Writing

January, 2024

What Does a Head of Design Do?

Including Design Director

In organisation structures, “Head of” is a role equivalent to a “Director”, but more inclusive. In any professional field there can be many directors, but there can be only one “Head of”.

It is a unifying role that binds the director tasks to one person. (Responsibilities for each team may still be shared among other Design Directors, which fulfil the same tasks and responsibilities within a larger organisation structure that employs several design teams.) Of course, in a smaller organisation with a single design team, the Head of Design can be simply the Design Director.

The Head of Design has oversight over various design teams (or a single design team), including positions like Design Directors, Product Designers, Industrial Designers, Design Researchers, UX Architects, UX Designers, UX Researchers and UX Consultants – it all depends on the scale and proportion of design operations, which are often spanning over multiple design discplines.

The job of the Head of Design is to keep processes and methodologies aligned with an organisation-wide structure, which translates the company’s overall design goals (overseen by the CDO). This means the Head of UX role is more about how things are done in UX Design within the organisation and less about what is done in terms of the overal design strategy and direction.

Ideally, all people working in design fields contribute to the development and implementation of organisation-wide processes, structures, design pattern libraries, etc. All of this together, the processes and methodologies, the experienced gathered through doing and through thinking will lead to a more unified design approach across the organisation, which saves time, money and leads to a more directed and efficient result.

The following are responsibilities and requirements I see for this role:

Responsibilities

  • Team management
  • Team direction
  • Hiring new talent
  • Team unification
  • Talent coaching and development
  • Client needs evaluation
  • Market research and strategy
  • Client consultation
  • Client presentations
  • Design strategy
  • Vision and conceptual leadership
  • Business scope and goal evaluation

Requirements

  • Higher education with degree in design or equivalent in experience
  • Ideally more than five years leadership experience
  • Strong visionary skills
  • Experience with or knowledge of hardware product design, software product design, user experience, user interface, art direction, creative direction, brand, identity
  • Excellence in leadership and analytical skills
  • Great communication and collaboration skills
  • Ability to resolve complex design and communication issues

Related or Similar Roles

Hiring Mistakes

Resist the temptation to select only people from the top crop of applicants. Only because these candidates check off on every point of your requirements and have a degree from a prestigious university, they are not necessarily your best option. For a guiding and directing UX role, someone with an ability to learn and adapt, who possesses a sense for strategic thinking and who is great in communication, may be serving you more than a candidate that looks perfect on paper.

It’s great if you find someone who has experience in research, workshops, studies, analysis, user journeys, user flows and prototyping. But you’re not hiring for a UX designer or UX consultant, you are looking for someone who can lead, with a sense for strategy and the bigger picture. Trying to find someone who can lead but is also “hands on” will ultimately result in disappointments.