Editor’s note: This post is an excerpt from the book Making Things Special: Tech Leadership from the Trenches
A note: We recognize that many of the people reading this book are likely not in charge or in a position to be in charge just yet. However, we know that for up and coming design talent with a penchant for leadership, this is an argument they will need to make. So below we’ll outline the case for putting the designer in charge of the end-to-end experience of the product including the resources that build it, support it, and tell its story.
The most important thing you can learn about an organization is who they decide to put in charge.
When we choose a leader, since no one person is ever completely well-rounded or expert in every task necessary, we end up picking people who are better at some things than others. Some groups pick leaders who are the best at doing the primary function of whatever it is that group does. Some groups pick leaders who are the best at leading – often generalists. But invariably, the choice of a leader is making a statement about the identity of the organization. Not just in terms of that person’s style, but also in terms of what skillset they think is most important.
In software companies, there are two types of people that get put in charge. Engineers, and marketing/business folks. Sometimes a salesperson will sneak through but that’s typically an exception.
These choices were fine when the software industry was immature. But as we enter this new age, these choices are no longer appropriate. The goal of a technology company isn’t to write code. It’s not to create marketing messages. It’s not even to make money. That’s right. The goal is not to make money. Ask your employees and co-workers why they’re there. If the only reason is to make money, and not because they’re passionate about some higher goal, then find a new company because your company will have a very difficult time making something great. Money is what’s necessary to run a successful business, but it’s not the goal.
The goal of the modern, enlightened, forward-thinking technology company should be to create a user experience that is indispensable, delightful, memorable, useful, and special. That’s it. And frankly, it should be the overarching goal of any company creating any service or product, but we’ll stay in our realm of expertise — the world of software.
And since the goal is creating this incredible user experience, it’s fitting that the person in charge has as his or her fundamental expertise – creating amazing user experiences. Some companies call this a “product person.” Call it whatever you want. But it’s the person who ultimately sweats every detail of how the company and the company’s products and services interact with its customers. From every pixel in the software, to the headline on the ad, to the way the customer support person answers the phone. This is the person who needs to be in charge. And this person needs to have deep expertise in the broadest sense when it comes to the discipline of design.
Having a UX designer on staff is not enough. Having a UX designer be your VP of design is not enough. Don’t make them argue with the engineers over resources. Don’t waste his or her time arguing with marketing over the logo. Put this person in charge over the end-to-end experience. Not just how the product looks, but what the product does.
We acknowledged at the beginning of this chapter that our message here is not necessarily for the likely customer of this book, but rather for their boss (or their boss’ boss’ boss.) That said, let’s address that boss right now. Directly.
Hi Boss. We know this is a bit of a stretch for you. What will the engineers think? What will the sales people think? The marketing people will freak out. What does someone who knows how to use Photoshop know about business? It is your job as the big boss to grow your stellar design talent into stellar overall leaders. Design is about problem solving. Leadership is about problem solving. We don’t believe that every designer can be a leader, but we know that most leaders can’t suddenly become experts at design. Putting a leader with a design background in charge of your organization makes a statement to everyone in the organization about the importance of the customer experience. If that’s not a statement to which you’re prepared to pay more than lip service, you should ask yourself just how important having an end-to-end polished customer experience truly is.
A couple of other thoughts:
If you don’t have a designer that can do that job, than you don’t have a true User Experience Design leader in your organization. (See Chapter 17: How to Hire a Designer.)
If you’re a designer who isn’t ready to step up and do that job, then you’re not a true User Experience Design leader. At least not yet. (See Chapter 19: Turning Yourself Into a User Experience Design Leader.)
Jenny Lam and Hillel Cooperman are the co-founders of Jackson Fish Market, a user experience design consultancy, in Seattle. Making Things Special: Tech Leadership from the Trenches, is their first book about the work they love.