eight arrow lines, from different directions crossing over in the centre
eight arrow lines, from different directions crossing over in the centre

When you lead a design team, of any size and shape, it becomes part of your leadership responsibility to develop the talent you have. You must help your designers develop new skills, embrace new experiences as learning opportunities, and imbue a sense of progress. We must do this to push the team’s skills forward and give folks a chance to progress in their careers.

The challenges of using development frameworks

Today most teams fall back on the career development framework. This approach attempts to quantify a mixture of skills, attitudes, and behaviours against an atypical view of the ideal designer.

Anyone who has extensively used a development framework can testify to how tricky they can make conversations. Because of the linear structure, it’s very easy to become fixated on the idea of it being a path from A to B, in order to get a promotion. Development frameworks have a singular route forwards, which also means they tend to just focus on craft skills or mix craft skills up with the skills required to thrive inside an organisation. …


I recently spent some (lockdown) time learning the basics of haptic feedback design. Having designed lots of UI feedback in the past I wanted to build another layer to my understanding and delve in to the current possibilities with today’s devices.

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What are haptics?

Haptic feedback is any physical notification/indication that can be felt by your body. The most common type of haptic response for product designers today are phone and wearable interfaces that notify users, without alerting other people. Sometimes these are used together with audio and visual responses to add an extra layer of richness to the experience. Games designers have been using haptics for many years now within controllers.

Compared to visual and audio cues, haptics are somewhat under utilised by product designers. They have a far more intimate outcome as it is an interaction with a person’s body. …


face down on a desk, with a storm cloud above her head
face down on a desk, with a storm cloud above her head

The design manager role has grown considerably over the past five years. As design has been recognised as a business value-driver and organisations have increased their design maturity, we’ve seen lots more design management roles being created. The design leadership community is now represented by Slack groups, conferences, meetups, content and books that offer support and guidance for navigating the transition from designer to leader. Through all of this material and rhetoric there is one undeniable theme:

Becoming a design manager is really hard

It’s as simple as that. This shit is really difficult.

People are struggling, stressed out, and having to figure out new ways of working. But why is it so hard? There is a growing demand for community support in this field, in a way that isn’t as overt for product management and engineering. I decided to take a look at why our community is calling out for help. …


When I took up my role as Head of UX at Virgin Atlantic, we didn’t have an ongoing program of optimisation and experimentation. I tackled this opportunity by putting in place the following 6 point plan.

1. Dedicated effort

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Initially there was no dedicated role(s) across the department to run an optimisation effort. A few team members had built up their experience and skills in this area, but until we created a specific role it was never going to get the attention it deserved.

Creating new roles is not an easy task in an organisation that isn’t in startup mode, so I identified an opportunity to repurpose one of our existing roles. I set about writing a brand new role profile and agreeing with HR where it would sit within the org. Luckily I had an enthuastic team member who had already put lots of work in to getting things moving and was ready for a new challenge. …


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The line between great leadership and being a terrible boss is surprisingly fine. Each day you’ll find yourself walking a tightrope of nuance that spans between confidence and ignorance. Stepping in to a role as a design leader can be a tricky process, regardless of whether or not it’s a promotion, a new company or a new team.

With each role there are many traps that can easily taint your reputation. Most of which are not immediately obvious and some of which may push against your instincts.

What follows is a selection of actions and behaviours that I’ve witnessed in design leaders and have commonly found at the root of team members’ frustrations. As a design leader I’ve also fallen foul of some of these sins, but the most important thing is to recognise that as a team leader, all of these actions have negative impacts on your team’s wellbeing. None of them in isolation may be enough to make a designer quit, but together they can quickly accumulate to create a toxic environment in your team and chip away at positivity, which in turn will impact the quality of work your team is outputting. They won’t just make your people unhappy, but these behaviours can diminish your team’s work — which will reflect badly on you. …


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In the past few years I’ve noticed a pattern emerging. I have seen a lot of great experience design failing to see the light of day, and I have noticed that there is a behaviour and attitude amongst designers, writers and researchers that’s contributing to this problem. Many times great designers have applied insightful methodologies and executed fantastic solutions only to find stakeholders stop them in their tracks.

I first noticed this pattern of behaviour in myself and so I hope that this observation will help you recognise it and perhaps avoid my pitfalls.

The F1 analogy

Ferrari are the greatest formula one team in history. They’ve won more races and championships and hold more records than any other team. This is due, in part, to being the longest running team in the sport, however they’ve reached a level of influence in their sport that is unlike any other sports team. …


At the end of 2017 I took the role of head of user experience at Virgin Atlantic. What follows is a ‘warts and all’ run down of how I built the UX team from scratch. The steps I’ve taken in my new role as a design leader, the wins I had, mistakes I made, and the lessons I’ve learnt along the way.

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Stepping into the role

Preparing for day one

Shortly after accepting the role I started gathering notes on how I wanted my first 90 days to go. I had the opportunity to swap notes with Alison Austin, who was also preparing to start a new role. This coincided with the Leading Design conference, which I used as an opportunity to listen to presentations from design leaders, as well as catch up with Cap Watkins — who generously gave me time to pick his brains.

I created a stack of notes in Dropbox Paper which included my thoughts on cadence, software/hardware costs, tricks for improving UCD culture, various formation of teams and all the job descriptions I had written in the past. …


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When compared to other design disciplines, it’s fair to say that product design is relatively immature. Over the past 25 years we (the digital design community) have grown through phases. We have gone from an embryonic notion on the fringes of other design industries to a globally recognised discipline in its own right. We have had internal crises, we’ve struggled to find our identity, but product design is finding its stride. Like a teenager letting go of their internal angst and joining mature environments, product design is now sat ‘at the table’ and is contributing to the conversation.

However, for all of our collective progress we still lack beacons of good design. As a discipline we have little in the way of universally recognised exemplars. Unlike our peers in industrial design, furniture design or print design we don’t have examples we all point to and revere. …


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You arrive on your first day. After an uncomfortable wait in reception, you get an ad lib tour of your new office, watch the health and safety video, then you spend the next 3 days scratching around trying to make sense of everyone and everything. Sound familiar?

Most companies on-boarding processes are not well considered experiences. At best you’ll get a generic brand induction and a goody bag of merchandise, but a truly immersive start into a company is a rare event.

As a design manager you’re responsible for designing the design team. How a new recruit finds their first few days can colour how a person feels about their employer, so last year I started rethinking the on-boarding process for my design team. …


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When you stop and think about your career as a designer does it feel like something is missing?

In the rush to develop your design skills did you get that lurking feeling that you could have done something bigger?

Do you feel that sharp pain, when you see design work that is so good it changes the game? You know those design projects that not only look amazing, but have achieved something for people’s lives. That pain may well be a creeping sense that your portfolio hasn’t made the world any better. If the pain is really sharp, then perhaps you could say you’ve wasted your talents (or you should see a doctor).

Are you collecting portfolio trophies?

Designers have historically gravitated towards certain types of briefs, brands and sectors. Design students are sometimes given the freedom to write their own briefs and on most occasions they will pick music, sports or fashion products to design for. I think this is due to aligning with personal interests, but more importantly we (the royal we) are most often attracted to those sectors because they’re renowned for harvesting exciting and ‘on trend’ design thinking. This mentality doesn’t end in college and is apparent in agencies. As far back as the ad agencies of the 1950s the notion of the ‘big four’ clients existed. Car, airline, alcohol and cigarette clients were coveted and paraded around like trophies. …

About

Martyn Reding

Design + Leadership www.martyn.design

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