Where should UX sit in an organisation?

December 23, 2019



UX can be a source of tribal rivalries, and the question of where it should fit in the corporate structure is often a divisive one. It’s not just about the organisational structure – even the physical location of the UX team’s desks can make a difference to the flow of communication and ideas. So where should UX sit in an organisation in order to become a centre of excellence, and who should own it?

As a starting point, let’s agree that achieving a significant level of influence is critical, and this can be a particular struggle in an organisation where the concept of UX isn’t yet fully understood. Without internal recognition of UX’s importance, a lack of authority can mean that many projects are doomed to deliver sub-optimally. As yet, few companies have a Chief Experience Officer (CXO), and if another discipline is able to repeatedly ‘pull rank,’ internal politics and self-interest can put blockers in the way of successful outcomes. Remembering this, let’s weigh up the options...


Marketing

As the custodian of the customer, marketing can appear to be an obvious fit, based on its insights into the customers wants, needs and behaviours. The UX team will gain a window into customers’ needs and will be motivated to take a customer-centric approach to problem solving. UX designers are champions of the customer, too, so there is plenty of synergy with marketing to play on.


Product Management

A product manager will not only understand the customer, but has insights into how the UX should feel – this extends from the online experience all the way to physical interaction with the end product or service. The product management team will be focused on business goals, which can be helpful in directing activity.


IT Engineering

If you’re a tech company, the engineering team may be the most natural place to put the UX function. While this can be great for understanding costs to the business and delving into the detail, it may be the big picture gets lost along the way. An IT-led UX function may suffer from the absence of a holistic view of what each project is aiming to achieve.


Centralised

A dedicated department or ‘internal agency’ set up has the benefits of creating a structured team, establishing a hub of excellence. Team members can support their colleagues, feed into projects and bounce ideas off each other. This can be the ideal scenario, providing that the department has sufficient internal sway and the freedom to engage across different departments. Here, having a corporate sponsor at exec level can be the key to gaining some influence.


Integrated/Hybrid approach

It is possible to implement UX using a cross-functional structure. Shopify, for instance, uses a multi-disciplinary approach, splits its UX function into four distinct areas: design, content strategy, research and front-end development. Each project team has designated leaders, and product projects always have an embedded UX lead.


External Agency

For smaller businesses, the most practical decision may be to outsource UX. One obvious advantage of using an external agency to deliver the UX function is that it may be easier to pull together a working group from all the relevant functions to get a full picture of the challenge that needs to be addressed. Contracting out UX projects may also focus the minds of those involved internally, as the success or failure of each initiative has a clearly visible cost attached to it.


Pros and Cons

Let’s take it as a given that bureaucracy is the enemy of UX. If UX sits under marketing or engineering, for instance, the end result can be that the UX team has no ability to escalate critical issues to a management level. For UX to deliver, it has to be seen as an essential outcome, on a level footing with other disciplines.

Another factor to consider is the impact of organisational maturity. In a younger, smaller organisation, the chances are that the CEO will own UX. Beneficially, the CEO is deeply entrenched in the business and fully committed to creating happy customers, as well as having influence throughout the company to ensure that UX gets the focus it deserves. A CEO who understandings the importance of UX will embed this in the corporate culture and recruit with UX in mind.

So which way do you go? If it’s all about making the biggest impact, then there isn’t necessarily a one-size-fits-all answer: it may simply make the most sense to locate UX within for the department that has the biggest sway. For the UX designer, it’s important to think about who your greatest champions are and what roles they’re in. Simply slotting UX into an existing department can be deeply limiting, however.

Final Thoughts

Assessing all the possible permutations, while it can be a struggle to create the appetite for reinventing organisational structure, putting UX on an equal footing with other functions is the first step in developing a consistent UX across all channels. Giving UX an equal footing with IT/Engineering, Marketing and Product functions will ultimately deliver cost savings and add value – the perfect motivation for your C-suite to reevaluate whether UX currently has enough focus, influence and autonomy. Yes, you may need to re-educate your senior team to get buy-in, but the potential gains will make it well worth the effort in the long run.

David Edward-Jones
David Edward-Jones

David joined Weaveability in 2018 as a Lead User Experience Designer after 16 years at o2. David is responsible for creating and developing the best user experiences using research and testing to drive decisions.
In his spare time, David builds websites, tries to catch up on sleep or can be found watching princesses with his two young girls.