I met Chis late last year in Germany and we had a pretty good conversation about design. We recently connected again over Skype to talk about a narrow set of topics like what design leadership can bring to the table. We agreed the conversation would be recorded is so I could share it with others. In the video we touched on what being a design leader means, how to frame your design intention to get buy in, and what he would do differently in his career if it was possible.
The video was truncated to about 20 minutes long. I do encourage you to watch the entire film if you have the time. Chris was kind enough to share his thoughts and he has a certain way with words that is much better than the paraphrased summaries I put together below.
What does being a design leader mean to you?
A design leader is someone that stands in front of the designers, but also knows how not to get in their way. Design leaders pass on experience, mentorship, and are a reference point for corporate culture. Design leaders raise the bar and set the pace. They prevent design from dissolving in a corporate structure and energies the system. They are the interpreters for other management groups to understand design intentions.
Who makes the best design leaders?
Design leaders need an incredible empathy for design. They need to have good taste, the ability to formulate views that others can understand, and have an intimacy about the design process. It helps if design leaders come from a background with past performances bringing hits to market. This is especially true in the auto industry.
How do you manage different groups and overcome obstacles in developing design further?
You must be able to understand the corporate culture to help transform it. For example engineers typically put objects into production. If you understand this then help energize the engineers so that they take on your direction as if it was something they have always wanted to do.
Engineering/Design is an opinion. You should never be as a designer: “I’m the designer you should listen to me. “ Where is your basis of authority if design is an opinion?
Instead highlight the premises (similar to a project scope) for the end game you both are playing. Always enter a dialect with the stakeholders. Explain that in order to really accomplish goals specified in the premises, you might need to step past comfort zones.
Advancing design intentions is a step by step process. Make it digestible for people and before anything understand these questions:
Why? – Why do this? Why do you want to do this? Get to the bottom of the ultimate intention.
How? – How do you want to go about doing this?
What? – What you we actually going to do?
If you could go back in time, what is some advice you would give to the young Chris Bangle?
Look at the long game. There are no seasons in design, it is a continuum of minor success. Measure your success by the ability to rise after numerous defeats.
Take notes and keep notebooks. Sketches scenes like what people said, notes on life, what you’ve read, etc then refer back to them often. Analyse your thoughts again at different times to re-frame the situation.
What is some advice for designers getting into more of a management role?
Do what you do well as a designer. Most likely your colleagues will be marking managers, fiance managers, etc who need your design background to help illuminate a situation to rapidly visualize a scene. A few sketches go a long way.
What gets you excited as a designer?
At one point it was the discovery process plus the will for self expression. Now it is the joy of letting go of a project to other groups like engineering or marketing and watching how they adapt the object off your original intent. It’s a beautiful thing to give them the tools, the direction, and allow others to come into the project and watch it develop.
This article was also posted on Fuel Your Product Design.
Bradley Derry is an industrial designer and creative team leader whose specialty is to strengthen a company’s capability to delight customers through its product design and brand building. He currently leads a product development team at Innovative Office Products, a premier manufacture of workspace systems and furniture accessories in the Lehigh Valley, Pa. Be sure to visit his site BradleyDerry.com for post updates and connect with him on twitter @Derryest.