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Is UX a role or an outcome?

In my years as a consultant and working in agencies, there is only one unwavering truth I’ve encountered; you can’t convince anyone of anything if it threatens their salary.

When I realized this, I began to ask myself if there were things I wasn’t hearing to protect my own sense of job security. I tried to find ways to inoculate myself from bias towards information that confirms my importance. This was tested a few weeks ago.  

I listened to a presentation from a VP of Design at an organization and he was explaining the division of roles he had setup within his team. There were content creators, interaction designers and visual designers. He remarked that he intentionally didn’t have any roles with the term UX in their title because user experience is the responsibility of everyone. It’s an outcome not a job title.

My reaction was immediate and physical. My palms became sweaty. I filled with the urge to shout out in defense of the terminology that had defined my career path. The more I thought on it though, the more it began to make sense. In a typical organization, the devs are responsible for processing as many tickets as quickly as they can, the designers are focused on protecting their creative vision, the business people are focused on making money, the project managers are responsible for keeping everything on time and on budget – then there’s one lone UX professional advocating for the user. If the UX fails, it’s on them.

In my experience though, most UX problems aren’t even caused by design. Some of the most serious usability challenges are caused by complex pricing models, slow load times, laborious compliance requirements or artifacts of organizational structures exposing themselves in experiences. When UX is confined to being a design discipline, the parties responsible for these issues aren’t compelled to resolve them.  Designers are constantly forced to work around these constraints and are rarely able to elicit compromises from these other parties. It’s not their job.

There’s a saying that “sales is everyone’s job.” It’s meant to create a culture of growth rather than dumping the responsibility on the business development team. When everyone advocates for growth, the company benefits. Is that something that can be applied to user experience? Is it even possible to create great experiences without a shared commitment to building great experiences?

Don’t layoff your UX department – I have bills to pay. But make it an organizational effort, not exclusively the responsibility of the person with UX in their job title.

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Photo by José Alejandro Cuffia on Unsplash