The Evolution Of The Designer Role
Date: February 23, 2016
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Last week I read a great article called Designers Shouldn’t Code. They Should Study Business. As a designer/developer I wasn’t entirely sure how I felt about that but upon reading the article I realized the genius behind it.

“We have to keep growing and focusing on craft. If we don’t, nobody else will. But let’s also start understanding the businesses we work for and what they need in order to grow. If we’re able to do that, we will continue to gain more influence, and continue to create products that are more impactful—both for our companies and for the people that use them.”

Having recently been promoted and taking on a bigger leadership role I’ve struggled with staying out of the “politics” (if you will) and speaking up when something looks like it’s headed in the wrong direction. I fall into the younger category on most of our teams and I’ve only been there for 2 short (albeit, wonderful) years so I can’t play the seniority card by any means.

Fortunately, I’m learning more and more that understanding the way my company works and taking an active role in the business side of things is easing the pain for everyone.


It all starts with your sales team, right? Someone sells something, assigns an editorial team, a client service manager (CSM) and finally, the project trickles down to the design team.

This process can, unfortunately, look a lot like a game of telephone sometimes. We sold an e-book with a deliverable of a PDF, that got written as a white paper, which the client would now like to be interactive. Oh, did they not mention that up front? Now what?

My official title is Digital Experience Director. Though I still consider myself a designer & developer on most days, I’ve been trying to embrace the business side of that title too. And it’s true, there are plenty of things that I never considered would be part of my job today.

After having gone through a few bad rounds of telephone, it was time for our departments to unite and looked at ways in which we could help each other develop as a team.

I put aside my designer paint brush and put on my business jacket to recall some of the most cliche but relevant lessons I’ve ever learned to contribute to this discussion.


Communication is key. Without it, projects start to fall apart and frustration builds.

I am knee deep in our digital offerings every day. I know which can offer native files as a deliverable and which are hosted solely on content platforms. I understand the limitations of functionality and analytics between the offers. I can estimate the time it will take to design and build a project from start to finish. And, I can narrow down the best platform to build any type of content on based on just a few simple questions.

What I cannot do is forget how important my communication of this knowledge is to other team members. Just because I’m aware of all these things hardly means that everyone is. Luckily, there are ways to spread the wealth.


Sharing is caring. While I don’t mind answering questions and sharing my knowledge, I’m often not able to do so all the time. This is where spreadsheets come in.

I have a really simple spreadsheet that’s shared around my company for anyone who needs it. It lists out the 8 or 9 different types of digital offerings we have. Everything from our content creation platforms to our custom builds.

For each offering I include the following:

  • Deliverable options
  • Hosting options (platform or client)
  • Analytic capabilities
  • Whether it’s responsive or mobile optimized
  • Whether or not it can sync with marketing automation systems

Based off those qualities alone, we can narrow the sale down to 1 or 2 offerings.

In addition to that, the spreadsheet gives suggestions of the best type of content for each platform (a white paper, a quiz, a calculator, etc.), a basic price range from a hard cost standpoint and a link to an example of a successful project.


Slow and steady wins the race. Ok, maybe ‘slow’ isn’t the best word. And actually, it’s a really scary word in the business world. No one wants to be considered slow and it’s quite tempting to be known as the fastest team to get projects out.

Beware of rushing your process.

When we looked back on some not so smooth projects, it was evident that those were the ones where we overlooked a step or two along the way. Often we had made assumptions and moved forward only to find ourselves in a hole a few weeks down the road.

Understanding the client needs before a project begins is huge, even from a design and development standpoint. Whether or not the client needs native files to host on their own server changes a project drastically for my team. In addition to that, there are things a custom built project can offer that a content creation platform simply cannot.

No, those things don’t have to do with the clients branding or style guidelines but they are just as important. The lesson here is to take the time to ask every question and include the right people to answer them.


Understanding the business side of a leadership design role and learning more about how your company works is tremendously important. Not only for you, but for your team as a whole too.



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