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As an industry, design is experiencing massive growth. Designers are being asked to transform their organisations into businesses who will thrive in a rapidly evolving global market.

We invited design leaders from all over the world to take part in a series of global Firesession webinars to discuss how designers must transform, shift mindsets, and acquire new skills to become the leaders that organisations need to thrive in a changing world.

This webinar was the first in the series and was recorded on May 20th with panelists Peter Merholz, previously co-founder of Adaptive Path, Jaakko Tammela, CX & Design Director at Dasa, Priscila Williams, Service Design & UX Design VP at Citibanamex.

In conversation with host Juliana Proserpio, Co-founder & Chief Design Officer of Echos they explored how design leadership is gaining importance in organisations worldwide. They explored how design is just as necessary as marketing and sales, how designers are looking for and building bigger communities and why designers need to think bigger than being a manager, because design is leadership. 

The following are the highlights from an hour-long conversation. A link to the full recording is provided at the end of this article.

 

Why Does Design Leadership Matter?

Design Leadership is not yet a widely known or talked about position in organisations. Because it is an emerging concept, at Echos we define Design Leadership as a combination of managers, visionaries, and practitioners. Design leaders can switch between different tasks and roles. Such as helping to build a broad design vision for their organisation, understanding how best to manage a design team and the ability to act as a design practitioner to maintain and teach best practices within their team.

The definition of Design Leadership as a role in a business and on a conceptual level is constantly evolving. And the only way to create and evolve the way leadership is embraced within organisations is to gather insights from those who are currently engaged in leadership work.

 

“Designers are so important now because so many businesses are becoming tech companies and therefore need designers to bring these core digital experiences to life.”

Peter Merholz

Design executive, organizational
consultant & started Adaptive Path

 

 

With the worldwide expansion of digital experiences, the need for all businesses to become ‘tech companies’ is only going to expand. And this means that designers and design thinking methodologies are going to expand their reach in the future.

 

“Designers are needed to simplify the complexity of all these new software products. One of the superpowers of design is that it connects people.”

Priscilla Williams

UX Design VP Citibank

 

 

This is where embracing design as a methodology that shapes thinking and behavior inside of organisations provides true business value. Embracing a holistic human centered approach to business and problem solving will lift design beyond mere product production into a new mindset and approach to solving problems business wide.

 

How to Scale a Design Team

One of the things that design leaders are struggling with worldwide is hiring and scaling a team quickly. Each global leader on the panel shared their learnings on how and when to start scaling. And most importantly how to do it well.

 

“Have a sense of where you want to be in a few years, then time out when you’ll place designers in those roles. Most design managers don’t spend enough time hiring and managing and hope that others can do most of that work for them.”

Peter Merholz

Design executive, organizational
consultant & started Adaptive Path

 

When scaling quality can also become an issue. Small teams are simpler to manage and measure when it comes to consistency and standards. When teams grow this can become more complex and less defined. This is where formalised systems for training and quality control become very important.

 

“You need to care about consistency and training, especially at scale.”

Priscilla Williams

UX Design VP Citibank

 

 

To get support to grow and scale it is important to build a business case for design throughout the organisation. Larger teams will allow for more opportunities for design to be used in more projects and in new parts of the business.

 

“There needs to be an appetite for more design. Design leads need to prove the value of design. You need to avoid creating a bubble where the designers feel disconnected from the rest of the organisation. Doors need to be kept open so the rest of the organisation can be a part of this design bubble.”

Jaakko Tammela

CX/Design Director at Dasa + Impar + GSC Health​

 

 

To improve the hiring and scaling process, collaborating with the HR department becomes critical. A design leader needs to look at the task of hiring as a partnership and become closely embedded within the process. 

 

“Design leaders will find themselves partnering with HR in new ways. You’ll need to ensure your designers are paid what they’re worth. From a design ops perspective, hiring and managing can overwhelm design leaders and take all their time.”

Peter Merholz

Design executive, organizational
consultant & started Adaptive Path

 

 

How to Lead Change and Influence Business Decisions

For many organisations having a large design team is new. And for upper management or C-suit the value of design feels like an unknown quantity. It is the role of the design leader to clearly articulate the value of design in the language that other business leaders understand.

 

“Start talking business, designers tend to only want to do the fun part, but to build a connection with your stakeholders you need to understand their language. See your stakeholders as one of your main users. They are your most important users. If you can show them the value of your design through your methodology, they can value it more. Make sure you don’t just talk ‘design’ with them, show them the numbers and the value you’re creating from a business goals perspective.”

Priscilla Williams

UX Design VP Citibank

 

 

This requires a design leader to learn new ways of conducting business, from the words used, to the processes employed to convey the value and meaning of the proposed solutions. This way they can meet other leaders within the organisation where they are at and build a bridge of understanding.

 

“We as designers need to understand how businesses work in order to best add value to them.”

Jaakko Tammela

CX/Design Director at Dasa + Impar + GSC Health​

 

 

Learning new terminology and processes can feel daunting in addition to all of the other challenges of leading in a time of rapid transition. Fortunately, upskilling is not as complex as it may first seem. 

 

“Designers need to speak the language of business, but that doesn’t mean they need to have MBAs. You just need to demonstrate how your effort connects with business value. If you’re only talking business back to them, then you’re not bringing design value.”

Peter Merholz

Design executive, organizational
consultant & started Adaptive Path

 

 

Leading Through a Pandemic

Should design managers help with depression given the ongoing pandemic situation? This is a difficult time for leaders in all sectors and industries. With mental health at all-time lows due to the ongoing effects of the pandemic many managers and leaders are unsure of how to best support their staff.

 

“You should be a good listener and see what support system you can offer them, for instance can you give them different projects.”

Priscilla Williams

UX Design VP Citibank

 

 

It is also important to remember not to take on responsibilities that should not be handled by leadership. Some more serious issues should be referred to others with specialised knowledge. 

 

“Managers have some responsibility for addressing this, but most managers aren’t equipped to handle real mental health concerns and shouldn’t take this on. This is where HR can step in by having resources to help in this regard. If you try to help someone who is suffering and can’t do it well, you could be liable. Recognise your own boundaries and seek true professional help.”

Peter Merholz

Design executive, organizational
consultant & started Adaptive Path

 

In addition, it is important to understand that leadership is not a solo activity, be sure to employ self care and to seek additional support when needed. Being a leader doesn’t mean taking on more and more. It is about understanding personal limits and knowing when to ask for help. 

 

“We should be focused on the human side of our team but need to be careful about how we address this issue. Some leaders have moved up the ladder too quickly and don’t feel like they’re ready, so they suffer imposter syndrome. We must be aware of our boundaries. Don’t try to carry the world on your shoulders alone, that’s not what a good leader does.”

Jaakko Tammela

CX/Design Director at Dasa + Impar + GSC Health​

 

 

More Information

To watch the full recording download it here. There are more Firesession webinars scheduled for May and June, join the conversation and sign up here. For information on the Design Leadership course visit our site or book a call to discuss any questions with an advisor.

Follow us on social

  instagram: @echosaustralia

  facebook:  @ECHOSaus

  linkedin: @echos-innovation-lab

  youtube: ECHOS Innovation Lab

  spotify: Desired, the podcast

 

How Can We Help?

  For training and Innovation Journeys in your company:

check out our in-house course offering.

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  For upcoming courses in your region: visit our website.

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If you have a special project and would like to use Echos’ consultancy services: send us an email: contact@echos.cc

  Want to speak to a real person? Call us on 1300 502 006

Megan Davis

Originally from Michigan, now living and creating in Melbourne, Megan considers herself a citizen of the world. She has been discovering stories since 2012, specialising in narrative strategy and storytelling for businesses that are daring to create new realities and futures.
She has traveled the world conducting workshops in New York, London, Berlin, and most recently Lisbon at the House of Beautiful Business in 2019 to teach people how to connect with storytelling to deliver strategic business results.
Putting empathy first in business and life, she loves sharing her knowledge by speaking, training, and consulting on projects that are changing the world.

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