UX Magazine

Defining and Informing the Complex Field of User Experience (UX)
Article No. 1012 May 2, 2013

Why You Should Hire a VP of User Experience Design

Searching on LinkedIn for titles such as VP User Experience Design or VP Global Design turns up very few people with those titles and roles. There are plenty of Head of ____ and Director of ____ roles, but few vice presidents.

One reason might be the confusion over what a user experience is and where user experience starts and customer/brand experience ends. Another reason might be in understanding what UX people do and the value it provides in terms of a return on investment.

It’s astounding how much debate and disagreement there is over what user experience means, the disciplines involved, and the approaches people take who call themselves UX designers. The irony is that even for people who create clarity out of chaos and complexity, the term user experience is confusing and fails to serve the field or the people that work in it.

In the mid-nineties I defined customer/user experience as the complete chain of interactions that an end user has with the brand/company both physical and emotional. These days, people who contribute to creating and designing user experiences typically work in the areas of: user research, usability testing, interaction design, information architecture, writing, graphic and industrial design, or engineering.

So one of the first issues might be defining the "boundaries" of UX and how to organize it inside a company. Where does the role of brand marketer and product manager begin and end and how do they overlap with UX? Should UX be its own department or fit in under marketing or product management?

If I were the CEO of a company I would want a Vice President of UX to report to me and, while collaborating with other organizations, be accountable for the end-to-end customer experience, demonstrating the incremental contribution to revenue and profits.

Here I think a VP of UX could collaborate with a VP of Marketing to not only set a strategy and vision for the customer/user but to use the skills and approaches of UX to help execute the plan beyond just the product experience and into other customer touch points. The VP of UX would focus on the whole customer experience and ensure great experiences through design and design thinking across all customer touch points and organizational silos that deliver those touch points.

Another reason that VP of UX is not a common position in organizations might be that designers typically don’t speak the language of business. To me this is one of the primary roles of a VP of UX. She should connect the business to the product to the user experience. She should create spreadsheets with key performance indicators (KPIs), measure them, and report on the progress.

UX has to deliver results and demonstrate those results to get and maintain a seat at the table! And while at the table the VP of UX should deliver the results in business terms of the value of executing great user experiences. Certainly many designers focus on the goals of the business, but I think the point here is that we need to estimate, forecast, measure, and communicate in business terms to business people.

Great user experiences don’t happen by accident or with a single UX person on a team. They require hard work from a multi-disciplinary team working across functional groups with a process and set of tools in the appropriate organizational structure. Designers need leaders who can frame what they do inside companies and organize their groups to deliver great user experiences. User experience design is so fundamental and critical to business success that most companies should have a VP of UX.

So why should you hire a VP of User Experience Design? Because she can:

  1. Define the UX vision and strategy across the company
  2. Work with marketing, product management, R&D, and customer support to define and execute on the end-to-end customer experience at both the macro and micro interaction level
  3. Define critical KPIs, metrics, and business outcomes that deliver an ROI to the organization and communicate them effectively
  4. Organize the skillsets that deliver the UX and the interactions with other organizations to execute and demonstrate great design
  5. Infuse the culture with a design thinking mindset—a creative approach to solving business, product, and user problems
  6. Communicate that great user and customer experiences are great business and great business leads to sales and profits

I would love to hear about your experiences, suggestions, and ideas regarding the role of a VP of UX or internal company dynamics in general.

 

Image of ice crystals courtesy Shutterstock.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR(S)

User Profile

Wayne Neale is Founder and President of Kydak, a customer research and experience design company. Kydak uses user research, design, and integrative evaluation methods to solve complex problems and create innovative experiences for digital software products—connecting business objectives with customers needs and desires to deliver an end-to-end product or service experience.

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Comments

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@jsmith you may find this useful - A Practical Guide to Measuring User Experience by Richard Dalton:
http://www.slideshare.net/mauvyrusset/a-practical-guide-to-measuring-user-experience
@Wayne Neale. Thanks, great article, I wholeheartedly agree with your views here, and it is never more true than today in the Australian business world where UX is still an immature practice by and large, still much maligned and often misunderstood and ill catered for. Pockets of industry here are improving but most would do well to take this viewpoint on board.

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Hi Wayne,
Apparently you aren't the only one to think this way. :-) IBM has a new GM of Design, Phil Gilbert. And another article came out today http://www.wired.co.uk/news/archive/2012-05/16/the-rise-of-the-chief-designer. So just like we have a bunch of different names for designers, there are a bunch of different names for design C-level folks. :-)

Happy to see a fellow Hokie in UX Mag!

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It's a terrible term, 'User Experience', and somewhat dehumanizes people yet again (think consumer). Human Interaction with any brand, product or communicated offering, be it; Spielberg movie, TV commercial, snack food wrapper, smart phone model, Youtube clip, sign on a bar, restaurant menu and even the very page you're reading, is the creator's attempt at winning you over and having you buy their product or adopt their ideology. In a nutshell, everything in life is an experience! It's just that some experiences are more meaningful than others. In sales however, the trick, if there is one, is to offer an experience that resonates with a person's wants, needs, desires and self expressions. In the end everything is communication no matter which way you look at it and the so-called UX is just an extension of that which is being communicated...or sold, or offered or demonstrated or broadcast...

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Many have referred to this role over the years as that of the Chief Experience Officer. For a discussion and some of the history, see http://riander.blogspot.com/search?q=chief+experience+officer.

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I could not agree more, and I would add that a user experience design framework is even more needed for applications developed for use by company employees. At least marketing people have access to user design expertise from their agencies, but how many IT departments have even one user design professional? Think about the time wasted in employees struggling to understand and use internally developed apps that are never seen outside the corporate walls. Not to mention the millions of dollars wasted because IT developed an app, intranet or capability that was never accepted because it was just too hard to use.

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Hi jsmith,

Great user experiences should be tied to goals such as to increase registrations, increase conversions, convert browsers into paid subscribers, increase e-commerce sales, decrease cart abandonment, etc. With these KPI's you can create metrics such as % of conversions once an item is in the cart to a final sale or % of conversions to paid subscriber. Your design needs to drive a business KPI, which can be measured, tracked and impacted by iterative design. Customer satisfaction is another KPI which can be measured several ways and reported on. There is much written about this topic and a quick search should reveal several resources. Thanks.

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Yes! Great post.

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Hear, hear. Absolutely. Everyone points to Steve Jobs as the secret ingredient in Apple’s product success. However, I think they often miss the point, that it was not his role as CEO, but as CDO, ”chief design officer" that made the difference. Call it CDO, UX VP, or Experience Design Tsar, whatever, somebody needs to own the experience design for the company the way Spielberg owns the movie-goers' experience or the way Jobs owned the Apple customer experience. And that somebody needs to be one who understands the dynamics of user experience design. Not just the latest trends in an attempt to keep up with the Jones, but a visionary with deep understanding of the interactive principles involved with many years of practice designing in and for a broad cross-section of environments and business domains to fittingly apply concepts from one domain to another.

Those of us who have been in the UX field for some time have seen a repeating cycle of similar concepts or attempts at solving for many of the same goals, done successfully or not, depending on the ripeness of technology, markets, or the quality of execution. Such rich experience is needed to be a leader, not just a reactor to trends in the whirlwind of change that is today’s technology scene.

“She should connect the business to the product to the user experience.”

This could be the most important statement in your article. I am currently working on just that. I am adapting Six Sigma and other analysis methods to connect the dots between an awesome experience that accomplishes business goals and the concrete design patterns that produce interactions that result in those experiences. The cognitive and emotional impacts that are the synapses between these things should be actionable and measurable.

A vision for product experience based on sound hypotheses and supported by Lean Startup methods can then be fostered by such a person as the VP of design, which I think is the point you are making.

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We'd all like UX people to have more seniority in companies, and having a VP of User Experience would seem like a good idea.

But beyond a certain level, there is no difference between "UX vision and strategy" and "business vision and strategy" - which is what CEOs and their leadership teams (should!) be paid to do already. So put simply, if you are working in a company where the CEO has nothing to say about how customers should experience the product, then the solution isn't to hire a VP of UX, it's to hire a new CEO.

BTW if you disagree, and think that "UX vision and strategy" can be meaningfully separated from business strategy and vision such that a VP role would not simply clash with the CEO, VP of Marketing etc. then please write that article, because it's very badly needed!

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Sounds like the job of a ux designer to me...

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Thank you for this insightful article. I have one question about the following point:

2. Define critical KPIs, metrics, and business outcomes that deliver an ROI to the organization and communicate them effectively.

What kind of metrics, KPIs and outcomes reveal the value of executing great user experiences? How can I measure the client's satisfaction with a user experience and measure the effect that has on sales and profits?

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This is my favorite quote from this excellent article!

"Great user experiences don’t happen by accident or with a single UX person on a team. They require hard work from a multi-disciplinary team working across functional groups with a process and set of tools in the appropriate organizational structure"

The VP is the leader of that team....