User Experience improvements don’t just happen. You need to have the right people in the right positions to help make a better experience.

It would be easy of course if you could just hire as many people as you want. Unless you’re Facebook or Google, that’s probably not an option. Instead, UX teams need to justify requests for headcounts.

One way to justify and gauge the right amount of UX staff is to examine the ratio of developers to UX staff (researchers and designers). The challenge, for as long as I’ve been in the field though, is that no one seems to know what the “ideal” or even most common ratio is across companies. While it’s unclear if ratios are the way to manage headcount in UX teams, knowing how other organizations are staffed can be helpful. We surveyed the UX industry to find out what the most typical ratios is, as a point of reference for UX teams.

As part of our larger effort on UX maturity assessments, we received data from 150 respondents from around the world using a non-probability snowball sampling method. One of the questions we asked respondents was the ratio of UX researchers to designers and developers at their companies. The data was collected between Dec 2016 and June 2017. Respondents were primarily UX practitioners themselves (researchers, designers, and managers).

We saw variation in responses, but the most “typical” ratio is shown in Figure 1. It shows:

  • 1 researcher to 5 designers (a 1:5 ratio), with 35% of respondents reporting this ratio
  • 5 designers to 100 developers (a 1:20 ratio), with 21% of respondents reporting this ratio
  • And by extension, that’s 1 researcher to 100 developers


Figure 1: Most commonly reported ratio of researchers to designers to developers.

Because the most common ratio was only selected by a minority of respondents, it’s important to examine the distribution of other responses. The frequency distribution of the reported ratio of researchers to designers shows some variation (Figure 2). More than half (57%) report having at least 1 researcher for every 20 designers. Interestingly, a substantial portion of respondents (27%) didn’t know their ratio.


Figure 2: Frequency distribution of reported ratio of UX researchers to designers.

The frequency distribution of the reported ratio of designers to developers shows that around half (49%) of respondents report having at least 1 designer for every 20 developers (Figure 3). Only 10% of organizations had a ratio as low as 1 to 5, and 19% didn’t know or weren’t sure.


Figure 3: Frequency distribution of reported ratio of designers to developers.

We wanted to see how the ratios might change when factoring in the size of the company, the industry, the maturity of the company (new vs. established), and self-reported UX maturity.

Company Maturity

We found that companies in earlier stages of development/maturity (initial and growth stages) were much more likely to have a higher ratio of designers to developers compared to later stage companies (those described as being in mature and renewal stages). Figure 4 shows that 71% of less mature companies had a ratio of less than or equal to 1 designer for every 20 developers. That’s compared to 40% for more mature companies, which tended to have a higher ratio.


Figure 4: Difference in ratio of designers to developers for less mature and more mature companies.

Company Size

Small companies (less than 10k employees) tend to have a lower ratio of designers to developers than large companies (higher ratio meaning more UXers to developers). Of the large companies in our sample, only 23% had a ratio of less than 1 designer to 20 developers, whereas 61% of small companies reported this ratio.


Figure 5: Difference in percentage of large and small companies with less than or equal to 1:20 ratios of designers to developers and researchers to designers.

The ratio between designers and researchers was more similar with 50% of large companies having a ratio of less than 1 researcher to 20 designers, compared to 59% for small companies (Figure 5). Participants from large companies also tended to NOT know the ratio of designers to developers compared to small companies (25% vs. 13%).

Industry & UX Maturity

While we had a good representation of industries in the sample, we didn’t detect any meaningful differences across the 16 industries represented. Most of the respondents were in the software (27%), banking/finance (13%), and retail (11%) industries.

Interestingly, the ratios between companies with higher rated UX maturity didn’t differ that much. The biggest difference we noticed was organizations rated as being less UX mature were much more likely to not know the ratio of researchers to designers (36% didn’t know compared to 10% for mature). Perhaps not knowing the ratio itself is an indication of less UX maturity. We will provide a more detailed report on the maturity survey in an upcoming article and downloadable report.

Discussion

Here are a few things to consider when using this data as a reference for ratios.

  1. The number of UX staff you “need” depends on the needs of your product and organization. Ratios themselves might not be the right metric to determine whether you should hire a new designer or researcher.
  2. This data suggests that the most typical ratio in organizations is 1 dedicated designer for every 20 developers and 1 dedicated researcher for every 100 developers. There is a fair amount of variation and some caveats with these ratios.
  3. Organizations seem to place more priority on UX designers over UX researchers. This data shows that in most cases an organization has at least 5 designers before there’s a dedicated researcher (the 1 to 5 ratio of researchers to designers).
  4. Many people don’t know their ratios. It’s interesting that around 1 in 5 respondents didn’t know the ratio of designers to developers, or researchers to developers, and it was even higher for large companies. For large organizations, it can be challenging to know how many developers are on the payroll. It could also hint at the gulf between UX and development. I wonder whether developers would have a better idea of the number of UX staff (a good future research question).
  5. Small and earlier stage companies have lower ratios than large or mature companies. While large companies usually have the budget to hire more UX staff at higher salaries, it seems that small and often earlier stage companies tend to have a higher concentration of UX staff (designers and researchers) to developers. This might suggest that these organizations place more emphasis and see more value in UX. It might also be the law-of-large numbers. There might be a diminishing return in UX staff. For more mature organizations, there are likely fewer product changes and less need for design and research, but still a need for maintenance and the corresponding developers.