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Interview
March 29, 2021

Inner Artist vs Manager

Two Stories of Design Directors

March 29, 2021
Two Design Directors

When you work as a designer, you can dedicate all your time to creating beautiful and functional solutions. When you become a team leader or even a Design Director, there’s less time to stay creative. You have to take care of managing and engaging your team, controlling the deadlines, as well as inspiring and supporting every member. So, what should one do to find the balance between design and management and spend an equal amount of time on either?

Paco Fernández, Product Design Director at Fjord

A designer with a digital background and a strong standpoint on Visual Design. Paco is extremely focused on details and keen on working in teams, and also relies on continuous learning. At Fjord, he is responsible for the Product Design team and believes in establishing a large-scale design system without losing brand essence and identity.

Scalability of Design is Essential for Long-Term Use

My passion for design started when I was doing an illustration fellowship at a small digital product company back in 2004. Aside from creating illustrations, I helped with some web design projects from time to time. At that time, I was dedicated to everything connected to design, coding, and flash animation. There were no design systems, no tools to monitor the implementation, so the creative freedom was immense. It was what motivated me the most — having a new design discipline to explore.

 

Throughout my career, I have had the opportunity to work on various projects from Marketing and Advertising to Product Design. This has allowed me to draw knowledge from several industries such as retail, financial services, and entertainment. Solving problems through new visual languages is my favorite part of the job. My main focus is developing large-scale projects, design languages, and tools that people will use in the long-term perspective.

 

One of the main objectives of my team is to create scalable digital products. We live in a digital era, and user experience should constantly evolve with the context and the new services that are offered.

Design Is About Creating Beauty

As for being an artist or a manager, I'm both and neither. I believe that both of these areas complement each other. Beauty brings in new business, and having new business drives us to continue creating beauty. Let's look at craftsmanship beyond aesthetics, focusing on the functional. The combination between form and function brings beauty, which, in turn, helps generate business. Now let’s take a look at the apps we use daily — they evolve, generating business, and bring beauty to the user experience.

 

ёBefore starting a new project, I prefer to have a project plan that allows me to identify the activities that we are going to develop according to the objective. I usually meet with the team before we start, and we review each other’s tasks, analyzing the most critical phases to meet our goals. We find out which phases will take us more time to develop an accurate solution. Depending on the project, I mix management and creativity. I try to create space for more innovative solutions, and at the same time adjust to the initial schedule.

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Depending on the project, I mix management and creativity. I try to create space for more innovative solutions, and at the same time adjust to the initial schedule

The Art of Design Within a Company

I have always believed that a good design manager should be close to the craft. It allows you to connect with the team and anticipate events thanks to your experience. Digital product design evolves extremely quickly. New tools and methods appear every day. They help us improve our day-to-day life, and we have to learn and use them in the best possible way. It is essential to define with the team an agile workflow that delivers quality and that helps us all feel comfortable so that we exchange feedback and continue growing.

 

I believe that, within a company, we can promote creativity in design in many ways. The tasks provided by our clients are even more important. Design systems are not immobile. Thinking that way could diminish our creativity. We should offer different solutions for the industries we work for. To achieve this goal, we have to create long-term relationships that allow us to evolve design through creativity.

Managing Workdays

I start the day with the things that matter. Noteworthy, they are not always the most urgent. My advice is to prioritize what really adds value and focus on long-term goals. Don't get buried in small tasks that you won't learn from. Delegate, delegate, and delegate again. Give your team a chance to help you.

a man go up

PRIORITIZE WHAT REALLY ADDS VALUE AND FOCUS ON LONG-TERM GOALS

Inspiration for Work and Leisure

In my free time, I enjoy music and listen to it on vinyl. After a good inspirational music session, I get on my bike and lose myself on the road. For me, these are the best routines to disconnect.

 

I like to always stay informed about the latest projects that are launched internationally by recognized studios. It strongly inspires me to start new conversations with my team and continue delivering quality in every project we do. Also, art has always been my escape route to creativity without barriers.

 

Instagram is one of the channels I use for inspiration — posts, reels, and live talks. I fully adore the format. You don't need much time to consume the information. Also, I like inspiring emails from ReadyMag & Cargo Collective. They always hit the aesthetics with stunning portfolios.

Miel Wellens, Design Director at TEAMS

Miel is a creative innovator and a designer interested in the ROI of UX, design and innovation.

Blending Functionality and Aesthetics

As for me, to be a true artist, you should care more about expressing beauty and how that influences the viewer or participant. You may focus less on the functionality. As a designer, you might want to blend functionality and aesthetics. We sometimes say that beautiful design is art, but strategic design is business and goes beyond making something just ‘beautiful’. However, beauty is an enormous driving force in both art and design.

Build, Measure, Learn

I’m quite impatient, and that is why I moved to Shanghai, China. The speed of things here is much faster, as you are close to suppliers and a big market where everything moves quite fast in terms of “build/measure/learn.” This spirit has transferred to the digital market as well, and you could say that the speed and development here seems faster than what I have so far seen in Europe. I wish I could calculate every small step but I’m also open to serendipity, as we have seen grand plans and futures never happen, and small initiatives or brands pop up and disrupt, like Xiaomi.

Illustration with girl

BUILD, MEASURE, LEARN

Experience in Design May Help Us Manage Teams

I think we always like to learn from other designers. So, when you can do something cool, younger designers like that and get motivated. Based on your past experience, you can sometimes predict what is going to happen beyond the design, so you can prevent your team from making similar mistakes. Next to that, having a background in digital and physical design helps to bring in more inspiration.

 

However, sometimes, practical experience limits your own creativity, as the world does not stand still.

 

At the moment, however, I am not directly ‘managing’ the team — we have a great design manager for that, and I am ‘directing’ from the sidelines. They have to shine, and I hope I don’t confuse them too much, as others might see my passion as stubbornness.

 

One great predecessor of mine said:

Sometimes the team comes up with 10 crazy ideas, and you have to kill 9 of them, but that one is something you couldn’t have imagined yourself because it is not rooted at all in any past experience. It is truly fresh

Creative Corporate Culture

There is office design and then there is corporate culture. So far, in my office in Shanghai, we have that table soccer thing and an arcade-gaming machine, and people love them. We have a design sharing feature — projects are pinned in the office, and people can add thoughts and post-its. We all try to develop that sort of culture. We have some fascinating co-op work besides purely commercial work. And even our non-creatives are supportive and make people feel good and inspired at work. I think TEAMS does a great job developing both a visual sort of ‘culture’ — that being our office design — and a deeper corporate culture. As long as we feel we are not becoming boring, we’re doing well. It is a balance, work and quality have to be delivered beyond pure creativity and solid execution, and the space to focus is essential.

agile creative workspace

TEAMS'S WORKSPACE

Business Can Be Creative

Apart from Design, I studied Management, International marketing strategy, and Innovation. I would say I use business knowledge in design, design knowledge to innovate, and innovation for marketing. Today’s trend is to have a very rigorous ROI, as we designers have truly become part of the business. Now it's up to Design to own it and evolve even the very concept of creativity.

 

At TEAMS, we are always open to inspire other companies, but we will not go on a chase for more business. I would not feel comfortable if I had to rely on business activity as the sole measurement of my work, as that would only lead to short-term gains. Great long-term partnerships are our real strength.

 

Last but not least, delivering a great project is the best business you can have. Launching something meaningful together with a client, where you both respect each other, give each other time to think it through, scrap it if needed, rethink it —  that is real business; the end-user will love it!

How I Schedule My Workdays and Leisure Time

My family lives in a different time zone, I have a great supportive girlfriend here and no children. I come to the office early, and enjoy calm evenings when people go home and the lights get dim. However, even McKinsey says that work-life balance is about balancing your energy and respecting your body mentally and physically. I haven’t felt any issues so far.

illustration with girl and pencil

Previously, I might have tried to do too many things at the same time, but I didn’t get the amazing result I was hoping for. I think it is about setting time apart to truly focus on a particular project or a particular friend and not multitasking too much. Also, you should occasionally celebrate a Tuesday evening, cook a nice dinner at home, or go out and have a drink. You will also sometimes work on a Saturday or a Sunday, so why not give yourself an extra evening off? I was lucky to balance my energy.

Think ‘Outside the Office’

There is really more to the work/life balance than what we think. I learned from a nice couple at PHILIPS, who both worked together on the design team, that you can enjoy a glass of wine in the afternoon, as if you are on holiday. They were very passionate about design and spent quite a lot of their time at the company, because they could also mix work with life. I’m happy that our company is also quite flexible. That is rare in China, but it all adds up to that ultimate corporate culture and high quality, so it's worth it. We're living in 2021, which was the future 20 years ago. Let's live in this future, things have changed!

Think ‘outside the office’, and you will not feel at work anymore

When Other Cultures Inspire Us

Things are so fast in China. Browsing an online store can be more thrilling than surfing Pinterest. Also, there are super big malls here, with a mix of foreign brands and local quality — which are fun to check out. Then the team would bring in new things from the Chinese Internet that I would never be able to find or Google. If you work with a diverse team, you can discover something you haven’t seen before.

 

Of course, there are certain macro-trends, websites, Dribbble, Pinterest, puxiang.com, and also some forward-looking client briefs. Sometimes, you get a glimpse of the future based on the requests your clients have.

illustration with girl and bulb

OTHER CULTURES INSPIRE US

Lastly, I consider working in a different culture inspiring. What is ordinary for your colleagues might be fascinating for you, and that helps them see things from a different angle. Can you imagine how local designers look at the European or American culture? They might see great things which we see daily but don't recognize them. I believe a big part of innovation will come from looking at the world through the lens of a curious child and rediscovering the ordinary again.

To Sum It Up

We hope that you’ve gotten a bunch of inspirational ideas from what Paco and Miel shared today. If you still haven’t thought about mixing the beauty of design and the art of management in your everyday work, maybe it is the right moment to try!

 

Enliven your daily routine with these tips and get inspired. All in all, it’s a wonderful idea to focus on long-term relationships with clients and teammates — but try to think ‘outside the office’ from time to time

 

Written by Tina P.