Should UX leaders also do hands-on design work? UX Question #78

Watch on YouTube

YouTube player

Listen to the podcast

Read the transcript

Harper from Atlanta asks: Should UX managers also do hands-on design work?

I love that question. Thanks for asking, Harper. This is UX Question number 78 and I am Ben Judy.

Should UX managers also do hands-on design work? Let me unpack this question by comparing two of my previous positions.

In one corner I was a Group Manager of a corporate UX team that I built up to about 25 designers and 5 user researchers. I hired two managers to help me run the department, and my main job was leading and managing the team. I almost never designed a screen or conducted a user interview. I hired a team for that. The thing I designed was the design organization, the practice of design across the company.

In the other corner, I was a Director of Product design at a small software agency. I had 7 or 8 designers reporting to me. My job as Director was clearly defined as a “player-coach” role, meaning I would spend some of my working time doing Principal level UX work, and some of my time being a manager of other designers, and helping to lead the design practice, and leading efforts like design operations for the department.

So, design leader not doing contributor level work, versus design leader also doing contributor level work.

The thing about designers who work for years as a contributor and then become a practice leader or department head is that you still have those skills and you love doing that work. It can be really tempting and really fun to be a player-coach because you get to live in both worlds: management & practice leadership, and also deliver high end work and solve product level problems yourself.

But take it from me, it can suck because it’s at least two jobs. There’s never enough time to do either job well enough. Or you work 80 hours a week.

Whether that’s the work-life balance you want is up to you.

If you steer your career in the direction of UX management, you might strongly consider that it is a different role that requires a different skill set, and your day to day work is going to look very different. I would encourage you to think of design management as essentially graduating from being a designer to being someone who has that knowledge and background, but is now doing a different job.

No designer wants a boss who is too busy or distracted by their own project work to be an effective manager and mentor. Based on my experience, it’s almost impossible to both at the same time. I don’t recommend it.

Keep asking your questions about UX. Next time, I’ll answer the question: what is high-fidelity design?

Referenced in this episode:

Support UX Questions

Visit us on Patreon and check out the great perks at each level of support!

Become a sponsor

You can advertise your products or services—our promote yourself as a UX professional—by sponsoring episodes of UX Questions! See the Sponsor page for details.

Hire Ben Judy

Ben is available for consulting engagements as a workshop facilitator, mentor, design coach, and more! See the Ben page for details.