An IC’s Guide to Being a Good Design Manager
In the past, I’ve been on both sides of the line that separates individual contributors and managers. Although I love being in the trenches, I think I might have some helpful advice for those who want to manage other designers.
Here are a few qualities I’ve noticed in the best managers I’ve had throughout the years:
A good design manager works with their team — listens to them, speaks to them, is real with them— to formulate a strategy and projects that they and their team believe in and are interested in.
A good design manager is someone that makes their team feel comfortable being totally honest with them. They’ve developed tact to have difficult conversations with anyone on their team and deliver a clear, unambiguous message without offending them.
A good design manager strives to create alignment with its team about what the problem is, the severity of it, how to approach it, and the best way to pursue a vision.
A good manager is consistently, supportively involved in their team’s work; they are open to trying to understand their team, their points of view, their arguments; and they guide them based on feedback that comes from a place of alignment.
A good design manager feels interested in their team, and their team is sure how much they truly appreciate their manager’s involvement.
A good design manager avoids giving feedback and direction that conflicts with the direction they had given earlier.
A good design manager sets a clear definition of success for their team. It shouldn’t feel like a manager has a pre-conceived solution in mind but doesn’t want to articulate it and it’s their team’s job to just keep swinging away until they magically stumble across it.
A good design manager inspires confidence in their team’s ability to execute and tackle hard problems.
A good design manager holds themselves responsible when failing and quickly and visibly course-corrects so that their team is assured of the lessons that were learned.
A good design manager has managers too. They’re typically judged by their team’s performance and thus are able to accurately defend their team’s work within the company, accrediting the right individuals for their contributions.
Managing others is often a thankless job and it’s never as easy as sitting behind someone else and pointing at their monitor. The best managers I’ve had continue to be mentors who lead by example and are interested in empowering their teams to be the best they can be.
If you’re not a manager, I hope this helps you demand more from your managers to continue growing as a designer. If you are a manager, I hope this helps you grow a team that respects and admires you.
If you’d like to chat about this or anything else, feel free to say hello on Twitter: @gabrielvaldivia.