5 April 2013
Peter Bogaards
Peter Bogaards

UX Manager: What’s in the role?

Recently we looked at UX management, and the characteristics that bring success to the activity. To continue that theme, we decided to look at the role of the “UX Manager” itself, and see how the role is described in job listings. What can be learned from a quick survey?

The “UX Manager” job title is not a new one; whether it’s described someone responsible for the user experience of a product or service, or whether it’s manager in the typical sense (responsible for a team who in turn look after UX), it’s been around a long time. But what has certainly changed is the job description itself, as UX has matured as a discipline, and the tools, techniques and platforms have evolved.

In a non-scientific approach, we looked at eight currently-advertised openings for UX managers, from across Europe and the USA, to see what commonalities and differences stood out.

The roles themselves covered both in-house roles, as well as those with professional services firms, and were from different sectors (consumer-focused e-commerce in different industries to IT services).

Organizational location

One interesting thing to note was where in the organizational structure of each company the “UX Manager” role was located. This is to be expected when one considers all the discussion of where UX is best practiced; eg. among product owners, with marketing, or as an IT function. The locations varied, from “Platforms and Consumer Experiences”, to “Display advertising”, the “Product group” and – perhaps most predictably – in the “Creative” department.

Role responsibilities

It’s also no surprise that a typical UX Manager role description includes a veritable shopping list of terms and jargon when it comes to what the day-to-day role comprises in terms of responsibilities and activities. By its nature, UX covers many closely- and sometimes distantly-related disciplines under its broad umbrella.

While some job descriptions emphasized the strategic nature of the role rather than naming all the specific requirements expected of it (“defining global user experience strategy”, or “translate business needs into customer-focused solutions”), most appeared to have simply cut-and-paste nearly every term that could be found in a comprehensive UX glossary. Applicants were expected to have a very broad range of experience; terms such as front-end analysis, interviews, focus groups, requirements, storyboarding, user scenarios, use cases, user/task analysis, user requirements, high-fi/low-fi prototypes, usability testing plans, usability tests, heuristic reviews (and more) all appear repeatedly.

Academic prerequisites

Supporting the observation that UX professionals sometimes find themselves in the role without having studied it specifically, the academic requirements of the job listings were generally vague.

Applicants were all expected to have bachelor’s level degrees, but not more (only in one case was master’s level degree mentioned). And the areas of study were diverse: (graphic) design, information architecture, human-computer interaction, interaction design and computer science. Among the interesting outliers were social sciences, architecture and industrial design. Invariably, the list always ended with “or related fields”. Design management – a niche but perfectly-targeted discipline – wasn’t mentioned even once.

Years of experience

The job descriptions were quite consistent in this case. Five years was the minimum amount of required UX experience to apply for the roles, with seven years the typical number and ten years the highest.

In terms of actual managerial experience, that number was considerably lower; around 2-4 years.

Where the roles were for very specific industries (e-commerce or professional services firms), they sometimes came with unique requirements for specialized experience, such as with user research.

Other observations

Although our quick survey was neither exhaustive nor scientific, it led to some interesting observations:

  • UX evangelism is only rarely cited as explicitly part of the role. This might be because it’s simply assumed, however it’s clear to see that UX still struggles for recognition and clout within many organizations, and for this to be rectified, future UX managers need to see this as part-and-parcel of their role.
  • The longest lists of activities and skills responsible came with roles for professional services firms (such as Accenture). This comes as little surprise, because the agency-side UX manager will find themselves with changing projects and clients, and must therefore be highly-skilled (and highly-experienced).
  • As Agile workstyles grow in popularity, it’s being reflected in the expectations of UX managers; three of the eight roles cited Agile experience as a requirement.
  • Bottom-line factors are still top-of-mind. Roles at very commercially-oriented firms such as Amazon or Adidas require UX Managers to take into account business drivers, KPIs, conversion factors and generally be metric-oriented. It’s not just about the best UX possible.
  • UX Managers are often still – surprisingly – required to be literate at the level of code. This one was unexpected, but several role descriptions seek candidates with front-end technology experience. HTML 5, CSS, JavaScript, Flex, Flash and Silverlight appeared repeatedly. Although familiarity with the possibilities and limitations of platforms is essential, these skills should be the domain of front-end developers. Requiring them of UX managers seems a throwback to decade-old days of unspecialized “jack-of-all-trades” UX’ers.
  • Technological trends are well-represented. UX Managers are – based on what we’ve seen – expected to be familiar with responsive design, design for tablets, and other recent developments. Prototyping experience is also repeatedly mentioned.

Sources

The roles reviewed were advertised as “UX Managers” with the following firms: Cisco (San Jose), Amazon (Seattle), Odobo (Gibraltar), Best Buy (USA), Adidas (Amsterdam), Accenture (Chicago), Unnamed professional services firm (San Francisco), Birchbox (NYC).

The job links were active at the time of publication.

User experience (39), User-centered design (12), UX management (11)