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.

Jobs to Gates, Royce and McNealy: A Historical Look at if Apple Will Survive

Steve Jobs has left Apple. I have expected to see stock prices crumble, Apple Geniuses to go rogue and iPhones to fall out of the sky; but despite the near-panic of nearly every Internet news station — its really not that big a deal, we will be fine (unless you own large amounts of Apple stock, in which case it is time to panic).

If history has taught us anything, and it hasn’t, its that changes in leadership are rarely as dramatic as we fear — just look at Obama.

Looking at this issue historically may give the issue more perspective, as many large tech innovators have changed leadership in the past: Microsoft with Bill Gates, Intel and Robert Noyce, Sun and Scott McNealy.

Bill Gates

Microsoft and Billy Gates

The best historical comparison we can use for enigmatic Steve Jobs, is enigmatic Bill Gates. In terms of company size, they are both high-value firms with Apple’s current valuation at $349 billion and when Billy left Steve Balmer in charge of Microsoft it was valued at $600 billion. Microsoft is currently valued at just $201 billion. And I think Gate’s valuation dropped the same amount (after he gave a huge chunk of his fortune to the Gates Foundation).

The succession of Jobs is similar to the story of Gates, as he will stay on the board of directors, however; it is unlikely that Jobs will hold Tim Cook’s hand for a decade like Gates did for Balmer.

Perhaps we do have reason to worry with the massive devaluation of the other high-profile regime change. Or perhaps this will simply be Microsoft’s year to bounce back and reclaim its throne as Supreme-Ruler-of-the-Tech-Monpoly.

On a personal note maybe we will see the creation of the Jobs Foundation — providing starving children everywhere with iPads.

Robert Noyce

Intel and Robbie Noyce

Unlike Microsoft, Intel’s tale of change is more positive. When Robert Noyce passed the reigns to engineering-superstar Gordon Moore, the company’s 43-year success story continued. When Moore gave way to cut-throat businessman Andy Grove, they thrived. The succession to Craig Barratt and Paul Otellini only continued the strong leadership patterns. Intel also has a long-standing tradition of moving their CEOs to board leader positions so perhaps Apple’s story will mimic Intel’s.

Take into consideration of course that none of them were the strong face-of-the-company or sexy-poster-child and cancer-survivor like Steve. Nonetheless Intel did fine. It is currently valued at $115 billion.

Scott McNealy

Sun and Scott McNealy

Spoiler: this one is worse than the Microsoft example. In 2006 Scott McNealy gave up his 22-year carer steering Sun Microsystems to success when he passed the helm to Jonathan Schwartz. Schwartz then ran the ship aground. Schwartz never had much of a chance with his two years of executive management experience, despite his decade-long commitment to the company. Schwartz lasted only three years as leader before the financial crisis of 2008 dry-docked the ship forever, and they were taken over by Oracle.

Think for Yourself

Despite the rampant rumors about the future of Apple, think for yourself. Who knows whether Apple will go the route of Intel, Sun or Microsoft — but does it really matter (other than for large-scale Apple stockholders)?

But — just in case you are a true Mac-head — stock up on your Apple gear now.

(Image Credit: Wikipedia, All Things Digital)