Anyone make the leap from Designer to Manager?

9 years ago from Guillermo Mont, Freelance Designer/Illustrator

  • Lete PaceyLete Pacey, 9 years ago (edited 9 years ago )

    I did for around 6 months, then leaped back again.

    I always held a relatively weird design position here; being one of the original designers pre-acquisition it meant I was seemingly the natural one to step up to a management position when the team grew to around 10 designers; I naturally assumed some kind of leadership position simply because I was the one that had been there the longest.

    When the idea was presented to be an actual manager, I was relatively accepting of this at first; in a previously very flat organisation suddenly a ladder was placed in-front of me that I could climb. I thought about how I could amplify my own design strengths through this design team. It’s basically multiplying my own skills, right? I could channel good design into every decision we make.

    Well, it turned out to be a lot more difficult. I attended courses around management, HR, assessments, coaching conversations, compensation. It became increasingly clear to me that being a manager was not the same as being a leader; all of this stuff was deadly important, but it was stuff I neither had the talent for or real desire to learn. It was dealing with people. Just because I can throw together a good design, present it well, execute it well and provide good feedback to others does not mean I’ll make a good manager. It’s an entirely different skill set (one that I have a massive amount of respect for).

    During my time as a manager, I never truly felt I was doing a bad job, but I certainly didn’t feel like I was doing a good job. There were just so many parts of it that would take me years to learn; managing people is an incredibly nuanced skill, one that does require almost all of your time if you're taking it seriously. Not that the team was hard to manage, quite the contrary, it was just the vast amount of my brain power it absorbed.

    Ultimately I was designing less and less.

    I took a weekend away with my girlfriend and she forced me into thinking what I really wanted; what makes me happy.

    “I just want to design.”

    I wanted to lead by example; I wanted to create great solutions myself and alongside the design team. I wanted to create great design strategies, gather a team and execute them. I didn’t want to plan the Q4 resource allocation budget.

    So that was it. It may not be the smartest or most future proof plan, but the fact is that where I am right now creating stuff is the most important to me.

    I needed to find a clear definition of management and leadership. At first they presented themselves as the same thing, it was only over these 6 months I found they were very different. And only one of them can make me happy right now.

    29 points
    • Charlie PrattCharlie Pratt, 9 years ago

      Great response. Thanks for this.

      1 point
    • Mackenzie DavidsonMackenzie Davidson, 9 years ago

      This was a very thoughtful answer - thank you for writing this. My dad always talked about this while I was growing up - one of his regrets, having to step away from design to take a management role.

      Glad you figured out what made you happy and stepped back to it.

      2 points
    • Guillermo MontGuillermo Mont, 9 years ago (edited 9 years ago )

      Oh wow. Thanks for taking the time to write this up. I can feel my noggin expanding.

      1 point
    • Michael LeeMichael Lee, 9 years ago

      Awesome response, thank you!

      0 points
    • William DawkinsWilliam Dawkins, 9 years ago

      Lots of insight there!

      If you'd be willing to share, curious how you handled the "leaping back again." Was it with the same team? If so, was there a weird transitioning period or were you able to fit right back into your previous role?

      0 points
      • Lete PaceyLete Pacey, 9 years ago


        It was actually pretty smooth. I spoke to my manager and divided the bits I liked and didn't like. It turns out the bits I liked fell under the role of a Lead Designer; whilst all the other stuff I was less keen on fell under Manager.

        I've read some of the comments here and the definition of manager certainly differs (I guess a lot depending on the size of the company). Managers at Citrix are here for the people, in this case the designers, to help them work better – they don't necessarily command who works on what, but they define frameworks to help individuals develop all types of skills (not just design) as well as ensuring all functions of the business run smoothly (design, development, product management, marketing).

        The piece that played a huge part of my previous role was on strategic design decisions and working hands on in making them become a reality. The attention to this part of my role was severely compromised when becoming a manager, so cutting this stuff loose allowed me to be end up a bit where I started – focussing on the strategic stuff.

        Luckily there was a guy in the team who held a natural fit for this Managerial role; he had all the skills required. So the transition hasn't been too rough for me or the team.

        1 point