While everyone has a general idea of what a designer does (well, it depends on who you talk to), the waters get murkier when explaining what a design leader's role entails. It's a complex and multifaceted position that requires a unique blend of skills and responsibilities. I tried to detangle everything.

Titles – they are not always what they seem they are

When I say design leader, I refer to various titles, which can mean different things depending on the company and context. For some, my role will fall under Head of Design; for others, it's a Head of Creative; sometimes, I'm a Creative Director; then again, a Design Director; and sometimes, a Design Manager or a Creative Manager.

Doesn't make things easier, does it?

So I ended up with 'Design Leader & Creative Manager', trying to combine it all in one(ish) title. I use 'Design' in my title because I have a background in design. And I truly believe that design-led companies are best positioned in the market as they have a different approach to craft, user-centricity, and emotional and psychological brand storytelling.

Endless strips of paper to-do lists as high as the buildings themselves are floating through a street in London.

Design leadership can feel like taming to-dos over and over but in a creative and innovative way. | Midjourney prompt: A long to-do list that folds around the streets of London. The list is as tall as the buildings, goes over them, around them, loops and has a dynamic movement. You can see it's paper with a ticking list; the words are illegible. The city streets are empty, and apart from the list, the sun is shining. --ar 16:9

So, what does a design leader actually do?

This question comes up repeatedly in conversations, and when I was recently asked to take over the Instagram account of Ladies, Wine & Design London, I took my chance and used the space to deep-dive further into that topic. Because I am a designer, I love clustering my findings, and I have identified three main pillars that showcase my role quite well. These pillars are People, Design x Business, and Soft Skills. Let me explain each in more detail.

People

  • Hiring, leading and building teams
  • Mentoring & coaching: guidance, support, feedback
  • Create psychological safety > team culture
  • Users-first approach
  • Cross-functional collaboration
  • Facilitate workshops, conversations, meetings (team and 1:1)
  • Create rituals and structures
  • Add optimism and energy
  • ...

Design x Business

  • Set a vision
  • Creative/design direction
  • Brand guardian
  • Align design & business needs: track and report metrics and outcomes
  • Roadmap planning
  • Strategies: whole-puzzle thinking
  • Research
  • Manage: Time, budgets, projects, teams, workloads, decisions, and high-quality standards
  • Use storytelling to present, inspire, convince
  • Design Ops: process improvements
  • Meetings with senior leadership and stakeholders
  • Jump hands-on into design work if needed once in a while
  • Safeguard creative and innovation time for the team
  • ...

Soft skills

  • Active listening
  • Communicate clearly
  • Empathy
  • Be adaptable
  • Decision making
  • Curiosity > Never stop learning. Stay informed about trends, technologies, competitors, contemporary culture, and people. Whatever the sponge brain can soak up.
  • Analytical: solve problems, organise
  • Resolve issues and bottlenecks
  • ...

A snapshot in time. Evolving roles of a design leader.

Remember, this list is just a snapshot of my current journey as a design leader. It evolves, grows, and adapts as I embrace the ever-changing nature of my roles.

I'm eager to hear your thoughts and additions. What would you include in the list of design leadership responsibilities and skills?


You can read new posts on my website, find me on Medium and Substack (I meet you where you already are), and connect with me on LinkedIn and Instagram.