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The design role that doesn’t yet exist

Lots of low-quality products and thousands of unsatisfied customers.


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Lorenzo Doremi

a year ago | 4 min read

Some days ago I met a longtime friend, who decided to become a developer after his bachelor’s degree; he told me that his experience wasn’t particularly satisfying and my curiosity forced me to had to ask him what went wrong in his short career.

“Project Managers are ****”

This was the summary of his last 3 years of life. His anger was totally directed towards his PM who, based on his story,

“didn’t know or care **** about what we’re doing”.

I never felt so understood.

Impossible Projects

I don’t want to name the company he worked with, but I let you guess it: it starts with “D” and ends with “tte”.

Michael (fictitious name) told me that managers accepted every project companies proposed to them, without consulting anyone before.

Sometimes they were feasible but most of the time deadlines and resources just were ridiculous; projects who needed 2 months of development had a deadline of two weeks, technologies never utilized before and, more than everything else, no manager’s knowledge.

There are two possible endings to a situation like this:

  1. The project just doesn’t get completed
  2. It gets completed but the quality is really really low

Since IT companies want to earn, the second ending is the most common:

Lots of low-quality products and thousands of unsatisfied customers.

You don’t want angry customers, don’t you?

My personal experience

I said I’ve never felt so understood because I’ve experienced a similar problem.

I mostly work as a freelance since I want to end my master’s degree before getting a full-time job, but in 2020 during my holidays I accepted a UX/UI design role in an ongoing project.

The reasons why I accepted were mostly three:

  1. High pay
  2. I knew a teammate very well
  3. Big project = portfolio

They wanted me because the development team was annoyed by the incompetent UX designers, and hoped that I could do better than them. (I hoped too).

Once I’ve become part of the project, I noticed something more: it wasn’t the UX designers (a bit yes..), it was the Project Manager’s fault.

He’s a nice guy, very gentle indeed… but he didn’t know anything about technology. Or, at least, about that specific technology.

This seems odd, but also seems more common than it should be.

The problem with Project Managers

Project Managers should manage. It isn’t an easy job, because you have to know how workflows and underlying technologies work: this is easier in “stagnant” fields but becomes a lot harder in IT, where everything evolves from one day to another.

Since project management is still considered some kind of “abstract” concept every businessman can do, it’s easy that they have close-to-zero formation on a particular field like coding or design.

Let’s see a concrete example: My manager, an architect who got involved in space and technologic exhibition design, had no idea on how mobile apps and simple marketing work.

He gave our developers a plethora of concepts to develop, without even knowing the complexity of those things, while being totally unable to understand what was good and bad practice.

Basically, we had to manage every aspect of the design by ourselves, while he was just convincing the client to pay us thousands and thousands of cash.

Unfortunately, without a leader the chaos reigns. Horrible logos were voted, bad technologies were chosen (for time reasons), no serious testing involved. Just imagine: he hired 6 designers and two developers!

Guess what happened? it’s 6 months since the project stopped: One developer fired himself and the other one nearly surrendered; I had to front-end develop a lot to help that poor soul (my contract was to fix the UX/UI), but the full logic was still on his shoulders.

The design role that doesn’t yet exist

The title spoke about a new role, that a lot of people feel it’s missing in small companies and start-ups, but what I am speaking about?

The traditional management hierarchy
The traditional management hierarchy

The role I am speaking about is a “technical manager” that makes teams correctly communicate with each other.

It should be a transversal role that knows enough of coding, design, and marketing to understand what can be done and what cannot be done, and be able to explain it.

Basically, I am urging you to evaluate jack of all trades more.

Generally speaking, this role is covered by the Project Manager, but it hasn’t the correct education needed to understand all of these processes.

Without inventing a new specific role, profession, or whatever, I think that projects need at least TWO management figures: the client-to-team manager (project manager) and the team-to-team manager (technical manager).

This prevents many issues:

  1. One single manager often has too much decisional power
  2. Missing senior directors can be temporarily fixed by a jack-of-all-trades
  3. Project management needs both technical and customer relationship skills (one manager each)
A needed evolution?
A needed evolution?

We’re evolving

I am the first one annoyed by the fact that job offers are requiring designers to know how to code too, but I have to admit that this is indirectly forming this new professional figure: if on one side companies are requiring hyper-specialized professional figures, on the other side small startups are needing transversal skills.

I believe that there are two distinct possibilities awaiting us :

  1. every designer will know how to code and its limitations
  2. project management will die as a single skill, and the “technical manager” will overcome that

What do you think about this? Have you experienced the same issues? I suggest you to discuss this in the comments, since it’s a problem that involves all of us.

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Created by

Lorenzo Doremi

Aspirant Professor

A Jack of all trades UX guy. Mainly interested in human-computer interaction, contemporary sociology and art.


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