The Anatomy Of A Great UX Design Leader

Seven key traits the best UX design leaders share

The Anatomy Of A Great UX Design Leader

The job market for user experience designers is booming, and academic programs have sprung up to meet demand. Missing from most discussions about the UX design education gap is the need for great UX design leaders. These are senior-level managers who not only understand the nuts and bolts of UX work–making things usable–but do everything in their power to help organizations, and the talent they nurture, embody a UX ethos. Here are seven key qualities the best UX design leaders share:


1. They are masters of process
UX is about making new experiences, services, and products. This requires process discipline (coupled with creativity). UX leaders can adapt to any kind of process–Agile, Sprint, Waterfall, Stage-Gate, Scrum, ISO, company-based, you name it. The best UX leaders make things happen regardless of what process they’re using.

2. They are great leaders of people
User experience involves many people, and UX leaders know how to assemble cross-functional teams, guide and inspire them, and create synergy. Great UX leaders are great people leaders–they ask more then they tell, laugh more than they criticize, have tons of empathy, and yet are straightforward in their critique and remain focused on the task at hand.

3. Front stage and backstage
Great UX leaders coordinate both front- and back-end platforms–the user-facing experience and the tech beneath it. If you don’t understand the tech, you can’t help create the best user experience.

[Photo: mbi/iStock]

4. They draw connections others may not see
UX leaders are connectors. They connect technology to new services and products; different functions within a company; and the company to its customers and followers. A great UX leader helps connect the company to all its stakeholders, internal and external. After all, every company touch point is an experience, and the best UX design leaders help orchestrate the best experiences.

5. They create relevance
UX leaders bring meaning to experiences and, in doing so, to the brand itself. They ask: How do the apps work? How does the customer journey progress? How does the mobile experience integrate? How well do the services perform? How does the user respond? UX is about creating relevance.

[Photo: ArthurHidden/iStock]

6. They are cheerleaders of usability
Great UX design leaders advocate tirelessly for usability. It might sound obvious, but it goes beyond simply making the case for a streamlined app. It’s about embedding good user experiences into every aspect of the business, from consumer-facing products to the hiring process itself.


7. They’re relentlessly focused on tomorrow
UX leaders create the future. They help take a company, and its customers, to new places, whether through apps, services, or something else entirely. Great UX design leaders help lead a company to its preferred future state.

For tips on recruiting great UX leaders, go here.


About the author

Thomas Lockwood is founding partner of Lockwood Resource, an international recruiting firm specializing in design and innovation leadership, and past president of DMI, the Design Management Institute. He is one of the few people in the world with a PhD in design management, and is recognized as a thought leader in integrating design and innovation into business and building great design organizations.