If you are anything like me, you learn by doing and failing. Mainly failing. My journey into management was exciting, nerve racking, and full of mistakes. Here are 5 things I learned on my journey into managing designers.

1. Don’t Fuel Unnecessary Competition

Friendly competition between designers can fuel creativity and help each person grow their skills. Not-so-friendly competition based on numbers, goals, projects completion counts, etc can have the opposite effect. Designer A may have completed 13 projects this month, while Designer B only completed 4 — does this mean Designer A has done more work? Not necessarily! You really should be focusing on the quality of work each person is delivering, not just the amount. Reward and recognize quality work over quick and dirty design practices by minimizing the importance of completion numbers.

“Reward and recognize quality work over quick and dirty design.”

2. Beware of Meeting Fatigue

No one likes pointless meetings, especially a creative person. Creatives need time to focus on their projects without be distracted every 30 minutes with a meeting. As their manager, you need to make sure their time is defended. Do they really need to be at every meeting that comes through the pipeline? Designers don’t wake up everyday looking forward to a day of meetings. They wake up excited to design! As a manager, you need to make sure your designers aren’t in the middle of a meeting meltdown.

“Designers do not wake up everyday looking forward to a day of meetings, they wake up excited to design!”

3. Let Them Run Their Show

Give your designers the freedom to get their work done in whatever manner they prefer. Have someone on your team that likes to work on the couch in the game room? Encourage that!  Have a designer that needs an extra work from home day here and there? Let them! Have a designer that needs a new mouse? Send that PO for them! Designers love designing — do anything in your power to give them an environment that allows them to create amazing work. They’re adults, and you’re not their mother.

“Do anything in your power to give them an environment that allows them to create amazing work.”

4. Keep an Open Line of Communication

Your designers should never feel like they can’t come to you with a problem or an issue. Make sure you make time to connect with your designers throughout the week so everyone is engaged. It can be as easy as a chat room or more formal like holding official one-on-ones each week. Take the time to learn the way each designer likes to be communicated with and go with that method. If your designers don’t feel they can come to you with questions or concerns, you really need to evaluate your management style!

“Make sure you make time to connect with your designers throughout the week so everyone is engaged.”

5. Don’t Treat Everyone the Same

Before anyone starts getting crazy (is anyone even reading this article??), I’m not saying you should hold your designers to different standards. I’m saying you have to learn how each of your individual designers likes to be treated and try and accommodate that as much as possible. Maybe you have a designer that prefers to communicate via Slack — go ahead and use this medium when talking to them (as much as possible) versus walking up to their desk and interrupting their work. You also might have a designer that needs to be constantly talking and sharing their work. Put them in charge of a weekly design critique where they can practice their leadership skills and help other designers around them.

“There is a fine line between being accommodating and enabling.”

Everyone is different and shouldn’t be expected to perform or communicate in the style that works best for you. There’s a fine line between being accommodating and being enabling. Each designer will have areas that they need to work on (public speaking, critiquing work, working with other co-workers), so find ways to challenge them in a way that’s helpful and not overly stressful.

What I learned being a manager

Sarah Cottle

Experience Designer @ HomeAway

Category: Life Lesson
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2 comments

  • Great article Sarah! For the record, you were an awesome manager. Definitely knew how to keep us happy and motivated even when times were stressful. You were also great about encouraging our personal and professional growth.

    re: #1 — tough not to fuel competition when you have Kim, Monica, and Camri on the same team! I learned more in those two years than I have in my entire design profession.

    Good luck at the new gig Sarah!

    • Thank you, Joey! You are a great designer – keep it up!!

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