It's one of the most challenging jobs and yet design leaders don't get enough praise for the tough work they do. Most design leaders are self taught and learn by trial and error. It's a path that offers little guidance.
If you're a designer, look for ways to shape your relationship with those that are guiding your career. Remind yourself that they were once in your shoes. You'll only help your career blossom. Put praise on their work. It's a sure fire way to grow your own career.
Why is it so difficult?
Effective designers use both the left and right side of their brain equally. It's why being a designer is so much fun and such a passion for people. Unfortunately, this also makes the role difficult to manage. Shifting from a critical thinking, date-driven exercise, to providing creative guidance using design thinking takes an extreme level of discipline. Staying focused, honest and upbeat is taxing on a design leader.
Failure is not allowed
We've talked about getting things wrong before— design is one of the few career choices that you get things wrong the majority of the time. Yet once you hit a leadership position, people often expect failure to stop. Design leaders are often pushed into a critical thinking role. New designers often forget that the origin of their work is based on wrong answers that lead to right ones and extensive iteration to refine ideas and learn. Design leaders can't be right all the time. They need the same leeway designers get when taking risks with entire teams.
Figure it out yourself
Not only are design leaders not expected to fail, they have to figure out how to succeed on their own. Management training isn't part of most designer career paths. It's the exception that a designer gets an opportunity to learn traditional, critical thinking skills from mentors that understand creativity. Sometimes it takes longer for effective management skills to emerge, but when they do, they're often more grounded in reality.
Technology is changing fast
The long hours of noodling with cool new technology quickly disappears when you're not dealing directly with code or pixels. It's important that design leaders stay relevant, but it's an increasingly difficult effort to stay on top of technology that is changing so fast. It's now increasingly important that designers spend time teaching their leaders new stuff too.
This is the future
Design has widely been accepted as an important asset to business thinking. As a designer and leader, I'm firmly in the camp that some of the worlds toughest problems will be solved by the designer's mind. But if we're going to get there, we're going to have to put more praise on our design leaders who are paving the path for a new generation of technically savvy designers. It's a tough job.
Leading the charge at ZURB since 1998