Michael Roller lists who he thinks the essential members of a great design team are. What do you think? Who do you think you might be?
A design team without a visionary leader is like a church without a preacher. The Evangelist focuses on design at the highest level, developing strategies and processes that push the limits of design and business as a whole. Contextual thinking helps him understand how design fits into a larger business plan. As a former Dreamer, he loves to push the boundaries and question assumptions of the products and categories he leads. The Evangelist won’t ever be an operations specialist, and may even lead activities that feel counterproductive to more analytical thinkers. Although possibly his greatest challenge, he will come through in the end and prove that his dreaming offers real business value. With a great Evangelist leading the charge, firms can be proactive, trendsetting, and highly valued for their ideas.
To complement the Evangelist, every design team needs a leader who directs the finishing touches on each project. The Conductor’s analytical mind helps her to ensure that no detail goes unconsidered. Like directing an orchestra, she brings together all the little details into harmony, making sure everything has been figured out and nothing taken for granted. She probably has the highest standards of any designer in the office and ensures that every project is top quality. Often the team doing the first 95% of the work is exhausted or checked out by the end, and the Conductor plays a key role in making the final push to finish the project right. In more corporate roles, she shepherds projects through to production and defends key design details that might otherwise be lost. The Conductor may wish she was still a designer, struggling to find the appropriate level of feedback or adding unnecessary work for her team. At her best, the Conductor is the key to creating consistently solid work that will have clients or consumers coming back for more.
When analytical minds struggle with paradoxical design constraints, the Dreamer cuts through it all to offer a surprisingly fresh attitude. He avoids the technical boundaries of a project in favor of contextual experimentation. A great design team deploys Dreamers to brainstorms where blue sky thinking is necessary, and keeps them involved when the end product must push category boundaries or create brand new ones. The Dreamer becomes easily frustrated when not allowed to exercise fantasies, so don’t expect him to handle detail-oriented work or anything that is heavily constrained by technical requirements. The wild ideas he contributes won’t always become part of the final product, but the Dreamer is essential in setting the stage for innovation as well as offering an entertainment value to novelty-seeking design managers.
Whether it comes down to aesthetic or ergonomic excellence, so many great pieces of design rely on details. A great design team relies on the Surgeon – an analytical thinker who cuts up and dissects design problems to find the best solutions. By definition, she breaks down a product into its components, considering the pieces of design and then reuniting them into a cohesive whole. The Surgeon isn’t always the best decision maker, because she can end up thinking in circles or frustrated by a project’s lack of clarity. When it comes to making sense of complex design problems, a Surgeon is your best bet to make sure nothing falls through the cracks.
The Jack of All Trades
Every team has designers with diverse skill sets, but the Jack of All Trades might be the most talented person in your office because he can truly do everything. He leads a range of projects, solves tricky problems, and dreams up big ideas. Recent graduates make great “Junior Jacks,” because they can contribute on a variety of levels while they gain experience and become more aware of their greatest strengths. Don’t confuse a real Jack with someone whose strengths are not prevalent or ambiguous. In reality, the rare Jack of All Trades might not be essential to have, but will feel essential to any team that has one.