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.
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.
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.
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.