How to be a product design leader

A study of industry design leaders from facebook, invision and google to understand what makes a great design leader. With a list of actionable processes to introduce into your department.

“You don’t have to be a manager to be leader”. Julie Zhuo - VP product design at Facebook

What makes a great design product leader?

You may be the sole contributor in an organisation, or part of a flat design team or you may be the manager of a large team whatever your role it’s your responsibility to fight for user values and process and to great a safe place for feedback and learning to help a product and team to improve.

Are you the only ux designer at your organisation? Promote a user centric processes and get company buy in

At all of my roles so far I have started off as the first UX design hire or I have been an advocate for UX whilst working as a front end developer and bringing these values into a role. You can bring your values into your day to day job, however I have found this will only get you so far. As teams and organisations grow you need to have methodologies in place to encourage collaboration and learning and ensure the focus stays on user satisfaction and not just conversions, data and KPIs.

“If you notice something that needs changing, it’s your job to change it” Julie Zhuo - Mike Monteiro - Co-founder and design director of Mule Design

Julie Zhuo (VP of design at facebook) sums it up very well “The difference between management and leadership, management is a role its like being a teach or a police officer, it can be given to you and it can be taken away. Leadership is a quality that you need to earn. You don’t need to be a manager to be a leader. Through you actions, words and vision inspire a group of people around you towards a common cause or rally around an initiative you are a leader”.

“Getting along with everyone, listening to feedback and giving it naturally makes a great leader”. Julie Zhuo - VP product design at Facebook

If you are a lone contributor getting the whole company on board and driving change within an department can take time but there are ways to start to do this slowly. Or if you are part of an established team below are some process to hone and introduce if required to keep a loop of feedback, iteration and user center leadership.

Process to introduce

Here are some process to introduce into your work flow taken from the best design leaders in the world.

Get feedback often

Gather feedback from team members and include other teams who work directly with the customers or that product.

  • Show and tell
  • All hands


Hold internal workshops, Hold workshops with new partners

  • Show ideas to stakeholders
  • Company buy in for processes

Beers and ideas Monthly

Running monthly beers and idea session is a great place to introduce design thinking, user centric thinking to a multiple departments. Run through the full end to end user journey of the product and where everyone fits into the overall picture of the user journey.

  • Show and tell of work anyone can share what they are working (All departments not just design).
  • What have teams heard this month - Trends - Feedback from each department - ways to tackle the issue.

Weekly Critique

A chance for everyone to go though what they are working on. Start with comments, what needs are we meeting which persona is it aimed at.

  • Questions
  • Concerns
  • Suggestions
  • Clear next steps as outcomes

If you are introducing new processes or thoughts around measuring success within the design department, do it within your normal meeting environments or processes

Learn it lunch

Start with running a learn it lunch not only for your team but also for the whole company.

  • 15min presentation.
  • Lifetime value with meeting user needs
  • User centric - story telling
  • What’s the goal of our company? who to reach these by looking at user needs

Measure customer feelings

We may have goals around revenue, engagement, analytics, clicks but we also need to look at what people feel.

  • Tracking satisfaction (e.g. NPS, SUS)
  • Ask questions. Would you recommend our product, if not why.

Have plans in place

Research plan and MVR, work experience plans.

Review every releases

Retrospective meetings to review a release.

Share work and communicate

Share work with the company grab a space in the office that everyone walks past and print of work and stick it up. Communicate with stakeholders and executives to promote teams ideas.

Reach out before you need to hire someone

Don’t wait until you need to hire someone for a role, reach out before and build up connections. Open up your department to Work experience

Quantify potential changes and improvements

Scorecards and UX metric reporting to show impact of design changes, to get stakeholder buy in and allow for reporting.

Example OKR

Objective: Create an Awesome Customer Experience

  • Improve Net Promoter Score from X to Y.
  • Increase Repurchase Rate from X to Y.
  • Maintain Customer Acquisition cost under Y.

Work on your presentation skills

Getting stakeholder buy in for projects showing the importance of improvements can be tricky. Presenting these opportunities to stakeholders in a easy to understand way and comparing these to business objectives and ROIs is a useful way to get buy-in.

Pyramid presentation method

  • What - What is the current situation
  • Why - Why is it happening (research to back this up)
  • How? - How are we going to fix it
  • Support with SWOT pr SOAR analysis
  • ROIs

Example of an ROI

  • The number of customers you’re targeting
  • The current percentage rate of retention
  • The projected rate of retention
  • The lifetime customer value of a targeted customer