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Job Description: Design Manager

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A design manager is employed to lead numerous design-related tasks. These may include web design, product development, advertising or general creative roles. These individuals can be employed in construction, in graphic design firms, in the entertainment industry or in manufacturing firms ranging from toy makers to major automobile producers.

Job Description, Salaries and Benefits

A senior role with a salary to match, design managers efficiently manage graphics and design teams or departments. Creative and artistic, they apply that artistic nature in a corporate environment. Skilled and educated, design managers work full-time hours in an office.

The daily duties of a design manager vary depending on the projects they’re working on and the size of their team. However, daily tasks may include:

  • Attending, hosting or coordinating department meetings
  • Ensuring that the design work is of sufficient quality and that all directives are being followed
  • Collaborating with your own team and with other departments to achieve design goals
  • Working to meet the expectations of the customer or client
  • Delegating work where necessary and reviewing that work when it has been completed
  • Creating innovative ideas and designs and putting them into a context that the rest of the team and the client/customer can understand
  • Developing a budget and analysing that budget regularly to ensure it remains tenable
  • Mentoring and guiding team members and motivating them to achieve their goals and yours
  • Conducting team training on developments within the design world or new business guidelines

Salaries associated with design manager posts in the United Kingdom can begin as low as £25,000 per annum and can stretch to in excess of £70,000.

A design manager should have:

  • A deep technical knowledge of the complete design process from brainstorming to end product
  • A creative drive and a keen eye for innovative ideas and trends
  • Effective supervisory and organisational skills 
  • The ability to be a leader but to also know how to motivate team members
  • The patience and determination to resolve issues in a timely manner 
  • Flexibility and dependability to work in multifaceted working environments 
  • The ability to produce quality projects consistently 
  • Excellent communication skills - both written and oral

According to LinkedIn, there are over 31,000 design manager jobs in the UK. They are employed in-house by the vast majority of creative companies. They collaborate with marketing, sales, and product engineering teams to ensure designs succeed and messages are properly delivered to customers. Design managers usually report to project managers or executive management.

What is the work like?

Design managers typically hold the same duties and responsibilities regardless of industry or company. Successful design manager candidates can expect to perform these duties in their daily job:

Develop Design Strategies - Design managers develop and implement successful design strategies, outlining how the design team will create deliverables and implement them for the project.

Manage Design Team - Design managers typically manage a team of several designers, evaluating individual design deliverables and overall team performance. They also deliver critical feedback where needed and encourage team members throughout the duration of a project.

Collaborate with Product and Marketing Teams - Design is important to a product’s success; design managers collaborate with other teams to ensure that success. They work mostly with product development and marketing teams, as those teams are most involved with a product’s looks and presentation to customers.

Present Design Ideas - Once design strategies have been developed, design managers present them to upper management. While presenting, design managers speak to specific numbers and expected outcomes.

Evaluate Design Performance - Once a design has been finalised and implemented, design managers track and evaluate feedback. This often involves filtering through customer surveys and responses to focus groups to create an overall picture of how well the design performed.

Design manager input is required for a huge variety of products and activities, including:

  • Websites
  • Exhibitions & Displays
  • Construction projects
  • Fashion designs
  • Packaging
  • Books and magazines
  • Corporate identities
  • Advertising
  • Computer games

Design managers use artistic and creative skills to visualise design projects, and employ analytical skills to choose and supervise the design teams that create these projects based on specific client needs.

Hours and Environment

Design managers usually work 37 hours a week/traditional office hours. Working hours are usually Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm. However, design managers may be required to work longer hours to finish projects on time. 

The work is normally office-based, although some work from home, particularly post-COVID. They may also travel to other offices, conference rooms, or restaurants to meet with various clients.

Salary and other benefits

These figures are only a guide, as actual rates of pay may vary, depending on the employer and where people live.

  • The national average salary for a design manager in the UK is around £52,000.
  • With experience, earnings may rise to around £75,000.
  • In the US, the national average salary for a design manager is around $84,000.

Design managers may also receive incentive bonuses based on their team’s performance, further increasing their salary. They also receive comprehensive benefits packages from their employers, typically including health insurance and vacation and sick time.

Design manager jobs are expected to grow steadily at 4% over the next 10 years. However, design manager roles in technology and computer industries are expected to grow at an intense rate of 20%.

Skills and Personal Qualities

A design manager must have:

  • Strong creative skills and the vision to turn briefs into creative projects
  • Excellent leaderships, organisation and analytical skills
  • Good collaborative and communication skills
  • Time management and multi-tasking skills
  • The ability to solve complex design and communication issues
  • The ability to adhere to tight deadlines and manage budget constraints
  • Artistic innovation and the drive to put it into every project they manage, thinking of new ways to create unique designs that have meaningful impacts on customers
  • Conflict management skills that allow them to manage and resolve conflict between individual team members and between different teams
  • Negotiation skills so they can comfortably work with other teams to implement changes to a product’s design, design managers influence others, leading them to understand why certain design aspects matter more than others
  • A natural inclination towards leadership and the ability to deliver clear feedback to their team members
  • The ability to work to tight deadlines

Interests

It is important for design managers to have an interest in:

  • Graphics and typography
  • New developments in design software
  • Current trends and techniques
  • Art history and design history
  • Photography and the visual arts
  • Pop culture, and counterculture
  • The zeitgeist of social tastes and current affairs
  • Politics

Getting in

Design managers must possess at least a first degree. This degree should be from a design related field such as graphic design.

Entry for young people

When hiring design managers, an associate’s degree in graphic design, fine arts, advertising, or a related field is accepted by some employers, but many prefer a bachelor’s degree in one of these disciplines.

Entry for adults

Some employers will accept candidates with past work experience and less formal education. Many design managers keep portfolios showcasing their past projects, which can make candidates stand out against others seeking the same job.

Training

Design managers typically have years of experience within the creative industries. Extensive supervisory experience (including leadership, team-building, and delegation) leading and managing a creative team is also recommended.

Getting On

Continuing professional development is important, especially keeping up to date with technological changes. Follow industry trends by reading the trade press. Most agencies offer training on the job but there are many other providers of development schemes.

The IPA offer the MBA-level IPA Excellence Diploma, which is aimed at those with three to five years of experience in the industry who want to develop a broader understanding of how brands work and create value for clients. The IPA also offers a range of short courses and seminars for experienced staff.

Design and Art Direction (D&AD) offers continuing professional development schemes. You can also showcase your work to gain industry status and foster networking opportunities at the annual CIM Marketing Excellence Awards.

Further Reading

The Design Manager′s Handbook by John Eynon - The CIOB Design Manager’s Handbook covers subjects such as design process and management tools, the role of the Design Manager, value management and innovation, procurement routes and implications, people dynamics, and factors that will affect the development of the Design Manager’s role in the future.

Design Management: The Essential Handbook by David Hands - Design Management is the essential handbook to all things design. As a discipline, design management is continually in motion; changing, responding and adapting to the dynamics of social and business transformation. As a business function, it combines project management, design, strategy and supply chain techniques to enable the creation of more effectively designed products, services, communications and brands. As such, it is relevant to a very broad range of industries and sectors, and Design Management recognises this by structuring content around four key universal perspectives: values, horizons, visions, and futures.

Design Management (PocketArchitecture) by Stephen Emmitt - This is a design guide for architects, engineers and contractors concerning the principles and application of design management. This book addresses the value that design management and design managers contribute to construction projects. 

Design Management: Managing Design Strategy, Process and Implementation by Kathryn Best - All designers will feel that creativity and innovation are at the heart of their designs. But for a design to have an effective and lasting impact it needs to work within certain structures, or have those structures created suitably around it. No matter how you work, a design can always be improved by assessing where it fits into the market, how it best to strengthen it before it's set in stone, who it could appeal to. It needs to be managed. In this accessible and informative second edition, Kathryn Best brings together the theory and practice of design management.

Meeting Design: For Managers, Makers, and Everyone by Kevin M Hoffman - Meetings don't have to be painfully inefficient bores--if you design them. Meeting Design will teach you the design principles and innovative approaches you'll need to transform meetings from boring to creative, from wasteful to productive. Meetings can and should be indispensable to your organisation; Kevin Hoffman will show you how to design them for success.

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