Thoughts from Friday

– Sorry, I haven’t been able to take too many pictures of Cincinnati in the week and a half that I’ve been here; it has been foggy since I got here. So, instead, I present to you a picture of a stuffed lobster.

Now on to business…

Back at my first internship two years ago, I interviewed everyone about what they did and how they functioned as part of the company (it was a small design firm). As I talked to the design manager, she lamented having to deal with problems all of the time, and not having any real time to do actual design work. It was then and there I decided that I never wanted to be a design manager. After all, why would I ever want to give up the ability to creatively express myself, for a job where I’d constantly have to watch others do the designing?

At my new internship (technically a co-op), I’m still interviewing people to try to get an idea of how the company is structured and who does what. Today, again, I found myself talking to a design manager. So I asked the one question that was burning in my mind like a bad case of athlete’s foot: “do you miss it (designing)”

He said yes… especially at first. But then he realized that as a manager he’s actually still designing, just with different instruments. Sure he’s not sketching or modeling anymore, but he’s painting in broader strokes. He likened it to the movie business. He doesn’t do special effects anymore… he’s the director now. It’s HIS VISION that everyone is creating from. So while he doesn’t decide the small details, he is creating this huge idea, supported by other small ideas. He is the one in charge of making sure that his one, overarching idea is followed and kept celebrated. He is still coming up with the overall feel of a thing, and he is the one who makes all of the final decisions. And he makes these design decisions on a much faster pace.

The key, he says, is to not design stuff for the designers you’re managing. Don’t step on their toes. That kind of micromanaging only frustrates the talented people working for you. You are paying for their opinion, so let them do their work… but guide them to follow your vision.

The guy is also a graduate of industrial design from GT, and he was telling me about how his time at GT has helped. He said that being in the minority (a designer in a sea of engineers) has actually helped him. All of his friends were engineers… and he learned how to talk and think like them.  And now that he’s designing products, he regularly interfaces with engineers, and is able to talk and work with them to make sure his designs remain intact through the manufacturing phase.  Instead of the classic “design vs. manufacturability fight” that is so common today in product development, he is able to work with engineers up close to make sure that, with some compromise on both sides, everyone can end up happy and proud of an idea that no on thought would survive to production.

So…. That’s it.

Now I’m thoroughly confused, and have taken back my vow against design management. I don’t know if I’ll ever be a design manager, but now I’m at least open to it happening sometime in the future. But I want to be a designer for a long while first. That’s my goal and that’s what I want to do when I get out of design school.

Don’t let me sugarcoat this. It seems that being any kind of manager means that you are constantly the troubleshooter. It can definitely be a hectic job. But as a design manager, at least I could be doing something I love.

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