10 Truths From Building Design Organizations at Scale

Observations from a chief design executive that apply across industries and companies.

Photo by Ngai Man Yan

Having the opportunity to build design orgs in some of the largest companies in the world, I’ve observed that even with completely different cultures, org structures, and industries…some things stay the same.

  1. You will never have enough designers. You will never have enough time. You will always be building the plane while it’s flying. Design is a valuable, scarce resource. The sooner you navigate this truth and use it to your advantage, the sooner you build leverage.
  2. Design transformation is company transformation. The work you’re doing isn’t just for the design org. Becoming an experience-led company transforms the culture. Realize that change management is your job.
  3. Chart tomorrow’s vision while building for today. North stars are in the ether if you’re not improving current experiences. Drive impact in the short-, medium-, and long-term. Short-term wins become proof points that build reputation and provide runway. The medium-term is where the magic happens.
  4. Show up as a company leader, not just a functional leader. Design cuts across orgs and teams, which provides a unique view of the environment. When you make that mindset switch, you’ll get pulled into the conversations and decision making you wanted all along.
  5. Always be recruiting. The coffee chat you have today might be a future hire five years from now. You are responsible for treating your talent pipeline like a supply chain, always keep it moving.
  6. Your “first team” is your boss and peers, not your directs. If you only focus down, you’ll realize you’ve been neglecting across and up. That’s where important communication, relationships, and visibility is required for the success of your organization.
  7. Be the matchmaker. Connecting the dots across the company will unearth teams that don’t talk to each other, duplicative efforts, and opportunity areas. Build the network, streamline the work, and unearth new business models.
  8. Trust is the foundation of all great teams. Take the time to build trust with your team, throughout your org, with your peers, and your manager. Take a 360 degree approach, and be the constant gardener.
  9. No one understands what you do, so explain it to them. Don’t leave the design process in an opaque box that produces magic. The more people understand the complexity and rigor behind the work, the more others will respect and champion Design.
  10. As you scale, the talent you hire and the mechanisms/levers you create will determine how your culture evolves. Make sure you’re minding the shop and sharing artifacts that guide decision making and incentivize desired behaviors.

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