February 22, 2022

Manager by day, Designer by night

Manager by day, Designer by night

Manager by day, Designer by night

Let’s find out together how the product design discipline has evolved and how managing design is more of a coaching and mentoring exercise.

Figure 01: Image of Day /Night

It’s late at night. Staring at the latest piece of the design system in Figma, I start seeing the pattern that I have not recognised before.

I got it; this is it! It will save my team and me a significant amount of time. Damn, it’s already 11 PM. Should I start now or leave it for tomorrow. Well, tomorrow I’ll spend 6 hours on the zoom call with the client, so there’ll be no time to work on the design. Or shall I work on the design while listening to these meetings? No, let do this right.

This is perhaps a monologue of the majority of Design Leads and Design Directors placed in a new world of remote design creation while balancing the life and the client/delivery management. Last month, I asked 50+ designers the following question:

“What was the most significant learning throughout the pandemic as a designer?”

Looking closely at all the responses gave me a great deal of understanding of the current design landscape. I sat down and combined these stories to show how design has evolved and how managing design is more of a coaching and mentoring exercise than product design development.

Figure 02: Designer for the better

Designer for the better

Our aspirations to describe brand equity, intelligent design systems and their inevitable impact on business (from 3 hours design session) resulted in 30-minute calls. The focus of these calls is only measurable outcomes that can be quickly articulated to senior stakeholders. The loudest and more dominant attendees usually rule the virtual rooms.

“The biggest learning curve was about starting a new job right at the beginning of the pandemic. New place with new people to meet, yet I’d never physically been in their office.” — Design Director at Financial Services, Kent

For some, this was a blessing; for others, it was a disaster — a proper setback. The majority of quiet designers struggled to find work. The work they found was highly frustrating, disorganised and dependent on too many non-design tools that weren’t fit for purpose. It all had an inevitable impact on mental health and wellbeing.

Let’s see what everyone had to say.

Manager by Day

Our daily design routines were often described as riding the bike through the city in hipster-like clothes and stopping at profound coffee places with like-minded creatives. We were known for our rather passionate discussion about our designs in open areas and drawing our mini innovations on boards to share with our colleagues to get immediate feedback — a little gratification for our awesomeness.

Figure 03: Places Illustration


This all has been unwillingly replaced with hipster pyjamas in zoom-like caves decorated with a lot of greens to fulfil the sustainable stories we told others about the little greenhouses we all have.

Our fancy pens were replaced by miro, mural and other idea funeral boards, burying our innovative proposals in undefined uncontrolled structures with no creative or visual outcome. To our disadvantage, our ideas depend more on a stable internet connection than the feasibility or impact on the customer. This was even more evident if our colleagues sat in different countries or even time zones.

Figure 04: Who is talking (circles)

For others, this becomes an opportunity where applying the correct mindset and routine can benefit from the remote work. Those who are living outside of the urban areas convert their attics to little design studios and start their own small remote design practices.

Ultimately, we redefined the design of things outside of the expensive office board rooms and fancy places. It felt lonely. Some openly expressed that “you can’t kill the power of the team workshop”.

“Remote working works well, but I really miss being with people. The small chats while making a cup of coffee, bumping into someone and having an informal chat.”
- Senior UI Designer at Financial Services, Clapham

Figure 05: The impact of your Communication


We all tend to rely on the carefully organised notepads stored right next to our laptops. It’s a well-understood habit; we carry notepads with our scribbles around factories, studios or small businesses. They are the definition of a well-organised and determined creative person.

Unfortunately, these well-written notes have zero impact on today’s team , stakeholders or products we aim to create. The design silos kill any momentum and depend on verbal or occasional visual sharing via email. This method simply does not cut it in the age of remote working. Generate frustration comes from understanding that the average team generates 60% of mental notes outside of the environment that can be effectively shared. Statistically speaking, 27% of the communication significantly impacts team knowledge, which resolves itself in a better outcome.

“Precision and the clarity in our communication sets the boundaries. Sharing more often, and absolutely everything is essential to drive the conversation.”
- Experience Design Director at Financial Services, Hove

Prior to any project, we created a series of materials that supports communication with the client. We focused on explaining the processes and mental modes, challenges or remote working and so on. This significantly improved overall connection and engagement between all team members.

Figure 06: Communication pitfall


Sharing goes hand in hand with Comms and DesignOps. This has been particularly challenging for companies with newly assembled teams. More tools are broadcasted every day, and the opinions about them all vary.

A startup-like company is likely to be challenged with budget and speed, which leads to choosing cheap solutions trying to tailor them together. On the other hand, the big business or corporation might be in a position to select the right piece of software but has to go through 2 — 6months of evaluation, risk assessment, integration criteria, not even mention legal and support to make any changes effective.

“Despite us all working at home, with a decent team structure and comms in place, it’s possible to reach and influence more people than I might have been able to do in the office.”
- Creative Design Director Financial Services, London

Thanks to more flexible tech departments, the teams are supported by well functioning DevOps and DesignOps functions. We have come across several successful stories using Asana + Abstract + Sketch ( in small teams as well as Atlassian and Figma in big ones.

Being part of the design transformation and design software transition from Sketch to Figma, the team dynamic drastically changes to better when they get hands-on their new shiny toy. That said, the very same team moved at the same time from Mural to Figma. Standardisation across the Ideation, Research, Behaviour, Experience and Design has a huge impact on the team.

Figure 07: Discuss / Communicate / Share / Debate / Confirm / Translate / Present


Correct choices across technology tooling allow strengthening the communication across the entire business. Transforming inevitable chatter to meaningful conversations enables all participants to get things done and, more importantly, done in the right way.

“The importance of clear and concise communication, both verbal and written, has become a necessity. This reflects the relationship building which takes more time and effort when working remotely” — Interaction Design Director Automoto, Blackheath.

We run under the basis of whatever meeting or call we have (business, design, development); we go back to Atlassian (Confluence or Jira) first and update a specific page or ticket. It allowed us to effectively redistribute the information to all remote teams without wasting extra effort and time by Slacking, emailing, WhatsApping or texting.

Figure 08: Transparecy / Inspection / Adoption / Design at Scale

Empathy and Inclusion

The Research gate has recently released several independent studies formally acknowledging that our mental health is under great danger due to self-isolation. Many people are experiencing more anger and cannot navigate a complex digital environment that withholds the productivity of others. That’s where sensitivity and emotional connections come in handy, especially for new team members who are trying to find their feet.

“Instead of running virtual quiz-es, fun-coffee and all sorts of digital welcomes (which feels fake and forced) — organise your business. Create a sense of all your social interaction and strengthen the community by providing value to those who care.
- Experience Design Director at Financial Services, Hove

When the pandemic arrived, the DaS™ team have asked several questions about how we could make our lives more bearable before we really start working remotely; some of these answers were discussed in one of the previous articles, “Atlassian Documentation for Product Design Teams.” Those most significantly improved onboarding, wayfinding, processes, integration, routines (or daily rituals for some), and finally, combining design thinking under the umbrella of Agile.

Figure 09: Meeting / Meeting / Meeting

Meetings, meetings, meetings.

Time passes, and stand-Ups turns to just another meeting drilling down into unnecessary details. Without a good Scrum Master (CSM) or Product Lead (CPO), you can burn a significant amount of time and deliver nothing. This represents low digital team maturity and increases the negative impact of the delivery.

“Useful, hard, not always positive … but ultimately necessary and beneficial in the long run.”
- CX Lead Financial Services, London

Meeting with a large group of people is incredibly opinionated and never leads to concrete decisions. Sadly enough, even the teams that have known each other for a long time experience the fatigue of the repetition of information from meeting to meeting. On the other hand, one-to-one sessions lead to silos and derail the direction from the original course — sadly, the one that keeps constantly changing.

To avoid a series of meetings that lead nowhere, our teams have quickly established two separate calls allowing us to refocus — basically stage and gate MBA mindset out there. One was a daily stand up in the morning for all “doers”, and the evening call was to show what we delivered on that specific day to “decision-makers”. In between, we have engaged with “influencers” to understand that we are in the right direction.

These calls start by opening the Atlassian. While discussing an update from the person, we defined the roles into–doer, influencer, decision-maker. It allows us to swiftly move between tasks as the ownership shifts and decisions have to be made collectively. If you are fortunate enough, you will achieve a stand up of 20 people in less than 15 minutes, and everyone knows what has been done and what are they doing.

By organising the information in this way and focusing on the functionality first, the product team had a chance to challenge and debate the idea from two different perspectives before opening the design debate. By separating these, we gain focus and undoubtedly inevitable progress.

Designer by Night

Figure 10: Morning 9–12 (9–9:15 stand up) Lunch 12–13 Work 13–17 (17–17:15 Release, join the branch, commit code etc.)


My Portuguese friend and I once joked about how we approach design. We agreed that we first needed to clean our desks, organise the structure, declutter the surrounding environment, and then focus. I explained that very little design could happen in a chaotic environment. With a laugh, we agreed that some individuals simply need the place to zone out. This fact has become more present these days. Pretty much everyone has confirmed that before they start to design, there is a mental break in-between. Whether cleaning your desk, going to the gym, having dinner, doing a cardio workout, spending time with a loved one, or going for a walk with the dog, this routine separates talking from doing.

“Decluttering the environment, working space, management style or simply just approach to the project is essential. It used to took up a huge amount of my time to get ready for meetings. Now with an organised digital asset library, I can access all I need in a matter of few clicks.”
- Experience Design Director at Financial Services, Greenwich

Our team split the time between daily meetings and late-night work. Now you might ask, so if you commit whatever you are doing during the day, how come you design at night?
This wider concept can be described as a two-day cycle. Starting with the three pillars that constantly repeat (and in some cases help you to focus) Uncover > Engage > Scale — using the design thinking to unearth the problem with the right questions. Allowing you to engage with your teams and your customers (even your stakeholders) in the way that you ask the questions that you can use for the design and therefore scale in the future. (Fig 07) The approach described above also allows the design teams to have their discussion before product reviews and sign-offs.

Figure 11: Digital Maturity = Transparency


Understanding and sharing of our progress (an increment) increasing the effectiveness and builds an efficiency of the team. When I start a brand-new project, we often evaluate; what is the digital maturity of the team?

Digital Maturity — can be understood in many different ways. Without going any deep into the topic, simply put how you can quantify that your team is using their skills to deliver value to your business or not.

Let’s look at the efficiency across Slack or MS teams as an example?

You might create a number of assets, develop some stories, test and deliver, and release training material or even integrate with another platform or service. If the PO or anyone from the team can not answer the question of what we delivered, when we delivered or how we measure success, the maturity will eventually be very low.

“I think some of the tools that allow remote working, like Figma and miro, highlighted the inadequacies of other tools. I felt that it proved that remote/flexible working was possible without losing productivity.”
– An Awesome Design Director, Margate.

The teams I assemble are a combination of mums and dads and all of them want to spend their time with their loved ones and not filling another excel or PowerPoint.

No point in chatting with them on Slack where the message gets lost and the value is not delivered. Asking the same thing — where is the latest deployment, what is the last iteration of the design or show me the screens with the latest copy — of the most important one; what we can put in front of our customer today. All our tasks are neatly organised in the Jira board, and our documentation between all teams is linked from the Confluence. All chit-chat is kept out of these channels. When you arrive — everyone exects ultimate clarity.

Figure 12: Project Tile


Yes, it takes time to build the structure and right working environment for the team. But it’s your team and your success depends on it. Let’s face it if you want to win the race you need to train, or you need to train your entire team.

I’d guarantee if you spend an hour on Atlassian a day rather than on Slack or WhatsApp, you’ll build a better understanding amongst your teammates and equally generate a robust knowledgebase that allows your team to grow and ultimately move, if not, faster; then definitely smarter. Not even mention with less stress and better quality.

Seldomly, we learned from our bright developers about snippets of the code that can be reused. Nowadays we have templated pretty much everything. Brad’s Atomic design became the core of our main toolset, and that’s where we spend most of the time — in preparation. The execution then becomes shorter and delivers greater impact. It also allows the team to be more flexible around deliverables throughout the day.

“Figma played a major role; all graphics, including icons, shapes, illustrations, together with presentation templates in one place. All are reusable, linked together and fully automated.” — Design Director, Sydney.

Figure 13: Schemas and templates make a remarkable impact.

Schemas and the real design

Templates make everything possible, but they also created constraints around managing the mid-management and their demands. The phrase “can you do it for tomorrow — it’s just a template, right?” doesn’t work.

“ Prepping to share constantly every step of what we do. It takes up a huge amount of my time now, especially late at night.”
- Experience Design Director at Financial Services, Hove

Regardless of your expertise, you have to gather a set of slides that explain your process, ambition, team building structures, engagement model, and so on. Super useful if any meeting goes a different direction with a few slides we can steer the bad meeting into a good one.

Figure 14: Day and Night — Brand yourslef

Brand yourself

Rather than burning yourself out over a project that isn’t paid on time or has become more challenging eventually, invest in building yourself. Unify your processes, clarify your outcomes and get yourself a brand new website. Whether you are in a small team or a massive corporation, your voice matters — brand it, protect it; it’s your ultimate leadership legacy.

“I could get by on 4 hours sleep on a regular basis, and squeeze in a power nap of around 1 hour over lunch.”
- Senior UI Designer, Richmond.

Your talent does not deserve to be treated this way. Design is an honourable profession with extension to art, history, geometry, mathematics, ergonomy, philosophy and many others. If you decide to, for whatever reason, have two or three gigs on the go at the same time — do it. Just make sure you have solid management skills; otherwise, you’ll soon flag.


Some of us make the leap from the designer (craftsman) to the design manager (CX Leads, AD’s and CD’s) to later only the senior managers (CXO etc.). Ultimately it seems very challenging for us to let go of the craftsman part and become only the manager. That is why some of us still design at night and manage during the day.

Remarkably, the design discipline has changed for the better, and nowadays, designers have many opportunities to share prototypes, animate and build the experiences in a fraction of time or reuse the extensive library from someone else.

Hardly ever do we see the appreciation of the design — unless is well communicated. Probably the biggest lesson is that even the clients become our users and they deserve the same attention if not bigger than our customers.

Instead of creating fake meetings to socialise and to connect — listen between the line, be proactive, deliver to your team first and your clients and customers will flourish.

Stay tuned; thanks for reading!

Thanks to all contributors, especially
Matt Press, for their insight and comments shaping this very article.

Jiri Mocicka is a London-based designer, writer, and design coach passionate about
Design at Scale. A flexible method that allows designers professionals to integrate the value of design within their organisation through transparency and well-communicated product design development.

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