Design Your How: Balancing a Team

There’s something to be said for honing your craft. For working day in and day out, burning through the midnight oil (and a few pots of coffee) to meet a deadline. It instills a sense of pride that’s usually well deserved and, when thought through and applied correctly, can be an asset.

Like any artist, musician, or performer, effective designers are offering people new ways to see the world around them, to connect with like-minded communities, or to find useful products and services in the easiest possible way (ok, so most well-respected artists, musicians or performers aren’t exactly doing that last one).

Design is a science, but, when done properly, it can speak to people like art.

Which is why knowing how to effectively put together a team is such a valuable skill. Team building is an art and a science, itself, and effective leaders understand the kinds of people they need to surround themselves with, and why they need them. Here are four kinds of people who you need around you.


People that think methodically always want to travel down a pre-defined road. They want to know where the turns in the road are, where any potential roadblocks might be, and they’d like to get directions before they leave home… meaning, they’d like to have the entire process worked out as much as possible before the project has even started. The benefits of this kind of thinking should be obvious — especially if you’ve ever tried to get somewhere without a map. Having someone that’s always trying to think 10, 20, even 30 steps ahead is valuable because it forces you to continue to look at the forest, when you’d like to keep staring at the trees. It means having systems in place to reference when you run into unexpected demands from a client. Contracts, terms and time-tested ways of dealing with pushback. Methods help keep you on track.


Though I’m a huge proponent of thinking methodically (which should be obvious since ‘Design Your How’ is a column about the design process), even I know that sometimes there’s no possible way to foresee all of the roadblocks you’ll face through the course of a project. And that’s why it’s always good to have people around yourself that rely more on intuition than they do on plans that have been set in stone. When your client emails the day before a huge deadline and asks for a huge batch of new changes, but doesn’t give you any room to wiggle with the deadline, the roadmap might give you some terms for how to deal with a wide array of issues, but surrounding yourself with a few people who know how to connect with the client on a personal level (see also: empathy) is invaluable when terms and contracts become roadblocks themselves.


Sometimes all your options suck — or all your options look amazing — and it seems like, regardless of what you decide, you’ll be in just about the same position you would have had you decided the opposite. (We feel like this at my agency every day when we decide where to go to lunch: all of our options are mediocre! At least when you’ve eaten them all at least once a week for a year.)

When that’s the case, methods and intuition often give way to apathy and a lack of care on the part of those involved, and it usually takes someone who’s willing to make quick decisions and work with the outcome that have to step in and keep everything moving forward.


Regardless of planning, regardless of intuition, and regardless of the decisions that are made, at the end of the day, all your clients want to know is that you got the work done.

As Han Solo once said, “Hokey religions and ancient weapons are no match for a good blaster at your side, kid.” Which I think means: No matter how you get your work done, get your work done. Filling your team with people who know how to work hard, that specialize in something, and that know how to meet deadlines, might be the most important thing you can do to ensure that your clients are happy — and if your clients are happy, you’ll be happy. As a bonus: you’ll hold all the leverage when they’re late on a payment and you have to demand it.


It’s likely that you fit a few of these descriptions. I would like to think that I’m a bit of all of them, and I’m sure you would too. But the fact of the matter is that I’m more of a methodical than I am intuitive, and I’m a better decider than I am a worker at times.

Which is fine for me. And it’s fine for you. You should be proud of all the midnight oil you’ve burned and the amount of coffee you’ve consumed to become the badass designer you are. But it’s horribly unproductive to sit around obsessing over what you’re not. It’s not unproductive, however, to figure out what you’re not good at, and surround yourself with people who can help balance you and the rest of your team out.

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