My 3 tips for running successful design teams

I’ve had the pleasure of leading and building a few design departments across agency, consultancy and product across my career so far. And I’ve found running a successful design team has 3 key ingredients that I want to share with you:

 Clear Design Direction

A Clear Design Direction means it is your task as a Designer Leader to constantly ensure everybody, the design team, the wider product team, the leadership and the stakeholders, understand what design-driven success looks for the business.

That means establishing a clear strategic design vision as well as tactically course-correcting the design details right down to component level… without out removing the designers agency by micro managing.

A Home for Designers

The best design work comes from designers who feels safe. Creating a Home for Designers means creating nurturing and conducive conditions:

  • Roles and responsibilities. Clearly defined expectations of roles including clear progression paths so everybody knows what they are expected to do and what they need to achieve.
  • Environment. Desks, whiteboards, a space to think, a space to talk. Making sure the space is a workshop for designers.
  • Tools. computers, devices, software, pens, papers…. and sharpies and post-its.
  • Processes. As a design student I was told that I needed to learn the rules so I could consciously and clearly break them when needed. I feel processes are the same. Having no process simply leads to chaos, but nobody should ever follow process for process’ sake.

Design as a Craft, Design as a Mindset

It is important for you as a Design Leader to ensure the rest of the organisation understands that being a designer is a job. Design is a Craft. And we need professional craftspeople to conduct design successfully.

But seemingly contradictory, you also need to demystify design and educate the rest of the organisation in creative problem-solving and design thinking. The outcome is embedding Design as a Mindset makes the organisation work better and makes everybody feel responsible for successful design delivery and as such, business success.

Having designers grouped in isolation is counter-productive to creating Design as a Mindset, but on the other hand not having a design organisation is counter-productive to Design as a Craft. To answer this challenge I recommend “Centralised Partnership” as described in the book Org Design for Design Orgs.


So those were my 3 tips. They’ve worked for me, I hope you took something away from this and if you have any further tips or comments, please do share.


A London based digital native who's thumb is rarely seen more than 2 inches away from the nearest 'Tweet now' button.

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