Leading Design

No matter what role you play in society, chances are that at some point or another you have had to work with others in a team situation. A team is comprised of people in several different roles who work together for a common cause. In a design team these often include researchers, marketers, UX designers and the like. Of course one thing teams have in common is a leader, and that is what I will be discussing today.

I have never considered myself to be much of a leader, for a few reasons. Reason #1: for me, freedom of choice is terrifying and as such I have always preferred being told what to do. Reason #2: I am already uncomfortable in regular social situations, letalone situations that put me on a pedestal and require careful social management. Reason #3: the pressure of added responsibility can be hard for me to handle. These reasons completely coincide with Maeda & Bermont’s (2011, p.57) reasons people are reluctant to be leaders. Yet somehow, despite these misgivings, I have found myself at the head of a team many times now. So what exactly makes me leader material?

According to Browning & Van (2000, p.7), leadership is a skill that is constantly developed over the course of a lifetime, and is often learned informally through social experiences rather than during a job. For example, being able to make small inconsequential decisions on a daily basis makes it easier to make large decisions under pressure in the workplace. This leadership ability is heavily based on a person’s experiences and consequential personality type; common traits of good leaders are said to include self-awareness, strategic thinking, organisation, decision-making and possibly most importantly, an ability to learn (Browning & Van, 2000; Maeda & Bermont, 2017; Van, McCauley & Ruderman, 2010). Social skills and apprehensions aside, I feel like I have or am developing these leadership traits, so I suppose I am not as far off being a leader as I thought.

In regards to design, effective leadership is a hard thing to accomplish. Maeda & Bermont (2011, pp. 4-11) stipulate that creatives are hard to lead and even harder to make leaders of because authority is generally frowned upon and creativity unto itself works so differently for individuals that it can be hard to communicate between leader and team. For example a method of learning that works for one person does not for another, or a team’s creative ideas diverge so far that they cannot see eye to eye. Organisation is also a much less common skill among creatives, as many prefer to work with the flow rather than meticulously plan steps (Maeda & Bermont, 2011, p.10). This made me realise something interesting: I have previous training in a more restricted and meticulous discipline (translation) and am organised by nature so my calculated form of action is another possible reason why I fall into leadership roles so often.

So maybe I’m not as underqualified as I thought I was. Going forward, if I am to continue being a project leader, I want to develop my skills. The most important thing I need to work on as a leader is my ability to rely on others and accept help, as doing so relieves performance anxiety and lays out a roadmap for team trust and effective communication (Browning & Van, 2000, p.21; Van, McCauley & Ruderman, 2010, p.13). In regards to teamwork, I want to try leading by example more, as Maeda & Bermont (2011, p.9) outline that creatives work best when their leader gets involved in the project.

“A creative leader is someone who leads with dirty hands, much the way an artist’s hands are literally dirty with paint,” — Maeda & Bermont (2011, p.9).

All in all, I think that I am much more suited to leadership than I thought I was. It never really made sense to me that I could lead without confidence or social skills, but it seems that as long as my experiences and ideas can be effectively communicated with a team, everything will naturally come together. There is still definitely room for improvement, but I am proud that I am on the right track.



Browning, H., & Van, V. E. (2000). Three Keys to Development : Defining and Meeting Your Leadership Challenges. Greensboro, US: Center for Creative Leadership.

Maeda, J. & Bermont, R. J. (2011). Simplicity : Design, Technology, Business, Life : Simplicity : Design, Technology, Business, Life: Redesigning Leadership. Cambridge, US: MIT Press.

Van, V. E., McCauley, C. D., & Ruderman, M. N. (Eds.). (2010). J-B CCL (Center for Creative Leadership) : The Center for Creative Leadership Handbook of Leadership Development (3). Hoboken, US: Jossey-Bass.



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