From Senior Product Designer to Product Design Lead

Are you a Senior Product Designer considering your next career move? Here are some insights and strategies from my time as a product design lead to help you.

 

A significant difference when transitioning from a Senior Product Designer to a Product Design Lead is the considerable increase in meetings. Previously, you might have had 4-5 weekly meetings; now, that’s the daily count. These meetings are not just about design discussions, but also about project management, team coordination, and stakeholder updates. This shift can be overwhelming at first, but with time and practice, you’ll learn to manage them effectively. 

 

The increase in meetings necessitates effective time management, a skill that empowers you  to balance hands-on design tasks with leadership responsibilities. I’ve discovered that my most productive time is between 8:30 and 9:30 before the meetings commence. This hour sets the tone for my day, allowing me to provide clear briefs and prioritize tasks with the support of my Product Manager and team.

Managing Expectations

As a leader, you play a pivotal role in setting standards for quality. Mastering tools like Figma and its components is one approach, but equally important is fostering a mindset of quality design. I actively champion design principles within the team and the organization, helping to establish a shared vocabulary for evaluating designs among designers and non-designers.

 

While not every task will be thrilling, part of your job is to communicate the vision and importance of each task to your team. I often refer to projects with high aesthetic value or innovative solutions as “portfolio work.” These projects are worth highlighting. They are not just about producing great work; they’re opportunities to promote passion, joy, and accomplishment, serving as growth projects for the team.

Managing Others

Successful leadership involves delegation, a practice that may initially feel like shirking responsibilities. However, it’s a crucial aspect of leadership that fosters personal and professional growth. Your role is to identify the right designer for each task, nurturing their potential and contributing to the team’s overall success. 

 

Transitioning to a management role also means your interactions with colleagues will change; your words have a higher impact, and your actions set the standard. This shift can sometimes lead to feeling isolated from the team you once were a part of. You might find yourself in situations where you have to make tough decisions or provide feedback that might not be well-received. However, nurturing a positive culture from the sidelines and maintaining relationships with peers in similar roles can be enriching. These connections provide valuable third-party perspectives when needed. I have a circle of ex-colleagues and friends I regularly meet with for a coffee or a walk. Here, I get feedback from the outside and bring new perspectives to my organization. 

 

As a leader, you will spend much of your time coaching and supporting your team. One-on-one meetings are the cornerstone of effective leadership for creative people, providing a structured yet personal way to connect regularly and have a two-way dialogue where feedback and personal development are central themes. These meetings are not just about discussing work tasks, but also about understanding your team members’ career aspirations, providing guidance and support, and addressing any concerns or issues they might have. If this aspect of leadership doesn’t resonate with you, then stepping into a product design lead role may not be the best fit. 

 

For those considering a shift to management, remember that it involves much more than just a title change—it’s about fostering growth, setting standards, and leading by example.