So you want to take on a leadership role in your design team. You’re a good designer, and you’re fast too. So you’re ready right? Not so fast. Being a leader is less about how good you are at designing than it is about your ability to create a team environment that encourages creative production.
Be organized but flexible.
The most important thing you need to do as a design leader is establish an organized, but flexible system of operations for your team. It doesn’t need to be a perfect system, and honestly it’s bound to be adjusted on a constant basis. However, it needs to be just organized enough that your designers know where to check for assignments, how to move their work through the production process, and how to keep good records of their work. Learn to accept that circumstances won’t adjust to your system, so it’s never going to be perfect and it needs to be resilient when changes are made to fit circumstances.
Encourage output rather than perfection.
OK so a lot of designers are going to scream when I say this, but high-quality design doesn’t actually matter that much. From fine art to low-brow garbage, design of all kinds is being shoved out to the world every day. I hate to say it, but I’m convinced by working in social media that the bar is extremely low when it comes to design. “Digital Creators” really aren’t great designers but that’s made slapstick work a lot more acceptable. What really matters now is output — and that’s fine. As a design leader you should encourage your team toward greater output first and foremost. Not only will it mean you are meeting deadlines and achieving business objectives, it will actually lead to higher quality over time. Trial and error are the backbone of refinement. Plus, the publishing world is fast-paced. If you want to raise the bar then you have to play the game. Perfection gets you sidelined.
Create go-to styles.
Maybe you are lucky enough to have incredibly creative, forward-thinking designers on your team. I am. But even then, everybody has slump days (or weeks, let’s be real here) and it’s your job as a leader to make sure that a team member having an off-day doesn’t mean the team is having an off-day. That’s why you need to give your team a safety net in the form of go-to styles. AKA: rules of thumb. Set this baseline and you will avoid a lot of problems: low morale and low output being the most dangerous. These two tend to feed on one another. A designer is off their game, so their output decreases, which brings low morale, and that leads to lower output. Fortunately, go-to styles give them an opportunity to recoup without losing output.
Being a design leader isn’t easy, mostly because very little of the job is actually about YOU designing, but these three tips can help ease the burden and lead to a self-sufficient team environment.