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Illustration by the awesomely talented Maryanne Nguyen

This is a follow up to my original post, 10 things they didn’t tell you about design management.

  1. It can get lonely. You may still be one of the team, but many won’t see it that way as you are now the boss. Or the bosses, boss. Find your peeps that can give you the support you need to scale into your leadership role.
  2. Leadership can be painful, you will make mistakes and not everything will go to plan. But it is your job to put yourself out there for the good of your team, partners, product and customers.


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Photo courtesy of my Product partner, Joff Redfern

Most designers spend a ton of time learning about the latest design tools. Or debating the latest and greatest interaction design patterns. If you went to design school, you likely were taught all about colour theory and type. As a designer you need to be great at all of these core skills of the design craft. But, when was the last time you spent any time learning about or practicing your communication skills? I bet it was almost never.

Communication skills can make or break any design project that you’re working on

I fundamentally believe this. I have seen designers with great work, communicated terribly and it hurts me. …


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The Atlassian Cloud Platform Design Team

When I meet people in interviews, I always tell them I’ve had the pleasure of working on every Atlassian cloud product. I started out on a cross-product project, then moved to Confluence, then Jira Software, Bitbucket & Sourcetree, then hopped back to Confluence, HipChat and Stride, then our Cloud Platform, and now back to Confluence, Trello and our Cloud Platform.

In short: I’ve been around the company! It’s definitely a perk of working at a fast growth tech company.

But, this also means that I’ve had to start fresh with many teams at Atlassian. Each time, I’ve worked through a basic framework in the first 90 days to better understand the team, how they’re set up, and how I can help them achieve their goals. Whilst I have a basic framework, I don’t believe there’s any “cookie-cutter approach” to building out a team. You need to apply different tools from your leadership toolkit depending on each situation. …


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Image courtesy of Death to Stock

In October 2018 I was lucky enough to speak at The Leading Design conference in London, put on by the wonderful folks at Clearleft. The full talk about growing design at Atlassian is online now.

As we have grown and scaled the design organisation from 6 to over 150 at Atlassian in just 5 years, I have come to a few personal realizations about my own role as a design leader. That can be encapsulated by this one quote;

We are no longer just design leaders. We are business leaders and we are accountable for business outcomes.

I want to expand on exactly what I mean by this statement with a few tangible examples. …


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My awesome product partner Joff Redfern, truly letting go…

Welcome back for part two! If you’ve not read part one about being a first time manager, you can find it here.

A reminder of the inflection inflection points I’ve experienced as a design leader:

  • First time people leader. Move from being an individual contributor to managing a team for the first time.
  • Managing a team of managers. Move from managing a team of individual contributors to running a team large enough to have managers working for you.
  • Managing ever larger teams. Your team and portfolio scales past 20 designers.

Lets look at 2 and 3.

2. Managing a team of managers

This second inflection point happens when your team gets large enough that you now have managers managing your individual designers. Whilst many of the same techniques listed in part one hold true, you now need to change your approach somewhat to help empower your managers and allow them space to build their teams. It becomes a tricky balance to know when to stay close, and when to give room. …


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My awesome product partner Joff Redfern, truly letting go…

An inflection point is defined as:

a time of significant change in a situation;

…a turning point, if you will. I’ve been through many inflection points in my career as a design leader. I’ve gone from being a UX design team of one (me) to managing a large consultancy. I’ve gone from again being a UX design team of one (me) to growing an internal team of 6. I’ve been part of a growing design organisation at Atlassian, seeing us scale from 20 to almost 200 in around 5 years.

Early on in my career I responded negatively to some of these inflection points. I dug in and worked longer hours. I gave up on my personal life and relationships. I tried to do much of the work myself. I didn’t really know how to respond. …


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Illustration by the awesomely talented Maryanne Nguyen

I’m often asked; What is it like to be a design manager? For many designers they aspire to get into management at some point in their career. The reality of management is often very different to the perception. So, in no particular order, here are 10 things nobody told me about design management before I became a manager:

  1. Management is really about leadership. The title you have and your position in the organisation is usually not what’s holding you back. You don’t need a fancy title to be an amazing design leader. Anyone can step into a leadership role, regardless of hierarchy in an org structure. Don’t wait. …


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Buddy Leo Simpson, 10 minutes old

This is a follow-up piece from my original post, Design lessons from my four month old daughter.

On the 1st May 2017, my 2nd child Buddy was born. I was fortunate to have 6 weeks paternity leave to spend at home with my growing little family. When my eldest daughter Frankie was born 2.5 years ago, she reminded me about a lot of important design lessons. Once again, I was struck by how many behaviours in my real family world were related to good design practice.

Lessons

Don’t react to everything

When Frankie was a newborn, whenever my wife Zoe and I heard her make a sound we would go in and see if she was OK. We would tiptoe around her trying not to make a single sound in case we woke her. We were borderline paranoid parents. Second time around with Buddy if he stirred or made some grumblings, we would wait. We would listen. We would ask each other when he was last fed. When we last changed his nappy. We were calm, rational, and would question the information in front of us. Only then would we decide if we needed to go and see if he was OK. …


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Illustration credit to the uber talented James Rotanson

Have you ever set in a meeting trying in vain to describe exactly how you want a transition in your design to work? Or even worse, you were trying to use words in a document to describe how you want the navigation to fade in or out? I’m sure you have and you’ve probably seen the confused faces of your audience trying to work out what you are talking about and wished the ground would just swallow you up. Modern web and mobile app experiences are becoming highly immersive, thats no secret. Gone are the days of designing a series of linked webpages with full page reloads. Thoughtful animation and interaction design is key to defining amazing user experiences. …


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In 2015, I was lucky to be part of our European hiring tour. We visited four cities in two weeks, had over 500 applications, interviewed over 30 talented designers, and hired five to move to Sydney. And, each week, I usually attend around 4 hours of interviews. In all of these interviews, I get asked a lot of questions about design, Atlassian, and everything in-between. I’ve collected some of the popular questions here, along with the answers I usually give.

What does a typical day for a designer look like at Atlassian?

A designer’s day is often varied. It all depends on the projects, and the next stage of development. Are we envisioning a future product experience, shipping a new feature, or iterating on an existing experience? …

About

Alastair Simpson

I help teams create engaging, sustainable product experiences…with the help of pencils, sharpies, post-its and collaborative thinking…Design Leader @ Atlassian

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