Designers are considered creative people, and as creativity is a companion of chaos, the workflow of designers usually features disorder and uncoordinated actions. How can you meet deadlines if your design teams are engaged in the artistic process? How should you evaluate the results of their work when the opinion of a professional and a client is often different? These and other pivotal questions arise when a company leader strives to produce the best quality products on time and satisfy both sides of the business interaction, customers and his hard-working employees.

Leading your design teams to success is a real science where a competent management plays the key role. Whether you’re a project manager, art director or a CEO, being responsible for design management means you must possess a set of relevant skills, knowledge and capabilities allowing your creative group to get high results in design projects. Design management is your indispensable tool, oriented to the market and the end user, which helps organizations make effective decisions about design issues both outside and inside the business process, and here is how.

Design Management Origins

To start with, design management is not limited to a single design discipline. It’s a complex system ensuring a design team works the most effective way, delivering the most qualitative products, and providing the whole company with the most advantageous results. In 1976, Peter Gorb, a pioneer in design management education, released the book, “Classification of Design,” where he divided design science into three disciplinary fields. Each of these fields is logically connected with the design management:

  1. Product design (for example, industrial or package design);
  2. Information design (for example, graphic design, branding, media design, or web design);
  3. Environment design (for example, interior design or exhibition design).

Design management depends on organizational processes and product features, and therefore, it performs three key functions to be an interface between the design, organization and the market:

  • Agrees on a design strategy with a business strategy and a brand strategy;
  • Manages the quality and consistency of design results for all disciplinary areas;
  • Increases user experience and enhances competitiveness.

This unique system provides support for managing design in terms of structure and design processes (“doing things right”), as well as in terms of the of the design-result effectiveness (“doing the right things”).

Who Manages Design?

One loving to dig into the meanings of words has probably noticed the semantics of the term “design management” contain a certain ambivalence; it can be interpreted in two different ways:

  1. The science of being a design manager.
  2. The science of managing a design.

This description is based on the positioning of design management at the operational level, as well as a relatively new approach to the introduction of design thinking in the business environment (for example, at the level of the board of directors or innovation management).

There is a person behind every product and only then the means by which this person creates the product. This approach makes us focus on a combination of these two design management category interpretations — the science of being a design manager, who manages design. This is clear; let’s continue.

Talking about the management process, we understand there are two parties in this work interaction: a manager and managed people. In other words, it’s a kind of design management hierarchy. Consequently, we deal with different levels of responsibility when working on design tasks. Generally, these levels of responsibility correlate at three major design levels:

  1. Operational design management
  2. Tactical design management
  3. Strategic Design Management

In this way, we see a manager has a higher level of responsibility being engaged in strategic and tactical design management tasks, while the managed people take part in the operational component. According to this scheme, a design manager is responsible for creating a strategic, long-term plan for design and determining its role in the company for tactical management of design resources and design production processes, as well as for management of separate projects and design teams. Moreover, these tasks are integrated with vision/mission, strategy/company policy definition, objectives/outcomes, resource planning/allocation, and monitoring/evaluation. At this time, the obligation of his teammates is to follow the created strategy, providing high performance and productivity. With this distribution of responsibilities, it’s not surprising design management science is essentially needed for any organization, and a design manager determines the success of not only the team but of the whole company.

Design Management VS Leadership In Design

In daily practice, design managers often deal with issues from the field of design leadership. However, design management and design leadership are not interchangeable, but are interdependent. As well as management and leadership, they differ in their goals, ways of achieving these goals and desired results. Design leadership is proactive. It leads us from creating an initial vision to transformation, innovation and realization of creative solutions.
It stimulates communication and cooperation through motivation and enthusiasm, sets the level of ambition and indicates future directions for achieving long-term objectives.

On the contrary, design management is reactive in its approach and responds to a specific business situation through specific skills, tools and methods. There is a connection between design management and design leadership. The first category needs the second one to know where to move, and the second category needs the first one to know how to get there.

A Right Investment In The Future

To highlight the importance of design management, we are sharing with you a piece from an interview for Design Week with Michael Peters, the brand and design guru, who said: “The era of new management has come. In my consulting company, there will be no more than 6 people, four of which are leading experts and co-owners. We will not rent an office and hunt for large customers; on the contrary, I want to work with small enterprises and grow brands of the future by consulting them on business, branding and design. Design is a great business, especially when you know how to manage it.”

In parting, you need to manage not only tactics, but also long-term strategy. To reach the top level, you should look around and keep your nose to the wind, preparing an explosive mix of creativity, experience, high-tech solutions and innovations. Creation of a winning management strategy in the creative business is a long-term investment that brings high results!