How an MBA meets the silos challenge of UX

When I was applying to one particular job at a UX form in Stockholm the issue of my MBA came up in the interview.

‘ How is your MBA useful in the UX area ?’ they asked.

Now, I had never given this much thought and had seriously considered removing the MBA from my CV but my pride (and all the hours I put into to it) forced me to leave it on. Usually I just didn’t mention it much.

I don’t remember what I answered exactly, but it centered around strategy and analysis…..or something. As I remember it could have been a better answer.

I think partially I was a bit embarrassed of the degree. This is especially true in Sweden, where it isn’t so very well known outside from the top schools in Europe and the US and thus hard to relate to. Since it wasn’t a ‘design’ degree it somehow didn’t go over as relevant.

Advantages of an MBA in the UX area

Having worked a few years now in a number of UX agencies in Stockholm I have definitely seen the value of my MBA.

1. Ability to conduct analysis – this is probably the most valuable area that I learned from my MBA. The ability to structure, analyze, then communicate the results to an audience has been invaluable in my UX.

2. Real Cases – We were always exposed to the basic theories in various areas, but there were ALWAYS coupled with real case studies. Very little purely theoretical examples.

3. Education based on frameworks and mastery in applying them. No absolute right and wrong. – Now I have read some criticism of MBAs recently in light of the value of design thinking in business. Basically the argument goes – MBA education encourages one answer to the case while design thinking embraces multiple possible outcomes. In my experience this can’t be farther from the truth. For most cases we could propose many solutions as long as they could be justified. Believe me, if you have studied enough theories and frameworks you can justify anything. The best case studies that I did were ones that I combined frameworks from multiple areas to justify a innovation solution. Sounds a bit like design thinking doesn’t it?

4. Consider things in their entirety. By the end of your program you are encouraged to think holistically and apply your knowledge across many operational areas.

This last point bares some further explanation, since I think it is particularly relevant.

The Challenges of Silos

I have just finished following the UXLX event in Lisbon on twitter and noted the continuing discussion around ‘silos’ in organizations and how they limit effective UX thinking. I have been involved in the UX area for a few years now and attended a handful of conference. In all of these conferences, this issue of ‘silo crossing’ always comes up in varying degrees. Clearly this is an area of frustration.

The discussions seems to follow a similar patterns with a good dose of hand wringing.

‘The managers in department ________ just don’t understand the value of what we are doing… ‘

We need to ‘cross the silos’ or ‘ get a seat in the C-suite’ or something similar…

My true belief is that to integrate UX thinking into organizations will require people to meet somewhere in the middle between the silos. I agree with Peter Merholz that UX should be seen as a strategic effort as well embody tactical solutions (methods and tools). Until this is achieved we all will need to understand the other side.

To effectively eliminate silos (or at least minimize the effects), UX practitioners need to understand the other silos. To understand persons working in other silos we need to understand their motivations and how they define success. One way to do this is through business education.

When you look the core of a typical general MBA curriculum, you see a couple core areas:

1. Strategy
2. Finance
3. Marketing
4. Human Motivation – extremely valuable.
5. Some sort of Quantitative Analysis

All of these areas of knowledge have been beneficial, but what they have given me in my UX work is understanding.

Understanding of other departments and what their function is in an organisation and how they measure success. What makes them tick if you will.

Crossing Silos.

‘Understanding other silos can make yours better.’


Now I am not suggesting that all UX practitioners drop their wireframing tools and head off to business school. This is overkill.

But I do think that UXers should take the time to educate themselves in the basics of how businesses operate and organize themselves. Maybe shift the spotlight of their view point a bit more over to the other silo.

And UX consultancies and other organisations; the next time someone shows up at your door step with an MBA under their belt, give them a chance, they may just surprise you.

  • Boon Yew Chew

    I agree with what you say. We need to stop looking at UX as this “way” to solve all problems. Instead, we need to be flexible and adapt to work with other silos and work hard to bridge gaps, rather than focusing on “classic” UX work.

  • Juan Manuel Carraro

    Thanks for the article Christopher. As a MBA graduated and UX practitioner I always felt my self out of the Design field, which is tipically the background of most UX practitioners. Thanks to the MBA I think I can bring to designers and programmers the business point of view for building better solutions and, as you just said, cross silos.   

  • Christopher


    I am glad you found this useful and is sounds like you have similar experiences.

    Remember as David Olgivy says:

    “If it doesn’t sell, it isn’t creative.”


  • Len Dierickx

    That is exactly why I started an mba program. Crossing silos is one of the basic ideas expressed in the IA polar bear book.

    I think that being able to bring designers and business together is becoming more and more important. And to be able to translate a strategy into something real instead of going for the latest hit can make a big difference for a company. 
    Thanks for posting!