Design Leadership Manifesto
A manifesto is a published declaration of intentions, motives or views by an individual or group.
If Design is about rendering intent, shouldn’t we as leaders/managers of designers be intentional about how we lead? You might think to yourself “I don’t lead any designers”. But, you might be a mentor to a colleague or you might have more influence on people than you might think. It’s never too early to think about the crossroad between design & leadership. Because, it’s quite possibly one of the hardest design problems to tackle. And, like design, you have to work at it constantly to be any good at it…
1. Explain why design / design thinking matters and how it relates to the core function of the business.
Your designers should be able to relate their work to the business. If not, how do you expect them to be successful or engaged in their craft? Explain how projects, milestones and initiatives impact the business and the brand.
Having and telling a compelling story is the most important thing you do as a leader. — Jason Toff
2. Define and explain the design teams purpose at every step.
You’re setting the vision and purpose for what your team aspires to be. Without a vision, everyone has their own interpretation of what they should be doing vs. a shared vision of what we all are doing. The important thing here is focus.
As a manager, you need to get comfortable with the idea of purpose. — Dom Goodrum
3. You are measured by your teams success and their collective output. Not your own.
Look at a coach. It is possible for a coach to have a superstar on their team but, never win championships. Is the coach graded on how well she/he “wins” daily or are they graded on how the team is playing?
The litmus test of a successful manager is quite simple: their team is awesome. Their team kills it on outcomes. — Julie Zhou
4. Empower designers to take on projects you’re inherently good at.
I know. You’re awesome at proposals and everyone trusts you to do them. But, do you really want to do every proposal from now on? If you continue to do them instead of giving someone else a chance to learn you’ll always be stuck doing them. Even worse — you’ll stunt your teams growth AND you’ll stunt your own growth. Why? You will miss out on time to invest in your people and/or time to think about more important initiatives. Plus, what happens if you ever want to go out of town, have something unforeseen happen or leave the company?
5. Expose all designers to projects they are not interested in or do not possess the skills to do.
It will force your designers to learn & adapt. It will also expose them to a wide variety of projects that they might have to tackle one day. Afraid to miss out someones expertise just for the sake of learning? Partner them with the resident expert for that project.
6. Create a network of designers within different disciplines to see things from different angles.
Do you have multiple design teams in your company? Brand, Product, Marketing, Front-End? Create a network between them so that when they get stuck on a problem another designer or design team can give them a spark from a different perspective. If you only have one design team, have a monthly meet-up with another local company to grow both teams of designers. You’d be surprised how open designers are with sharing stories on their craft.
A team shouldn’t be reliant on just the Design Lead or Creative Director to review and ensure work meets quality benchmarks. Leverage the talent of the team — Verne Ho
7. Style guides, Pattern Libraries and Design Languages are the keys to consistency.
8. Do not withhold trade secrets, articles, ideas or inspiration — share them with the team.
Hoarding great ideas, case studies from other clients and teams. New software or even great ideas can help your team grow and learn. Yes, you could have a cool side project too but, you never know what will come out of giving your people freedom to explore their ideas.
9. Does your feedback improve the design or does it just make it different?
Design is all about personal preference in some aspects. Do you prefer left alignment? Right alignment? CamelCase? UPPERCASE? Before you give feedback ask yourself this question. It really helps frame your thoughts and if something comes down to personal taste vs. improving the design just keep the feedback to yourself.
10. The best teams are tight knit teams.
The closer the team, the better the teams output and the better the work. Your job is to foster that collaboration and rapport between your designers. If they feel comfortable and like their opinions.
If a team doesn’t trust each other, it will manifest in them not sharing their responsibilities. — Cap Watkins
11. You’re never the best designer in the room.
As a leader your job is to listen, augment and direct the teams ideas. You should never trump an idea with your “manager” card. Sometimes the learning experience of getting things wrong is more valuable than getting the solution right the first time. (iteration anyone?) If your ideas are the ones the team executes, the team will never be better than your abilities…
I honestly believe that great teams build great products and that careers are made by people that prioritize great products first, not their own ambition. — rhysys
Great Teams, Great Products * Cap Watkins
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