The Design Leadership Radar — Part 2

The Design Leadership Radar:

Wayfinding for design leaders in organisations

Jason Gieng
4 min readMar 1, 2021

NB: This article is part two (2) 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.

About the Radar

The Design Leadership Radar is intended to be used as a wayfinding tool to facilitate the focus, development and direction of design leaders in organisations. It is designed to help leaders reflect on their practice and identify areas of opportunity that will help create impact and drive outcomes for themselves, the people they lead, and the organisation that they operate within.

The Four Quadrants

The Design Leadership Radar provides a holistic view by describing acts and focuses of leadership in their approach to four key quadrants of:

  1. The product of design — the production outputs that designers and design teams create (the product of design)
  2. The people who design — the individuals and teams that engage in the process of design
  3. The practice of design — the processes, tools and methods used by those that utilise design techniques, and
  4. Design in the wider Organisation — the leader’s relationship with the broader organisational environment that they operate within
Fig 1. The four quadrants of the Design Leadership Radar

The radar applies an additional lens to look at leadership through within each of these areas, by breaking down leadership acts into three categorical levels of zoom (Saylor Academy 2012):

  • Micro — focusing on direct details and concrete, tangible, individual elements
  • Meso — focused on leadership acts at a group level with a medium-level focal length
  • Macro — abstract ideas, systems and the environment in which the leader operates in, examining large-scale patterns.
Fig 2. Levels of zoom within the Design Leadership Radar

These three levels of zoom can also be correlated to levels of maturity within organisations, with leaders of less mature design practices focusing more on the micro scale, and increasing throughout the layers as they develop design in their organisation.

“Design has greater value creation at the outer layers than at the inner layers.”

— Maria Christley

The result is a framework that can be used as a wayfinding tool to identify what actions leaders can take at different zoom levels across the four quadrants to increase their impact and evolve as design matures in their organisation.

Fig 3. The Design Leadership Radar broken down in to quadrants and levels of zoom

It is also important to recognise that these quadrants and the levels defined within them are inherently connected, non-linear, and non-sequential. Leadership acts between the different levels of zoom in each quadrant can have a cyclical feedback loop where each layer flows on to the next. The area of focus for a design leader will also depend on the context in which they operate in and how well supported the design practice is within their organisations. In organisations with greater design maturity, leaders may be able to focus on advancing specific quadrants if others are addressed by specialist teams or functions.

How the Radar was designed (Methodology)

The Design Leadership Radar was developed at RMIT University within the Master of Design Futures program under the supervision of Dr Marius Foley. The four quadrants of the radar were originally defined by cross-assessing models of Design Maturity and Management alongside definitions of design leadership from industry leaders such as Aronowitz (2017), Frisby (2019), Warfel (2019), and Zhou (2019).

It was further iterated upon using primary data provided in 1:1 interviews and workshops with design leaders across large Australian and International organisations with advanced levels of design maturity. This research is also supplemented with secondary data from talks, articles and publications on Design Leadership and Management by industry leaders.

The data gathered has been deconstructed into acts of leadership, categorised across the four quadrants. It articulates a design practice’s maturity journey and influence across quadrants through the different zoom levels, and visualises how leaders may develop in different directions as they increase their scope of influence and move from low design maturity through to intermediate and high design maturity organisations.

Acknowledgements

Special thanks to those that contributed to the development of the Design Leadership Radar by participating in research, or being a soundboard and source of feedback for the development on this model:

  • Phil Walters, Head of Design
  • Remya Ramesh, Product Design Leade)
  • Maria Christley, Senior Design Manager
  • Nick Bligh, Product Design Lead
  • Henry Cho, Head of Design
  • Taya Gregory, Product Design Lead
  • Vinny Feeney, Product Design Lead
  • Pete Barber, Product Designer
  • Marius Foley, RMIT Master of Design Futures program manager
  • And my fellow MDF Design Leadership cohort

Read more:

Part 1: The Design Leadership Imperative

Part 3: Leading the Product of Design

Part 4: Leading the People who Design

Part 5: Leading the Practice of Design

Part 6: Leading Organisations through Design

Appendix: Acknowledgements, References and Moving Forward…

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

--

--

Jason Gieng

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