Does UX Belong in Product?

Where should User Experience (UX) belong in an organisation?

The question on where User Experience (UX) belongs in an organisation still sparks many different opinions.

Much like Product Management, there isn’t a clear answer – should there be?

A while back, I asked Matthew Magain from UX Mastery the question: “Is UX a part of Product Management?” His cheeky response was “Is Product Management a part of UX?”

Matt explained that the answer to the question really depends on the type of company. “In design-led companies, UX designers will have a seat in the board room; in more technology-centric companies, UX will be seen as subordinate to Product Management.”

UX is a Part of Product Management

My opinion is that, in most cases, UX should be considered very much part of the Product Management family. Product Management is a broad professional domain with a spectrum of activities that range from marketing to engineering. UX has a narrower but important focus and fits neatly within that spectrum.

Whilst UX makes a significant contribution to the product’s overall success, it is not the only factor. In many instances, the core product attributes have little impact (unless it's not functioning) on the user experience. There are two main parties that a product serves; the customer and the business. In my experience, UX typically looks after the customer, whilst Product Management looks after both the customer and the business. Matt disagreed and explained “if a UX designer is ignoring business goals she is not doing her job. We stress this point in our writing and make a big deal of this in our training.”

Matt made a great point. If we want our businesses to thrive we should ALL be focused on the business goals.

Product Management Has Broader Accountability

Product Management not only has accountability for the product experience, of which UX is a component, but it also has to juggle the business needs and capabilities. There may be customer problems that the business may not want to solve (called strategy). Not all customer problems are created equal. Some problems are severe and prevent a large number of customers from achieving their goals. However, there are some problems that are trivial and only affect a small proportion of customers.

As an independent entity, the business can choose to solve either one of those problems. Or, it can solve neither of those problems because solving them may not deliver a business benefit that is sufficiently attractive for the business to pursue. It seems counterintuitive but solving some customer problems may not be a good business decision. Unlike UX, it’s more likely that the Product Manager will work closely with various stakeholders to make the decision to solve the customer problem within a timeframe or delay solving the problem indefinitely.

Ultimately, though Product Management is the custodian of the product’s value in the market and that means the product has to be priced accordingly, accessible to the target market, supported operationally and uphold all the promises it makes.

UX is Closer to the Customer

When I grilled Matt further, he made the excellent point that “UX designers, by definition, act as stronger champions for user goals,” given that’s their primary purpose in an organisation. “The nature of UX work means we probably end up feeling closer to the user and developing genuine empathy.”

In reality, Product Management is often spread too thinly across many different activities, putting out many fires. We’re called upon to uncover why sales are poor, to ‘quickly’ respond to competitor challenges, to work closely with our engineers to resolve technical faults … the list goes on.

Yet as Product Managers, we know that the only way to develop long-term business success is by spending time with customers and solving lucrative customer problems.

Many Benefits of Having UX as a Part of Product Management

In my opinion, if UX isn’t a part of the Product Management team in your organisation, it should be. The relationship between the two disciplines is important for the success of the product.

There will never be an opportunity in a company, big or small, for Product Management to be solely focused on the customer. Nor should there be. Product Management considers various stakeholders and their goals in the “decision-making mix”. UX facilitates the transfer of rich customer insights into Product Management. Vice versa, Product Management can offer business information that may help UX design better customer experiences, which in turn makes for a better product.

And that’s better for your customers and your business.

Conclusion

Although I believe UX should be part of the Product Management team, my opinion is just one.

There is perhaps a need for a more rigorous debate and clearer articulation of where UX fits. More importantly, such a debate highlights the need for alignment in the industry. The need for practitioners and thought leaders to align, share and form standards that can guide organisations to make better decisions around product.

Where do you believe UX should sit in the organisation, and why?

About the Author​

Adrienne Tan
Co-Founder and CEO of Brainmates
Adrienne has been in Product Management since 2000. During her initial Product career, she spent time designing and developing Internet Services for communities in Regional Australia. In 2004, she co-founded Brainmates to professionalize Product Management in Australia and launched Australia’s first Product Management community, in 2007. Later in 2015, she designed a successful Product conference called Leading The Product and is now a Board Member of the Association of Product Professionals.

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I joined APP because I want to every organisation to see the true value of Product Management. Product is the engine of growth in every business and when done well it can enable companies to grow and achieve their ambitions. I want to change the world through Product Management!

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