What does it take to be a lead designer?

almost 6 years ago from , Product Designer

For those who are interested in taking more of a leadership role within design, what do you think makes for a strong lead designer?


  • Account deleted almost 6 years ago

    You can be a leader in two different ways,

    1) Easy Method

    Just pretend you're the best and don't like anything. Admire other leaders like a teenage kid who admires katy perry or kanye. Follow their instagram and do the exact same things they do in your social life. Also be unfair and take the junior hard works credits on you. If you can, take from the seniors. That's better. Remember, if you want to be a lead in a fast way, you have to step on some one else to level up to be a leader. You'll end up being a douchebag which everyone would hete you. Your real friends would stop talking to you and you'll end up with fake people who will be with you if you feed them (or lie). Eventually you'll die inside but earn money. Ah, you'll be always be dependant on other peoples work too because if you go this way you wont be actually doing any job.

    2) Normal Method

    Stop worrying about being a leader. Focus on your work / project. If you have it in you your experience and instincts would lead you to that path.

    • experience
    • more experience
    • even more experience
    • lack of ego
    • incredible empathy & sympathy skills
    • actual love for designing
    • optimistic
    • constructive
    • open for criticism
    • did I mention experience?
    • get your hands dirty with production AND development.

    If you don't have all of those, you still have lots of way to go.

    So please, don't pay for any kind of leadership book on amazon and read about actual design. Earth doesn't need more fake designers. You'll eventually become one if you have it in you. Believe me.

    36 points
    • Cory MalnarickCory Malnarick, almost 6 years ago

      I think it's important to note the type of experience a person learns over time. I'd hope my newly hired team lead has an actual interest in leading, opposed to pushing a certain kind of result.

      2 points
      • Account deleted almost 6 years ago

        I do agree with you completely. I never considered to mention that because that's like the most basic, thing you know...

        Relatable experience.

        0 points
    • Alejandro DorantesAlejandro Dorantes, almost 6 years ago

      Holy shit this was needlessly bitter imo

      2 points
  • Sjors TimmerSjors Timmer, almost 6 years ago

    I just started watching some excellent talks from the Leading design conference: https://vimeo.com/clearleft

    Have a look at (for example) Peter Merholz talk on what is expected from a design lead(er): https://vimeo.com/243666544

    Or more hands on, he also shared this framework to distinguish a senior from a lead designer: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/u/1/d/1m-Cso3848CgEz0eng5spL0lDppnwOgt726jJ01pVwO8/htmlview

    11 points
  • Eliot SlevinEliot Slevin, almost 6 years ago

    In my mind a lead designer is about having a clear direction. Their job is to co-ordinate all these creative individual to make a final product which hits the end goal.

    Don't tell people what to do - tell people what the end goal is, what qualities it should have, what the challenge is. Describe it as a problem, and put responsibility with people.

    E.g. "Here's the typographic style we're going to use - as lead designer we're using these ones" = bad

    "Team we need cohesive typography - I've started a moodboard and a few concepts - would love it if everybody gave it a shot". = good

    7 points
    • Cristian MoiseiCristian Moisei, almost 6 years ago

      I second Eliot's point, a leader's job is not to be the person with the best skills, it's to have a clear understanding of the bigger picture and help everyone understand it too, stay on track and make a success of the project.

      I asked my ex-employer in what ways I could improve and got a similar point: 'your technical skills are great, stop worrying about that, but if you ever want to be in a lead position, you need to work on your people skills'

      3 points
  • Jovana AndjelkovicJovana Andjelkovic, almost 6 years ago

    Well, to begin with, it takes having a team to lead. Which is something people don't really get and call themselves a lead when they're the only designer in the company ¯_(ツ)_/¯

    4 points
    • Arnold Rozon, almost 6 years ago

      Met too many of these in my day.

      0 points
      • Paul Van TuylPaul Van Tuyl, almost 6 years ago

        My favorite is people applying for a job fresh out of college and they say “I’m an Art Director” LOL

        0 points
        • Jovana AndjelkovicJovana Andjelkovic, almost 6 years ago

          Equally good are those who have been working in a different field for X years, and recently switched to design, so based on their X years of work experience in their unrelated (or semi related) field, they consider themselves senior..

          0 points
  • Tony GinesTony Gines, almost 6 years ago

    Lots of good feedback here. I'd say that leadership is something that's earned by making sound decisions that don't put the company in jeopardy and brings recognition to the team. For me, I like to think of leadership as buoyancy – if you keep your head high and do good work, you'll float to the top by the rest of your team lifting you up. They'll look to you to lead if you make good decisions and don't selfishly capitalize on their work.

    Additionally, an easy way to be a lead designer is to join a small team that doesn't have a designer. You'll be the only one on the team so you'll get to call yourself whatever you want :)

    3 points
  • Paul Van TuylPaul Van Tuyl, almost 6 years ago

    I think a lot of people have answered well. Working hard, and learning all of the positions that a Lead has to manage – from Interns up through Sr. Designers, and how to leverage all of their abilities. How to teach each of them, and how to help each of them succeed.

    Being able to mentor all of these roles, and help them all advance is very important, because as a Lead, part of the big picture isn’t just to make projects a success, it’s to also create other Leads through example. Managers do it from a distance, Leads do it by direct contact.

    The other thing other people have brought up here is the big picture of the project, the product or application. Leads have to have a solid understanding of both the users and the business goals of their clients, and then orchestrate that vision.

    One last thing I’d like to add is protecting your team's time. I can’t remember where I read this, but if I can keep people out of meetings who are doing the actual production work I will. Especially if it’s a client that’s challenging or it’s a meeting that’s super pointless. I’m terrible at sports, but I try to be that guy that just sets other people up to score. Background player. Don’t be a glory hog. Give all the credit to your team.

    2 points
  • Duke CavinskiDuke Cavinski, almost 6 years ago

    jr designers

    1 point
  • Alena Chtack, 3 years ago

    One of the most important point for me in design leadership is "Visualize the future + share that vision". I think this is the only proper way to communicate openly within the team. And it is this approach that helps the team to move forward just by understanding a common goal. Check out also the interview with Emma Barratt, Creative Director and Head of Design at Wolff Olins. I like how honestly she talks about the design leadership journey. https://futurelondonacademy.co.uk/en/articles/wolff-olins-creative-director-emma-barratt-on-design-leadership

    0 points
  • Sagi ShrieberSagi Shrieber, almost 6 years ago

    When I entered the role of design manager in the previous company I worked for, I just decided to interview the best design leaders out there. I recorded those interviews and made them into a podcast. Here you go :)

    Find some here (from the starting point) - http://hackingui.com/podcast/page/3/

    and latest ones here - http://hackingui.com/

    People I interviewed include Billy Keily (VP product at Invision), Melissa Hajj (Design Manager at Facebook), Jon Lax (Design Director at Facebook), Emmet Connoly (Director of Design at Intercom) Katie Dill (Former Director of UX at Airbnb), Khoi Vinh (Director of Design at Adobe XD) and more.

    Enjoy their wisdom :) I certainly learned everything from them.

    0 points
  • Matt WillettMatt Willett, almost 6 years ago

    Being the connective tissue of the team. A leadership role isn't necessarily about determining direction all the time, its about ensuring the team operates as best as it can, and that comes down to cohesion, communication, and craft.

    Cohesion in regards to everyone understanding the tasks at hand; and making sure there is an even foundation for the project.

    Communication is suuuper key. Regular check-ins on projects and updates are essential to keeping a team focused and working effectively.

    Craft, or Polish, would be reviewing and making sure that the work is the best possible form it can be. I feel it circles back from here to checking in; cohesion again, etc.

    One of the lead designers I've worked with in the past challenged my thought process and make me explore other options and experiment; any good leader should inspire and encourage their team to try new things and foster discussion. As a senior designer now, I try to encourage new members of the team to experiment, and on some projects have them lead the creative for a project. I think a great team is a super flexible one.

    0 points
  • Jan SemlerJan Semler, almost 6 years ago

    He should delegate and not micro manage design.

    0 points