Traits of Successful Design Managers

I realized that a Design Manager is not an easy role to play in today’s design industry. How a design team gels together is very much affected by how the “boss” manages them. More often than not, I see many job ads looking for design managers with years of experience, however, the experience is just one factor. Here are some other traits that make a successful design manager.

Having a far-sighted Strategic Vision

A good vision is important in developing a company’s range of products. Thus, a successful Design Manager with a far-sighted vision is able to guide the design team towards a clear design goal. Under good design management, a design team is able to confidently perform and move forward.

Strong Design Skills

A Design Manager with strong technical skills in sketching, 3D, renderings or mechanical knowledge is able to clearly communicate his or her ideas quickly to the design team. A design background grounded with strong technical skills helps to actually facilitate the design process. Not only that, a design manager with a strong set of design skills, is able to better motivate and inspire his team.

Good Communication Skills

A Design Manager who is able to “sell” the concepts to the clients or partners can gain a lot of credibility and build confidence with his design team. This also leads to additional opportunities for the design team, which is a win-win situation for everyone.

High Sensitivity to the Design Team’s Capabilities

Understanding every designer’s strengths and weakness in the team is very important for team management and chemistry. So a Design Manager who is sensitive to the capabilities and potential of every designer in his or her team will be able to assign the right person for the task. This will allow every designer to maximize his or her potential for the design project, and create a great working experience for all.

Good Understanding of the Design Process Coupled with Good Project Management Skills

A Design Manager who has a good grasp of the design process and mindful of the project scope will be able to set realistic deadlines that respect the team’s capabilities. This will create a better chance for a successful design solution.


At the end of the day, by understanding the challenges of design management, you can appreciate the hard work put in by design managers. Perhaps one day you can be one?

Now it’s time for you to have your say. What do you think are the traits of successful Design Managers?


It has been a while since but we had a guest post here at Design Sojourn. This one has been written by Sharon, a good friend, and fellow designer. I hope you enjoyed it!

Sharon Goh graduated 5 years ago from TU Delft with a Masters Degree in Strategic Product Design. She is currently in charge of the sales and marketing of Dutch-designed products in the Asia Pacific. She has worked in Japan, Netherlands, and Singapore, in the competencies of industrial design, design management and product marketing.

  • Cristina

    September 24, 2020 at 9:27 am Reply

    Great article! I would edit the “he” and “his” framing. There are also women design managers you know 🙂

    • Brian Ling

      April 6, 2021 at 2:55 pm Reply

      Thanks for the feedback Cristina. Have made the edits. That said, good thing this article was written by a lady!

  • Design Translator

    November 18, 2010 at 1:55 pm Reply

    @Eric: Thanks for stopping by with your comments.
    Technical design skills give managers a great baseline to discuss. Knowing what the work entails, as well as how long it takes, helps push the conversation forward with the team. The other advantage of strong skills is the credibility issue. Designers tend to be an egotistical bunch that, from my experience, rarely listen to managers who they find superficial or are not credible.

  • Eric

    November 11, 2010 at 10:11 am Reply

    Adding a few.
    – A good story teller.
    – Ability to identify and foster the team member’s potential.
    – A creative generalist.
    – Ability to connect the dots.
    Regarding the strong design skill, I feel that it may not be important for the manger to equip with a strong technical skill. Well, I do agree that it helps to convey the message to the fellow designer or developer. Maybe a proficient level of understanding is fair enough. What they do need to know and have, is a strong fundamental of design knowledge and clear understanding of business and technical application.
    2 cents worth.

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