What Is Design Management? (And Its Holistic Approach)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published November 22, 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Design management applies to every level of business, from strategic to operational. Organizations consider design as an asset in differentiation, brand equity, and product quality. Learning about this concept can help you become an effective design manager. In this article, we define design management, describe its importance, explain the role of a design manager, and discuss the approach to and strategic orientations of this type of management.

What is design management?

Organizations use design management to create products or services, support marketing strategies, attract more customers, and achieve business goals. It applies to several industries, including manufacturing, telecommunications, health care, financial services, and information technology. This type of management doesn't rely on a singular design discipline. Your responsibilities as a design manager may depend on several factors, including the industry you belong to, the size and market position of the organization you work for, and the role of design within the business.

Areas of design management

Many people consider design as a practical approach to problem solving. This is especially true for industrial and service design, in which you may build products that aim to solve customers' problems. In a business, management is the act of working with processes and people to achieve organizational goals efficiently and effectively. This may include planning, organizing, staffing, and processing.

Design is just one aspect of many disciplines. You can approach the management of design resources and processes in a similar way. These are some of the most common areas of this type of management:

  • Product design: Product design oversees the functions of product development, focusing on the end user. It may also involve securing meaningful relationships with other departments to facilitate efficiency in product development.

  • Brand design: The focus of brand design is on the end user's brand experience. It includes making a brand visible to customers through methods such as establishing an online store, placing ads on social media platforms, creating a review and feedback page, or maintaining a physical store.

  • Service design: The other side of product design is service design. Its focus is providing the best customer experience.

  • Engineering design: The focus of engineering design is technological outputs. It includes processes such as manufacturing and managing technological artifacts.

Related: What Is User-Centred Design and How Do You Implement It?

Why the management of design resources and processes is important

The management of design resources and processes is integral for most businesses that do more than just resell items. Design allows an organization to be innovative and distinguishes it from the competition. By employing design managers, an organization can easily control its design process and enhance the following:

  • Internal business processes: Organizations can minimize waste and inefficiency in their processes. This reduces their costs and expenses.

  • Growth and learning curve: Knowledge in design allows growth and learning among employees. This helps the organization because it may result in higher productivity, which can increase profitability.

  • Brand and customer relationships: The application of this type of management to branding may result in a more consistent customer experience because of an improved product or service design. This helps to establish customer loyalty and brand awareness.

  • Finances: Strategic design efforts help reduce costs because they can improve efficiency and reduce the time to market of products and services. This may also result in higher profits.

Related: What Is Brand Imaging? (With Importance and Examples)

What is a design manager?

Being a design manager is similar to being a project manager, but you're specifically focused on the design aspect of the project. You're likely to work closely with other relevant groups within the organization. It's important to keep track of projects to ensure consistency and favourable results. You're also responsible for developing and implementing design strategies by clearly guiding the design team to deliver results.

Managing the design aspect of each stage in a project's life cycle includes fulfilling budgets, achieving objectives, and ensuring the proper coordination and communication of designs. This involves supervising the work of the design team. Design managers typically have a degree in a relevant field, such as graphic design, industrial design, or business administration.

What does a design manager do?

As a design manager, you also ensure that there's a smooth flow of information and plans of action to achieve set goals. While the concept of managing design processes may be complex, it's an integral part of any business. To work as a design manager, consider learning the skills and knowledge that are essential to the role. These may include understanding the design process, possessing strong communication skills, and being able to work with different personality types. A good understanding of business and the ability to work with different budgets is also important. Important responsibilities include:

Managing a team

As a design manager, you may handle a team of designers to make sure that they perform effectively. This includes motivating your team to increase productivity. You may also assist in the training and development of team members in coordination with the training department.

Related: How to Be a Team Leader (With Responsibilities and Traits)

Collaborating with clients and other departments

You may collaborate with other departments, such as marketing, finance, and operations, to achieve organizational goals. In this role, you also make sure that your team collaborates with clients to meet their expectations. You may also maintain codes of conduct and coordinate legislation with other departments and agencies by creating an efficient system of communication.

Related: Do You Work Well with Other People? (With How to Answer)

Overseeing the completion of the design process

To ensure proper compliance with the design process, you oversee the team's completion within the budget and on schedule. You also review the designs to make sure that they adhere to all health and safety guidelines. This is when you can seek optimization opportunities to make the design process more efficient.

Related: A Guide to Project Management Leadership Styles (With Tips)

Holistic approach to design management

Being a design manager can be demanding because of the complexity of your responsibilities, so a holistic approach may be a good strategy. Design managers typically excel in three major areas:

Management and administration

As a design manager, you may perform tasks like those of a project manager. You primarily assume management and administrative roles in an organization. Your roles may cover these areas:

  • time, cost, and resource management

  • project documentation management

  • coordination with the team and stakeholders

  • other tasks involving planning, analysis, and status control

Related: How to Manage People (With Steps and Essential Skills)

Technical knowledge, competence, and experience

A good design manager also possesses the technical expertise to handle the design aspects of a project. You can learn the construction and processes the organization uses. You may also excel in the following:

  • decision making and prioritization

  • accurate design documentation

  • optimization of ideas and possible solutions

  • insight into the complexity and independence of the project's elements

  • awareness of the risks and consequences involved

Related: How to Build a Successful Team in 8 Steps


A design manager possesses the qualities and soft skills of an excellent leader. While leadership may not be your top priority as a design manager, you can find several opportunities for improvement in this role. Leadership typically requires these abilities:

  • motivation of yourself and others

  • effective communication

  • authority

  • flexibility

  • accountability

Related: Leadership Skills: Definitions and Examples

Strategic orientations of managing design processes

Managing design involves creating a system that encompasses all aspects of an organization and influences its ongoing processes, strategies for innovation, and business decisions to ensure growth. It includes incorporating design aspects, creating products, attracting customers, and supporting marketing efforts. Design managers are well-equipped to operate and manage organizations with these strategic orientations:

  • Product-driven companies: The research and development team oversees design.

  • Market-driven companies: The marketing team oversees design.

  • Brand-driven companies: The corporate communications team oversees design.

3 levels of corporate hierarchy for design managers

With all the different tasks and responsibilities of a design manager, you may find yourself in one of the three levels of hierarchy in an organization. If you're pursuing this career, it's an advantage to learn more about this hierarchy. The three levels are:

  • Operational: This is considered the execution of the design, which includes managing projects and the group of people tasked to complete those projects. Common job titles may include design team leader, operations design manager, or senior designer.

  • Tactical: This is the structuring aspect of the design, which includes the process of coordinating with the right people or agencies to ensure success. Common job titles include tactical design manager, brand design manager, or design director.

  • Strategic: This is the directional aspect, which includes establishing the direction in which the design can meet the corporate strategy. Common job titles may include design director, chief design officer, or vice president for design.

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