In the history of business, there have been a handful of examples of business functions that get their start as an idea adopted by a few early adopters and gradually make their way into the core fabric of the corporate world. In 1950 the idea of “Marketing” barely existed. Companies were essentially led by three divisions – Operations/R&D (making a product), Sales (selling what was made) and Finance. Companies utilized advertising, but that was the last step in the chain. The idea of Marketing emerged as a brand new philosophy that companies could first learn what customers wanted, create what they wanted and then carve out a unique brand for that product. There weren’t many Marketing titles in 1950 and no Chief Marketing Officers. Today nearly every successful company has a large marketing department led by a CMO, who guides the future of the company along with the others on the executive team.

Today User Experience Design is a function that’s embraced mainly by early adopters, and in the future will be part of the core fabric of most successful companies. We’ve seen that the effectiveness of traditional marketing and advertising is being eroded – consumers choose the companies they do business with and the products they buy based on the recommendations of friends and others online. Without much marketing companies can go from obscurity to the main stage if the user experience is superior (i.e. Instagram). The flipside is also true. Netflix invests heavily in marketing – I feel like I see a Netflix ad on every other website that I visit. Through strong service and the storied past of Netflix David beating the Blockbuster and Walmart Goliaths at their own game, the company had an untarnished, gold-plated brand. However all that strong marketing didn’t stop the exit of 800,000 subscribers after the Qwikster announcement was blogged about, tweeted and re-tweeted. Companies that are focusing on and improving the holistic user experience are the ones that are succeeding today.

We’re going to see a persistent trend of User Experience Design leaders continue to be promoted into stronger leadership roles. Ten years ago having “user experience” in a job title was rare. Today leading companies have VP-level User Experience leaders and some are creating executive-level positions. More and more colleges and universities are offering programs with a focus on User Experience Design, which will build the pipeline of future leaders. Just like the increased sophistication of marketing transformed how business was conducted over the last 50 years, a focus on the function of User Experience will allow companies to face the new challenges of a digital, socially-networked world.

In my next blog post: Are you planning to hire or promote someone into an executive-level user experience role? I’ll discuss the four attributes that I’ve seen in effective executive-level leaders.