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Growing UX Leadership

What’s it like learning how to lead in a field as nebulous and broad as experience design? There are a lot of ups and downs. On a day when I get it right, I can feel it. I’m certain I’ve made a good contribution, helped my team and my clients. When it happens, it’s something to celebrate.

Most days the answers are less definitive. From moment to moment I make decisions on how to move forward in a complex environment where it’s easy to make mistakes. There’s no how-to guide for being the bridge between designers, clients and the business of UX. Like the majority of UX leads, I’ve learned by doing. It’s unfortunate that the uncertainty of this process breaks many potentially great leaders before they find their way.

Similar to colleagues who started careers before ‘user experience’ was a thing, much of my career has been spent as the UX lead in various contexts reporting to someone who is not in the field. I didn’t have exposure to successful UX role models to witness leadership done right. Instead my mentors were books and blogs and happy hour debates with peers.

The design world is not great at cultivating leadership. It’s largely considered a character trait; something you either have innately or will never develop. I believe leadership can be taught to those willing to develop self awareness. Many good leaders don’t start out well. But over time and with coaching they learn from experience and develop their own feedback loops.

Baptism by fire leadership training is not a method that has a high success rate. Especially when the risks to the business are high.  We want to serve our teams better.  We are hungry for guidance. A robust UX community has emerged full of people eager to share the lessons we’ve learned. We work together, making the way easier for others. It’s something that I’m honored take part in. I also look forward to the future when we actively train leaders and can set them up for success.

My tools that I rely on to navigate the uncertainty that comes with being a UX lead:

 

  • Trust in your ability to make good decisions.
  • Motivation to elevate others so that they can be successful. That means creating opportunities for talent to shine and intensely coaching under performers.
  • Humility to accept feedback and focus on solutions instead of blame
  • Wisdom to be open to someone else’s idea being better than your own
  • The fortitude to try and fail and try again and change and adapt
  • NEVER STOP trying to be better

What works for you?

 

Concepting for UX Designers

“UX people squeeze all of the fun out of creative ideas.” ~creative director

It can be tough for UX designers to embrace the ‘fun’ of concepting. We are trained to explore the dark corners of ideas to make them work smoothly for human beings. We consider the detours and side paths and button them up neatly. Our teams depend on us to apply logic, structure and rigor.

That’s a heavy load.  It’s easy for user experience designers to get typecast as someone who shoots holes in everything. Concepting is an opportunity to set that burden down and imagine the future. If that’s not an exercised part of your repertoire you may not know how to participate. It’s easy to fall into the familiar role of pressure testing the idea, tethering it to the earth. What’s a UX designer to do?

Concepts need space, time to grow before being anchored to structures and interfaces. Let yourself have fun building up ideas without editing. Send your inner analyst on a break. Resist worrying if something will work. Trust that the time for that exercise will come. Don’t fear ideas that fall apart. There is value inside every pie-in-the-sky, you-have-got-to-be-kidding-me concept.

UX Design is part aesthetics, part logic and applied science of human behavior. We make easy connections between the analytical and delightful. Jumping into “will it work” mode too quickly deprives your team from your insight. It also makes you a really lame playmate.

There will be time to revise and mould ideas into a usable experience. But it is not the only standard you have to march behind. You must play. When you catch yourself creating a user flow in your head, set that mental work aside. Reassure your inner IA that you will come back to the comfort of structure…later. Reeling in an idea that is overreaching is easy. Unleashing a design that is constrained and nudging it toward innovation is near impossible. Start big. Give yourself permission to play.