Who Owns User Experience?

by October 14, 2004

At this Tuesday’s BayCHI event, Don Norman discussed User Experience and why so many organizations believe they own it. His perspective touched on many important points:

Design is Horizontal

Vertical Organizations are the most common because they are the easiest to manage (one set of domain knowledge vs. many). Products, however, are by their very nature horizontal. As a result, vertical organizational structures can often impede the product design process. In fact, vertical silos in many companies are clearly visible within the products they produce. This is especially apparent when companies maintain vertical reward structures that ultimately may pit individual group benefits against company-wide (or product-wide) benefits.

Total User Experience

A great product has unified visceral, behavioral, and reflective design right down to the packaging. As a result everyone in an organization has an effect on User Experience. They will all come at it from different angles (marketing, engineering, design), but they all need to come with the same goal. That goal should be making “pleasurable” products. Pleasurable products are useful, usable, and enjoyable: a goal that many diverse disciplines can share and enhance.


The depth of our knowledge today is such that no one can be an expert at all the disciplines that converge as total user experience. But awareness of the principles and value-adds of different disciplines is vital for user experience practitioners. Co-location between disciplines is an effective means of uniting goals. To this end, Norman encouraged UE practitioners to attend events outside their domain of knowledge and to especially learn the language of business. Great products don’t just balance function and form; they balance finance as well.

Everyone & No One

Everyone in an organization should own User Experience and no one in an organization should own User Experience. In other words, the company (as a whole) is ultimately responsible for UE.