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The art of structuring design teams

~ by Alan W

As the creative economy booms and our design businesses grow to meet demand, we are faced with the reality of relooking our structures. What was once a close knit team seamlessly working in an accustomed rhythm is now challenged with evolution. This call for change requires a clear and well thought out strategy to reduce the turbulence and foster positive outcomes.

This is what the road ahead should look like for your design firm when tackling the restructure challenge:


Centralized - keeping your disciplines in specialist teams i.e. the UI (User Interface) team, the UX (User Experience) team, the SD (Service Design) team, the PM (Project Management) team and so on. This is great for creating communities of specialization and expertise which feed off of peers well, but can also create a silo’d way of work.

Embedded - cross functional teams where a team could consist of a UX designer, a UI designer, a Service Designer, a PM. This structure allows each area of expertise to work alongside complementary areas, always cognizant of the varying disciplines at play. A good structure when your design firm collaborates with other firms such as a dev firm for example. In this case, the team accommodates room for them to feel like they are one of the team members when adding this new area of expertise.

Matrix - the best of both worlds where a UX Designer for example will report to their UX lead (as in the centralized structure) as well as their project team (embedded). This allows for expertise to grow as they are close to their expertise community while at the same time breaking down silo’s working within cross functional teams. This also allows for them to be exposed to more projects with the ability to split capacity across projects where suitable.


Once you have decided on the structure that best fits your business, you need to build a fitting culture of design strategy. Your business culture is what will attract the right designers to how you do business, and repel those that don’t fit or align with who you are as a business. As your designers interact with one another they should share in this cohesive culture. Mechanisms that foster a sense of community and align with your constantly communicated business point of view are paramount in fostering change at a manageable pace.


If you do not have an experience blueprint for your business, now is the time you need to develop one as it is THE tool that compresses orientation to the new structures you have created. A well throughout out strategic blueprint of the experience your clients, employees and partners/vendors will have when engaging with your business. This is not something that you vaguely speak of, this is an actual blueprint mapping out the experience journey for all including all touchpoints, processes, people etc that are orchestrated to deliver on the experience you want these people to have with your business. In fact, this is something all those who are a part of delivering that experience, turn to every day to align what they are doing towards this business goal. No matter your structure, this helps keep everyone on course.


Your Designer Growth Framework must be aligned and aid your designers in how they grow within the structure they find themselves working within. Growth support must be built into your structures in how you provide mentorship, coaching and on the job training/upskilling. Different structures talk to different mechanisms for growth support so these need to be intentionally planned to fit. For example on-the-job shadowing is feasible for the centralized team whereas incorporating a design advisory role in other structures may be more conducive.


This is about hiring the right people, not only the right talent/skill. The designer's way of working, beliefs and approach to the business of design must align with your firm in order for them to be at their best, and for your business to be at its best, when they integrate into your structures. Talent acquisition must be intentional and strategically aligned with the structures you have in place. This is when a mutually beneficial connection between designer and firm is made.


Change and growth is constant and in true design style we are always iterating. Maturity assessments of how restructure efforts are doing should be rolled out at a frequency that allows for feedback and alignment to make the experience of growth and change a conducive one. Maturity assessments will help with ideation into your ongoing structures, culture creation, business experience creation, designer growth & development and talent acquisition strategies.

There is a lot more to simply restructuring teams to really achieve impact for your business in this endeavor. When we consider all these areas of focus when taking on the restructuring challenge, we are building a business that is calculated and considerate in its efforts. May your business bloom in the process!

Work with Alan W

“Solving niche challenges founders face”.

Illustrator: Lisa Williams (Instagram: @artist_llw)


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