How to Build a Design Team (Effectively)

by Henry Fan

Graphic design is a rapidly-growing field, which can be a mixed blessing for business owners in search of new hires. On one hand, there is an abundance of talent to choose from when you want to grow your design team. On the other, only a few candidates will have the right qualifications for your company. Finding the right designers to grow your team can be a challenge, but there are a few tips you can keep in mind when searching for new talent.

How to Build a Design Team

  • Define an organizational structure with clear roles for your team

  • Minimize risk by choosing personnel suited to each task

  • Develop key metrics to foster accountability for team members

  • Encourage collaboration between departments to foster creativity

  • Maintain communication between team members to resolve conflicts

Inhouse Design Team Structure

It’s important to clearly define roles and responsibilities on the design team early on, or you risk placing your designers in too many roles. It’s normal for your designers to wear multiple hats, even when they have their own field of responsibility in your team. However, one or two designers could easily spread themselves thin by taking on the work that should be the responsibility of others. This can muddle the design process while also stunting the professional growth of your team.

Design Team Roles and Responsibilities

  • Design directors are responsible for setting the design strategy for each client, reconciling client needs with their own brand and the art of design. They make overall decisions regarding the direction of a campaign but often delegate work and more specific design decisions to senior designers.

  • Senior designers/team leads have a strong knowledge of advanced techniques and conceptualize projects, which they are responsible for completing. They oversee a group of junior designers and interface with executives to present and refine their designs.

  • Junior designers work under senior designers and are responsible for completing specific tasks. They must complete designs to specifications and make changes as requested by senior designers.

  • Project managers make sure that designers are meeting targets on schedule and provide overall structure to the creative process. They work to maintain overall productivity and accountability while facilitating communication between designers.

Depending on the size of your firm, you may decide to hire different kinds of designers with different responsibilities. Your team may have a web component with designers that specialize in user-interface, interactive design, or information architecture. If your firm offers videos or animation, you may decide to bring in an animator or a motion graphics designer. You’ll also want to hire project managers who have a firm grasp of management techniques who can interface with your designers.

How to Hire Great Talent

  • Look for candidates who have the skills you need for a specific role

  • Review applicants’ portfolios to see if their work aligns with what your firm offers

  • Ask candidates about their design process and the thought behind it

  • Find out what technologies candidates are comfortable using

  • See if candidates fit with your team and company culture

  • Ask your network for recommendations to supplement your talent search

How to Manage a Design Team

You can make it easier to find the talent you need by keeping these tips in mind when hiring:

Find Out Their Motivation

The best designers are ones who can create effective designs and then simply explain the concept behind them. Ask candidates to walk you through their portfolio, what they were thinking during each project, and what motivates them to create. You’ll get a better idea of where they are in their career by listening to them explain their thought processes. This can provide you with insight their portfolio alone won’t communicate.

Make Your Vision Clear

Every designer has a vision that drives their work, but it can be easy for theirs to clash with your own if you aren’t careful. Make your vision clear at the outset of a project so your designers know which parameters they should work and ideate within. This can help you avoid miscommunication and disagreements in your team from the outset. It can also motivate your team, as they will have a clear direction in which to work.

Hire for Specific Roles

Fostering creativity is essential if you want your design team to create memorable work. However, if you don’t make everyone’s role clear out the outset, you could cause confusion and too much redundancy on your team. Assigning roles early while allowing flexibility can also make it easier to foster collaboration on your team later. For example, many businesses prefer to keep their design and business teams separate.

Keep Open Communication

A well-run team will have an ongoing creative ferment, in which designers can bring forth ideas then refine and implement them. In order to achieve this, you’ll need to develop ways for your team members to communicate with one another throughout the design process. Without effective communication, designers could slowly drift away from goals and work toward cross-purposes.

Monitor Metrics

Creative types don’t want to be constrained by hard metrics, but they’re necessary in order to run a successful company. However, they don’t have to unduly constrain your designers. They can provide structure to the creative process, ultimately enhancing the work that everyone on your team does. They can also keep designers accountable for their own work, making sure each contributes what is asked of them while ensuring no one is overburdened.

Ideally, the candidate you hire today can grow and develop to improve the work of everyone on your design team. However, their success will also be determined in part by the environment into which you bring them. A well-managed design team can bring out the best qualities of every member, helping them to grow professionally. If you make the right hiring decision now, your new employee’s work can ultimately improve the reputation of your company, helping to secure new clients.

Austin Roper