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How to build a strong design team structure for business growth

Author:
January 16, 2024
11 minute read
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Have you ever been to a symphony? If so, you understand the importance of all the instruments playing in harmony. In business, just as all instruments in the symphony work together to make music, your product design team must come together to craft a winning product.

This blog post will guide you through building a strong design team structure. We'll help you understand how to assemble the right talents, define roles, and optimize collaboration to build a culture of design superiority.

By the end of this read, you'll have the knowledge and tools to construct a design team that can combine innovation with precision.

Let's get started!

Understanding types of design team structures

A design team is a dynamic assembly of skilled designers, ranging from a single creative mind to a collective of artistic talents. Their objectives are as diverse as the projects they undertake.

Design teams will create:

  • captivating presentations
  • user-centric websites
  • memorable logos

Once you understand what a team of designers does, you must understand what structures exist. The 'design team structure' is the hierarchy of designers and their distinct roles within the team. The structure is not static and should be chosen to help your team complete design work quickly and efficiently. As such, a good design team adapts and evolves to suit the unique demands of your business.

Your design team strategy will be shaped by multiple variables such as:

  • Your industry
  • How many design projects you're working on simultaneously
  • The requirements of your project

You could employ four potential design team structures as you build a team. Take a look below at the team structures you can follow.

What are the four design team structures?

The four types of design team structure are:

  • Centralized
  • Decentralized
  • Flexible
  • Contractual

Choose the best team based on your business and project requirements. To choose the right structure, you need to understand them.

What are the four design team structures?

What is a centralized design team structure?

The centralized team approach is the traditional foundation for structuring your in-house design team.

In this model, your team operates like an internal design agency, with a structured hierarchy resembling a pyramid. The head or creative director is at the top, serving as the primary decision-maker for design projects.

Beneath this creative steward, dedicated design managers oversee various groups of designers, forming the operational spine of the design department.

A centralized framework allows for a simple process for receiving requests from other departments. Once you receive a specific task, you can designate it to the appropriate design teams for execution. It's a model that harmonizes the design experience across your organization.  

A centralized structure is perfect for businesses that need brand unity and clearly defined roles for their team. It is also excellent for sharing resources among your team.

The negative aspect of a centralized team is that decision-making can take longer. With this design team structure, your design team could be isolated from other departments within your business.

How do decentralized teams affect your design strategy?

The decentralized structure of an in-house design team contrasts with the centralized model.

The approach has various names, including:

  • embedded
  • distributed
  • cross-functional

The structure deviates from the traditional hierarchy by eliminating a designated head designer.

Instead, it creates an environment where designers become integral parts of multidisciplinary teams.

Your design team will work alongside professionals from other business departments.

For instance, when completing a project with this model, the following roles in your organization will work together:

  • project manager
  • designer
  • website developer
  • salesperson
  • product engineer

All of them will collaborate on a specific project.

The benefits of this approach include an expedited design process, with requests reaching designers directly, and enhanced collaboration between departments.

However, there are potential issues. The decentralized model can sometimes lead to allocating excessive time and resources to repetitive tasks.

What is a flexible team structure, and does it support a culture of design?

What is a flexible team structure, and does it support a culture of design?

The flexible in-house design structure offers the best of both worlds by combining the strengths of decentralization and centralization. Here, designers integrate into multidisciplinary teams collectively dedicated to specific projects and objectives.

However, these designers also maintain a connection to a design director responsible for aligning their creative vision with the broader team's goals.

The advantages of this approach are its adaptability to the unique requirements of each project and the heightened focus on achieving goals.

So, what are the potential problems? The flexible structure occasionally confuses hierarchy and decision-making processes. It treads the fine line between decentralization and centralization.

How do contracted support design teams differ from in-house design teams?

Last, there's the contractual structure of an in-house graphic design team.

The approach allows you to maintain a leaner in-house team that concentrates on the creative and strategic aspects while outsourcing repetitive and routine tasks to external providers.

The advantages of this model include its cost-efficiency, as you only bring in the specific expertise needed to fill design gaps. It also nurtures creativity within your in-house design team and reduces their workload, allowing them to focus on more important tasks.

Implementing the contractual model might entail a substantial research phase and a steep learning curve to integrate external providers with your in-house team seamlessly.

Now that you know the various design team models, how do you know which is best for your business?

Methods for building a strong design team

Building a successful design team isn't just about selecting the right structure. You must also nurture talent, encourage collaboration, and ensure the team aligns with your business's creative vision.

Here's a step-by-step guide to help you create a thriving design team that can elevate your projects.

Give your design team clear objectives.

Begin by defining your project objectives and your design team's role in achieving them.

Are you focused on branding, user experience, or product development?

A precise understanding of your design strategy will guide your team's composition. Similarly, it will aid you in design team management and streamline the design process.

Remember that a good design plan will include development, UX/UI, and branding. The whole team will be affected by your briefs, and subsequently, your design and development process will benefit from clear objectives.

Identify Key Roles and Skills

Determine the specific roles and skills required for your design projects. Find what expertise your team needs in graphic design, UX/UI, illustration, or other areas.

Ensure a well-rounded mix of skills from the members of your team to cover various design aspects.

Outlining the skills you need for your project will guide you when assembling your design team. So, make sure you plan everything in detail.

Recruit Top Talent

Start the recruitment process once you've identified the roles and skills needed. Look for designers with a portfolio that aligns with your project's goals.

Conduct thorough interviews and assess their ability to collaborate effectively, a crucial aspect of any design team.

You can spend time looking through freelance platforms like Upwork to find freelance designers. However, you will need to invest time to do this. You need to hire multiple freelancers and train them on your processes to build a team that will perform well.

You could consider a design team like us at Tenscope for a simpler and faster approach. Our whole design team will integrate with your business so your team feels organically chosen.

There are a few advantages to this approach. The first is we have a design process that you can easily integrate with your existing business processes. Next, we have vetted our team, who are all specialists in their different design areas.

You will also need to consider payment schedules. With freelancers, many will invoice once work is complete or require large upfront fees for a project.

Meanwhile, a design company can offer greater flexibility with invoicing and even offer design subscription services.

Encourage a culture of design strategy that's cross-functional

You need to create a culture of cross-functional collaboration within your design team.

Encourage designers to work closely with professionals from other departments.

Interdepartmental synergy can lead to innovative solutions and more comprehensive projects.

If you build a freelance team of designers, you must consider designing a process promoting collaboration. You will need to supply tools that all people can use and understand.

If you choose to work with a design company, they should have processes to guide you in creating a collaborative process.

For example, a design team will help you:

  • Choose the best software for collaboration
  • Help you implement a communication procedure
  • Aid you in creating design asset centralization libraries
  • Improve your design processes

These are a few things to consider as you decide on a design team and think about how to boost their collaboration. It's essential for a successful team.

Provide resources and design tools.

Equip your design team with the necessary resources and tools to excel in their roles.

If you work with a team of freelancers, you will need to provide:

  • Software
  • Hardware
  • Training
  • Development opportunities

If you build your design team by employing an established business, they will likely have the software and hardware needed to complete a task.

If not, some common software tools you could use are:

  • Figma
  • Miro
  • Notion

In addition to this, the business will invest in their growth and professional development. It could save you time and money because you are not paying for ongoing professional development.

Define Clear Workflows

Establish clear workflows and processes for project management.

If not, even the best designers in the world cannot become a brilliant design team.

You should outline:

  • how requests will be received
  • how tasks will be assigned
  • how progress will be tracked
  • Who should your team contact with issues

Clarity will streamline operations and minimize misunderstandings.

Ideally, you should have these processes before hiring a design team. A great design system will help you attract a team of experienced UX designers.

Promote Creative Freedom

While structure and guidelines are essential, they also promote creative freedom within your design team.

Encourage designers to explore innovative approaches and express their creativity.

A balance between structure and creative liberty can lead to exceptional results.

By doing this, you will also begin to exhibit signs of an exceptional design leader. Your team will begin to trust you more, and your business will see growth resulting from the freedom you have given the team.

Implement a design culture of continuous feedback and evaluation

Implement a design culture of continuous feedback and evaluation

Implement a system for regular feedback and evaluation. Provide constructive feedback to help your designers improve, and seek their input on team dynamics and processes. A continuous improvement loop is vital for growth.

You can do this with online tools for feedback and setting regular meetings.

You should focus heavily on the first point in this section - clearly defined goals. You must clearly define goals to evaluate your team's growth and provide constructive feedback.

When providing feedback to your team, remember they are likely trying their best. You can use the sandwich method for this. The sandwich method is simple and effective for creating a positive work environment. When providing feedback, start with something positive and give a compliment. Then, you can segway into constructive feedback for improvement and finish with another compliment.

Adapt and Evolve

As your business evolves, so should your design team structure.

Be ready to adapt and make necessary adjustments.

Adjustments could mean:

  • Modifying your project timeline
  • Adding or removing team members
  • Reallocating resources

Evaluate the effectiveness of your chosen design team structure and refine it based on changing project requirements.

If you begin with a centralized team structure, you can change it according to your project needs.

No matter the situation, flexibility on your part will trickle down to your team.

Measure Success with KPI tracking.

Finally, establish key performance indicators (KPIs) to measure the success of your design team.

Here are some specific KPIs that can help you gauge the effectiveness of your design efforts:

  • Website Traffic
  • Conversion Rates:
  • User Engagement
  • Customer Feedback
  • Brand Consistency
  • Usability Testing
  • Visual Appeal
  • Time to Market
  • Cost per Design Project
  • Client Satisfaction
  • Social Media Engagement
  • Error Rates
  • Accessibility Compliance
  • Return on Investment

One important factor not mentioned above is cost.

Why did we ignore this metric?

It's because you should not choose a design team on cost alone.

But you should occasionally check your team's efficiency with their cost. If you consistently need to make changes or request multiple revisions, is the cost of the current design team worth your investment?

Building a successful design team is an ongoing process that requires attention to detail, continuous improvement, and a commitment to nurturing a design culture that promotes talent.

Measure Success with KPI tracking.

Common challenges when choosing how to organize a design team

We have extensively covered the most common team organization and what to consider when building or looking for a team.

Now, we want to explain the common issues business owners face when making a design team structure decision.

We will cover the design team structures again, but look at specific issues you could face now. We'll give you a scenario where each team structure could benefit your business the most.

Common issues when choosing a centralized team structure

Common issues when choosing a centralized team structure

The most common problem preventing business owners from adopting this structure is decision-making timelines.

Imagine you're running a well-established e-commerce platform. You must maintain a consistent brand identity across various marketing channels and product designs.

A centralized design team structure works best here, ensuring brand unity. However, you will need strong timelines and communication processes to ensure effectiveness.

How to overcome decentralized design team issues

Picture a technology startup with cross-functional teams focused on developing innovative software solutions. In this scenario, a decentralized design team structure works well.

It allows for rapid collaboration between designers and developers.

But, you may face challenges coordinating resources when multiple teams simultaneously require design support.

To combat this, you can have a centralized system of design assets. Create a design library and share it with everyone involved in your project.

Overcoming hierarchy confusion with a flexible design team structure

Overcoming hierarchy confusion with a flexible design team structure

A flexible design team structure adapts well to diverse project requirements. A marketing agency serving clients from various industries would benefit from this structure.

However, you might feel confused over the hierarchy and decision-making processes as designers collaborate across different projects.

To overcome this, you can:

  • Designate project leads
  • Establish communication protocols
  • Use project management tools
  • Create a design style guide
  • Document your processes

After you analyze your needs and find your business would benefit most from this structure, you can now employ it confidently.

Can you fully integrate a contractual design team?

The biggest challenge business owners face when outsourcing design and choosing a contractual design team structure is integration.

You'll likely have many questions when working with an external design team.

The most common is, "How can I fully integrate a contracted design team into my business?"

So, imagine you're a small manufacturing company with a lean in-house design team. You adopt a contractual design team structure to handle specialized product packaging designs. The approach is ideal because it saves costs and enhances creativity within your core team.

However, integrating external providers may require a substantial research period and close collaboration.

Here's how to overcome the integration challenges to use this structure for your business.

  • Vet providers
  • Read contracts well
  • Onboard your new team
  • Outline escalation procedures for potential issues

Effective communication, clear documentation, and a focus on building strong working relationships are key to successfully integrating external providers with your in-house team.

Armed with common issues arising from choosing a design team structure, you can choose which can grow your business the most.

Summary

An organizational design team structure is key to unlocking your organization's full potential for all design needs. After all, great design comes from great design teams as a whole. The team structure doesn't matter; what matters is if your design team works on UX design together during the entire design process.

Learn the design team structures, their benefits, and challenges to create a high-performing design team.

If you do, you will improve

  • collaboration
  • increase productivity
  • achieve peak performance

Remember, the right design team structure can be a game-changer for your organization, so make sure to choose wisely and invest in the success of your design team.

Do you need help deciding on the best structure for your business? We can guide you in the process with a no-obligation consultation. Click the yellow "get started" button at the top right of your screen.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the structures of the product design team?

Leading a design team starts with how you choose to structure it. Common structures are flexible, centralized, and embedded design teams.

What does a product design team do?

Product design teams develop ideas into practical, functional, and attractive products. They have the creativity and knowledge to see a concept from conception to production.

What roles are in a design team?

A design team typically includes roles such as Product Designer, User Experience Designer, Visual Designer, and Front-end Developer, all of which are essential for the success of a project.

What is the difference between an embedded design team structure and a centralized design team structure?

An embedded design team structure integrates designers with product teams to foster collaboration, whereas a centralized design team structure focuses on a unified design vision and streamlined decision-making.

How can a hybrid design team structure benefit my organization?

A hybrid design team structure offers adaptability, versatility, and scalability to help your organization accommodate different project sizes and requirements, making it an effective solution.

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