3 Ways to Empower Your Design Team to Thrive

DECEMBER 18, 2018
How to Grow Your Design Career as an Individual Contributor


See how a Facebook Design Program Manager encourages creativity in her team.

We originally published this article on December 18, 2018. Please regard your local COVID protocols when considering the in-person activities the author recommends.

At Facebook, our employees are encouraged to bring their whole self to work. This allows individuals with unique skill sets to truly thrive in a diverse environment.

As a Design Program Manager (DPM), my responsibility is to empower the design team to thrive. I achieve this by:

  1. Keeping product teams working smoothly by organizing design operations

  2. Proactively identifying problems and removing obstacles to progress

  3. Synthesizing information and communicating it to the right audience

  4. Growing team culture and enabling teams to focus their time on designing

Each DPM has different strengths and interests. I think what makes me unique in this role is my passion for creativity. It’s why I love collaborating with my design team every day, and it’s been especially helpful in addressing the fourth area above: growing team culture so the members of the design team can produce their best work.

My passion for creativity stems from the work I do outside of my day job. Over the past four years, I’ve developed a huge interest in typography, and I practice hand-lettering on a daily basis.

Three photos of the author's hand-lettering.

Examples of my hand-lettering projects.

I love the creative freedom of lettering, and I find inspiration in many places. Understanding my own process and why I love lettering has helped me realize why it’s important for the design team I work with to be creatively inspired.

The role of the designer is to empathize with their users and design strategic solutions to support their needs. But this can only be achieved if the designer is in a healthy place to evolve and is equipped with the best resources to help them be creative.

Managing a design culture is a tricky responsibility and often falls on the Design Manager. However, by empowering each team member — from directors to new hires — to have a voice in shaping our design culture, we’ve set the expectation that it’s up to all of us to seek opportunities for improvement.

My role is to devise and execute a plan of action. Three ways I’ve encouraged creativity to blossom among the designers on my team at Facebook are weekly inspiration posts, hack-a-thons, and continuing education.

1. Weekly inspiration posts

Every Monday morning, to kick off the week with an inspirational start, the Design Manager sends out a link to an interesting or illuminating article, podcast, video, or other content that the team can check out while sipping their morning coffee. This helps spread the habit of seeking inspiration outside of our industry, and it’s exciting when the topic ends up in design conversations or develops into a new idea throughout the week.

2. Design hack-a-thons

Hack-a-thons are generally engineering-driven events that stimulate creativity and problem solving. But who says they’re only for engineers? A few of our designers wanted to host their own event to get out of their regular work routine, and as a DPM equipped with knowledge of best practices for organizing team-wide events, I partnered with them to help bring this idea to life.

We rented a creative studio in the middle of downtown Palo Alto, spent the morning brainstorming unique ideas, and dedicated the afternoon to creating rad prototypes. It’s not every day that we’re able to change our work space to give designers the freedom to create without limitations. But this special day helped shine a light on some incredible skill sets our designers possess and gave them opportunities to collaborate differently from the ways they usually do.

3. Continuing education

Continuing education can be an afterthought when you work in a fast-paced environment juggling high-priority projects. But the design landscape is constantly changing, and it’s important to invest in our designers by providing them with learning opportunities. I’ve worked proactively with our Design Director to seek out external workshops and seminars aligned with our designers’ interests and growth opportunities. Equipped with the latest industry trends and best practices, the designers’ appetite for new resources and inspiration has grown, and we have seen a positive shift in the internal and external perception of our design culture.

As a creative person, I know that creative burnout is real. So it brings me real joy to help the designers on my team stay inspired and focused. If your team is in need of a boost of creative energy, consider implementing one or all of these ideas.

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