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Building A Robust Design Team Structure

As more and more companies recognize the value of design, there’s a growing demand for design professionals who can create better user experiences, and ultimately, better products.

But great design comes from great design teams. Ensuring your design team members are set up for success just may be the first step on the road to making your company more successful. 

As a manager, team, or design leader, you can play a crucial part in bringing these roles together and setting up a successful design team. 

Whether you have an in-house design team, or you’ve outsourced it to freelancers or contractors, this article will be useful in understanding:

  • The 4 types of design team structures,
  • Key roles in a design team, and
  • 5 solid tips for building a strong design team structure.

Let’s get into it!

What is a design team?

Design team

A design team could be made up of one designer or several designers who take on various tasks and utilize various tools and techniques to accomplish a single objective. Depending on the task, design teams share common goals such as building a website, a mobile app, creating an illustration, or really, any design effort.

The hierarchy of the team’s various designers and their various tasks and duties are referred to as the “structure” of the design team. It is the design team’s organizational chart.

4 types of design team structures

A design team structure can be chosen based on the uniqueness of the business or project, the required specifications, historical context, etc. The four most commonly used design team models are listed below.

Centralized design team structure

The design team as a whole collaborates in one location, usually the same physical space such as an office, and has one decision-maker in this structure.

Design teams that are centralized often operate like real agencies, which means they may work on various internal design projects. Traditionally, the design managers or the UX Director are in charge of overseeing the workload and the entire design process.

Numerous design supervisors oversee individual designers on large design teams. The Director of UX or the Vice President of UX, typically, is the person to whom these design managers subsequently report.

Centralized design team structure

A centralized team has several advantages:

  • Within the design team, communication and input exchange is simple.
  • There is a cohesive design process since design teams utilize the same resources and vision.
  • There are fewer conflicts within the team due to clearly defined positions within the design team.
  • When designers work on various design projects, they have a wide variety of learning possibilities.

There are a few disadvantages, though:

  • Silos are created within the project, which leaves design teams isolated.
  • Time is wasted as a result of the design process being slower.

The centralized model is better suited for medium-sized businesses since the design leader can help establish a shared design philosophy and oversee the day-to-day operations of the designers. It will make it simple for designers to exchange expertise and offer constructive criticism.

Embedded design team structure

In this situation, designers are integrated into a number of cross-functional teams inside an organization and report to the team captain. In order to create a certain product, feature, or area of business, designers collaborate with developers, product engineers, and marketers.

They are also referred to as distributed, cross-functional, or decentralized team structures. Here, members of the production design team speed up, streamline, and reduce the cost of developing a product. 

Embedded design team structure

Although every designer reports to a creative director, vice president, etc., it’s their day-to-day work that varies. To finish a project, they will collaborate with other key business activities in addition to working with other designers.

The embedded model can boost pace on the business side and, more crucially, can increase morale on the individual side by fostering trust and collaboration across disciplines.

Embedded design team structures:

  • Increase cross-departmental cooperation and trust.
  • Accelerate the creation of new products.
  • Give designers the chance to become authorities on a particular kind of project.

There are some disadvantages to this team structure:

  • Designers may be underrepresented, which could cause their perspectives to be discounted as they are usually outnumbered in a team.
  • Distributed teams can perform a lot of repetitive work without a centralized design repository system, wasting time and resources.
  • If no one is in charge of enhancing the design process, there may not be much improvement.

Small businesses can profit from this strategy, in which a designer working as part of a cross-functional team is ideal. The designer may work on a contract basis or in-house.

Flexible design team structure

Also known as a matrix design team structure, this is when the embedded and centralized design team structures are combined. These design teams are adaptable since it is simple to move them around to accommodate shifting organizational design requirements.

Designers who work in flexible design teams report to both a central design leader and the team leader of cross-functional teams they are a part of.

Flexible design team structure

This concept is excellent for keeping a similar design identity across the firm while making design work more easily accessible to various projects without all the red tape of a centralized structure.

The following are the advantages of the flexible design structure:

  • Increased adaptability to any future design requirements.
  • The two oversights put more emphasis on the design process.
  • Communication between the design and other product teams is improved.

The shortcomings include:

  • Confusion among designers as to who has the last word in design decisions.
  • Large enterprises could find it challenging to execute and structure the framework.

When a company has a large number of designers and a high level of design maturity, the flexible design team structure performs well.

The design leader will be in charge of overseeing effective designer collaboration and developing shared design assets including design systems. On the other side, the team leader is in charge of making sure that the design team works well with other teams, like the engineering or product teams. 

The benefits of both worlds are provided by this team structure for huge organizations.

Contractual design team structure

This is when a contract-based external design team is hired to fill design gaps. Small businesses that lack the funding for a full-time designer can outsource a design team.

Similarly to this, companies with in-house design teams may encounter peaks in their design work or gaps in their in-house designers’ skill set. Contractual design teams can assist in filling the gap in resources and experience in both situations.

Your internal design staff may have to spend valuable time on tasks like producing newsletters, bulletins, and presentation slides. Instead, they can concentrate on more important activities by handing off these less important responsibilities to others.

You can also keep your design costs in check by using an outside team to assist your internal design team. You’ll be able to employ staff to handle the routine, everyday demand and turn to your third-party suppliers for any unforeseen spikes in workload.

A contractual design team structure has the advantage of collaborating with any of the preceding ones. Contractual service providers can report directly to your centralized team, work on a particular team or project, or just provide general company assistance for any activities you specify.

Key roles in every design team

Design is a discipline that includes numerous roles such as project managers, designers, researchers, and the like. Therefore, understanding how these disciplines interact is the greatest way to start forming a good design team.

Your team should be made up of people with a variety of knowledge and skill sets who can approach user experience and design from many angles. Here are some important design roles with that in mind.

Key roles in a design team

Project manager

Project managers in the design industry are experts who plan, organize, and carry out projects while adhering to constraints like budgets and timelines.

Project managers oversee the working teams – they set objectives, manage risks, communicate with stakeholders, and see a project through to completion.

Team lead

A team lead is a group leader. This individual is who leads the design team with the aim of reaching a significant outcome or the project’s ultimate goals. They provide steady guidance, training, and direction.

The team leader is also responsible for tracking the team’s progress, both quantitatively and qualitatively, and reporting findings to the project manager.

UX designer

The responsibility of a UX designer is to direct the entire product design process from inception to completion or to enhance an already existing product.

They are in charge of ensuring that products and services are practical, delightful, and easily available for customers.

UX designers take part in every stage of the UX design process, from project planning to user research, high-fidelity prototype development, and user testing.

UI designer

UI designers concentrate on the user interface, i.e., how a product looks and feels. They build visual and interactive elements, such as icons, buttons, menu bars, typography, colors, and more, that enable all the displays a user might engage with.

A visual designer is another name for the UI designer role.

To note: Nowadays, the majority of designers are well-versed in both UI and UX, enabling them to collaborate and provide input throughout the whole design process.

UX researcher

In order to comprehend the behaviors, needs, pain points, and motives of the target users, user experience researchers often interact with them.

They are in charge of creating the design research plan, running research sessions, processing the information gathered, and delivering the results to important stakeholders.

UX researchers gather comprehensive information on the end-user through qualitative and quantitative research. This data will be used to develop user-friendly products that are based on input, not simply assumptions, during the design process.

5 best practices for building a strong design team structure

No matter the team structure you decide on, getting the team to collaborate is never simple. Project managers are crucial to the success of a team because they maintain team cohesion, keep them on task, and make sure everyone is happy and contributing to the company’s objectives.

The first step is to hire designers and build strong design teams around them, but you also need to make sure that they have adequate resources and that they are managed well.

It’s possible that what works for one team won’t for another. In an effort to improve your workflow, communications, and other aspects of your team’s work, it’s critical that you keep experimenting with new approaches.

Here are a few tactics you can try using to get things started.

Design team structure best practices

1. Define goals and expectations clearly

Ensure that everyone is on board with the team’s objectives and is aware of where it is headed. In order to understand the work needed and the priorities, it is essential to have a clear design strategy. It is also a good approach to assessing progress.

You should strive to make the product better with each release, whether this is done by research, design, organizing a workshop to decide which additions should be prioritized, or producing the content that leads a user through the flow.

Don’t just concentrate on what you want to accomplish as a team while determining the path; constantly create a wider picture. To help your team members recognize how their work fits into the overarching business goals, look at other teams and the larger organization.

Breaking down goals into milestones and periodically discussing progress to determine what is working and what can be improved will help your team achieve its goals more quickly.

2. Create a culture of design strategy

Your design team may contribute significantly to achieving business objectives when there is a strong culture of design strategy. It increases team morale by making it simple for other departments to recognize the value of design.

By teaching your designers to put the needs of the customer first and coordinating design objectives with corporate objectives, you can foster a culture of design strategy and everything your design team does should be based on one.

3. Encourage open communication and trust

A high-performing design team requires more than just the proper personnel to manage and lead. It needs to be done by fostering an inclusive design culture.

Encouraging your team to trust you and providing a safe environment where individuals feel comfortable discussing their opinions and collaborating with each other are essential steps in building a cohesive team.

Socializing is a fantastic technique to promote trust. In order to forge deeper bonds with and within the team, it’s critical to get to know team members on both a professional and personal level.

People are more inclined to open up and communicate with each other when trust is fostered since it opens up communication channels.

This makes it easier for projects to align, especially when working with cross-functional teams where members of various teams may not feel entirely at ease working together.

4. Prioritize growth, learning, and development

The most effective teams are ever-evolving. In order to ensure that your team members are satisfied with their positions, it is essential to provide possibilities for personal growth and development.

Employing individuals who exhibit humble curiosity is the first step in fostering a culture of continual learning. Encourage your staff to work together and conduct studies on related problems wherever possible.

Additionally, make an effort to foster an atmosphere of safety so that people aren’t scared to make mistakes. Making errors is perfectly acceptable and serves as a teaching opportunity. Discussing what happened is crucial so that team members can benefit from their errors and prevent repeating them.

Give your design team feedback that will enable them to develop their abilities in order to increase engagement. Set up routine one-on-one meetings with each designer in your team to provide feedback and determine whether they require more assistance.

5. Understand what motivates your team

If you’re a project manager, motivating your team should be a top priority. Making team members feel encouraged and driven at work is crucial since motivated team members typically exhibit higher levels of productivity, engagement, and social competence.

Being honest and transparent with your team members is one of the best methods to boost motivation. They’ll feel appreciated and you’ll learn more about their requirements, issues, and goals if you do this.

Empower your design team with the best tools with Cubyts

Your design team will find it simple to work together and with other departments in your organization thanks to a strong team structure. The appropriate design tools can streamline the design process, save your business time and money, and promote seamless collaboration.

Your designers can easily design, organize, communicate, and collaborate in one space with the help of an all-in-one solution like Cubyts, which can handle all of your design demands.

With Cubyts, your designers will be better able to collaborate with groups from all disciplines and easily communicate feedback with all stakeholders.

Sign up with Cubyts today to empower your design team!