Lee Fain, a senior design strategist at Idea Couture, shares his insights into the world of design management in the most recent issue of Design Management Review. In a piece called “Designers in the Hands of a Passionate Leader,” Lee offers tips of the trade for those who are new to the world of managing creatives.
He explains the importance of keeping designers engaged and inspired, working together to project a “shared vision of the future,” and aligning the expectations of business leaders with the capabilities and talents of the team. For Lee, it’s all about balance; the skills of the designers should complement the company’s objectives, not work against them. At the same time, however, the C-suite should give their designers the freedom to express who they are as creatives and offer them the opportunity to hone their skills.
Being a designer does not start at 9 and end at 5, Lee explains – it’s a lifestyle. It’s a way of seeing the world differently. Designers tend to be “visually expressive,” and they can’t just turn that on and off. Lee recommends leveraging this quality as well as investing in designers’ exposure through conferences, events, and awards. By letting them engage with others in the industry, they’re not simply building their own networks, they’re also increasing exposure for the company as a whole.
Another critical point that Lee raises is about education. By teaching the rest of the organization about the design process and research practices, expectations can be managed and a sense of mutual understanding can be fostered. “Design thinking” and “human-centered design” might be two of the most popular phrases in the business world in recent years, but managers should aim to understand their teams just as intimately as they understand their consumers. By gaining knowledge about what goes into the design process and the timeframes associated with that, leaders can better manage project deadlines while maintaining rapport with their team and their own bosses.
At the end of the day, managers need to be cognizant of the needs of the people they’re managing. They can’t be pushing their own agendas or aesthetic preferences, overworking, or devaluing their team by outsourcing everything. Emotional intelligence is therefore key. In addition to other leadership and business skills, knowing how to communicate to your team of designers and bridge the gap between them, project leads, and upper management is pivotal to success. Managers who bring passion to the office every day, who treat those they manage with respect, and who keep employee morale up will be the managers that designers want to work for.