How to build a dream design team

Create a strong design team from scratch in five key steps

By Amanda Salter

Putting together a brilliant design team can be a challenge. There’s a lot to consider: skills, personalities, fit, culture, expected outcomes, management etc. On top of this, great designers are always in demand so it’s hard to secure top talent. But these days customers and stakeholders expect and demand polished products and services. So it’s vital to hire the right design team.

As thought leaders in Service Design, we’ve helped set up many design teams for both clients and agencies. We’ve seen what works and where things can go wrong.

Taking this on board, we’re sharing our experiences with our top five lessons for creating a reliable, successful and talented design team.


1. Define what you mean by product design

By creating a clear definition of what product design means for your company, you’ll find it easier to identify the skills needed in your design team.

People interpret product design differently. What it means to one person can be completely different to what it means to someone else. But for your design team to work, everyone involved needs to be in agreement of how product design is defined by your company. This requires looking beyond the visual or graphic design, because simply hitting something with a pretty stick is never going to result in a great product. At Newt, design encompasses the full breadth of skills needed for organisations to conceptualise, visualise and test products and services that meet customers’ needs.

2. Identify key skills

By clearly identifying your organisation’s goals, you can start building a map of the skills needed for design success.

To understand what skills you need from your product design team, you must first look to your organisation’s vision and goals. Ask yourself: how can the design team be best deployed to meet these goals and strategies? What will the design team need to achieve in both the short and longer term? What skills do you already have in-house that you can incorporate? Are you lacking a particular skillset, for example Product Owners, Researchers or UX? Once you have the answers to these questions, you can determine the core skills you’ll need from your design team.

3. Start small

A balance of multidisciplinary skills and levels gives you the basic mix you need to start making a demonstrable difference to your organisation.

In our experience the best thing to do if you’re starting from scratch is to start small. Look for three or four people who have a broad mix of skills that cover all your needs. A well-oiled design team needs a hierarchical structure. So look for a Senior Design Leader with strategic leadership skills and experience across the breadth of the design landscape. Your leader needs to be a good at building relationships and someone who can motivate and inspire the team. They need to be supported by a seasoned hands-on practitioner with experience managing others, possibly with a Service Design or customer-led strategy background. One or two junior or mid level practitioners then can be hired, perhaps from a UX, research, or visual design background.

4. Demonstrate value

Use tangible results to prove the success of your design team to help secure support and additional budget.

You’ve got your team, now it’s time to prove their worth. With the right team, you can achieve a lot in six months, demonstrating value and building trust with stakeholders. Use metrics to show the value of products and services created by the design team.  Creative talent can be hard to measure so develop a set of value-based metrics that enable you to prove the worth of each team member.

5. Expand your team

Add more talent to broaden your design team’s expertise and enable you to tackle larger projects across the company.

As demand for your team’s skills grows, you can consider adding more people and broadening the specialist skillsets your team can provide. The additional skills required will depend on your company and project requirements. The important thing is to be clear on what kind of skills are needed and whether the person will be a good fit with your current core team. If you’ve got a good thing going on, you don’t want someone to come in and rock the boat. Personality and culture fit are crucial so, if possible, it’s worth getting the design team involved in the hiring process.

They say it takes one to know one. With a combined 30 years experience as thought leaders in the design industry, we’ve worked with some of the top talent around. Our creative network covers over 200 expert Service Designers, Product Managers, UX Designers, Researchers and more – from junior to mid-level and senior.

With all this expertise at our fingertips, we decided to launch Newt Recruits – a freelance and permanent recruitment service that actually understands what makes a brilliant creative.

Find the right person for your design team

Tired of recruitment agencies who don’t understand this domain? Want to find the right talent as recommended by people who have actually worked with them and can vouch for their worth?

Newt Recruits can help.

Contact Alex Frewin on 020 3515 1030 or email to find out more

Read all the articles in this Recruitment series

Part 2 – Hot Design Skills for 2019
Part 3 – Top three challenges in design recruitment
Part 4 – Top tips for recruiting a design team

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