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Design teams are encountering challenges they have never experienced before. Societal and business problems have evolved beyond what most people have experienced in their working life. The design solutions needed to solve these problems must be radical to meet these challenges. Getting buy-in from the broader organisation and management can be difficult during times of uncertainty, so how do designers achieve that critical ‘Yes’?

The answer lies in creating the conditions for a company to say ‘yes’ more often, to trying new things and experimenting. This is where design leadership can save the day. A design leader knows how to approach a project and understand what is possible within the current constraints. They can assess a situation and understand the limitations, what cannot be changed and identify the space where a team can achieve success.

They are operating at the forefront of their design discipline, whether it is architecture, product or digital. They understand how to create synergies, synthesis, and find the right opportunity for innovation. And they are always keeping track of their north star, and what they need to focus on. They have a clear understanding of their customer’s key human needs, the business needs, and the value they can deliver. 

Traditional Leadership Versus Design Leadership

Traditional leadership is very good at creating structures and processes that are built on replication. It focuses on management skills such as organising workflows and acting in a project management capacity.

Design leadership, on the other hand, focuses on finding the space of opportunity for a project or a team. A design leader knows how to create the conditions for a new reality or new solution to emerge. It is about creating the conditions to make the project happen. If a leader needs to get the team to participate, they will facilitate it. If it means providing more infrastructure, the leader will make it happen. If more access to technology is needed, then the leader will focus on achieving that.  Design leadership focuses on providing the conditions for the creativity to thrive, for new ideas to emerge and to achieve high levels of design and deliver impact.

Who Is A Design Leader?

A design leader knows how to deal with ambiguity and creating new things. They become a master in writing new solutions, solving complex problems and helping the team achieve the best results possible, regardless of what they are designing. They provide a space for divergence for creativity and free flowing conceptualisation without adhering strictly to a process. On the other hand they also know when to hold the space for divergence. They can be very agile and quick to move towards a final delivery.

They are a master of their particular field of design. For example, if they are designing for the digital space, they excel at digital design. They can clearly articulate value and act like a diplomat for design inside an organisation or with external partners and peers. They work to create opportunities to design solutions collaboratively with other business units. They inject design into every conversation to open strategic doors to start influencing internal working culture. They work to bring diverse bodies of knowledge together to create dynamic working environments. A design leader understands how to create a creative ecosystem for problem solving.

How do you use it in an organisation?

Design leadership used within organisations creates new opportunities for ‘yeses’, new forms of collaboration and allows new types of people to step up to take on a leadership role. But how does this all work within a business environment? 

The core idea is to never design alone. For example some problems will require collaborations between the design and the marketing team. Or the design and the product team. Or the design and the engineering team. It is a methodology by which the design team becomes attached to different business units for collaboration and cross pollination of ideas. It must become best practice to keep the design team dynamic and interacting at all levels of the organisation. In other words, design is too important to be left with only designers. Design should influence the ethics of a company. It should help define where data is used or collected. It should define how users interact with digital interfaces. Design should always be done in collaboration with other expertise and knowledge within and outside of a business.

The Benefits Of Design Leadership

Cross pollination, openness to creativity and radical approaches to problem solving can open many doors for businesses and organisations. The benefits of this style of infusing design and leadership into every level of an organisation is opening previously closed ‘No’ doors with open ‘Yeses’. The power of diverse and different minds working together to create change is almost unquantifiable and the first step to achieving these results is to become an advocate for design within your organisation.

This leadership role is open to anyone who is brave enough to dare. If you feel called to join this revolution send us an email. We will be releasing details of a special new learning experience soon. Sign up to be notified when more details are released!


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