Design Studio Roles and Responsibilities

For your companies or studios, what are your various ID roles and responsibilities and hierarchy? What does your org chart look like? What does having a specific title mean on your team? If you had the opportunity to setup and ideal team structure, what would it look like?

The reason I ask is that I am working for a rapidly growning company with an expanding industrial design presence but not much in the way of heirarchy or career path.

The team I am working with is tasked to establish a titling hierarchy, specific roles and responsiblities associated with titling, and create a career path for employees to grow into roles. We are interested in developing two career paths one more technical and one that is more managerial in nature.
Currently everyone is an “industrial designer” or “ID intern” and we all report directly to a Senior Director who is responsible for all ID, Mechanical Engineering and Manufacturing Engineering teams. The teams are loosely organized into three crossfunctional “studios” that are focused on a specific segment of the business.
This is more of a corporate environment, but I feel we could also learn alot from consultancies as well.

Over 100 views and no responses…wow.

I think that you’re on the right track defining managerial and technical career paths.

The technical path is a little more straightforward as you can do it in levels - Junior, Staff, Senior, Jedi
I define the levels of designers on my team based on their individual contributions outside of their job functions. Once they begin to own those contributions and they turn them into initiatives that require them to manage regularly I then review them for the next level. That said, I don’t discount those that perform exceptionally well within their given job descriptions, some designers want to focus and excel in one or a few areas and that is needed as well.

The managerial path is a bit tougher because not everybody is cut out for it and only so many are required. I try to identify someone on my team who, should I be absent, or leave the company could step in to perform the job. That said we have departmental managers with direct reports and we have product managers that do not, though they work cross functionally.

Then there’s the Creative Director role, which seems to differ depending where you look. Some lead creative teams and manage direct reports, and some lead creative projects for clients working cross functionally in more of a lead designer role.

As far as an org chart, well, start from the top and work your way down and evaluate whether or not that chain of command is going to be open or closed to fast tracking research, development, design, and innovation, if not then find another chart. If the leadership of your organization is the owner/founder then you’re more likely to have entrepreneurial leadership and I would recommend shifting the org up as close to them as you can so design has a greater influence. If your organization is lead by someone with lots of direct reports who also answers to a board of directors it can be more challenge for design to have a loud voice with the proverbial “seat at the table”, so having a dynamic creative leader who can promote design upwards should head up your division’s org chart, even if they are not the most technically capable person on the team.

My 2 cents, really curious to see what others have to say.

I was recently thinking of something similar. First to answer your question, the company I work for has multiple brands that are fairly independent so there a couple of design offices that manage themeselves and report within each brand and are not connected. I don’t think it is an ideal way to set up a design organization because it does not promote collaboration, design recognition, or a good career path. But as I was thinking about how an ideal organization would be set up I began to question the roles of upper design management within in organization. What do they do on a day to day basis and what is really their role? Are they there simply to promote design to people who don’t understand it? In larger corporations that have a very diverse design organization what role do Design VP’s play? I think design organizations may need to differ from the tradational business org structure to help promote the way we work, make it efficient, and make what we do relevant to the rest of the business.

Every place is a little different based on needs.

At Nike for example, designers (Level 1, Level 2, and Senior) were assigned to functional category teams (basketball, running, and so on for sport focus, and then apparel, footwear, or equipment for product focus). To get to be a senior was near an act of god there. You had to be recommended by your manager, pass an informal yes/no review of all of the directors, and then be approved by the VP of design. The cool thing is that being a senior really meant something there. It meant that you were the best. When I was they were considering adding a principal level, essentially a super senior. Leading each category team was a design director. Usually a team was about 3-5 designers. The design director was responsible for the design language of the category, as well as managing and mentoring the team. Larger teams (5+) also had a design manager and the design director would just focus on design language. For each product focus (footwear, equipment, apparel) there would be a separate design director, then each category then would have a Creative Director that those design directors reported to. IE Running would have a Design Director of Equipment, Footwear, and Apparel, those three report to the Creative Director who oversees the big idea for that category and its execution through all forms of product, packaging, market execution and influences brand campaigns… sounds complicated, but you can see how a structure can be tailored for a specific need.

At frog it was a totally different set up. Each Creative Director had direct reports that they mentored and managed, and also ran project teams according to client and expertise. Project teams would be built for each client based on the need of that given track of work, typically a Creative Director, a Program Manager, and a Resource Manger would craft each project team and may or may not be staffed with some of that Creative Director’s direct reports. In essence, almost everything was flexible, which is what you have to do in a consulting environment where the very shape of the org needs to shift. There I had 4-5 direct reports, but would be running project teams with as many as 15 people and as small as 2.

Where I am now has a very different structure. My role oversees all design decisions, product, packaging, web, mobile and web apps, and marketing materials, but my direct team just handles product and packaging. I have a director of industrial design and several designers as direct reports and then a “dotted line” to the various marketing orgs.

There are many different ways to skin this. The most important thing is to have a structure that is designed to meet your needs and that fosters creativity, flexibility, and accountability.

You may get a very broad range of answers to this.

While I am not a Creative Director or VP of Design, I am a Design Manager with direct reports. Our team works directly with clients, and while my #1 measurement for my team is our close rate, we are also responsible for billable hourly design fees. In addition to that we contribute to product development with design concepts and partner on other company initiatives like training, expositions, process improvement, etc.

So, most of my time is spent trying to keep on top of industry trends, advising team members on their projects, maintaining a client project schedule, qualifying project requests, assigning designers, training designers, maintaining an internal initiative schedule, maintaining the departmental budget, approving expense reports/vacation reports, conducting employee year-end performance reviews, develop departmental initiatives, and mentor the design staff on their own initiatives. That would just be a start, but many of these responsibilities typically lie below the surface of many creative leadership titles, maybe more so in a corporate setting?

In addition to those responsibilities I contribute wherever I can to design-centric company strategies though I do not have ultimate decision making authority when it comes to providing creative direction outside of my team…unfortunately.

VPs of Design typically have that seat at the table and influence company strategy either in terms of brand/product/design or through applying design processes and practices to non-design related strategies.

Thanks so much for the perspectives, keep them coming, I am interested in getting as many examples as possible.

yo, in your examples what are the variation in responsibilities between Level 1, Level 2, and Senior.
Is it competency based or experience (time in the field) based?

Competency x experience x capability.

A senior designer will be able to handle a higher volume of more difficult projects while simultaneously assisting the director with overall vision and direction and mentor younger team members, and take the driver’s seat with some of the project management type tasks.

Maybe off topic, but i often see designer lvls associated with number of years of experience… i.e job adds wanting a sr designer with 3-5 years experience.
In my world i have found that number of years working does not always equal experience. really focus on the job descriptions that define the roles and responsibilities. this provides people with a understanding of the things they need to achieve or master in order to obtain the next level within the dept. Some will do this quicker then others thus number of yrs experience does not always relate to a promotion but more what experience have they truly gained during those years.

I think this is very on topic, one of the things we are trying to do is to define the specific roles and responsibilities for designers at different levels to both give people a path to grow, as well as create a little bit of structure so mentorship and more strategic decision making can happen.

I agree with chevisw, promotions should not be linked to tenure, but merit. For fresh grads and junior level designers asking the “how do I get 3-5 years experience if nobody will give me the opportunity?” question, assess yourself and your work against the job description and be honest with yourself, if you think you can do the job without the years of experience then apply. As a manager this is how I assess the staff for the next level, not how long they’ve worked here, though that often goes against the grain in a corporate setting and can be a hard sell, but you have to do it to retain good talent.

I would also add DON"T wait for the opportunity to be given more responsibility, but instead take the initiative and take on more responsibility yourself, grow your knowledge base, show that you are eager to learn and grow and that you do not need to be told what to do every step.

I was taught in my first job that you don’t get a raise for doing your job that you where hired for, or showing up to work or working over time… it is what you do above and beyond your job description that gets you the raise or promotion.

Now this depends on the culture of your company and dept. Some managers / leaders will push and mentor their employees to grow some do not, it then becomes the responsibility of the individual to grow into the next phase of their career.

Years of experience should only be one consideration, an initial indication more than anything.

On the opposite end, when I see people with 2-3 years experience with Senior Designer titles I immediately think their company gave them a title instead of a decent raise in an effort to keep them.

For me, titles don’t really matter. I didn’t politic for the title I have now. It all comes down to what you can do, what you are empowered to do. Ability, Authority, and Accountability… and what the pay is :wink: Other than that I would be happy with the title “Designer”

I agree with you 100% about titles.

One company i was at I was completely in charge of all ID, Running company wide IDeation sessions, managing 2 ID people and 1 graphic designer, my title was only Sr. designer. When i went to apply for a new job they looked at me as i was a manager/director and point blank said titles vary so much from company to company so they mean nothing… All we want to know is what were your responsibilities and your role in the projects.