I initially wrote this article in Brazilian Portuguese for UX Collective, and it was published in September 2017. This version is a full translation of my ideas at that time. Probably have a complementary and updated view about some points. However, the article's goal of bringing attention to design leadership's quality remains the same.
As a designer, I believe that our design is the result of a series of discoveries made during the process of building something. The goal of the process itself is always to bring enough learning to build something relevant for people. Less important than the process name is it be truly people-centered.
By default, we should keep this objective in mind, but we must keep this look within our design teams. We cannot treat people (team members) as project resources that can be discarded and replaced. Everyone needs to feel good and safe inside their work environments to deliver good results, share experiences, learn from each other, and explore their full potential.
Google itself showed us in a survey of more than 180 teams which are the most important items for good teamwork:
The UX design leadership
Bringing this reflection to a design team's leadership, it seems obvious the need for it to be equally people-centered. On second thought, any good leader should follow these premises.
Interestingly, according to the study published in March this year (2017) by the Nielsen Norman Group, issues related to Management and Leadership are still the most problematic that designers face in their companies:
Julie Zhuo, current VP of Design at Facebook, created a management manifest on her Medium account that could easily be the initial guideline for any Design Leadership's work.
In addition to that, Poor Management can impair the visibility and execution of design work, affect team members' development, and in more extreme cases, it can even make people sick.
Update 2021: Nowadays, more than before, the design leader as the team workers must act to prevent burnout. For sure, it is not easy to remotely manage diverse people working in different contexts. Check it out your burnout risk index.
Design within the design team
The design leader has enough knowledge of several methods and tools to help solve complex problems. So, What if she or he used some of these methods within our teams? What if the design leader used his own team to test hypotheses and evolve his leadership skills? What if empathy was applied until it became natural? Below are some simple examples adapted to the team's context.
Going to work: User Journey and Blueprint
Each person goes through different paths to go to work daily. Some of them take two buses, a subway, train, and still leave home without having breakfast. Have you ever stopped to think about the ups and downs that can exist in just one day of this journey? Analyze it.
Different team profiles: Personas
Knowing the team's existing profiles is essential for internal project definitions and responsibilities. Stimulate the exchange of knowledge between team members or even outline a better career plan. Know it.
Collaboration: Design thinking, Design sprint, Agile, Lean, etc.
If everything is done with dedication, collaboratively, involving the user in the process, it doesn't matter what name it takes. It is useless to use or quote "design methods" in the wrong contexts when people do not understand why they are making or using each one. Collaborate it.
Group decisions: Workshops Facilitation
Transparency is as important an item as the group decision. If the team has an internal problem that can be solved collaboratively, it is an excellent opportunity to solve it. Make it easy.
Anonymous feedback: Online Survey
A simple Google Docs solves a lot. Some people don't feel comfortable to come up to the leader and talk openly. Anonymity can provide the necessary protection for all team members to take a position, even the most sensitive issues. Read it.
One to one: In-depth interview
It is good to have a chat like this from time to time. Everyone wants to be heard, and there is always something new to share in a sincere face-to-face conversation. Whether for salary issues, asking for and giving feedback on a specific topic, or just commenting on how you feel. A good interviewer, willing to listen, really takes a lot out of such a conversation. Listen to it.
Team climate: ethnography
The leader's day-to-day work should be almost imperceptible. He's not there to do micromanagement or to put his finger on every project. His role is to remove impediments and make it easier for everyone to perform their duties without headaches. A full schedule without space for the team can lead to a harmful distance. Watch it.
A different way to lead
In an interview for the newspaper Folha de São Paulo, 2012, John Maeda, author of the book "The laws of simplicity" and former president of the Rhode Island School of Design (USA), comments on his opinion on the current role of industry professionals creative and also about how good leadership works:
“I believe that creative leadership is what we need to seek today. The most important characteristics of this type of model are: to lead by inspiration, not by fear, by creating contact networks, and not by hierarchy, and by experimentation and iteration, instead of finalization. ” - John Maeda
Our market is full of opportunities. Especially for those who work with software and the internet, our career evolves quickly, and some important things end up being left out when they shouldn't have. I hope that this text has evoked in you some thoughts. It is possible to make people management inspiring and collaborative, using many things that you already know and have available on a daily basis.