The return on investment (ROI) for UX design is around 9,900%—that’s $100 returned for every $1 invested. UX design is booming, and staying up-to-date with the newest developments and techniques is an absolute must for UX researchers and designers.
That’s why we’ve put together our top 11 UX leaders working to develop and improve the UX field. These UX professionals have the experience and insight to share their thoughts on both current and future UX research and design, and are perfectly placed to help guide you through your UX career.
What makes a UX leader?
UX leaders aren’t just higher-ups in the UX team structure, or those making conference appearances and writing best-selling books on UX and UI design. They’re the thought-leaders pushing themselves—and other UX designers and UX researchers—to build better user experiences and reach UX leadership roles.
The qualities of successful UX leadership
An effective UX leader should be:
- Empathetic: UX design comes from a place of trying to understand users to improve the products they use. In order to do this, UX leaders need to empathize with the user's jobs to be done.
- Communicative: UX leaders have a very detailed picture of how things should be, but they also need to be able to communicate that with others.
- Strategic: Designing user experiences isn’t a tunnel vision approach, there are many tasks to juggle at one time. Crafting the user experience is a marathon, not a sprint.
- User-centric: This should come as no surprise—UX leaders need to be user-centric. They should constantly be questioning what’s best for users, and aim to ask questions and have conversations that nobody has had yet—they’re the user's in-house ambassador.
- Data-driven: UX researchers and designers don’t do things on a whim—they make design decisions after in-depth research, testing, and feedback.
- Inquisitive: Finally, a UX leader needs to be curious. There’s so much left to develop in the UX industry, and a UX leader isn’t afraid to try something new as part of their process.
There’s no set-in-stone combination of skills that will ensure your success as a UX leader. It’s a combination of leveling up your UX, leadership, communication, and networking skills.
How to become a UX leader
Becoming a great UX leader involves learning from the people who are already doing great work—the UX leaders of today.
Keeping up with the latest change-makers and their thoughts enables you to discover more about the industry and its progress. After all, it’s these leaders who dedicate their professional careers to researching and improving UX research and UX design.
Here are our top tips to help guide you on your journey to becoming a better UX leader:
- Keep learning: UX leaders have strong knowledge of the industry—including upcoming research and developments. You can do this by staying on top of the latest trends and research papers to remain fully up-to-date with the UX research community. For example, RosenfeldMedia on Twitter shares recently reviewed and published UX books, promotional offers, and user experience design updates.
- Share your knowledge: Other UX designers and researchers look to UX leaders for inspiration and learning opportunities. It’s a great idea to share what you’re working on with your network—this’ll help attract like-minded UX researchers and UX designers, as well as position you as a thought-leader within the UX community. There are plenty of bustling UX communities to join—which we’ll look at shortly.
- Work on personal projects: Many UX leaders hold full-time UX roles, but they also devote time and energy to their personal UX interests and research. Work on finding an area of UX research and design that you can build on, and aim to bring something new to the table.
- Connect with others in your industry: Building a community of UX researchers and designers involves getting stuck in—UX leaders need to connect with others in the industry to discuss thoughts and ideas. Make sure you’re actively looking for up-and-coming UX researchers and UX designers to follow, and reach out to start building a connection.
Our biggest suggestion is simply to take inspiration from the UX leaders currently making waves in the UX design community and industry—many of them were in your shoes in the past. Luckily for you, you’re in the right place—we’ll shortly be diving into our top 11 picks for UX leaders to keep up with.
Join an online UX community
There are also a number of online communities and resources to help you on your journey to becoming a better UX leader and designer, such as:
- The Optimal Path Podcast
- The Maze Community of Researchers and Designers
- The Ultimate Guide to UX Research
- The Mixed Methods Slack community
- The User Experience Professionals Association on Facebook
- The HCI/UX Mentoring Circle on LinkedIn
- The Find UX Events profile on Twitter
- The UX Collective on Medium
- The UX Design Weekly newsletter
11 UX leaders you should know about
So, who should you be following?
We’ve put together a list of 11 UX leaders from a variety of backgrounds, roles, and companies. From industry experts to thought leaders, and change-makers—all providing a different perspective of the UX industry.
Let’s get started.
1. Indi Young
Indi Young’s been in the design field for over 25 years. Her work has focused on ensuring UX design prioritizes accessibility and inclusivity. Indi’s work as a freelance UX designer and problem space researcher is driven by her desire to drive UX designers to create with everyone in mind.
“The average solution harms most people.”
Indi’s written a number of books on UX design, such as Mental Models and Practical Empathy. Indi also shares her thoughts on her Medium blog. She’s long been an influential figure in the field of UX design, which was called inclusive software design back when Indi started taking an interest.
2. Golden Krishna
Golden’s a well-known UX leader who’s held UX roles at Google (present), Samsung, Zappos, and more. He authored the best-selling The Best Interface is No Interface and has toured the world giving lectures about his book.
“The screenless, no UI world I describe in my book, is more a philosophy than a particular technology. It’s the culmination of many things that are indeed coming together now.”
Golden looks at the user experience from start to finish, and consistently questions the future of UX design. He describes his book as ‘a guidebook for designers in 5–10 years’—definitely one to keep an eye on.
3. Aryel Cianflone
Aryel Cianflone is the UX Research Manager at LinkedIn and host of the Mixed Methods podcast—which was created as a result of Aryel’s desire to expand her UX knowledge.
“I think it’s so important that it’s not just a conversation about listening, but generative listening. What could be more important to a UX researcher than being an incredible listener? I can’t think of anything.”
Aryel somewhat stumbled into a passion for UX—she was working as a Product Strategist when she decided to focus on researching the user experience. She frequently shares her thoughts on conducting user research with a number of different methods.
4. Pulkit Agrawal
Pulkit Agrawal is co-founder and CEO of Chameleon—the product success and user onboarding software helping businesses empower users in how to best use their products. Pulkit founded the company following a discovery linking user retention and user onboarding.
“An individual really needs to understand quickly what your product is, what it's capable of and why it's better than everything else. And the way that you communicate, all of this is through user experience and good user experience design.”
Pulkit shares his thoughts on UX via the Chameleon blog, along with a number of other UX writers and specialists. You can also catch him on Maze’s The Optimal Path Podcast, where he talks about product-led growth, user onboarding, and the relationship between the two.
5. Donald Norman
Donald Norman’s impact on the UX community is one recognized from both within and outside the field. He’s considered a pioneer of user design, and is credited with coining the term ‘user experience’.
He’s a frequently published author and researcher in the field of UX, having published The Everyday Design of Things, The Design of Future Things, and Emotional Design—among many others. Alongside writing UX books, he’s also worked as a university professor, industry advisor, and company executive.
“A brilliant solution to the wrong problem can be worse than no solution at all: solve the correct problem.”
Don’s also one half of the Nielsen Norman Group—a research-based user experience consulting firm. Alongside Jakob Nielsen, he works to provide UX consultancy to businesses and spread UX knowledge with 1,500+ free UX articles.
6. Jane Portman
Jane Portman’s another can’t-miss UX change-maker. She founded and hosts the UI Breakfast Podcast, where she shares exciting conversations with UX and UI experts about UX/UI design, products, marketing, and much more.
“Good UX often goes unnoticed, because it allows the user to seamlessly achieve their goal. It feels natural. They don’t need to think hard or get special training.”
Alongside the podcast, she also shares UX thoughts on the UI Breakfast blog and regularly updates her Twitter with learnings and thoughts regarding the user experience and UX community. Jane also co-founded Userlist, an email marketing automation solution for SaaS companies.
Need a break? We’re just past the halfway point of UX leaders to follow. Why not take a break and check out our UX Leadership Playbook—where we’ve spoken to 30+ UX leaders about how to build a stronger UX research and design muscle in your organization.
7. Jon Yablonski
Jon Yablonski is a Senior UX Designer working to empower people to augment their abilities through digital tools. He’s the author of the Laws of UX—an online, ongoing resource of best practices that designers can consider when building user interfaces. The site is available in English and Arabic.
“Passion and enthusiasm always come through in your work. If it's there, people will see this and respond, which is why you should always pursue what you’re passionate about—not what you think you should be doing.”
Jon is currently creating great product experiences as Senior Product Designer at Mixpanel. In his spare time, Jon shares his thoughts and work on UX via his website—definitely worth checking out if you’re looking to expand your UX knowledge.
8. Erika Hall
Erika Hall has worked in web design and development since the late nineties, and in 2001 she founded Mule Design Studios—a design strategy consulting practice. Erika also authored two books: Conversation Design and Just Enough Research.
“You can optimize everything and still fail, because you have to optimize for the right things. That's where reflection and qualitative approaches come in. By asking why, we can see the opportunity for something better beyond the bounds of the current best.”
Erika frequently presents to international audiences, and speaks on topics ranging from collaboration and design research to effective user-interface language. She also often shares her thoughts on UX on her blog, and was recently interviewed on Maze’s product decision-making podcast: The Optimal Path Podcast.
9. Lizzie Kelly-Dyson
Lizzie Kelly-Dyson is a UX designer and entrepreneur working to empower and promote women in tech. Lizzie is currently Head of UX/UI at TalkTalk, as well as co-founder of Ladies that UX—a global community of women in UX who support each other, push the UX boundaries, and promote skill and talent.
“We wanted to create a collaborative community for women that could come along and feel relaxed after a long day at work. It’s about learning more about UX and creating friendships within the community whilst also being comfortable enough to ask for advice.”
Ladies that UX also organize an annual UX conference—TalkUX—as a space to discuss and collaborate on design and technology initiatives.
10. Mariam Braimah
Mariam Braimah initially studied History of Art and Architecture at Harvard, but during her time there she discovered a passion for UX and UI. She moved to San Francisco and now works as a Product Designer at Netflix.
“There’s so much that experience design touches that isn’t a screen.”
Mariam also founded the Kimoyo Fellowship, a design program helping Africa’s next generation of product designers find their seats at the tech table. Mariam’s now based in New York, and often talks about her experience with UX and design thinking in podcasts and interviews.
11. Elizabeth Churchill
Elizabeth Churchill is currently a Director of User Experience at Google—where she uses her knowledge of social, computer, engineering, and data sciences to create innovative end-user applications and services.
“Think bigger. Read more widely. Dig deeper. Realize there’s a deep, rich history of work. Think more critically. Think ethically — will what you are working on benefit humanity or not–if you can’t answer in the affirmative, look at yourself in the mirror and ask yourself why you’re working on something that does not have positive value for other people.”
Elizabeth frequently speaks at conferences about how her background in psychology, artificial intelligence, and cognitive science has informed her UX design practices and end results.
Keep up-to-date on the UX industry
UX design is a fast-changing industry—keeping up is key for your personal and professional development as a UX researcher and designer. These top 11 UX leaders share thoughts from all over the industry, and provide a great overview of what’s happening in the UX world right now, plus what’s on its way.
Take a closer look at each of our UX leaders to find individuals that share your UX research passions and interests. There’s always more to learn—and these UX leaders are sharing thought-leading insights on all aspects of UX design and research.
Speaking of more to learn, you can also keep up-to-date by joining our community of designers and researchers on Circle. Whether you’re a UX researcher or designer, a product manager, a product marketer, or any other variation of a product-focused role—it’s a space to share knowledge, learn together, and make meaningful connections with others in the UX industry.
Frequently asked questions about UX leaders
What is a UX leader?
What is a UX leader?
UX leaders are experts when it comes to understanding and improving the user experience. Not all UX leaders are famous UX designers—just individuals invested in the industry’s development.
What does a UX leader do?
What does a UX leader do?
A UX leader oversees UX projects and ensures the final product is the best possible solution for users. They’re in charge of managing all aspects of the UX design process, as well as the UX designers working on the UX team.
UX leaders also inspire other UX designers to continue their UX learning and develop better techniques and processes for great UX design.
Check out how you can become your company’s UX leader with our UX Leadership Playbook, where we’ve collected insights from 30+ UX leaders on how to build a learning muscle in your organization.
How do you become a UX thought leader?
How do you become a UX thought leader?
There’s no single path to becoming a UX leader, but having a deep understanding and passion for UX research and design is a good place to start.
Staying on top of the research and design industries and latest developments, continuing your learning with UX research books and resources, and connecting with other UX professionals are all key steps to becoming a UX thought leader.