Good UX Manager/Bad UX Manager

With apologies to Ben Horowitz

The good, the bad, and the ugly of UX design management

Good UX team managers feel responsible for the overall work product of their UX and UI designers, researchers, and prototypers. They care deeply about creating useful, usable, and craveable products, and they make sure the team is designing the right things for customers and the business. They ensure designs are consistent across products, features, and across designers, and they foster the development of design pattern libraries that benefit the entire company. They clearly set and communicate the right priorities.

Bad UX design managers lose themselves in the weeds. They fuss over unimportant details, losing sight of the more strategic design issues that only someone at their level can see. They’re defensive in the face of criticism, and they blame the designers, the PMs, and engineers for getting it wrong.

Good UX managers direct and coach their team. They help their team understand the appropriate context so that product designers can focus on the fun work of problem solving. They provide regular, timely, and helpful feedback. They line up the right internal and external resources when needed. They listen to the team and understand what motivates, and discourages, individual designers. They mentor the team and provide paths for growth.

Bad UX managers micromanage. They are focused on the team’s output rather than the team’s well-being. When projects slip or quality flags, they push their designers harder on the same course, or they lose confidence in their designers and attempt to do the job themselves.

Good UX team managers are a critical liaison between the designers and the rest of the company. They share context from the business with the team so that designers can understand how their work drives outcomes and affects future directions. They advocate for design within the organization, always building a case for why it’s critical to strategy and execution. They measure the impact of designers’ work on an ongoing basis and share the results with the team and others.

Bad UX managers build a wall between the design team and the company at large. With bad UX managers, every design decision is a fight — it’s us vs. them. Bad UX managers don’t help the design team to understand business goals and outcomes. Instead, they push for new designs solely for the sake of being innovative. Designs that prove just how creative the team is take precedence over what’s right for customers, and the company.

Bad UX managers are insular when it comes to their team and the greater design community. They feel paranoid about the possibility of poaching and turn the natural competition that exists with other UX leaders and hiring managers into an unhealthy thing.

Good UX managers elevate the design discourse at large. They promote their company, and the designers in their company, and they help connect them with others in the industry. They want to evangelize good product design because it’s a good thing for users, and the world.

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