leveling-up-from-a-solo-designer-to-lead-designer-is-hard!

A weekly reflection of what I have learnt this week as a Digital Product Designer

Liz Hamburger

Chalk writing on the floor that says ‘ You Got This’

Chalk writing on the floor that says ‘ You Got This’

This week I have a lot to reflect on as the new client project I have been working on with a new team member is drawing to a close. At the beginning of this week, we visited the client in their office where I presented the wireframes as well as the initial UI concepts to a group of 14 people. This is the first time I have had to talk in front of a large group of people, but also a group of people who I was not running a design workshop for. I was nervous and it showed, but I’m still proud of the fact that I managed to communicate some of what we had done and why.

On reflection I should have prepared more, I could have done this by finding out how much information the people in the room already knew about the project and what the purpose of presenting the visual work was — I feel that giving the team a general update on where we were in the project was enough to keep them happy, I think the presentation could have been tailored to be more informative though. As I’m gaining more experience as a senior designer I want to ensure I present more work to clients and their team as the more I speak in the public, the comfortable and confident I will become at doing so.

Towards the end of the week, we have begun winding down the project. The wireframe amends have been completed and the UI concepts we created for the first key screens are now ready to be used throughout the product. As this sprint is ending it’s now the perfect time for me to honestly reflect on the entire experience and look at where I could have done better and what I have learnt. I’m happy with how the project went though there are areas that I can definitely improve on for next time.

I’ve spent a few days thinking about areas that I would have done differently and where I could have improved managing this project. In this project, I was the lead designer working with a junior and this is the first client project that our junior designer was working on. In hindsight, there are a lot of things that I could have done to ensure it was a better experience for us both.


Upon reflection, the one thing I will ensure I do before starting any project where I am working with another team member is to organise a meeting with them where we can speak one to one — especially if that team member is someone who I haven’t worked with before.

In future these meetings, we will be discussing what the project involves, the aims and expectations of the client as well as my own. These meetings would also be used to define what the member of the team would like to learn during this project as well as what their strengths and weaknesses are. And finally, I would also use this time to find out any worries or concerns that the designer might have about starting this project. By having open and honest communication with each other means that I can gauge where I can best support that designer, as well as reassure them when needed.


When looking back at the last two weeks I don’t believe I was the best design leader. This role as a lead designer is one that I am growing into and a role that I currently don’t have anyone within my team to mimic or mentor me. It’s a role that I am creating and defining as I go. Sometimes I will get it wrong which is fine — as long as I identify when I could have done better.

As this is a role that I am getting used to, I sometimes forget that when leading it isn’t always about me. During this project, I put a lot of focus on myself and making sure that I came across well to the client. It was the first time I had worked with this client, and I wanted to make a good impression so that they respected me as a designer but also so they wanted to work with me again. I was incredibly focused on getting the work done rather than spending the time with my coworker and helping them when they needed it.

There are plenty of ways that I could have made myself more available, for example during the working day spending less time wearing headphones. Yes, headphones are great for eliminating distractions and getting in a focused state, but they also signal to your coworkers that you aren’t available to talk. When working with a junior who you are meant to be guiding this obviously is not an ideal signal to put out there, especially if that junior is someone who isn’t forthcoming or willing to interrupt you by tapping you on the shoulder.

I could have also ensured at the end of each day we had a quick catch up about the day, the output of the work, and if there was any issues or concerns that we could deal with before the following day. Not only does that keep the channels of communication open, but it would reinforce the fact that I am approachable and am only happy to help other designers as much as I can.


I really hope that this weeks reflection doesn’t come across that I am beating myself up about my failures, as it’s really not that deep. I feel that it’s incredibly important, to be honest, and look to where I can improve not just to ensure that I become a better designer, but also to make sure that I am useful to my team and those who I am helping grow. I feel that being able to document my failures so easily, and publicly without feeling negative about them is actually a wonderful thing as it means I am growing, I’m becoming more aware of what I want to achieve and what I need to do to get there.


What do you think makes a great design leader? What is the best way to kick of a group project? Get in touch and let me know in the comments! Or you can find me on Twitter as @lizhamburger

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