The hierarchies created in large organizations are like gravity. They are natural law. But just because you can’t have a large organization without some degree of hierarchy (and many of the resulting ills that come with it), doesn’t mean that all hierarchies are created the same way. In some ways, the most important thing you can learn about an organization is who they decide to put in charge.
When we make a choice about a person to lead us, since no one person is ever completely well-rounded, and 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 invariably two types of people that get put in charge. Engineers, and marketing/business folks. Sales folks are a distant third.
We believe that these choices were fine when the software industry was immature and finding its feet. But as we enter this new age of technology, 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. If you think we’re joking, ask your employees and co-workers why they’re there. If the only reason is to make money, and not because their passionate about some higher goal, then find a new company because yours is soulless. 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 is 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 only fitting that the person in charge should have as their fundamental expertise – designing holistic, special, cohesive, delightful, and 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 expresses itself to and interacts with its customers. From every last 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 invariably, 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 their time arguing with marketing over the logo. Put this person in charge over the end-to-end experience. Period. Not just how the product looks, but what the product does.
And 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.
And 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.