Don’t believe me? I’ve checked out hundreds of LinkedIn job postings lately. In my search, I cast a wide net, looking at both Product Management and UX jobs, at small (1–10 employees), medium (10–100 employees) and large (100+ employees) technology companies, startups, and agencies. Check out the job postings on LinkedIn yourself, and you’ll start to see a pattern like that shown in Table 1.
|UX Jobs||Product Management Jobs|
|Report to a product officer||Report to a product officer|
|Are sometimes described as product designers or product contributors||Are sometimes called Product Owners or mini-CEOs|
|Job postings give preference MFA degrees||
Job postings give preference MBA degrees
Job descriptions include phrases like:
Job descriptions include phrases like:
In a nutshell, the pattern is something like this:
- Product Management defines; User Experience refines.
- Product Management leads; User Experience interprets.
- Product Management is business; User Experience is art.
- Product Management is strategy; User Experience is execution.
Sure, I can find a handful of postings for jobs in which User Experience may have strategic involvement, but these exceptions only prove the rule. For the majority of UX jobs, the scope, responsibility, and accountability are circumscribed. Even for UX Lead and Experience Director roles, final ownership of decisions concerning customers rarely sit with User Experience.
Why? Well, for the most part, this is just how things have always been. Software companies have seen User Experience as a contributor to either a Product Management team or an Engineering team; or in digital agencies, as a member of an account team. Someone else—such as a Product Manager or an Account Manager—leads UX work and has final ownership and accountability for meeting business goals and making sure the work is successful.
This is not an issue of corporations’ putting roles into silos. It’s a systemic problem of companies’ underestimating the importance of developing a deep understanding of their customers on an ongoing basis. More fundamentally, companies underestimate the great, untapped potential of UX professionals to leverage their deep understanding of customers at a strategic level within an organization. It’s time that we expand the role of User Experience beyond execution, beyond output, and yes, even beyond design.
More Than Design
We would never say that an Engineering Director’s role is to deliver code. That job is about planning for flexibility, stability, and extensibility. It’s about eliminating any problems that the company may face with the technology that they’re building. Likewise, a CFO’s value is in having a long-term understanding of the business landscape and the ability to think proactively about building the most stable runway for the business. Critical jobs look at long-term problems and priorities. They are strategic.
While businesses must focus on many things, no business has ever succeeded without connecting, in a deep and meaningful way, with its customers. The most important thing I’ve learned in my career is that User Experience is not simply about designing for customers, but thinking strategically about customer behaviors, passions, and desires. User Experience provides an intellectual entry point, a framework that can give corporate leaders another perspective for making decisions and solving problems for customers. The UX skillset encompasses more than just design skills. It provides the foundation of a company’s customer strategy. And yet, most UX job descriptions continue to focus on execution, translation, and implementation.
UX professionals have far greater potential than our usual roles allow us to fulfill. Our jobs can involve much more than just designing, simplifying, and researching. User Experience is much more than a subset of Product Management. UX Strategists have the skills and the experience to contribute much more to the organizations for whom we work, and we are capable of owning our work to a much fuller degree.