In the words of Cap Watkin: “Congratulations. You got promoted — now prepare to suck at a completely different job.” This was exactly what happened to Jane Austin multiple times in her twenty-year career in design. From a design practitioner to leading a design team, to a director leading multiple teams, and now the Chief Design Officer at Flo, Jane shared her hard-won advice at the 2021 Leading Design Festival.

Sketch note by Zsofi Lang

Thank you, Jane, for being authentic and vocally self-critical, and passing down your reflections, learnings, and re-learnings to the community!

Design Leadership Stage 1: Leading one or two people

In Jane’s personal experience, being a manager seemed like the only way to move forward. So she didn’t even know this was a question she needed to consider.

Julie thought what would make her a great design leader was being great at design. Now she realized it’s about a well-honed design eye, skilled translation, business understanding, data fluency, and a good process.

Leading Design Festival poster by sketch note artist Zsofi

After a year of waiting and longing, I was fortunate to attend the Leading Design Festival this week and hear from a group of wonderful design leaders. After we have all been working remotely for a year, it’s great to reconnect with the design leadership community and engage in inspiring, insightful, and authentic conversations.

To kick off the festival, Julie Zhuo gave a talk on The Many Facets of Design Leadership. Here are my key takeaways from it.


Julie mentioned in her early career, lots of her assumptions about design leadership were wrong. She thought what would make her a…

When it comes to leadership, there is no one-size-fits-all. And we all have our interpretations of what leadership is. However, there are some common misunderstandings about leadership that prevent people from being effective leaders. Here are six myths I think we should watch out for.

This applies more to managers than individual contributor (IC) leaders. At this point, our job has changed: it is to deliver results through others, rather than getting the work done by ourselves. We will have talented designers who can craft work-class designs much better than us. Just like athletic coaches, we need to have expert knowledge and be competent enough to guide others to do the job, but we can not perform better than the athletes if we are on the sports field.

As a leader, we are here to engage, support, develop, inspire, and elevate our team to amplify…

As introverts, engaging with people consumes our energy. But as a leader, people engagement is not optional. So how do we lead as introverts? Here are my key takeaways from Tim Yeo’s talk at LeadingDesignConf- Design Leadership for Introverts.

Photo by Elena Koycheva on Unsplash

In Susan Cain’s book Quiet, where Susan mentioned in her entire childhood, she felt her quiet, introverted way was wrong.

We live in a world where the extrovert ideal is desired. Our impression of what a leader looks like is very extroverted. We expect a leader to command the center of attention and be able to deliver charismatic speeches.

But, as Tim mentioned, this is not the only way to lead. As introverts, we also have a place in the world.

In a world that desires extroverts, we introverted leaders need to find a way to operate successfully within it.

Photo by Shane Hauser on Unsplash

As a product designer, the most critical guiding principle in my day-to-day is Customer Obsession. We start with the customer and work backwards.

A great way to start the Work Backwards approach is to conduct generative user interviews when we unpack a project. When done well, it brings us visibility to the customers’ current behaviors and contexts, motivations, mental models, and pain points in their current experience. All these help us redefine what problems we need to solve and why it is a problem worth solving.

In this article, I’m going to share how I plan and conduct generative user…

Photo by Austin Distel from Unsplash

Why we need escalation as a mechanism?

We are often solving complex problems at work, we cannot succeed by working as individuals in silos. Instead, we depend on each other to achieve a common goal. However, for large organizations, with huge amount of information and constantly moving parts, things can easily get misaligned or out of sync. Even though everyone is encouraged to be an owner and leader, some problems can’t be resolved by ourselves or at our level, maybe we don’t have enough resources or information to make a call. This is when escalation comes into play, it is a mechanism to raise concerns to leaders…

Photo by Campaign Creators on Unsplash

Lately, I’ve read a few wonderful books on marketing, including Allan Dib’s The 1-Page Marketing Plan and Donald Miller’s Building A Story Brand. Below are some of the critical learnings for me— what to avoid in our small business marketing strategy.

Mistake 1 — Follow the lead of large companies’ branding strategy to “get my name out there”, which requires frequent exposure of the brand through various types of advertising media.

Ideally, by doing this, our brand will stay on top of potential customers’ mind, so they are more likely to pick our brand when making a purchase decision. But…

Photo by Annie Spratt

As product designers, our job is to create experiences that deliver user outcomes and business values. Therefore, it is critical that our design not just lives in our imaginary fancyland or exists as mockups, but also gets implemented as we envisioned. From my own experience, here are a few thing I’ve learned in the past few years.

1. Being inclusive right out of the gate.

Bring everyone at the table as early as possible. To ensure your design is not only useful, usable but also feasible, it is important for us as designers to engage engineers and analyze the problem…

WeChat is the most popular mobile social media app in China, with more than 1 billion active users a day.

As designers, we are dedicated to solving problems grounded in what people need and want. This sounds like an old cliche. However, the reality is, lots of companies are still inward-facing, designing and developing products with the thought that they are the experts in the industry, and they know what is the best for users; while some other companies are getting better by solving real-world problems through user engagement, focusing on the user interface, usability, the look, and feel, to…

Great design is useful, usable and enjoyable.

It should not only be functional, but solves a real problem for people and creates an emotional relationship with users.

Fengbo Li

Product designer and forever learner. I believe we can make the world a better place through empathetic and intentional design.

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