How to keep your designers happy?

Richard Weston
Richard Weston is Head of Strategic Design at Thought Collective, where he helps develop brands and marketing solutions. He writes and designs. Richard also curates the found type, print and stuff blog Ace Jet 170.

I recently asked the head of a local design studio how he keeps his designers happy and he quickly said, “by just leaving them alone”. In my experience, designers (good designers) are independent spirits that don’t work well shackled. Most designers will express a desire for the freedom to explore creative expression. It’s also true to say that most designers respond very, very badly to being restricted, dictated to and controlled.

It’s a cliché but a happy designer is a productive designer so nurturing a culture of creativity and exploration is the least you should do. You can’t expect them to be creative in a vacuum.

At the same time, the role of the designer is not, of course, the same as that of the artist. The designer must embrace commercial concerns, necessary restrictions and essential must-dos. Rather than being oppressed by such things, the designer should respond positively to the challenge of these limits and innovate around them.

And to keep doing this, on demand, day after day, designers must be fed. And fed well. Yes, cake helps, but better food for the designer is personal development and respect. Good designers will respond well to opportunities to grow and learn; designers can never know enough. As the world turns, the vocabulary and toolkit of the designer changes. And while many designers are self-motivated individuals who may seek out new skills and knowledge, they are also very busy and have a life. Fast-tracking new learning through training is likely to stimulate a designer and also help them feel valued (through the financial investment training implies).

But there are a host of smaller things, that can happen everyday, that don’t actually cost anything, that will help keep your designers happy. Things that can be collectively referred to as, “respect”. Being able to approach the creative offerings of your designers with an open mind and with sensitivity to a different point of view is good. Responding with discretion and diplomacy to executions or solutions that are off the mark will be greatly appreciated. Constructive feedback, even if basically critical, is less likely to offend than an un-tempered, ill-considered and emotional retorts.

Open honest and frank communication will help too. Nobody likes being kept in the dark and an employer should not assume their designers know everything that is going on automatically. Opportunities for a good humoured and regular activity reviews will go a long way to help a designer feel a respected part of the team. As will their work appearing on your regularly updated website.

If you really value your designers and want to go that extra mile to keep hold of them, treat them. Send them to exhibitions and conferences. Not necessarily events that fall within their comfort zone; a web conference for a product designer might stimulate surprising inspiration.

But perhaps the best thing you can do, to keep your designers happy, is recognise the times when you should just leave them alone. So they can do the job you employed them to do. Let them show you how good they are. And give them some cake.

Share your thoughts
  • KPMG

    nice reply by the head.designers should have get the freedom to be themselves.they are creative people and creativity doesn’t express under any kind of pressure.