Design managers are like the logical thinking version of an artist. They have exquisite taste, but it's up to graphic designers to create designs.
A design manager said this when I asked him why he kept controlling the design process. He doesn't trust design teams, and who can blame him? Designers keep turning in work that doesn't meet design standards or guidelines. As design managers, we don't feel like leading the design process.
Let's be honest here. Designers need to know when to let go, and design managers need to learn how to lead design teams properly. I'm not saying that design managers should control everything, but there are some points design managers need to consider about their design team. These points are straightforward, but it is not easy for many design managers to do well.
Designers thrive on creativity, which means they want creative freedom without too much interference from you, like a design manager.
Working with different designers, such as UX, UI, and web designers gives them enough freedom to express their creativity in their design work. You can provide your feedback or suggestion but encourage the design team to generate ideas and put it out there for you and other groups to see. Designers will feel like they are part of the process and not just an extension of your arm. They don't want to feel like they worked so hard only to be knocked down by a comment or suggestion from someone who doesn't know anything about design.
Don't micromanage! Stop it!
What does micromanagement mean? Micromanagement is the behavior of closely controlling or reviewing how employees do their work. Design managers need to stop micromanagement because this behavior makes everyone's lives miserable, including yours.
Design managers are not perfect, and sometimes we fail at this task, especially when there's so much pressure to release a new product/feature rapidly. But if you want your design team to be more productive, you need to stop this terrible behavior.
Designers are not coders, so they don't have the same mind as coders, making them slow at specific tasks where they need to write code. For example, copywriters are not graphic designers, so they will never understand what type of information should go on a button or color usage for call-to-action buttons. You can ask them questions, but it doesn't mean that every designer you work with will understand your requests.
Don't assume designers should know everything. Sometimes, you need to explain yourself easily so they can understand what you are asking for. Designers should not be judged because they don't ask questions when they don't understand something, which is normal.
You're the design manager, and you're responsible for the design standards and guidelines. For example, if you use a specific font in your company branding, don't expect designers to guess which font you want them to use in their design work. You need to take responsibility for this task and educate designers by telling them precisely what fonts should be used in different scenarios, such as headlines, titles, and body text.
It's not easy for design managers to trust their designers, but it is necessary. You need to put yourself in the shoes of your design team and understand what they are going through daily if you want them to feel like part of the design process instead of just an extension of your arm. Trusting your designers can increase productivity and give them more creative freedom. Sometimes it's hard to let go, but it doesn't mean you are not doing your job well if you want to trust your design team.
What do you think about when someone says, "design managers need to learn how to let go?" How does micromanagement affect the work of individual contributors? How have individual contributors in the past affected your job as a design manager? Do you think individual contributors should be treated differently when controlling projects and workflow based on their role within a company?
Please share your thoughts on this topic. We'd love to read them at firstname.lastname@example.org.