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Decoding the Lead Designer role | Part 2: Challenges faced by Lead Designers

If you're a designer looking to become a Lead Designer/manager, or have just been promoted to one, If you're a solo/founding designer in a startup or even self-employed, this is for you. #designcareers #designthinking

If you would like to read about Hiring managers' expectations from a Lead role, please visit Part 1 of this article.

Challenges faced by Senior/Lead/Mid-career Designers

- Designers want to continue engaging with their craft; sharpening their creative and making skills. However, orgs encourage designers to take on additional responsibilities as they move up in their careers, often depriving them the time to focus on craft.

- Designers want to read, take a course, attend conferences to meet their project's expectations and go beyond, but between work and life events, there's very little time left to do so.

- Neither do orgs sufficiently equip designers to handle additional responsibilities such as hiring, develop business, guide product strategy etc. Designers often find themselves unprepared, leading to self-doubt and suboptimal performance.

- Founding/solo designers in startups, Design Leads managing a team of juniors miss having peers who they can use as sounding boards to exchange ideas or answer questions arising from their practice. For example, Designers feel out at sea when they're asked to perform tasks like conducting appraisals or estimating the value of Design in $. Designers yearn to learn from experienced folk to overcome such challenges, but that's a luxury not every org can offer.

- Although things seem to be improving industry-wide, Designers acknowledge the need to make better business cases for Design. When Lead Designers compare their position to Tech. Leads or Product owners in their org, they find it slightly harder to convince management to invest in Design. For example, a CEO (or operational head) might not get why a Design team needs to spend valuable time doing Design Research when the product manager or business analyst is already providing them with requirements.

This kind of mindset shift requires designers to communicate the value of Design in a language that can be understood easily by non-design stakeholders. Where should a Designer pick up such skills? Unfortunately, such learning avenues are not easily accessible to everybody.

Where do designers pick up skills to grow into a 'Lead Designer' role:

- On the job – learn from teammates and clients

- Network – exposure to people in the same role

- Self learning – reading about and emulating the role

- School – operate in simulated environments (rare to find)

What Lead Designers think orgs can do to enable them to become more capable in handling their duties?

When asked about what their organisations can do to help them in their new responsibilities, a few common themes emerged from my conversations with Lead Designers. They feel that orgs can support them by:

Facilitating training: Many orgs allocate learning budgets that can be utilised by staff to get better at a specific design or business skill. It's just a matter of willingness and exposure to good learning platforms to be able to capitalise on that budget.

Encouraging apprenticeships: Some teams have seen success when they've enabled Senior designers to shadow a Lead/manager over a period of time. Designers feel that an 'apprenticeship' with a strong mentor will yield in better outcomes for them, junior designers as well as the organisation. Interestingly, some orgs are already bringing very experienced Designers on contract to coach their in-house Designers.

Setting the right goals: It's never easy for orgs to ask high-performing individuals to slow down but they must proactively analyse the workload of their Leads and aim to secure balance between work and life. By making sure that delegation of work is happening in the right way, Designers may be able to show up with much more creativity, consistently.

Becoming sensitive to Design: Designers want their orgs to become more open to and patient with the seemingly unconventional practice of Design. They're ready to do the work of educating and evangelising Design internally, provided that there's a org-wide willingness to do so and they're equipped with tools / training to convey the value of Design effectively.

Found these insights valuable? You may want to read Part 1 of this article:

Hiring Managers' expectations from Lead Designers or more such interesting insights on my blog. I'd love to hear more about your thoughts on this topic! DM me on Twitter or Instagram. Note: This content is derived from my work as a Designer-in-residence at ownpath. Thanks to Dhruv (Obvious), Sumin (Copods), Juneza (Matter) and many more for having insightful conversations on this topic.


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