(this post is a bit of a muddle, but addresses what I see as a crisis in our field, and so I wanted to get these ideas out there, warts and all.)

A manager has many responsibilities, but the job boils down to “getting the most out of their team.” This means working with the team to get desired outcomes (high quality, customer and business impact, positive internal relationships), and to help team members grow in their careers.

Recently, I’ve been part of conversations that illuminate a crisis in management which in turn is failing UX professionals. When Abby Covert joined Jesse and I on our podcast, she compared the companies we work with to the Ship of Theseus, where all the individual pieces change, though the ship stays the same, and how we need a “fairy godmother who is going to shepherd us through the organization,” because “management in this industry changes over very quickly.” This was reinforced in a totally separate discussion I had with a Sr Designer, who’d been in the same company for 3 or 4 years, and had 6 or 7 managers over that span. 

For my own curiosity I launched a poll on LinkedIn asking people how many different managers they’d had in the last 3 years. The results:

Poll results to the question, "In the last 3 years, how many different managers have you had?" 46% responded 1-2, 42% responded 3-4, 10% responded 5-6, and 3% responded 7 or more.

With a little arithmetic, you see that more than half of the respondents have a new manager at least every year, with a decent portion having 2 new managers every year.

The Management Carousel is detrimental to team member growth

A team member works with a manager on a growth plan, that manager starts them on this path, but then the team member shifts to a new manager, and that new manager is likely trying to get up-to-speed on a whole bunch of matters, so career growth stalls, and if managers keep turning over, the team member cannot advance. 

Such stalling isn’t just a problem for the team member, though. It damages the broader organization in two ways. The most obvious is, if team members aren’t growing, they’re not getting better at their job, so the work doesn’t improve.

But more crucially, when team members don’t see a growth path, they leave. A few years ago, Todd Zaki Warfel conducted research and analysis on careers in design, and found that the second most common reason for people to leave a company was “lack of career path.” 

The “lack of career path” is particularly acute in UX/Design

The Management Carousel is neither new, nor specific to UX and Design. That said, I think it’s more of a problem in these fields, because there are not broad industry standards for what it means to grow as a professional. Particularly for the early-career professional looking ahead, their potential growth paths appear to be covered in ivy and vines, and the best that most companies do is give them a machete and say, “Good luck.”

How to help people grow

The Fairy Godm—, err, Career Counselor

Abby’s comment about a “fairy godmother” may sound glib, but I think it points to a real solution. UX/Design orgs should have someone in the role of Career Counselor. This is not a manager, but someone who works across the whole organization to advocate for employees’ development, and work with team members to chart their paths. In smaller orgs, this would be a role that someone plays (probably someone in Design Operations who has more of a ‘people’ bent than a ‘programs’ bent), and then as a team scaled, it could become a dedicated position. 

Empower Employees with Robust Career Architectures

When we accept the Management Carousel as a given, it becomes clear that career development must be placed in the hands of the only constant: the employees. They require content and tools to figure out how they can grow. This doesn’t mean that managers aren’t involved, it just means that the process begins and ends with the team member.

As such, companies need to build robust and understandable career architectures that illuminate paths forward. Many teams have built career ladders or some other leveling framework, but that is only just the beginning. In work I’ve been doing over this past year, I’ve crafted more robust architectures built upon three components:


At the heart of professional development are the Capabilities needed to do the work:
– Craft skills
– Strategic mindset and tools
– Professional capabilities


An org-wide Leveling Framework structures a set of expectations for experience, autonomy, and scope at each career level, and across Manager and IC tracks.


Within any function is a set of Disciplines that part of the organization is responsible for. For UX, that’s typically UX Design, UX Research, and Content Design.

Specific Roles are found at the intersection of Levels and Disciplines, with suitability and readiness made clear by competency in skills. 

(At some point, I’ll be publishing more of my work on such architectures. Until then, if you’re interested in learning more, I’m leading a workshop on the subject from 12-15 September 2022 for the Design Ops Summit.)

There’s a lot more to unpack from here

I’ve only scratched the surface of what I think is a crisis in management for the Design / UX field. True lasting solutions will need broad community and industry support, including real professionalization (certification, licensing, etc.) brought forth by credible professional organizations (like the Interaction Design Association or the User Experience Professionals Association) that establish an outline of what it means to advance in your career. 

…that Adaptive Path launched. The website (from archive.org):

Worth repeating the language on that homepage, as, 20 years later, it’s still an animating principle for me:

We believe that design is a strategic business issue, and that effective user-centered design improves profitability. We view success not only as launching an effective design, but also developing stronger organizations that can make wise decisions about design long after we’ve gone. That’s why we make sharing our knowledge and experience part of everything we do.

Through consulting, publishing, and speaking engagements, we develop high-quality user experiences, and educate people and organizations to do the same.

Adaptive Path accounts for both the highest highs and lowest lows of my professional career (I’m guessing this is true for any company founder). I’m deeply appreciative for the partnership of my co-founders who enabled me to be part of something I could have never done on my own. I’m grateful for the community that embraced us, and, more importantly, for the deep human connections I made with so many people in that community, who I consider close friends to this day (even if we haven’t talked for a while!).

A brief sidebar

As my announcement on peterme.com demonstrates (you’ll need to scroll down), we enjoyed the “countdown” aspect of the date. We were also taking a dig at marchFIRST , a reference doubtless lost on anyone today. 


(What follows is a muddle of thoughts spurred by dialog across blogs, mailing lists, and Twitter. I don’t quite have the time to shape it into something that makes tight sense, but I hope it’s useful anyway, as a part of that larger conversation.)

In the most recent episode of Finding Our Way, Jesse had this to say about the dream of UX:

If I think about the original dream of UX, the dream was that these practices would enable product strategy, product definition, product decisions to be made with experiential outcomes as the primary criteria for whether or not something shipped. And the idea implicit in that, being that value would naturally flow from optimizing for experiential outcomes, that has not really happened. The designers have been sort of sent back to their desks to make more screens… The promise hasn’t been realized.

And there are a lot of the UX old school folks like ourselves who feel like something has been lost along the way, okay, and are getting pretty discouraged about what it’s going to take to recapture that or to fulfill that promise. But my question is, Was that promise one worth investing in, in the first place? Like was the dream of UX, really just a dream?

Since we recorded this, I’ve seen a couple demonstrations of “UX old school folks” discontent: Mark Hurst’s “Why I’m Losing Faith in UX,” or Cornelius Rachieru’s recent tweet: 

Thing is, they might as well just be saying, “Make UX Great Again.” Those were not glory days, as a whole, for matters of user experience. It was exciting for us practicing it, being on the vanguard of a new discipline, granted authority and influence long before we knew how to wield it (I ran a design team when I was 28). Oh, and we were younger, more naïve, had more hair.

But in no objective sense were things better for UX. Most companies didn’t know it existed. Most who did, drastically underinvested in it. Those who were willing to invest in it were savvy enough to listen to thought leaders, but that was a paltry percentage of the real work to be done.

UX in 2021

What’s happened by 2021 is that UX is not interesting in and of itself anymore. UX is a given. As Joe Lamantia said in a mailing list I’m on, “it’s furniture.” And the challenges and frustrations people are expressing are largely due to this maturation.

We’re moving from “the dream of UX” to “the reality of UX.”

Personally, and perhaps idealistically, I’m still bullish on the promise and potential for the humanistic practices that UX represents. I work with companies, stupid boring old companies in industries like enterprise software, and banking, and insurance services, who see the potential for good design to advance their business in a human-centered way. I’m still hopeful that more people “doing UX” will continue to nudge human experience towards the center of business concerns.

I’m not naïve. I read, and largely agree with, Ruined by Design. I see design exploited to serve unsavory business practices. I witness product development organizations that view design as a production job, feeding assets to development like shoveling coal into a train engine. 

Things aren’t great. But then, they never were. 

But I see the massive investment companies are making in building in-house design teams, and more and more design leaders in the C-Suite, and I think things are getting better.

Yes, we’re going through a phase where design was largely seen as a contributor to production, as, to non-designers, that was the evident value of the practice. But I am also seeing more and more companies hiring “super senior IC” designers, as they recognize they’ve lost the positive influence that design can have on strategy, on holistic and coherent experiences.

What Design and UX need is engaged leadership

I guess what I’d say is, don’t confuse a moment in time for some new normal. Things continue to evolve. And instead of whingeing about how things were better in the old days, it’s on Design and UX leadership to do the hard work of figuring out how to advance our humanistic values. This means shifting our attention away from the ‘fun stuff’—tinkering with process, creating inspiring visions—and engaging with the difficult and messy stuff of people and organizations: communication, relationships, and education. It also means accepting what Noah Fang just tweeted in a discussion:

UX And Design also need new voices

As we move on from The Dream, I find that I’m way less interested in the solipsistic whining of successful middle-aged pale males, and instead disheartened by how we’re engaging the next generation of designers. A couple years ago, Jesse shared a tweet thread from a young designer at Instagram:


And more recently, a college student aired her self-flagellation of seeking purpose in UX Design:


And there’s clearly a disconnect about how we’re framing the work, and then how the work is actually being done. 

It’s also worth noting that, in those Bygone Days of UX Yore, industry leadership and public commentary almost wholly excluded voices of color. As we’re seeing in so many aspects of our modern life, we need to focus attention on our BIPOC peers, who are doing the work of charting a path toward a more truly inclusive future. Lisa Angela opened many eyes with Undoing the Toxic Dogmatism of Digital Design. David Dylan Thomas’s Design for Cognitive Bias shows us the traps we unknowingly step in. And Vivianne Castillo broke open my mind in her time on our podcast, and through her work with Humanity Centered, where she advocates for embracing truly human-centered practices (including self-care and trauma management) in our work.

As the UX profession matures, it’s time to wake up, and begin the real work of making those dreams a reality. But just because we’re moving away from the ‘dream,’ doesn’t mean we’re giving up hope. I’m quite hopeful of our collective ability to steadily move things in a healthier direction.