Design Leaders

Leader

Design Leaders aren’t super-designers. Their role is NOT to ‘approve or disapprove’ other designers. Nor is it to dot the final pixel-perfect or sweat the final details to a design.

Many organizations make the common mistake of confusing design managers with design leaders. Design leaders touch upon the organization, and not just the design department. The role is strategic and needs to align with the organization’s strategy and plans.

C-suite Design Leaders who can take decisions

Organizations, in search for a competitive advantage over their counterparts, should have more visible acts of advocacy for design leadership. Hiring design leaders such as “Chief Design Officer” or similar C-suite Vice President design roles is a good start.

A successful design leader brings in a design harmony, patterns, frameworks, and guides across the organization. From the very deep core of visual and experience designs to brand messaging to treating people, a design leader has a meaningful impact. She can have a successful and meaningfully designed product, by working with the team, without herself ever opening Photoshop or Sketch. She might just be sketching on a napkin but she connects the dots and get the team to execute the best of designs.

Erstwhile Craftsman & Practitioner

One key measure of a successful design leader is her effective presentation skills. She should be able to talk with confidence and drive everyone involved towards a common goal. She should have good management skills and leverage the best of design managers. Finally, she should mentor and help more designers become leaders.

Marcin Treder said it beautifully, “Great design leaders are seasoned practitioners, ready to give up the craft.”

A design leader leads and drives discussions with the design team, management and beyond. She initiates dialogue, both good and bad, to achieve the common goal of producing good meaningful designs. She instills an inquisitive mood of asking “what” driving organizations to produce better-designed products. She is confident in leaving the “how” of designs to the designers and the team.

The Right Person

It is sad but many organizations try to bring in design leaders who are not designers but carved out of seasoned managers. Without design leaders, organizations cannot achieve good designs. Without a design leader, even the best designers will just be answering to the whims of managers to fulfill client and customer demands that might not be good in the long term.

A design leader continues to be actively involved in design disciplines, remain driven to design, coaches others, is a team player, always open-minded, is not afraid of change, and is always ready to give actionable feedback. Last, but not the least, a design leader is committed to integrating design and design thinking throughout the organization.

“Design leaders succeed by designing indirectly – through the work of their teams. The key task of a design leader is to become the worst designer on the team.” — Marcin Treder

Here are some good references for further reading;

Photo by Jehyun Sung.

10 principles of “Good Design”

Good design:

  1. Is innovative – The possibilities for innovation are not, by any means, exhausted. Technological development is always offering new opportunities for innovative design. But innovative design always develops in tandem with innovative technology, and can never be an end in itself.
  2. Makes a product useful – A product is bought to be used. It has to satisfy certain criteria, not only functional, but also psychological and aesthetic. Good design emphasizes the usefulness of a product whilst disregarding anything that could possibly detract from it.
  3. Is aesthetic – The aesthetic quality of a product is integral to its usefulness because products are used every day and have an effect on people and their well-being. Only well-executed objects can be beautiful.
  4. Makes a product understandable – It clarifies the product’s structure. Better still, it can make the product clearly express its function by making use of the user’s intuition. At best, it is self-explanatory.
  5. Is unobtrusive – Products fulfilling a purpose are like tools. They are neither decorative objects nor works of art. Their design should therefore be both neutral and restrained, to leave room for the user’s self-expression.
  6. Is honest – It does not make a product more innovative, powerful or valuable than it really is. It does not attempt to manipulate the consumer with promises that cannot be kept.
  7. Is long-lasting – It avoids being fashionable and therefore never appears antiquated. Unlike fashionable design, it lasts many years – even in today’s throwaway society.
  8. Is thorough down to the last detail – Nothing must be arbitrary or left to chance. Care and accuracy in the design process show respect towards the consumer.
  9. Is environmentally friendly – Design makes an important contribution to the preservation of the environment. It conserves resources and minimizes physical and visual pollution throughout the lifecycle of the product.
  10. Is as little design as possible – Less, but better – because it concentrates on the essential aspects, and the products are not burdened with non-essentials. Back to purity, back to simplicity.

Source: Dieter Rams’ ten principles of “good design” – Wikipedia.

SkyNET Robot Hacker – DIY Mobile Hacking for under $600

It was only a matter of time before bored DIY geeks began combining fun toys with dangerous snooping technology; which is exactly what someone did when they combined a DIY remote-control toy helicopter with wireless-network-hacking computer. The end result is the ominous sounding SkyNET bot, a menacing hacker drone with an even more dubious-sounding name.

The Terminator-inspired name SkyNET may be just the ticket to purveying exactly how ominous a fly-in-the-air wireless hacking machine can be. This cheap and easy to build machine can be built for less than $600 ($300 for the helicopter alone) by anyone with a curious mind and even the slightest technical know-how. Building the machine requires only a remote-control helicopter (SkyNET uses a Parrot AR Drone Quadricopter) modded with a lightweight computer (SkyNET uses Linux), a 3G connection, a GPS receiver, and 2 Wifi cards (one for the remote control and one for attacking the wireless networks).

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Will love-hate relationship continue with Flash 11?

The love-hate relationship that millions of computer geeks around the world have with Flash is about to change. Flash Player has gotten a makeover and released its version 11. The widely-used browser plug-in from Adobe got an overhaul, undoubtedly due to threats to its monopoly from rapidly-growing web standards competitors like HTML5, Silverlight and Java FX. Web standards coming to market is the only threat to Flash’s supremacy though, Adobe’s brainchild has also been locked out of iOS devices and has only a small foothold with Android.

With this new release of Flash Adobe seems to be forgetting the iOS lockout and other cellphone and tablet platforms, and instead is targeting high-end technology — specifically within gaming, high-end video, in-house application building and the growing 64-bit world.

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How to Hire a Great Web Designer

Garry Tan, designer-in-residence for YCombinator, shares some insights on how to hire Great Web Designers for your Startup/Company.

For startups on the Web, design is often a fundamental differentiator. It’s important to have a design leader in the company as early as possible—and he should be given say over schedules, deadlines and product strategy.

The one thing that really stood is how non-technical or non-designer managers should deal with designers. “There’s a reason why people should be managed by people who have done the work before—they have a clear way to evaluate talent and performance. My advice would be to ask a friend or colleague whom you trust to evaluate the output and determine if it comes to fairly qualitative measures of aesthetics, fitting your brand, etc.”

So, even if you got a good designer and a talented one, the one interacting with him or her have not clue of the design trends or at-least a common sense of what’s happening around the Internet, it will totally be counter-productive and harm the company brand and reputation.

The article is a good read — How to Hire a Great Web Designer, With YCombinator’s Garry Tan. And if you’re looking on enlisting at the directory of Designers mentioned in the article — Y Combinator Designer Directory.

Startup Research, CSS text-overflow and why should you keep things simple

One of the early topics in the Founder Institute curriculum is “Startup Research”. Here is a video and slides of a Startup Research lesson to the Silicon Valley program by Adeo Ressi, Founder of the Founder Institute.

The talk provides an overview of how the character of different markets affects the reality of operation, how good research is critical to helping a founder understand both the journey and the destination, and how founders cannot escape the realities of the market that they are in. It is a very informative lesson and provides many practical tips for performing diligent market research before diving into a market. Follow @founding to keep yourself updated. Continue reading

Free CSS3 Videos, Startup Marriage, Effective Minimalism in Design, Free WordPress themes of 2011 and more

Looks like I spend quite a bit of my time reading news and information on the Internet. Here are few good ones that I found today.

Effective Minimalism in Experience Design

Tara Hornor writes about the strength of Minimalism which can bring forth clarity of form; clean lines, ample white space, and how minimal graphical elements can lend an air of simplicity to even the most confounding subject matter.

Minimalism is the act of stripping the form to its very basic, necessary elements, the keyword here being “necessary.” No true minimalist would approve of those designs that leave the audience confused or unsure. The idea is to make the message more clear, not more hidden.

Read the article at UXBooth – Effective Minimalism in Experience Design.

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Facebook Returns to “Hacker Roots” with Open-Source Data Center Project

In a surprise move Facebook has gone back to their “hacker roots” — their words not mine, by releasing their data center designs to the public. In a project dubbed the Open Compute project, Facebook has busted open the secretive world of data centers by making their designs public and open source.

We decided to honor our hacker roots and challenge convention by custom designing and building our software, servers and data centers from the ground up.

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