Congratulations you’re a design lead or manager, here’s what no one probably told you
If you’re reading this, you are probably good. You probably are a talented product or UX designer who has done quality work. You know the latest tools, trends and techniques. People in your company respect your knowledge, creativity and your contributions.
These are all wonderful things and they aren’t going to help you be a good design lead or manager.
What’s important now is not what you do, it’s what you get other’s to do. It’s not how you grow, it’s how you grow others. It’s not about how they look at you, but how they look at your team.
This is a really hard transition. It’s one I struggled through. When I moved into product I tried to get designers to make what I wanted and got annoyed when they didn’t despite the fact that this would have pissed me off if someone did it to me. Your process, aesthetic and ideas are formed by your experience. Your team’s is formed by theirs and they aren’t going do things the way you do. You need to step back and see if the difference is style or substance.
You need to set the vision and guiding principles not dictate every decision. Make sure the team understands who we are solving for, what we’re trying to achieve and what it will look like when we get there. If that is in place you’ve given them the right amount of direction without crippling their creativity or making it hard for them to challenge you when customer testing proves your ideas wrong. Getting it wrong, will still happen, a lot.
Think out loud
One of the best teachers I know always says that the best way to teach is to think out loud.
When I hear x and y, I start to think about z.
Because the user research says this, I wonder if we should do that.
If I want to solve x problem, we could do a, b, or c
These are things that will help them learn how to think through new design challenges.
Help them tune their internal gyroscope
Years ago in design school I read an article that inspires we to this day. I poked around in my attic when internet searching failed me and found the class handout.
One thing that I watch for is whether they have their own gyroscope-in other words, whether they can tell when they’ve got something that’s good. I look to see wherever their sense of what’s good meets, at some minimal level, my own sense of what’s good. I look to see if there’s a big gap that I interpret as a gap of quality showing they haven’t gotten there yet….it’s exciting to see that gyroscope develop over the years-and it does take years…the reason that the gyroscope is so powerful is that, if students have it, then they can look at their own work-maybe not immediately, but, perhaps a week later and they can say ‘oh, damn this is terrible’
– Donald Schon
The best teacher doesn’t need to tell you what you did wrong, they show you and you see it. Before you give one peep of feedback you should try to understand why they did what they did. Who is it for? What are you trying to achieve? How does this help your customer? Help them see the weaknesses in their work, help them solve their own problems.
Telling your designers it’s not good enough is not helpful. Telling then why they are missing the mark is.
Fill in the gaps in your team’s education
I’ve yet to meet a new designer right out of school who is good at presenting their ideas or pushing back. These are learned skills and you have a responsibility to your team to teach them, practice with them and let them do it. Over the years I’ve developed simple frameworks for this that help a lot.
Get good at managing work
When you are a lone designer working with a single team you can be pretty loose with your process. The bigger your team gets and the more complex the work is, the more important it is that you are managing and prioritizing the work that is coming in otherwise your team will be stressed and your engineers will be frustrated. Go find the agile guru in the office and come up with something light duty that works.
Fix miscommunication and conflict
I’ve recently published a piece on this for A List Apart. A big part of your job is making sure people understand each other. Your relationships with your counterparts need to be strong so you can work as a team to resolve things and there will be many things.
Image: I don’t have Photoshop anymore so I tried Photor, not sure I’m sold on it