The first 100 days as a design leader
Apr 24, 2023
So, you’ve just been promoting to a design lead. Congratulations! All your hard work has paid off, what an accomplishment and the next big chapter in your long and fruitful career. So business as usual tomorrow? Yes and no. While your experience to date has got you this far, stepping up into design leadership does come with a few changes which we will explore below by considering the first 100 days in the life of a new design leader.
First and foremost, your priorities will shift as well as your perspective. It’s time to zoom out that microscope (or switch entirely to binoculars). No longer will you be able to tunnel vision that killer feature or painstakingly craft that single button (although we do appreciate it) - instead you will be focused on the much grander and daunting task of being responsible for the success of your team’s projects as a whole. What does this mean? As a lead, you will be able be accountable for meeting project deadlines, ensuring the quality and consistency of the work, and managing stakeholder relationships. You will also be responsible for the growth and development of your team members, providing guidance, feedback, and mentorship as needed.
Needless to say, becoming a leader comes with a great demand for interpersonal skills. Overtime you will develop your own way of doing things, no two leaders are alike as no two designers are alike either. Which style you choose to pursue will be determined by your personality, the company culture, and your team members themselves. Getting to know (really) your team members is critical - their strengths and weaknesses, as well as their individual goals and aspirations. Making the effort to know each team member on a personal level early on can generate huge gains in the future from establishing open and honest communication, building trust, and cultivating a positive working relationship among your team.
Secondly, you can expect to spend more time in meetings and less time on your beloved design. As a design lead or manager, you will be involved in more meetings with stakeholders and leaders across the company. Accompanying that, you will also be responsible for presenting and communicating design concepts and strategies to various audiences - each of which will be interested in a different aspect to the other. As a result, it's important to embrace and develop strong communication and organisational skills to effectively present your ideas, deliver the correct information, and manage people’s expectations and your time.
To prepare for this, consider taking a public speaking course or joining a Toastmasters group to practice your presentation skills. Also, take the time to understand the perspectives and priorities of different stakeholders and departments. What are their goals within the company? Into what level of details should I go into with them? Avoid giving just the conclusion to decisions. While filtering information is smart (and appreciated by all), you must share the narrative behind your ideas and decisions in order to conduct proper and productive discussions. If higher-above’s don’t understand how you made a decision, then they will fight it and news flash - the HiPPO always wins.
Lastly, you can expect to have a broader impact on the organization - woohoo, finally! As a design lead or manager, you will have the opportunity to shape the direction and culture of the design team, as well as the overall organization. “You will have a seat at the table” as some often say. You will be responsible for advocating for design thinking and user-centered design principles throughout the company and ensuring that design is integrated into the business strategy.
Just remember, there was a reason why someone promoted you to become a design lead. One of those reasons is the mountains of knowledge you have gathered over the years and how you can teach others and lead projects from your learned experiences. However, no matter how much you know there will always be knowledge gaps so we recommend you make the time to sharpen up your skills particularly around design leadership by reading books (or Blinkist - we don’t judge), reaching out for mentorship from experienced leaders, and of course attending workshops and conferences specialising on the topic - ahem :).
In summary, transitioning into a design lead or management position is a significant step in your career, and it comes with its own set of unique challenges and opportunities. While it may be overwhelming at first, taking the time to prepare for your new role can help you navigate the first 100 days with confidence and set the foundation for long-term success.
As a design lead or manager, you will have the chance to shape the direction of your team and the organization as a whole, advocate for design thinking, and build relationships with stakeholders across the company. It's a chance to take on new responsibilities, develop new skills, and create an impact that extends beyond the realm of design.
Remember that no matter how experienced or knowledgeable you may be, there is always more to learn. Stay open to feedback, seek out mentorship and guidance from experienced leaders in your field, and continue to grow and evolve as a designer and a leader. By doing so, you can help your team thrive, drive innovation, and make a meaningful impact on your organization and the world at large.