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How to become a UX Leader in 2021 ?

feature image showing how to become a ux leader

We all know that empathy, understanding, and meaning are crucial to UX designers. However, being a UX leader is another story. To become a UX leader, an individual must have experience in building up teams of Researchers, UX Designers, UI Designers, and Developers. And throughout these experiences, a UX leader must roll up their sleeves and help the team through the trenches, bringing their experience and technical skills to the group and guiding them by example. More importantly, as a UX leader, such individuals should also concentrate on creating environments that are focused on the delivery of the product and for people to reflect and share their knowledge and opinions to make the UX team as effective as possible.

Certain universal aspects apply to all good UX leaders – vision, empathy and inspiration.

Certain universal aspects

Becoming a UX leader is a rare quality as truly inspiring leaders are few in numbers. A product manager that has been promoted doesn’t automatically become a great UX leader. A lesson that I’ve learned from experience is that great UX leaders inspire passion and commitment, and these are not commonly found traits.

A UX leader needs to encompass several skills, such as:
● Instituting and articulating a vision.
● Communicating across multiple teams.
● Appearing as a guardian for human-centred design.
● Mapping design decisions to measure success.
● Managing a group of motivated individuals.

This post will give you an idea about becoming a UX leader in this era – various UX leadership titles, UX leadership books to read and how to construct your own UX leadership portfolio.

UX Leadership Titles

When someone thinks about becoming a UX leader, there is a bias in terms of size – either through one’s team size or through one’s budget size. That is not particularly helpful at understanding the difference. Being a UX leader is about more than being able to handle larger teams or budgets. Several UX leaders can be differentiated in two ways:
● The areas of business that the individual focuses on.
● The reasons they use to navigate through the trenches.

the leadership hierarchy

I want to point out that the article I read this from clearly stated that the above is an estimate. In reality, things are more complicated.
● Senior-level members are responsible for mentoring Mid and entry-level ones. Their primary focus is on the who.
● Leads and managers are responsible for accomplishing their goals and fully utilising resources that define the project’s vision. Their primary focus is on the what.
● Senior managers and directors are responsible for taking care of the entire forest where each tree is a different project. They optimise, innovate, and execute the process. Their primary focus is on the how.
● Senior directors, vice presidents and above define and execute an organisation’s sense of purpose – its product and market strategies. They determine and implement tactics for the process based on the lower levels of leaders. Their primary focus is on the why.

One of the reasons why experienced UX leaders are accountable (for the why) is that they have mastered the previous leadership levels. These experienced individuals have practical judgment to determine the correct course of action.

A UX leader can easily say, “been there done that,” while mapping a new situation to an old one to effectively look at the bigger picture. I am not trying to establish that a UX leader is perfect; one must understand that practical judgment comes from making a mistake, which has made me realise that perfection and theory don’t always work out in practice. It’s like climbing a ladder by mastering each level by being placed in frequently enigmatic business areas.

the leadership hierarchy

Each of these UX leadership titles requires a certain number of years under the belt to be able to pull that off:
● At least 15–20 years of experience for Vice presidents.
● At least 10–15 years of experience for Directors.
● At least 7–10 years of experience for Managers.
● At least 5–7 years of experience for Senior-level members.

UX Leadership Books

UX Leadership Books

Since becoming a UX leader is a challenge, a few books can help you pave the path towards success. Now, I will not describe the synopsis of each book; instead, I would share the link for you to find out on your own.

A Guide to UX Leadership by Dave Malouf.
● Don’t Make Me Think by Steve Krug.
● Rocket Surgery Made Easy by Steve Krug.
● The Design of Everyday Things by Don Norman.
● Measuring The User Experience by William Albert and Thomas Tullis.
● Interviewing Users by Steve Portigal.
● How to Win Friends & Influence People by Dale Carnegie.
● Quiet by Susan Cain.
● Where Good Ideas Come From by Steven Johnson.
● The Lean Startup by Eric Reis.

I hope that these books will accommodate you in your journey as you understand the process and move up the ladder to become a UX leader.

UX Leadership Portfolio

UX Leadership Portfolio

A typical UX portfolio is a collection of visual evidence that communicates the individual’s skills and capabilities as a story of their career. It’s a measure of one’s inherent value based on their past progress. But for someone pursuing UX leadership titles, the best method is to gauge their worthiness for those roles. As UX leader, they have exceeded design production by anticipating insights gathered over years of informed intuition. What a UX leadership portfolio represents a case study – tales of conflict and judgment with lessons. There has to be a better way for a UX leader to tell their rich and diverse story!

A UX leadership portfolio should look like is a playbook – to convey their value and point of view. A playbook is grounded in methods generated from practical expertise and personal quirks that come with years of experience tackling multiple scenarios.
UX leadership portfolio should look like is a playbook

A UX leadership portfolio should be constructed in the following way:
● It should contain calls, strategies, and tactics for multiple scenarios based on their unique style. They should act like as a coach – personifying the winning formulas for a team.
● A UX leadership portfolio should not be a curated showcase of the UCD process. It’s about having an expert set of adaptive strategies cultivated over time applied with increasing self-awareness.
● A UX leader should have their meaningful philosophy, i.e. personal ideals contrasted with pragmatic reality, expressing what the individual experienced across various situations – the decisions she/he made and circumstances she/he encountered.
● UX leadership portfolio has to be case-based, but about how situations were addressed. Utilising various cognitive and persuasive models to gather critical insights enables interactions with teams and makes decisions.

A playbook-esque UX leadership portfolio would reflect a UX leader’s distinctive nature, going past the standard portfolio. Such behaviour will also help the design industry assess a UX leader differently, opening a candid dialogue perhaps for a design-thinking seminar.

UX Design is still nascent as a discipline in India, and as the number of different specialisations multiplies, the need for leaders to nurture and grow teams will also rise. One must remember that she/he must earn their badge for each level to develop as a UX leader, as the opportunities are tremendous.

Saurav is our UX Writer from the Innovation Team. As a writer, Saurav has spent five years in the advertising industry, working with many industry giants of the day. His understanding of aesthetics, graphic design, and copywriting shifted his interests towards User Experience (UX) for a startup where he worked as their UX writer. He resides in the capital of our country. In his free time, Saurav likes to cook, read, or even play video games. He is also a shutterbug and likes to travel.

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