It’s a great time to be an experience design professional — what we call an XD pro. I remember my early years as a user experience practitioner: 25% of my time was spent practicing my craft (the exciting part!) and 75% evangelizing my discipline and explaining why a human-centered design approach benefits both customers and the business.

I’m excited that after years of struggling for recognition, more and more companies recognize the value and are making design a business priority. About 75% of companies we surveyed recently have design represented at the VP or executive level, a signal of the elevated and expanded sphere of influence of XD professionals. At the same time, we see organizations developing design as a core competency for all employees, democratizing design skills by launching design thinking programs. Design is finally coming of age.

But now that the hard work of evangelizing design has paid off, XD leaders are faced with a new challenge – how to scale up to meet the demand for the design and design research skill set. This raises questions such as:

  • “What new skills do I need in the team to scale and to power the democratization of design?”
  • “What’s the best way to structure the team? Should I embed designers with product and engineering or stay centralized?”
  • “With such high demand for designers, how do I attract and retain the best talent?”

I set out to answer these questions for my latest Forrester report by interviewing XD leaders at 19 firms and conducting a survey of user experience professionals. The report (just published), “How To Scale Your Design Organization,” lays out the five areas XD leaders should focus efforts to effectively scale design. Some of my favorite takeaways:

  • Lines are blurring between XD roles. XD leaders are knocking down traditional boundaries to create more streamlined, nimble teams — from empowering designers to conduct their own discovery research (under the mentorship of skilled researchers) to blurring the lines between interaction and visual design roles. A side benefit: It’s creating new growth opportunities for the team — a key ingredient for retaining talent in such a competitive environment.
  • Big investments in design systems. Sixty-five percent of XD pros we surveyed are using design systems more than they did two years ago. It makes sense — because in addition to powering a more consistent customer experience, having a design system makes designers more efficient and helps XD teams scale design to non-design roles.
  • Keeping designers happy matters a lot. With competition for design talent fiercer than ever, XD leaders are investing in caring for their design community. From small efforts like establishing forums for designers to connect and learn from one another to more significant investments like establishing roles focused on design culture, cultivating a great designer experience is a top priority for design leaders.

Got questions about the issues I examine in the “How To Scale Your Design Organization” report? If so, schedule an analyst inquiry call with me — I’d love to discuss your challenges and help.