How to become a Design Leader

22 Dec 2022
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Written by:
Danielle Bowman

How to get my job is our career podcast series on Linkedin and Spotify where we sit down with amazing people within the Design and Product industry and ask them how their careers started, evolved, and what advice they have for those coming after them.

In episode 1 of our series, we speak with John Ferguson, Design Director at Work & Co, a technology and design company that define and launch digital experiences people love using every day for brands like Ikea, Airbnb, Google, Disney, Apple and more. John shares his career story and takes us on a journey of how he went from graphic design grad to Design Director.

How did you get your first job in design?

John did a 2 year programme at the Art Institute of Atlanta because they were offering not only a great course but the opportunity to build up a strong design portfolio and present this to potential employers in an end of year portfolio show. Having access to industry professionals and agencies made him quickly realise the importance of having a strong portfolio which he describes as 'the most important currency you can have' as a designer trying to break into the industry or secure a job. Something to be mindful of when taking this approach to enrol onto a design course or degree is that everyone will be given the same assignments and you therefore need to find ways to make your work stand out from the crowd. To make his portfolio stand out John took a digital media class and created both a physical and digital portfolio. Digital was in it's infancy back then and taking the initiative to do this impressed hiring managers and demonstrated his digital design skills.

What are the most important qualities a designer could have?

Whether your a Product Designer with a couple of years experience or a Head of Design, It's important to build bridges with people throughout your career. Relationship building is key to not only getting to the next level in your career but also for finding mentors. in regards to being a Design Leader, it's important to be vulnerable. When leading a team it always helps to open up and be human as people are more likely to respect and want to follow you. Vulnerability can often help boost your confidence and when you can be your authentic self, you can produce your best work and inspire those around you to do the same. In addition to this, when you lead a team you have to be collaborative and try to understand everyone’s ‘design language’. Tuning your management to bring the best out in people will help you work out everyone's preference. Some people may want you to be more direct while others respond to encouragement and praise. Emotional intelligence is and essential part of leadership and tapping into this will help you build a strong design team and culture.

Another key quality to have for any designer is strong communication skills. Learning to thoughtfully communicate your ideas, and defend those ideas if you have to, will help you stay resilient in testing situations and win over stakeholders. Curiosity is another quality that comes up time and time again and is great for helping you go out of your comfort zone and keep testing the limits of your creativity.

What’s the best career advice you’ve ever been given?

Just be yourself. Do what you think is right and follow your gut.

Watch full episode here or listen on Spotify

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Who are we?

Found By Few has been described by clients and partners as an outstanding product management and design recruitment agency. When you partner with Found By Few, you’ll be connected to the best product managers and designers across the world. Whether you’re looking for a Design Director or niche Data Product Management hire, we’re here to help.