Organizations are thinking about design and their content creation strategy from the standpoint of consumer and client engagement, now more than ever.

This means listening to our customers in a deeper way and implementing changes along the entire customer journey – creating an engaging, meaningful user experience (UX) for our guests.  But what does this mean for our creative and development teams, and how does it affect our digital transformation?

First, let’s clarify UX vs. UI. What’s the difference? 

At Cella, we think of it as the following:

UX – User Experience ensures that digital projects balance stunning visual content, are easy to use and will be rewarding for the end user. It is the job of the User Experience professional to ensure your audience can quickly and easily navigate through your website, app or game and get to your desired goals, such as signing up for emails or sharing via social media.

UI – User Interface, often referred to as “visual design”, looks at each step in the journey and entices users to follow through on the journey. It is the design at every point of interaction between customers/clients and a brand that creates an impression and recognition.

You can also think of it as macro vs. micro:

Macro: UX looks at the whole of the customer journey – it’s the architect that focuses on the strategy, the end-to-end consumer journey and the big picture thinking.

Micro: UI looks at each step in the journey and entices users to follow through to the next step. You can view it as an individual snapshot within the journey. 

In its whole, UX/UI is a practice of shaping how people experience digital – the logistical and the emotional journey of a digital interaction – and both components are essential to any successful consumer digital engagement experience.

But where should UX/UI live in a business?

Should it be a standalone department, or should it be integrated into Digital, the In-House Agency or other departments?  

This is a more complicated topic, and it generally varies by organization. We recommend looking at your overall User Experience Strategy, determine who is thinking about the user journey the most and tie your UX/UI to that group.  

UX designers often collaborate as an extension of Marketing, working in a sense as a business analyst to frame up the need and opportunity to be solved through a UX project. Oftentimes, UX designers live within Digital, as it involves usability. UI designers live within Creative or the In-House Agency, as it involves the visual design.

However, both roles are focused on creating a seamless user experience, so having them together has benefits, as well. 

Two solutions we often recommend to clients:

Standalone UX/UI department:

Having a standalone UX/UI department is becoming increasingly popular with a variety of businesses. This department often reports to the Chief Digital Officer, with a dotted line to the Brand Creative team, ensuring on-brand intent, visual integrity and brand consistency overall. This department focuses on creating user-centered designs and experiences across all customer touchpoints. Having a dedicated team of UX/UI designers ensures that the design is consistent and aligned with the user's expectations, as well as being “brand right”.

This approach has several advantages. It allows the UX/UI team to focus entirely on creating user-centered designs without distractions from other design or digital projects. It also allows the team to work collaboratively, share knowledge and insights, while building expertise in digital design and innovating together for the overall organization. In addition, having a standalone department often ensures that the design is consistent, regardless of the team or department responsible for implementing it.

However, having a separate UX/UI department also has its challenges – sometimes communication and collaboration with other departments can be limited, if the UX/UI team is siloed. When the UX/UI team is separate from other departments, there can be communication gaps around overall brand strategy, and creative direction and strategy, which can lead to inconsistent user experiences. 

Just like with brand creative teams, it is key for UX/UI teams to have a clear understanding of the business's goals and objectives, ensuring that designs are aligned with the company’s overall vision. It is equally important that the brand creative team and UX/UI team align.

Integrating UX/UI in other departments:

Another approach is to integrate UX/UI into other departments – oftentimes Creative or the IHA, and/or Digital. This approach can help ensure that UX/UI is not seen as a standalone function, but as an integral part of the entire design and development process. 

The decision of whether UX/UI should be on Creative or Digital teams varies depending on the overall organizational structure, priorities, and strategies of any given company.   

UX/UI design is an essential component of the digital experience, and it requires a combination of creativity and technical expertise, but where the individual groups must reflect back on the overall brand and digital strategy of any business.

The Creative team or IHA is responsible for creating and executing innovative ideas that align with the brand's identity and objectives. In contrast, Digital handles the technical implementation of those ideas and the overall digital experience, including website development, mobile app development and other digital products.

Given the importance of the user experience, it is increasingly common for UX and UI designers to be part of the digital team. This is because UX and UI designers need to collaborate closely with developers, product managers and other technical stakeholders to ensure that the design is feasible, functional and optimized for the digital platform.

That said, some organizations may still choose to place UX/UI on the Creative team, especially if they prioritize visual design and brand identity over technical implementation. Another consideration is the leadership and peers that the UX/UI team would be working with. If you have a Creative Director or team who bring a deep digital experience and understanding to the table, they can be incredible leaders and managers for the UX/UI team. However, if the deeper Digital design understanding lives on the Digital team, it often makes sense to put the team there. Along with the over User Experience strategy, the scope and responsibilities of your UX/UI team can influence where they live.

Integrating UX/UI into other departments has many advantages as well. The team has a shared understanding of the user's needs and desires. It also promotes collaboration between teams, which can lead to a more cohesive and holistic design approach. In addition, integrating UX/UI into other departments ensures that the designs are aligned with the business's goals and objectives. 

However, this approach also has its challenges. One of the main ones is ensuring that everyone in the organization has the necessary UX/UI knowledge and skills to create user-centered designs. This can require a significant investment in training and education. Additionally, integrating UX/UI into other departments could lead to inconsistency in design, as different teams may have different interpretations of the brand strategy, as well as the customer’s needs and desires. Clear communication and collaboration between teams help break down any silos that exist, and contribute to a better end product, design and experience for the customer.

Our takeaway

Both approaches have benefits and challenges. The decision of where UX/UI should live in a business ultimately depends on the company's goals, culture and resources. 

If a company is focused on creating a user-centered product or service and has the resources to invest in a dedicated UX/UI team, having a standalone department could be the right choice. 

However, if an organization wants to create a culture of user-centered design, they might consider integrating UI into Creative or the In-House Agency, and UX into Digital. 

With the ever-evolving landscape of technology and consumer behavior, along with an evolving economic environment, now is the ideal time to reassess what is expected of your UX/UI strategy and where UX/UI fits into your organization. Regardless of your approach, it is essential to ensure that UX/UI is an integral part of the entire process as well as the design and development strategy to create a seamless, integrated, brand-right and engaging user experience. 

By examining your team's placement and mission, and aligning it with your organization's goals, you can ensure that you are delivering an exceptional user experience that meets the needs of your customers. Without a doubt, investing in your UX/UI team and strategy now can help set you up for long-term success in the digital space.