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The importance of design management and the skills required.

7th January 2015

There’s no denying, in recent years design has been pushed evermore to the forefront of business thinking.


“In an increasingly commoditised world, design thinking is seen by leading businesses as the discipline that will set them apart from their competitors.”

Centre for Design Innovation.


Organisations now recognise that, amongst others, design:


• Is a route for successful innovation.

• Improves the user/customer experience.

• Allows for clearer communication inside and outside of the organisation, allowing for the understanding and attainment of strategic business goals.


The above recognition has resulted in organisations devoting more resources to ‘design’, with the best organisations understanding the need for effective management of these design resources too



What is design management?

In simple terms, design management is about defining a design problem, finding someone best suited to solving the problem, and then doing everything possible so that the chosen talent solves the problem on time and within budget.


Sounds easy, right? Well, not exactly. There are a myriad of factors that can cause issues, but the following set of skills are what’s needed for design management success.




Skills and responsibilities of the design manager:



This is unquestionably one of the hardest tasks of the design managers (DM) role. This may involve some investigative work, then sorting out and identifying the information that will be of the greatest help to the designer being briefed in. The above requires the DM to be a problem solver and clear thinker.



Communication skills.

The DM will often be responsible for ‘selling in’ the ideas or concepts to the client, undeniably one of their most important jobs. Also the DM will be the point of contact for both the client and the designer during the design process, feeding back information to both, often needing to interpret and translate it into a befitting language.



Project management.

There are a few skills we can lump together here under the ‘project management’ heading. Importantly there is the need to have a solid understanding of the design process. This will inform project scope – costing’s, time frames and deadlines -, which will then need to be managed through the use of effective planning and time management skills.



Strategic vision.

Not only do PM’s need to understand the strategic goals of each design project to ensure they stay on track and ultimately meet business objectives, but they should also have a strategic vision as to how the design team can move further forward. As such DM’s should be up to date on design trends and changes in technology, knowing how they will impact upon their team and the wider organisation.



Understanding of team roles and abilities.

The DM should be able to identify the strengths and weaknesses of individual team members and also of the team in general. This will allow the DM to ensure each project has the right person working on the job in hand, ensuring the outcomes of each project are as best as they can be. In turn this will create an excellent team spirit and working environment.



A design background / experience.

It’s great if the DM has the ability to communicate his creative thoughts to the rest of the team, whether through scamps or through an understanding of the technical skills or platforms that could be brought to the project in question. And as mentioned under the project management heading, a design background will ensure the DM is aware of the scope of each project.


A DM with design experience is better placed to inspire and motivate the team. You find very few football managers, who weren’t players beforehand…





Design managers could just come in and work on a short-term basis, maybe just to tidy up and sort out a design resource or to work on an important short term design project that warrants management. Or the DM could be a permanent fixture of your design team, one that is integral to your teams’ success.


We provide permanent design managers for our clients’ in-house creative teams, yet we also place design managers within our other clients’ in-house teams on a short-term basis. If you’d like further information on how our design management services could work for you, then please do get in touch.


We hope you now see that exceptional design managers are worth their weight in gold. In a way they’re similar to a good football referee – the very best one’s remain relatively unnoticed, allowing the creative talent around them to flourish.


Until next time…




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