Leading Design made its hugely successful return to the Barbican, London, for the third year running to a sell-out crowd. Our User Experience Director, Andy Thornton, was there to give us his roundup of five emerging themes he came across at the event.

Andy Thornton
Andy Thornton
16th October 2018

1. Inclusivity, power and em­powerment

In a very powerful and personal address, Thoughtbot’s Product Designer Amélie Lamont recounted the many ways those in power can cause harm. She highlighted exactly what is required to create a safe, inclusive environment: principally communication, feedback and transparency.

Former Director of UX for Vice President Biden at the White House, Kara Defrias, reminded us that as an industry we're great at tracking the wellbeing of projects, but not as attentive at tracking the wellbeing of people. By sharing practical examples of leading through influence, rather than authority, she advised to rally around a cause, empower your team, stay humble and give away the glory.

Slack’s Senior Product Designer, Diógenes Brito, wrapped up the importance of empowerment with some lessons in design - and salsa (!) A fascinating reflection on how designers should act as facilitators, stewards and connoisseurs, whilst sharing clear expectations, inspiring their team, and adapting to context like a dance lead might do.

2. Safety & wellbeing

User Experience Consultant Dan Willis highlighted in his own inimitable style, tips on how to manage the weakest member of your team: you. His advice included guidance on reassessing your position on the hands-on / hands-off spectrum and how best to manage burnout.

Continuing the theme of resilience, Executive Coach Julia Whitney revealed what we can do physically, emotionally and mentally, to help ourselves in times of stress. She advised harnessing a strong sense of self-awareness and staying true to your purpose.

Mia Blume, Design Leadership Coach and CEO of Design Dept, reinforced the belief that as leaders our work begins from within. Drawing attention to the many challenges and opportunities that the future of work can offer us. What if career progression was less linear? What if sabbaticals or ‘returnships’ became the norm? Or a reduced 4-day working week during summer? Today’s tools and limiting beliefs about work are sabotaging our ability to be resilient creative leaders. So, how do we adapt and thrive by creating a new normal?

3. Navigating business & people

Best selling author of Making Things Happen, Scott Berkun, spoke candidly of a Design and Power Playbook. Inspired by how Machiavelli navigated through the political complexities that made up Renaissance Italy, he explained how it wasn’t that much different to your company’s organisational chart.

Experience Design Leader Russ Unger gave sterling guidance on how to improve the process of bringing new designers into your organisation. From recruitment through to onboarding - and not forgetting the awkward silence that typically happens between the job offer and first day.

Aaron Irizarry, Capital One’s Head of Experience Infrastructure, also reinforced the power of people by reflecting on business cultures that have the psychological safety of each team member in mind. Aaron rightly reminded us that by supporting decision-making autonomy we empower people to do their best work.

4. Progression & learning

Clearleft’s Andy Budd interview with co-founder of Wert&Co Judy Wert explored the critical components of career progression. Talking about her responsibility for placing many design leaders into significant roles in Silicon Valley and beyond, Judy offered sound advice on mapping signature moments of your career; especially when a portfolio becomes less relevant as your career matures. She warned of the distractions of chasing job titles rather than what motivates you as an individual - and what you can offer to an organisation.

Meanwhile, Executive Leadership and Transformation Coach, Todd Zaki Warfel, stressed the importance of a career ladder for design professionals, especially eager millennials. He reinforced the positive impact it has on employee engagement and motivation when implemented successfully.

Fred Beecher, Best Buy’s Senior Manager of Experience, showed us a great technique for incorporating consistent learning into organisations. He explained how it helps to deliver continuous product iteration that would otherwise struggle to happen due to time constraints.

5. Design Ops

Chase’s Head of Design Management Kristin Skinner walked through a useful and practical model for growing design teams. Offering up some sage advice on the importance of a secure organisational structure; since ultimately without it your products and services can't succeed.

Meredith Black, Pinterest’s Head of Design Ops, followed up with an insightful introduction to the roles of the Product Design Producer and Design Program Manager. Operational positions that ultimately keep designers in the flow of designing.

While former Senior Director of Design at Mailchimp, Todd Dominey, continued along a similar vein with his experience of scaling a new brand experience across disparate product and marketing teams.

Finally, Director of Customer Experience at Verizon and Moment, John Devanney, recognised the need for consultancies to provide broader services for clients by supporting their design maturity through coaching, advocacy and ROI. Through the creation of a Design Management office he advised you can assist a team’s design capability and secure the level of funding required to ensure good design can happily thrive.

Clearleft is bringing Leading Design to New York City, USA, for the first time in 2019. Held at the legendary Guggenheim from 19-20 June it’s guaranteed to bring three days of inspiration and learning for people leading design teams, overseeing design direction or instilling a culture of design into their organisations. Super Early Bird tickets are available to buy now.