Design, Startup

5 Habits Of Great Design Leaders

Being a designer is a dream for many. Full days creating beautiful pieces and stunning interactions. This is great for members of a design team, but it’s only the beginning for a design leader.
 
We’ve all seen agencies and studios promoting their skills and why they ‘know brands’. But once you look a little deeper, it becomes clear that most don’t really walk the walk – and worse, are posers copying designs and reselling them as their own original creations. While businesses are in the midst of a tectonic shift towards user experience and good design, understanding and finding the right type of design leadership for your company is critical. 
 
Design Thinking is here and with it comes the need for design leadership. With this, the question arises; what makes a great design leader? Here is my take on the qualities that shine through.
 
1. They see simplicity
Great design leaders can see problems stripped down to their bare essentials, understanding what matters and what is superfluous. They find simplicity in everything from experiences, packages, products, collateral, interfaces and methodologies. Ultimately, design leaders establish simple processes and encourage their teams towards the solutions. 
 
2. They know process wins arguments
Having the vision to establish creative methodologies, then developing the processes to support them is critical in separating great design leaders from everyday designers. They understand the differences between processes like Waterfall, Agile, Sprint, Scrum, etc… and have the ability to switch between them based on the project. Ultimately this will help elevate your company’s Design Thinking approach as a whole. 
 
3. They actually know what makes up a brand
Lots of people talk about how they know branding, yet only a fraction of them actually know what they’re talking about without the use of buzzwords. A great design leader sweats the small stuff to understand things like: 
• How a service is delivered
• How a technical product works
• How a user interacts with an interface
• How a brand becomes relevant to its buyers
• How to use innovation to solve a problem or when to innovate a new solution.

Great design leaders know brands, and more importantly, they know how to give a brand meaning. They know how to create experiences, how to be relevant and how to execute on these to bring the whole brand package together.
 
In every company, every touch-point has been designed. It is the responsibility of the design leader to connect the dots – to create a seamless experience that stretches from the products a company puts out into the world right down to the employee onboarding process.
 
4. They get empathy
Listening is a lost art, but one that great design leaders have honed in on and have learned to perfect. They ask questions, inquire and inspect. They know how to assemble great teams to compliment their strengths and those of the company at large. With the right team in place, they’re able to inspire and guide them to success. 
 
They laugh and cry with their team, and get their hands dirty all the time. One of the most important aspects is their ability to critique the work and not the creator. Being able to provide clear, constructive feedback enables the team to create even better work, while avoiding the built-in sinkholes of critiquing someone’s art.
 
5. They are futurists
Great design leaders are thinkers, always dreaming and creating solutions to today’s, tomorrow’s and next generation’s problems. While they are solving today’s problems, they are thinking four steps ahead to how their solution will impact future iterations and making necessary adjustments to minimize impacts to come.

Design Thinking drives innovation, as we discussed last week in a similar post. Design solves problems, and strategic design connects the right problems with the right solutions. Great design leaders know how to make this happen, they are probably sitting in your office right now. Maybe it’s time to tap their shoulder to learn how they would solve your product problems. 



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