Like most leadership roles, design leaders are required to function in many directions. I ascribe to the ‘Four archetypes of a design leader’ as outlined by the design consultant and author Peter Merholz.

Coach

My primary role as a manager is to improve the outcomes from a design team working together.

  • Purpose

It’s vital to ensure a design team knows what success looks like and how to go about achieving it. This will go a long way to helping their sense of belonging.

  • People

Developing trusting relationships through regular one-to-one catchups. Understanding their strengths and weaknesses to set out a charter for personal growth.

  • Process

Running effective meetings, future proofing against past mistakes and planning for tomorrow. Inventing traditions and rituals that celebrate the organisations values.

Diplomat

When working with other teams, designers can often be misunderstood and politics can easily get in the way. 

To subdue these risks it’s important that designers base their work on clear, explainable principles. Likewise, we should be learning the language and perspectives of our cross-functional peers. Everybody is doing their best.

As designers, we also stand strong on our ideals. This means keeping design weird and creative in the left-brain business world of data, analytics and methodology.

Champion

In most cases it is impossible to calculate a return on investment for design. This makes evangelising the design team’s work to the rest of the organisation is really important. We should be quick to communicate our successes. Design leaders have to fight for their team. Whether it’s making sure they get the tools and resources they need or protecting them from external factors.

Architect

This is essentially Design Ops; how we work together, how we get our work done, and how we measure success.

  • Structure

Design leaders are responsible for applying the right organisational model and establishing hierarchy. This includes finding a balance across disciplines and seniority.

  • Processes

Our workflows and principles should be clearly defined and prioritisation should always be considered. A design team’s toolkit should be lean and enable collaboration. We are not a gated department.

  • Impact

Design teams should define what quality looks like and how training can become a part of this goal. We aim to measure and share our successes.