Artistry, design, and management

What is design management and what skills are required for it to be successful?

Simply put, design management is the business angle of design. It’s a field of inquiry that uses project management, design, strategy, and supply chain techniques to control the creative process, support a culture of creativity, and build a structure and organization for design.

The main difference between a creative and a manager is that management tasks require more soft skills. Without the ability to manage time and build work successfully, a creative’s hard skills only go so far, and their value as a specialist is greatly reduced. On the other hand, understanding the need for such skills comes with experience. Management includes planning, organizing, controlling situations, staffing, and directing people and processes. Basically, a design manager is someone who defines the task, finds the best person to solve it, and does everything to assess any additional problems within time and budget. This might sound easy, but it’s not; there are many skills required to do it successfully.

  1. Analytical skills. Required for briefing and identifying the task. Before anything goes into production, the design manager investigates, sorts out, and identifies important information in order to provide a graphic designer or an artist with the best tools for them to solve a problem in the best possible way.
  2. Communication skills. A design manager is the point of contact for both the client and the designer during the design process. This includes explaining certain design decisions, ideas, and concepts to the client and providing feedback from them to the designer. It takes great communication skills to ‘translate’ the artist’s language and vice versa.
  3. Problem-solving skills. Not everything goes according to plan and it’s alright to have some unexpected issues arise as long as there’s a good manager who can deal with them, eliminating risks for the project and the corresponding artist.
  4. Organization and time management skills. A design manager is responsible for identifying the scope of the project and managing time frames and deadlines. It’s important to understand the design process and plan it successfully from start to finish.
  5. Team Working and relationship-building skills. A design manager needs to identify the strengths and weaknesses of each team member and ensure that each project has the right person working on it. Simultaneously, it’s vital to have a positive atmosphere, vibrant team spirit, and a conducive working environment. Surely, each member of the team is responsible for this, but the design manager is someone who motivates the team and leads it to success.
  6. Design background/experience. Although it’s not necessary to have a project manager who understands the technical side of a project, it definitely benefits the team. Such experience helps communicate creative thoughts and provides constructive feedback.

Why does management matter in design?

Design projects often imply strict or tight deadlines and clear technical specifications — in short, they require a lot of control. In order to complete a project, it’s important to have different people working together, with each doing what they do best. Surely, some designers can manage their time efficiently and communicate with clients, however, this takes extra time and effort that could be spent on the project itself. Designers and managers have different approaches to the scope of their work: designers focus on visionary performance and constructive solutions, and may have an emotional bias in their work, whereas managers focus on analytical skills and pay more attention to detail, efficiency, and deadlines. Although the two work in symbiosis, project design is a systematic process and it requires management in one form or another to be efficient and successful.

What about the artists?

It may seem as though artists don’t fit into this scheme and need their own approach. In the big picture, this isn’t the case; there’s room for creativity in all fields, even if one is a programmer or an engineer. Creativity is chaotic beauty, but it still needs order.

Unless an artist is completely independent, their work is monitored by a manager and an art director — those who ensure quality and oversee deadlines. Although graphics may differ in this case, their business order is executed with the same algorithm as a company’s design project. Simultaneously, a contractor bears the same responsibility for failed tasks as any other employee.

If an artist is self-employed (say freelancing or selling their merchandise), they need to be able to calculate time and workload on their own. Even if they sell their creative works to fans, it’s consequential to maintain regular postings, in this case, orders by mail and communication with customers. Basically, it’s a matter of discipline to keep their business together, and where an artist may lack, a manager with the appropriate skills can come to the rescue. Some artists even hire agents to delegate the search for clients, negotiations, and other duties.

How to manage designers successfully?

Managing designers is first and foremost about providing them with what they need for work. Here are some tips on how to manage designers:

Provide all the information required before they get started

This includes information about the project, website links, brand guidelines, and files required for work (such as font files, logos, etc.). It’s important for designers to not only fully understand the project and its goals but also have all the ‘physical’ assets they need for the job ready at hand. Designers are not telepaths; it’s fundamental to provide them with visual references and examples and also make sure that they recognize and understand the deadlines for the project and its scope from the get-go.

Make sure you give specific and helpful feedback

In order to make specific, on-point revisions, a designer needs to receive particular feedback. Although it’s much easier to say ‘I don’t like it’ or ‘the client doesn’t approve’, it’s not very helpful commentary. If something is not up to standard, explain why. Perhaps the design wasn’t created in accordance with the company’s brand identity or wasn’t suited for the company’s target audience. If you’re knowledgeable in design, you can provide appropriate suggestions — for example, changing the color scheme or the layout. Good feedback and discussion help facilitate necessary revisions and prevent the slippery slope of having to start from scratch again, which wastes time and money.

Support and know how to stand up for a designer’s decisions in front of a client

They say that the ‘customer is always right’, however, we know that this isn’t always the truth. The client may see things from their perspective, whether it’s professional or personal. There are scenarios where a client might not subjectively like a design, despite the designer’s project being objectively good for the business. It’s the manager’s job to explain the importance of certain decisions to the client and bridge the gap of understanding. Translation and support are key.


Although designers and artists aren’t so different from other employees, their creative scopes require different approaches by management to help them do what they do best — create. If you pay attention to and assess their needs, doing your best to accommodate for strengths and weaknesses, all while supporting their creativity, you will be rewarded with positive results, happy clients, and successful projects.

Here at Sketchy Digital, we work as a huge team consisting of designers, artists, and of course managers. If you think we could help you with design services, our managers would be more than happy to discuss your projects with you. Reach out to us at and we can lead you in the right direction!

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Alex Jakov
Chief Executive Officer
Former co-founder of Opendoor. Early staff at Spotify and Clearbit.

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