Leading and Growing a Design Team

My Goal

My main goal as a leader and mentor of the designers of my team is to cultivate an environment of innovation. I feel that design leaders should encourage and focus on design thinking and ensure that the team is focused on the big picture. I champion and praise those that want to rethink how something gets done. Even if things don't work out, I want to see them go through the process and pitch me on the idea. I love seeing designers succeed whether with client projects or my students finishing the class and graduating. I enjoy coaching and guiding them to successful outcomes, or even learning from negative results and make plans to improve.

How I structure my team

I’ve created a couple of design ladders to help our designs know what the future holds for them. It has tons of ideal positions that I wish we could fill and have a more collaborative environment. Many of the designers want more management responsibilities which I can give them for tasks but unable too with managing other designs on the team. Due to budgets and time needs. I want to give our designers a sense of where they could go and have high bars for them to push themselves to achieve that level as a designer.

Design team meetings

Annual and Quarterly Reviews

I want to see designers come to me with a “portfolio” of accomplishments and work that they have done over the year or quarter. Pitch to me why they've done as well as you have and why they probably want a raise. Are you meeting the bare minimum of your responsibilities or are you jumping ahead and leading something new. These are crucial meetings and opportunities to dig into the goals and aspirations of each designer. Setting goals to reference throughout the year and coming quarters.


Each month each designer is tasked with a few goals that they will work on. Focusing on building up in their careers as well as how to improve the company, client experience, and design department. We have frequent check-ins to make sure things are moving in the right direction, if any help or support is needed or if we need to adjust the expectations a bit upon further investigations of our assumptions.


The design team was all locally based but towards the end of 2019 we pretty much all transitioned to remote as the agency was looking to move that direction soon anyways. So we put together Monday morning meet up calls to review weekend activities, anything cool happens, and just get started for the week. Little project work is discussed during these meetings.

Weekly on Wednesdays is when we have our team check-in and look at what we have been working on. Anything company-wide we need to be aware of and critique any work that we want feedback on. Monday or Tuesday of that week I try to send out an agenda that we can all add to and know what will be discussed if there's any prep work.

Collaboration in our team has surged since using Figma. The ability to jump into the same file and make suggestions and design iterations are amazing. It's also allowed up to feel more comfortable having each other check in on the work being done, no more hiding files and only showing work that's pretty much ready to go.


Something, I want these meetings to be short and sweet, prioritized to the needs of each designer. If they have a lot to go over, great, if it's only a couple of things, great. No pressure to have the greatest meeting in the world.


I've been fortunate to have some amazing designers to join the team. Many of the designers started as interns or part-time designers and embraced the culture and feel of the agency. What I look for in designers is empathy for our clients and their coworkers. Do they understand the needs of the business, their goals, and what it takes to support their efforts? Passion and a drive to get things done. I want to see someone willing to do whatever it takes to get the job done. I want to see a flexible designer with the ability to deal with ambiguity.

Working with others

I tend to be relatively laid back. Hopefully, that comes across as someone they can come to and share their ideas. I want to afford them the space to explore their ideas and understand why they are doing something. I try to be understanding of personal situations and that we can roll with it. Communication is key here, I have this conversation with my design students every semester. I'm happy to be understanding if you communicate to me that something is going on. Otherwise, I can only assume that you are just slacking off or not showing up to class.

In the end

As a manager, I didn’t move up in what I would call the ideal manager path. I didn't have a mentor or someone even for bad examples to look up to as a design leader. I had a fantastic contract senior designer that I worked with and could bounce ideas off of. Unfortunately, they didn't provide the 1:1 experience I would have liked. The relationship I have with our CEO has sometimes been creative but mostly focused on the business side of things. Which don't get me wrong has been a huge benefit. Much of what I describe as my management style and tools have all been learned on the job, at the moment, and through a constant desire to be the best for my team and students.