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I m wondering how many of you think it's best from a project management point of view to have a single UX designer leading the design vision of a project. There could be other UX designers on the project helping the lead but do you think a project which has multiple UX design leads performs better than a individual design lead?

Any examples or case studies you guys can direct me to would be highly appreciated.


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I think this question is upside down. I think of design as a collaborative process between a multi-disciplinary team. The concept of "lead designer" reeks of prima donna's and seems a little old hat to me. – Lisa Tweedie Aug 9 '12 at 13:37
I m not against collaboration but every designer has their own sense of design. There can never be two designers who produce the same design ever. In such scenario I feel having a leader who gives ensures a consistency from a PM point of view is important. – varun86 Aug 9 '12 at 16:12
My point is that there is never actual an "ideal" design. Design is a choice of one from many many possible alternatives. As soon as you see design like this then you no longer have to have a "lead". Not saying you don't have to have leadership ... just that it doesn't have to be a "design" lead. – Lisa Tweedie Aug 10 '12 at 6:57
up vote 2 down vote accepted

I have a problem with the term "Design" Lead. The word design is just too general.

For me design is a process. It is the choice of a single solution of many many possible alternatives. The job of exploring that design space cannot really be the work of a single person. It takes a multitude of perspectives to identify which is truly the best direction of a design to move.

I need to clarify I am also not advocating design by committee. This is a terrible way to do design and I have seen it in action. Design takes deep deep thought ... and time. However I am not sure you have to be a "lead" to do this thinking. As long as a team is constructed in a democratic manner then respect for this thinking work should be taken as read.

However managing the design process does of course take leadership. For this you need someone with a broad range of perspectives... similar to an architect in building design. That is why I have always preferred the term design/information architect. Part of a architect's role is to synthesize all the information from a multitude of sources into a coherent solution that works.The background of this person and the ability to take on a plurality of views is the key trait that this person needs to have ... and probably a deep understanding of design... they need to be a designer+.

We had a discussion on UX stack exchange chat a few months back about the nightmare scenario where you get a prima donna designer who doesn't understand the art of compromise. Although I am lucky never to have experienced this myself (perhaps because often I was the one taking the designer role within a development team and my views on this are clear) ... I have heard many stories to this effect.

I was once told that a UX person either has to be a Guru or extremely humble. The same goes for designers. Yes we have our guru's: Steve Jobs, Jonathan Ive, Leonardo da Vinci etc... but they are the exception not the rule. For the rest of us I think we need to remain humble and aspire to Guru status one day.

As Aadaam commented below:

If you are humble towards your users and not your fellow developers, you don't cheat them, you help them achieve their goals regardless the effort it takes from you or your team.

This is a great point. Good design requires user advocacy... the central focus of a design has to be "use" ... not features, not cool technology, not super fast algorithms, not marketing value, ROI, not even usability (which I always consider to be a poor term that implies after the fact sticking plaster design). However in order to maintain that focus ideally you need input from user researchers, users themselves, ethnographers... thus our ideal multi-disciplinary team grows even wider. The skill set of our mythical perfect designer even more broad.

So how do we find this polymath designer who has all these skills? The truth is we don't... perhaps that is the value of an approach like SCRUM where the focus is on iteration and multi-discplinary teams. Where everyone has a go at everything. Maybe this way we will develop these people.

I'll get back to you on the case studies... there must some out there.

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I think being a Steve Jobs means an extreme humbleness. Not humbleness to the realities, but humbleness to the visions, to the profession. I don't think a compromise is a good thing, people do too much compromise and what gets out is mediocre and liked by noone really. If you are humble towards your users and not your fellow developers, you don't cheat them, you help them achieve their goals regardless the effort it takes from you or your team. As behind most compromises, there is only lazyness. – Aadaam Aug 10 '12 at 8:18
Compromise is an "Art" (as stated)... there are bad ones and good ones. I agree with you on the importance of user advocacy ... in fact I'll add that to my answer (: Not sure many people would have described humbleness as being one of Steve's many wonderful characteristics though, but I never had the pleasure to meet the fellow. He is one of my all time hero's nevertheless. – Lisa Tweedie Aug 10 '12 at 8:39

I think the number of lead designers should be: one.

Anything else is not lead designing, but a kind of multicracy or what. Perhaps two, like the number of consuls in the Roman Empire would do. Nothing more.

Or you could try this root-democracy style "group-responsibility" approach where "there's no leader", but I'm with those who say this is actually bad for design.

As for background material, I recommend reading Brooks' The Design of Design where he elaborates this with citing scientific sources.

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Fred Brooks "the mythical man/month" is also anti large teams (says they are rarely effectiv). – Lisa Tweedie Aug 9 '12 at 13:36
Yeah, he was the leader of one :) (The IBM/360 team) – Aadaam Aug 9 '12 at 13:57
Am going to download the "Design of Design" to my kindle today (: However I have seen Fred Brooks talk... he is not a "designer" in the traditional sense... he is a hugely practical and sensitive all round leader/scientist/engineer. I guess my problem with the concept of a "lead" designer is the word designer. Architect would be better... someone with a plurality of perspectives. – Lisa Tweedie Aug 10 '12 at 7:01
I believe there is only one single, universal discipline of design.. I have studied software design myself (as an SE), and then, when I had to, started to learn about visual design, and realized, it's the same stuff. Also I studied architecture on my own, from university textbooks: it was the same stuff. Sure, backgrounds, materials, operations differ, and you need different talents for each, you have to have a different inner vision, but at the end of the day, it's about usage and goals and messages and stories. It's all the same. Fred Brooks is one of the few CS guys who knows that – Aadaam Aug 10 '12 at 7:32
I guess there are also designers that don't know that too (: – Lisa Tweedie Aug 10 '12 at 8:01

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