Expert tips on how to run a design team

Last week, we spoke to Barclays digital design director Noel Lyons and AKQA associate creative director Matt Longstaff about running a design team – now, we ask creative directors what advice they have about being in charge.

Kevin Palmer, director, Kin
Kevin Palmer, director, Kin

“Help to inspire your team as much as possible. Matt Wade, my business partner, has a great collection of books and ephemera, new and old, spanning many subject areas. They’re displayed purposely in front-facing arrangements, so they can be easily taken off the shelf, read and used as points of inspiration for our meetings. We also encourage our staff to get out of the studio and see stuff. For example, a designer and developer from our team recently went to the London Aquarium to observe the behaviour of fish shoals, to inform a generative animation project we’re currently working on.”


Georgia Fendley, executive creative director, Construct
Georgia Fendley, executive creative director, Construct

“There are a number of challenges: firstly, attracting exceptionally talented creatives. Secondly, finding ideas – at Construct we obsess about ideas, the styling comes later. Too many designers today begin with styling and wonder why the results lack soul. We consciously try to spend time together talking, thinking and drawing, without using computers to think for us. This habit is difficult to maintain in a busy studio but it’s worth fighting for. It gives the work meaning and purpose and ultimately creates its own momentum in the team. Finally, looking after each other – creatives work hard, work late and let their lives suffer, so we need to find the right balance between the essential anxiety which drives excellence and the need for balance and diversity in life.”


Michael Sheridan, founder, Sheridan and Co
Michael Sheridan, founder, Sheridan and Co

“Cultivate each designer’s voice – diversity is a vital characteristic of a successful creative team. Different perspectives and backgrounds within a design team will produce more compelling end results for your clients. As creative leader, it is critical to embrace each designer’s unique strengths. You need to provide them with an open space in which to develop their own ideas and points of view, while still guiding their thinking and helping them to understand the larger vision.”


Ian Cartlidge, co-founder, Cartlidge Levene
Ian Cartlidge, co-founder, Cartlidge Levene

“Having the right individuals is key. Lead the team but don’t be dictatorial – the team should feel that they have their own space to explore. Be at the centre of the creative process and lead with ideas – this will inspire individuals to be at their best. Allow ideas to flourish – it’s easy to kill ideas off at birth but much harder to recognise good ideas and nurture them. Allow boundaries between roles to become blurred. Make sure everyone is in tune with the brief – dissect the brief and reassemble it, but ensure you allow individuals the freedom to explore unexpected places. Develop a dialogue with the client early in the process – gain their trust and create an environment where imaginative and exciting ideas can flourish. In the end, everyone in the team should feel a shared authorship. That’s when you know you’ve got it right!”


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