What does success as Head of Design look like?

5 years ago from , Design at Names & Faces

Hi DN,

Our company has recently returned from a very successful stint in San Francisco with Y Combinator. After a crazy whirlwind experience, I have finally found the time to sit with my thoughts and unpack what happened. I've been thinking long and hard about my role, Head of Design, and one question that stands out to me.

How is success measured in this role? What makes an excellent Head of Design, excellent?



  • Jonathan ShariatJonathan Shariat, 5 years ago

    There are 3 important things to focus on:

    1. Health & growth of the team
    2. Product vision/direction
    3. Business success (in that order because the previous items contribute the next)


    • Hire a great team
    • Team skills/experience are growing
    • Happy & supported
    • Well defined/refined process
    • Design is valued & understood
    • User-centered process (Not just in the design org but Biz, PM, and Dev)


    • Have a point of view, based on understanding of users, where the product needs to be
    • Core product experience is solid. If not, its your job to advocate to fix "broken windows" before building new features.
    • Explorations being done outside of perceived product direction.


    • Success clearly defined
    • Success clearly defined for all team members
    • Success tracked with best available KPI's (and always note that these don't give the entire picture but are the best data we have to measure success)
    • In the end make sure you measure not just $ but also the stability of the company to bring in that $ in the future, ethical implications of progress.
    27 points
    • , 5 years ago

      This is incredibly helpful, Jonathan. Some good pieces to digest here. I'm in the process of writing a manifesto of sorts for myself: My role and what success looks like.

      0 points
    • Felipe Delgado, 5 years ago

      Product vision/direction

      Sorry, but wouldn't this typically fall under the umbrella of a Head of Product? Or in case there is none, the CEO?

      I'm all for blurry lines and fostering open collaboration across the org chart. But I still find it odd to put this responsibility on the Head of Design.

      0 points
      • Jonathan ShariatJonathan Shariat, 5 years ago

        I detailed what that means in the three points in that section.


        Have a point of view, based on understanding of users, where the product needs to be

        Core product experience is solid. If not, its your job to advocate to fix "broken windows" before building new features.

        Explorations being done outside of perceived product direction.

        Its going to be an overlapping responsibility. Its the product after all. Design's responsibility is to advocate for user-centered decisions while still executing on business goals.

        Heres a good example: In a large company you might have many different teams working to meet their goals. They might all add in product discovery like a modal or alert or notification, etc. It all adds up to a terrible experience for the user. The head of Design needs to have that holistic picture and make the call that these need to be moderated and a system needs to be implemented.

        0 points
  • Dirk HCM van BoxtelDirk HCM van Boxtel, 5 years ago
    • Successfully solving problems (ie: good user feedback)
    • Meeting KPIs
    • Positive trending statistics
    • A happy & productive team

    Most of these require measurement.

    But that's how I'd define it.

    .edit: when it comes to KPI's, you can look at things like increased brand recognition, deadlines/targets met, and quantity/quality of projects.

    However, some of these greatly depend on the type of company you're working for. Agency vs in-house for example, makes a huge difference.

    6 points
  • Account deleted 5 years ago

    For me it's not letting stupid ideas get put into production. Anything else is a bonus

    2 points
  • Andrew Michael ToddAndrew Michael Todd, 5 years ago

    Buy this book. It's a great resource for someone in your position:


    2 points
    • , 5 years ago

      This was one of the first pages I found when I googled, "What does a head of design do?". It's been ordered, hopefully in my hands soon. Good to hear that it's recommended. Cheers.

      0 points
    • Jonathan ShariatJonathan Shariat, 5 years ago

      And as always any book you KNOW your leadership is reading is also a good book to read as someone under that leadership. You start to understand how they see the world and what is expected of you.

      0 points
  • Nick ClementNick Clement, 5 years ago

    Being able to design and communicate design to an expert level, not just manage.

    0 points
  • David SimpsonDavid Simpson, 5 years ago

    If you are ready for some next level thinking around managing design teams, here is a must watch, https://vimeo.com/297967955

    Todd has experience at large scale and is building out career ladders with some of the leading companies on the West Coast.

    0 points
  • Rico T., 5 years ago

    Defining outcomes and measuring how we're impacting them. What's the desirable outcome for that feature? How metrics define that outcome?

    Aside from this, the team's culture, hiring, managing an understandable design system and so on

    btw, I really love the defiant tone of Names & Faces. I don't know if you are in charge of branding as well, but keep going :)

    0 points
  • Ariel VerberAriel Verber, 5 years ago
    • success helping the company reaching its KPIs
    • happy design team
    • devs & PMs & marketing give good feedback over the design team's performance
    • designers want to work for you
    0 points
  • Carlos SousaCarlos Sousa, 5 years ago

    I guess it all depends on what does Design mean for the company you are working at.

    Is design the product design? Is it the brand/marketing design?

    Dirk pointed out most of the things a excellent Head of Design:

    • Being able to define strategies and measure impact of these

    • Promote design across the business and show the value design provides

    • Understand the operational aspects of design and how to improve – reduce cost, encourage innovation

    There are literary hundreds of things an excellent Head of design, it all depends on how mature the company/the team is.

    0 points
  • Account deleted 5 years ago

    any kind of good manager but a designer can be a good boss -ahem- head of design.

    -11 points