Important tips for great design team management

March 25, 2024
13 minute read
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For new and seasoned business owners, managing a team is difficult. World-class leaders cultivate trust and transparency and guide their designers to their full potential. They often do this by giving them liberty in their designs within certain guidelines.

As a leader, you must be empathetic and provide constructive feedback. Honest communication should be the pillar on which you base your leadership. When you combine great leadership with great designers, you will have a winning team that no other business can compare with.

So why is all of this so challenging for design team managers? It's because you need to be a strategic leader. You must traverse the landscape from hands-on practice to leading a team toward success.

Don't get frightened. Click the X at the top right of your screen just yet. Although being a design team manager can sometimes be overwhelming, it is also very rewarding. As a business owner, you will benefit from the abovementioned skills. You're likely in your current position because of hard work and a combination of all the above skills.

So, what can you do to become a better leader and help your team in the design process? If you're ready to nail the job to inspire and ignite a creative flame within your team so they create outstanding design work, we will help you. This article covers what you should and shouldn't do so your team sees you as a creative powerhouse.

Who wouldn't want that level of productivity in their business?

Key Takeaways

  • The difference between leadership and management
  • How to manage a team effectively
  • What you should and shouldn't do as a design manager
  • Tips for managing a remote design team

Design leadership vs. design manager: What makes good design team management?  

Design leadership vs. design manager: What makes good design team management?

In a leadership role, most assume the manager position, but these two terms aren't interchangeable.

When was your first job? Did you get it when you were 16? If so, you may have grown up thinking that management meant bossing people around. But, If you feel a manager is a similar career path to a leader, you will see how career growth and understanding will help you improve your skill set after reading our guide.

Everyone can manage, but few can lead. A manager tells people what to do to ensure their daily tasks are timely. A design lead will do the same, but they'll inspire and empower their team of designers as they work towards a common goal. Leaders understand and combine management skills with the support they recognize their team will need.

The nuance is slight, but the impacts are powerful when you manage design product teams. Being a leader comprises optimizing processes and streamlining design procedures. Your goal as a leader is to advocate for the value and importance of teamwork so your organization and team can grow and meet its goals. When you develop the design team as a whole, the team grows, increasing your level of design maturity.

A design leader's key functions are the following:

  • To optimize work and keep everybody aligned
  • Manage their team strategically
  • Serve your team as a coach or mentor
  • Advocate for excellent designs across your organization

Optimizing work and keeping everyone involved requires creating frameworks and focusing on collaboration. Using your best practices, you push the design team forward to achieve the bigger goal you or your organization set. You do this by showing how your team's work is meaningful and aligns with your organization's design decisions.

Leaders aren't born; rather, they are made. Few people possess the skills to be leaders the day they're born. Most in these positions evolve and adopt the characteristics of a leader. You'll be able to easily distinguish a leader from a manager because the former will always be providing valuable insight and helping others hone their expertise.

To empower and help others grow, you need to encourage strategic risk-taking. Notice we said strategic. You should encourage your team members to constantly analyze their decisions and consider their impact before taking action. When your employees feel trusted, it can go a long way. You must then be prepared to praise your team if they succeed, yet console and reflect if they are unsuccessful.

Do you clearly understand the difference between a leader and a manager? Can you see why you need to be a leader to develop a strong, successful team for your UX design projects?

Which sounds better to you?

In the next sections of this post, we will share what you should and shouldn't do to manage a design team properly. But, for now, let's focus on the two most important components when managing your team.

The two most important product design management principles to motivate a design team

The two most important product design management principles to motivate a design team

After reading about the qualities of a good leader, you may think it must be more complicated than following just two principles to support your team. But you can follow a proven roadmap to becoming a great leader, which only involves two principles. Cultivation and enabling high-quality work are the key indicators of successfully managing a design team. Effective management boils down to two simple tips.

How to hire the right team and cultivate team efforts

Managing a design team isn't just about keeping the people on your team happy; it's about finding new people who are a good fit for your business and providing them with the support they need. You must attract new talent that aligns with your business and its goals while motivating existing team members daily. You can create a safe environment where people feel purpose and safety in their role.

You can further enhance your team by:

  • Hiring good team members
  • Creating community and a sense of belonging
  • Enabling personal growth through motivation
  • Spotlighting purpose and celebrating success with impact

How can you guarantee you're doing everything right? As with everything in life, there is no guarantee. But you can try your best and improve daily. It's okay to be vulnerable as you're learning. You're building a new knowledge set. You'll learn that making mistakes and refining your management approach is okay.  

How to hire the right team and cultivate team efforts

Lessons from design leaders: How to hire great design team members

Managing a team means attracting and vetting the right people with a rigorous interview process. You have a few key responsibilities when hiring. The first is accurately predicting the talent you need to reach your organizational goals. You need to ensure you have senior designers and juniors; they all work purposefully, and you hire the right people. One of the big mistakes early on in the careers of many designers is hiring the wrong people.

We recommend you consider hiring diverse individuals. A good team leader knows that more perspectives lead to greater success. Design is beauty, and beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

Culture mandates everything we do, including the designs we find attractive. You should focus on diversity within your team. Another responsibility of managing a design team is determining a great interview process. You should consider your questions and how they help you identify individuals who will adopt and advocate for developing your business goals.

You can simplify the interview process by training your team to interview potential team members. Just ensure you are making the final hiring decision. Make the final decision, but don't act like a know-it-all. Instead, communicate clearly with the members of your team regarding your choice.  

Lastly, onboard your new hires so they feel supported and prepared in their newfound role. All these steps are vital as you build a team from scratch.

Enable personal development of new skills to promote growth

A crucial aspect of your role when you manage a design team is helping people get better with proper management techniques. There are some good and bad ways to do this. We will share the good ways, and you will be able to deduce the bad.

Always communicate clear performance expectations. When you clarify what meeting and exceeding expectations means to your team members, they will understand their role better. They can then take control of their success. Tell your team when you will assess their performance and make the performance review calendar available. But don't only wait to meet your team members for a performance review.

You should regularly discuss company goals and offer personal and professional development goals with regular check-ins. When you do this, you perform another important aspect of your role as design team leader. You invite learning opportunities and have increased chances to provide coaching & real-time feedback.

Celebrate success

Celebrate success

Showing up to manage your design team can be mentally draining. But you need to change your mindset. Instead of seeing the job as a drain, see it as a chance to invigorate yourself and your team. It's the manager's job to celebrate team collaboration and business successes. Ensure you align any celebration with how it supports the organization's overall UX design vision.

Enabling high-quality work as a design team manager

We just covered how to build a successful design team. How can you keep your employees engaged so they provide their best work?

You can focus on advocating for team needs, aligning the business vision and strategy with daily tasks, and creating a shared context of why you chose that specific team. Find the best way to keep your team productive and in high spirits, and you will be a pro at managing a creative team of product designers.

How to align your team's designs with the company's vision as a design leader

You should give your team members a voice as you work on projects. You hired them because they fit your company's culture and trust in their abilities. Don't backtrack on that when it comes time to make a difficult design choice. Reiterate the vision and goal of a design, then ask your team their thoughts and feelings about it. Allow them to recommend stylistic changes and consider them.

Ultimately, you will have the final say in what stays or goes. But giving your team members the power to provide their two cents will make them feel like a valuable part of the team.

Give your team the tools needed for success.

Advocacy is about ensuring your team has what it needs to succeed. You may need to change processes or request new hires. Perhaps you even need to ask for help from your superiors. No matter what you need to do, doing it will guarantee your team has what it needs for success.

Create shared experiences and common context.

This section of the blog post is fairly straightforward. Keep your team in the loop with new information about the company. Even if you need to disclose something negatively, do it promptly.

You've learned to handle a design team, keep them focused, and work together. However, no design team will always work like a well-oiled machine. There will be disagreements and blunders.

How to resolve conflicts and maintain harmony within your design team structure

How to resolve conflicts and maintain harmony within your design team structure

When your team is dysfunctional, it can affect your goals and the quality of their work and cause workplace tensions.

Workplace tensions are a nightmare. You'll feel it before you hear it or see it. It'll feel like a  weight on your chest.

So, how should you handle workplace tensions?

Squash the conflict swiftly. Start by talking to each team member involved in the conflict before you take any action. You must hear both sides of the story and sift through the facts. When upset, people inject emotions into their speech and distort facts.

Recognize that any fabrication is likely not intentional. Our minds will perceive actions when we are angry. Your role in conflict resolution is deciphering the truth from the emotion and taking appropriate action, such as a team lead meeting.

Wondering why you should act quickly apart from increased stress? According to Psychology Today, a leading magazine centered around psychology and human behavior, when people are angry, they are operating as if their IQ were 10 to 15 points lower than it truly is.

In short, anger can affect choices. Next, it can lead to impulse aggression. Impulse aggression is retaliatory and caused by stressors in an environment. It can lead to hostility and aggression, affecting more people in the workplace.

Have we clarified why you should strive to resolve conflict as fast as possible in the workplace?

It's the same reason our top tips for managing designers who can't get along at work are to respond quickly and listen before acting.

What you should and shouldn't do to manage a design team effectively

We've covered a lot in this blog post. To help you remember everything, we are consolidating everything into a concise list.

  1. Do communicate with transparency
  2. Do provide and accept feedback
  3. Do encourage growth
  4. Do make priorities and goals understandable
  5. Do create frameworks to assist you and your team

Now, onto what you shouldn't.

  1. Do not micromanage your team.
  2. Do not expect perfection, but aim for continuous improvement
  3. Do not stop educating yourself or your team.

Wondering why the list of things you should avoid is shorter? It's because we don't like to focus on negativity. As a leader and effective design team manager, you should focus on the positive.

All this makes a great remote design team manager, too, right?

Yes, but you will need to modify some of these tips accordingly. But why is that important?

According to Forbes, by 2025, 70% of the world's workforce will be remote.

So, our article would not be a completely relevant resource if we did not explore how to manage a design team remotely. Here's how you can modify and effectively manage a remote team.

Keep communication lines open.

When working remotely, you need to consider your team members' location. Meetings are a great way to ask team members for input and connect individually on pressing issues. And it's one of the best ways to keep projects on track when you must meet a deadline.

However, scheduling remote team meetings requires tact because you must consider time zones.

For instance, morning meeting times are best if you want the whole team available and have British and American hires. If not, your employees across the pond will be in bed rather than at your meeting.

Next, you need to set up a schedule for meetings and communication. Let your team know how often they should communicate with you and others.

Most importantly, how should people communicate? Should they use email, instant messages, or video?

A great way to involve your whole team in a project and get them to know each other is by using a service like Video Ask or Interactly Video. These services will broaden communication between your team and you because they can leave each other video messages to articulate their needs or doubts better.

Lessons from design leaders like Luis Hermosilla on Medium outline that communication is essential. He says you can use video to ensure employees feel part of the team; otherwise, it would not function.

You may need to provide incentives during project management tasks

Remote teams are usually very productive. However, it's important to remember many of them could be working from home. You can communicate deadlines and goals, but some may need extra incentives to complete work.

Your team may feel overwhelmed if you need to complete multiple design projects quickly. How can you solve the problem of overwhelm? Give regular feedback and foster open communication.

Make sure you have the right design team management tools to collaborate

You will need communication, collaboration, and task management tools when managing a remote team.

For design teams, you could consider any of the following:

  • Zoom
  • Microsoft Teams
  • Figma
  • Miro
  • Asana
  • Trello Todoist

These tools can be used for collaborating, meeting, or just chatting.

Make sure you have the right design team management tools to collaborate

Don't overload with UX work or unnecessary tasks that aren't important now

In remote work, it's easy to dump many tasks on a team. It's easy to forget that things take time because everyone is home. In the office, there is a constant reminder of the time needed to complete a task.

You can consider weekly check-ins and flexible deadlines for non-crucial tasks to ensure work is completed.

Be ready for challenges.

In an office environment, challenges are plenty, but these can feel compounded when working remotely. Consider that miscommunications will occur. Next, build trust because it's more difficult to trust people remotely. You can promote trust by ensuring accountability. Don't forget there could be technical difficulties regarding files and applications at any moment, so consider using online tools and platforms accessible to everyone. Lastly, remember that working remotely relies on a stable internet connection, and occasionally, people will have connection issues.


Mastering team creativity and managing a team is multifaceted.

Design leaders can create a thriving team by:

  • Building a strong team
  • Fostering effective communication with your team
  • Setting clear expectations and goals
  • Empowering designers
  • Nurturing professional growth
  • Resolving conflicts
  • Celebrating success
  • Adapting to change
  • Balancing management with creativity

As you implement these strategies, remember that managing is an ongoing learning, adapting, and growing process. By staying open to new ideas and methodologies, you can lead your team toward exceptional results and inspire them to reach new heights of creativity and innovation. At its core, these skills will ensure that employees feel like they are making a difference and have a sense of purpose while knowing what they need to achieve. Give your team direct reports to connect individually to their work so employees feel like they're working towards a bigger goal.

Most importantly, and not mentioned above, don't act like a know-it-all instead of being king because designers always network, and it could lead to negative impressions of you.

We've sufficiently covered the dos and don'ts of being an effective design manager. Next time you want to assign a business task as a design challenge, you will know how to effectively manage all types of designers.

Frequently Asked Questions

How do you manage a design team effectively?

Manage your team effectively by providing them with the best tools, listening to their feedback, understanding their passion and commitment, training them to hone their skills, being aware of creative blocks and granting creative freedom with a pinch of restraint, and communicating company goals and big picture projects clearly and regularly.

How do you structure a good team?

A successful team should typically follow three common structures: centralized, embedded, or flexible. These involve organizing hierarchy into different roles and responsibilities while also creating a culture of design strategy, open communication, and trust. Furthermore, ensure that goals and expectations are defined clearly and prioritize growth, learning, and development.

How can effective communication benefit your team of designers?

Effective communication helps create trust, foster collaboration, and increase understanding amongst all members, leading to greater success and better outcomes.

What is the importance of setting clear expectations and goals?

Setting clear expectations and goals is essential for alignment, improved efficiency, and successful project outcomes.

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