The Design Leadership Radar — Part 3

Leading the Product of Design

The outputs and outcomes of the products created by design — The ‘thing’ that is designed.

Jason Gieng
3 min readMar 7, 2021

NB: This article is part three (3) of a six (6) part series where we explore the multi-directional, non-linear nature of Design Leadership in complex organisations. I intend to release this content as regular articles over the coming weeks.

“A design leader’s role is to amplify the impact of the work our teams are doing to build a product that makes our users life easier … It’s about connecting the dots in terms of how the work we do will make the world a better place.”

— Remya Ramesh

The production output of Design, usually a physical or digital product, service, or experience, is traditionally the core focus of design activities in organisations. Design leadership in the product quadrant focuses on improving the overall quality of the object that is designed and the outcomes created.

Zoom levels in this quadrant consider the form, function, and strategy of the product. Design leaders support form but also look beyond it and consider how their products create value in an end-to-end experience, and how this is articulated in the product strategy that defines it.

Level 1: Form (Micro)

The form of a product is the most direct, tangible touchpoint of the product of design, and can be defined as how the product looks and feels. Leadership at this zoom level centres around enabling and empowering those performing design work to raise the quality of their outputs. This is achieved through foundational leadership acts such as:

  • Defining design principles
  • Providing clear objectives for design and a definition of what good looks like
  • Defining standards and guidelines for common design patterns to drive consistency
  • Ensuring designers have a clear way to measure the form of their outputs

Level 2: Function (Meso)

The functional aspect of the product of design considers how the outputs are used and the value they create for users. The role of design leadership is to ease the tension between creating something that is aesthetically pleasing and creating something that solves a user problem by connecting teams with user problems and behaviour, and articulating customer-centric measures. Leadership at this level looks to:

  • Connect designers and design work to measurable customer need and value
  • Enable others to consider the end-to-end experience of customers
  • Provides a language for others to talk about the value and output of design.

Level 3: Strategy (Macro)

At the highest levels, Design leaders transform product strategy by using design and discovery methods to envision and visualise the future and develop innovative new products and business models. Leaders operating at this level manifest strategic intent by:

  • Aligning and connecting teams to a vision and mission
  • Translating vision into product outcomes and business metrics
  • Providing a clear roadmap or plan on how to execute to achieve business goals

Read more

Part 1: The Design Leadership Imperative

Part 2: Introducing the Design Leadership Radar

Part 4: Leading the People who Design

Part 5: Leading the Practice of Design (coming soon)

Part 6: Leading Organisations through Design (coming soon)

Learn more about the framework, read the content in full, and get the toolkit to help assess your leadership practice at https://www.designleadershipradar.com

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Jason Gieng

An open letter about my thoughts, learnings and journey as a human-centred design thinker/do-er/leader. www.jason-gieng.co