the preceding two decades, he has held executive and leadership positions in UX at Oracle, Borland and Ashton-Tate.
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