Current Thinking

Who really “owns” Design?


Yeah. Exactly.

It’s a ridiculous question, I know. Design is so important to every aspect of what we do in the tech industry, it’s almost inconceivable this is even a discussion still. But, as we all know – everyone seems to be an expert on Design these days, so here we are sorting out who is actually responsible for a team’s decisions around Design strategy and execution. Should be really clear, right?


Who really “owns” Design?

The answer couldn’t be more simple…

The CEO, right?   no.
Product Manager?   no.
Design Agency we hired?   definitely not.
Our in-house Designer?   close, but no.
The Dev team?   ugh.


bigquoteNo one person or group owns Design.


Design is bigger than any single person on the team or discipline in your org. It’s never completely conveyed in sketches and prototypes. Design is the sum total of every thought and every decision made from project inception to delivery. The final design decisions and implementation are merely a snapshot in time of a complex series observations and decisions made by a lot of people. Saying that someone “owns” that snapshot is far too simplistic.

Hold up, you say. If we’re lucky enough to work with a good Designer or Agency, they must surely be responsible for the Design decisions across the board. Right?

Uh… no.


bigquoteIt’s every person’s job to positively affect the shape and feel of the overall experience and end-to-end interaction.

Whether you’re in a startup, big corporation, or a non-profit, everyone has something to contribute to the Design of our dreams and aspirations. Your input could come in the form of suggesting clever copy, noticing something is misaligned, finding a more authentic image to use, increasing perf by 2x, or realizing the boss was being a lemming when they suggested it needed to be blue.

Given all that input from the team, someone must be responsible for making Design decisions, right?

Yes, there are actually trained professionals who know better than most how to blend those ideas and suggestions together into a cohesive whole and craft a memorable story – they just happen to be called Designers.

So, are you saying Designers own Design then?

No. But, Designers are the best people to help coordinate, shape, and execute an authentic experience for your team and are certainly worth their weight in gold for their ability to empathize with your customers. They don’t just deliver artwork – they synthesize experiences. Just ask ’em. It’s their role to know how to federate and focus all the input, and they should be held responsible for performing it like a killer. We all have roles to play in our team’s success, theirs is to synthesize the best Design possible given your input, the context, timing, and audience.

OK, got it. I own Design then.

Kinda. Everyone should feel like they own Design, because you do in many ways. But, leave out the word “own” and try saying “I am responsible for our Design as much as anyone on the team.” Then go act on it. Be passionate about delivering the best experience possible. Don’t just leave it to someone else to figure out. You are as much a part of a successful Design as the person doing the final execution.


bigquoteWe are all responsible and accountable for Design.

Really, it’s true. And it shows when we get it right.


Mike Pell


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