Brandon Schauer on Becoming a UX Manager

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Today on Radio Johnny Jeff Parks talks with the President and Managing Director at Adaptive Path, Brandon Schauer. Brandon discusses the skill sets required to be a manager in the UX space today and how this translates into success with the interdisciplinary teams that make up most organizations. Brandon also articulates the necessity to differentiate that of a UX thought leader and a UX manager, as well as some of the top trends that are emerging in this young field for designers interested in making this transition.


“You have to realize that great UX designers don’t always end up making great UX managers. Some people’s career path is going to be about being the rock star designer… getting those 10,000 hours, getting to that expert level…other people, maybe they weren’t great UX designers but for some reason their brain really connects with UX management…”

“What I saw in 2011 was really a change to organizations realizing they needed a staff of people…it wasn’t staff of production or visual designers, it wasn’t a staff of coders… it was a staff of people who could actually do UX work. The mindset of many organization has changed from a UX team of one to a UX team of plenty…as soon as you have that you have a necessity to have managers.”

“One of the things I love doing is hosting events that are just targeted at people who manage user experience…there are a lot of conferences out there that help people around UX and what are the basic skill sets but not a lot where people can exchange ideas about what’s working for them and what’s not…like I said these people don’t have a mentor or someone who was in their position before…so the best thing we can do is provide a forum where they can talk to each other.


* Follow Brandon on Twitter @brandonschauer
* Learn about others who will be presenting at the MX conference this year.
* Leah Buley on Being a UX Team of One

Jeff Parks

Jeff is the co-founder of DIGIA UX Inc. and actively collaborates with industry professionals from around the world through his involvement with Boxes and Arrows and Johnny Holland. Jeff is also leading workshops on Information Architecture and User Experience Design over at Follow the UX Leader, in addition to volunteering his time as a Mentor and Member of the Board of Directors for the Information Architecture Institute.

3 comments on this article

  1. @mimojito (aka efren) on

    I agree that not all managers make great ux designers and not all ux designers make great managers, however, managing people, teams and relationships/partnerships is not new nor is it somehow special to ux. Being a manager (whether ux or other) requires some very key qualifications: leadership, organizational savvy, meeting facilitation, team management and team building, communication, staffing and career development.

    As a leader, it’s up to you to create and translate the vision into specific functional or departmental initiatives and tasks. Inspire commitment, high energy and a positive attitude from the team. Set and communicate challenging team goals. Delegate, coordinate, and create a motivational environment for the team to effectively meet their deliverables and achieve results.

    Organizational savvy requires the ability to predict impacts, avoid derailments and pursue actions that are likely to succeed. Share information to gain common commitment and understanding in achieving objectives.

    Set the agenda for weekly project review meetings. Follow up with cross-functional teams on system impact and feasibility for tasks, nominations and issues raised. Clearly communicate to all stakeholders on goals and get feedback on how their area might be impacted. These are some of the skills needed for meeting facilitation.

    As far as team management and team building, you need to be experienced with leading and managing a variety of teams. Discuss alternative techniques for maintaining enthusiasm, energy and focus. Communicate verbally and in writing within team and across and up the organization to appropriate stakeholders. Ensure that the team is energized, unified, and moving towards a common goal.

    Communication, communication, communication. Effectively communicating with staff, with peers across the department, with peers outside of our group and to senior management. You need to be able to break down complex technical concepts into easy, understandable terms and effectively communicate that clearly to the appropriate audience.

    Developing staff and people in line with strategic organizational and departmental objectives is important. Coaching others in the value and methods of associate development. Being able to anticipate the changing demands for skills; selecting the best people for the future.

    For the most part, the majority of the key concepts/qualifications I outlined are based in common sense, however, nurturing those skills as a manager is not. It requires an almost keen sense of knowing how to read people and knowing how to get to the core of their strengths and weaknesses.

    It also requires knowing when to let people fail in order to help them succeed.

  2. Brandon Schauer on

    Great points @mimojito.

    The basics of management — which can feel common sense to some people — aren’t typically taught in design schools, computer scient schools, library science schools, or wherever UX folks emerge from.

    And while some things like empathy for your staff are good skills that abound in a UX designer, there are others skills like calculated tradeoffs that aren’t honed in by the typical designer’s experiences.

    Management is it’s own art/science and has to be layered on top of any discipline to create a good manager. The management skills that make a good engineering manager or retail store manager are likely many of the same management skills that make a good UX manager.

    Many of the themes you raise also came up at the recent MX conference where your peers were hashing through these issues:

    [+] UX manager’s job is problem framing, not problem solving.
    [+] UX managers must learn from the present, plan for the future, and think outside of that context for the long term
    [+] UX managers design the process not the product.

    These seem consistent with management in any situation. Still, there are some problems more unique to UX management. One that came up frequently at the recent MX conference was creating a creative and customer-connected environment. It was amazing seeing a pattern across businesses where UX managers had to battle facilities management to tear down the cubicles and bring in foam core to tack up their research insights and ideas. Crazy!

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