Design team

9 Design Collaboration Tools Carefully Picked by Eleken Team


mins to read

Eleken has been in the UI/UX business since 2015, and when it comes to web design collaboration tools, we have tried them all. We remember those ancient times when dinosaurs were hovering around and interface designers used Photoshop, the tool that literally has the word “photo” in its name. Apart from being tailored for retouch rather than UI, Photoshop was really, really bad for remote design cooperation.

So we breathed a sigh of relief when Sketch appeared, the tool specifically made for user interface and user experience design. We immersed ourselves in learning Sketch. 

design collaboration tools meme
Once upon ancient times

We were satisfied with our new tool, but not for long. Figma, the new tooling underdog, offered a feature good enough to make us forget about Sketch. Figma offered a professional UI design app on the web. Let's put it like this: when everyone worked in Microsoft Word, Figma created Google Docs for visual collaboration.

Instead of transferring dozens of final, 100%-final, god-make-it-final files, we could invite a person to view or even edit our single file in an online mode. That was one small step for mankind, but a giant leap for the design world. 

So we relearned one more time to use Figma. 

newdesign collaboration tools meme
Once upon not-so-ancient times

For the time Eleken has been in the UI/UX business, we’ve tried literally all the best design collaboration tools. In this article, we present a shortlist of our all-time favorites.

Tools for design team internal collaboration

It’s a stack of design team collaboration tools that create a shared workspace among the group working remotely.

Figma, the main design collaboration platform

A cloud-based Figma is Eleken’s ultimate tool to design wireframes, mockups, or prototypes and gather feedback on them. By now, it must be obvious that we love Figma. When we asked why, Maksym, our design director, gives a list of five reasons:

  1. Figma is a cross-platform app. You can open it from any device, whereas Photoshop was available only for Windows users, and Sketch worked only on MacBook.
  2. Another benefit is that Figma runs on browsers, so developers or clients don’t need to install an app when they need to view a design. They can simply open a link in any browser they have.
  3. Figma was the first pro app with a freemium model. For Sketch, you had to pay $100 per year, while Figma’s free plan is more than enough for personal use.
  4. Figma includes all possible extra features a product team may wish for. For instance, it has a tool that allows you to create clickable prototypes. Also, the product offers an easy way to extract code information from a specific page element — it makes Figma one of the best designer-developer collaboration tools.
  5. Figma is cloud-based. It means that all the files are held on the web, so they don’t take up space on your computer and allow you to work on them collectively
Designing, discussing, and editing prototypes for Eleken’s Instagram in Figma

Figma pricing:

  • You can start using Figma for free. The Beginner tier has some functional limitations, but it’s just enough to learn how to use the app. 
  • If you want to unlock unlimited files and sharing permissions, you’ll have to pay $12 per editor per month.

Since this article has a risk to turn into a Figma fan page at this point, it’s high time to talk about the next tool. Because no matter how good Figma is, it can’t cover all communication needs of a design team.

Slack, for ongoing communication

Most of Elekens’ communication beyond specific design edits happens in Slack. This tool works like a faster, better-organized email alternative. Perfect for announcements, team-management issues, and watercooler conversations. Project team discussions also happen in Slack chats. 

Slack, however, has its dark side. Positioned as a productivity tool, this app can also kill the team’s productivity unless used carefully. It makes it so easy to send messages, that at some point, you find yourself buried under dozens of them. Moreover, you can’t take a three-day pause before replying like it was with emails. Slack communications imply almost instant replies.  

Slack is the best tool for internal team communication we have, but it requires some generally accepted communication ethics so that team members could maintain their focus and priorities.

Image credit: vox.com

Slack pricing:

  • Slack offers a freemium tier with limited file storage and message history that is enough to try the app. 
  • For the Pro mode, you’ll pay $6.67 USD per user per month.

Slack calls / Zoom / Meet — to discuss something too complex for chats

We can hardly tell you anything new about the video conferencing tools world that is remote for two years already. But still, these tools should still be mentioned as a part of the design collaboration toolkit.

In order not to overwhelm colleagues with a massive Slack message flow, sometimes it’s useful to schedule short voice calls. Slack calls fit well for this. For longer calls or regular team meetings that require screen sharing, we use Zoom.

Zoom pricing:

  • Zoom offers its Basic plan for free, with group meetings limited to 40 minutes. 
  • If you want unlimited calls, you need a Pro account that will cost you $14.99 per host per month.

Meet by Google is another tool with very similar features, it can also make video conferencing work for your organization. If you already use other Google products, you should definitely try Google Meet. For G Suite accounts, there are no time limits.

Notion, as a knowledge base

Notion is a perfect tool for building and structuring your company’s database including project management and employee onboarding information. 

For instance, the list of our favorite remote design collaboration tools you can see in this article comes from Eleken’s design guidelines kept in Notion.

A tiny piece of Eleken’s hall of wisdom

Notion pricing:

  • Notion offers a free plan for personal use.
  • Those who need a collaborative workspace for an unlimited number of users will pay $4 per month.

Tools for collaboration with clients

To collaborate with clients and their product teams, we use some of the tools mentioned below.

You can’t go without video conferences — when people hire us as UI/UX designers, we have to gather requirements, discuss with them our ideas, and share results. Figma is another must-have tool when you need clients to see wireframes or prototypes. 

What's new here is presentation tools used to communicate ideas, research results and designs.

Miro, a whiteboard to generate and present ideas

Miro is a cloud whiteboard created for people who work with mind maps, flowcharts, double diamonds, and other visual frameworks. Not only does the app have hundreds of templates, but they also look so stunning. Miro makes your theoretical brainchild esthetically pleasing and ready for presentation.

A fragment of a beautiful customer journey map we made in Miro

Miro pricing:

  • You get three editable boards for free.
  • More collaborative power and unlimited boards will cost you $8 per member per month.

For presentations that require more structured information than a whiteboard allows, we recommend trying Google Slides, a free online slideshow maker.

Figjam, another whiteboard established by guess who

Figjam is a competitor of Miro, recently launched by Figma. As a team of designers, we couldn’t miss this release. Not that we needed another whiteboarding tool. But since Figma sits in the center of our design galaxy, using a single ecosystem for both UI design and whiteboarding sounds tempting. 

You can transfer things between Figma and Figjam simply by pressing Ctrl+C or Command+C, and it’s a huge time-saver. What is not a time-saver is Fitjam’s cute stamps, emojis, and a hi-five feature.

FigJam pricing:

  • FigJam is now in Beta, which means you can use the Professional tier for free until Feb 2022.
  • After, for unlimited boards, you’ll need to pay $3 per editor per month.

Loom, for recording and sharing screencasts

Loom is a screencast tool that allows you to record and share short pitch videos. It’s useful for asynchronous collaboration of remote teams when different time zones or busy schedules don't allow them to set up a meeting. 

Loom also saves a lot of time you’d otherwise spend on writing long guidelines. Just record a few minutes with your voice, and you are done.

Loom pricing:

  • A free tier with a 5-minute recording duration limit.
  • For limitless screencasting, you’ll pay $8 per creator per month.

Tools for collaboration with users

You need to collaborate with people to test your work on different stages, from product concepts to prototypes. We have two favorite tools that help us to facilitate this task.

Maze, for unmoderated tests

Unmoderated tests with Maze require minimal designer involvement. You only need to define study goals, upload your prototypes, write task descriptions, and voila, after some time the results are ready for analysis.

That’s how a Maze remote test looks like

A huge advantage of Maze is its integration with Figma. You can import a working prototype directly from the page you designed it.

Maze pricing: 

  • There is a limited free version.
  • For a Professional mode, you’ll pay $50 per month + $25 per month for additional users.

Lookback, for moderated tests

That’s a tool created for tests where a researcher is talking to users, watching their reactions to prototypes, guiding them through the tasks, and getting their feedback in real-time. The process can be recorded and saved so that other team members can explore it later and make timestamped notes. 

Team collaboration in Lookback. Image credit: lookback.com

Lookback pricing:

  • Free 14 day trial.
  • $17 per month for a Freelance plan that allows 10 sessions per year.
  • $99 per month for a Team plan, with 100 sessions per year.

Want to know other tools we use for research, analytics, and testing? We have a dedicated article on UX research tools.


Some final thoughts that may help you build your design collaboration toolkit:

  • If you facilitate BYOD (bring your own device) working policy, all online design collaboration tools must be cross-platform.
  • Cloud-based tools are a must to make remote or flexible working comfortable. 
  • Choose the tools that work smoothly with each other. It will save you time and nerves.
  • Remain open to new products — collaboration apps often favor freemium pricing, so that you can try promising new stuff for free.

It all boils down to choosing SaaS tools for your business. But there are so many of them. If you have trouble finding your perfect products, we have a guide on how to pick up SaaS tools in cloud chaos.

Dana Yatsenko


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Design team
min read

Web Design Agency Pricing Explained

If you addressed three different design service vendors with one and the same project, you’d probably get three different offers with different quotes. Just take a look at the search results for a “web design agencies” request at Clutch, a ratings and reviews platform for IT providers (and these are only 6 first results out of 57,910 available).

web design agency pricing list 2023

The wide range in web design agency pricing can confuse and make you uncertain about which firm to partner with. 

Being a SaaS product design agency ourselves, we understand the challenge clients face when they have to make the decision taking into account both their budget and the quality of work they want to receive. At the same time, we understand why prices differ so much: the type of services offered, the team composition you get, the tools and technologies that an agency uses, the location they are based in, and more.

That’s why, in this article, we want to discuss the most common pricing models used by different web design agencies, their pros and cons, and who each type of pricing suits best.

Before we talk about web agency pricing, let’s figure out what types of agencies can build you a web app, and what their offers include.

Common types of design agencies and what they charge for

Hiring an agency is probably the best option you can choose when looking for a design partner as it gives you the whole package. And there’s a great variety of agencies that offer design services for all kinds of needs. But here we’ll talk about three of them that businesses commonly hire when they need help with web design.

UI/UX design agency

UI/UX design agency is responsible for creating websites, and mobile and web applications with smooth user experience and intuitive user interface. Some of them also offer help with marketing (pitch decks, social media ads) and branding materials (logos, visual identities).

Their main focus is how users interact with various products, services, and websites, thus they pay special attention to the user and market research in their design process. The goal of UI/UX designers is to create products that are functional, simple to use, and pleasant to interact with.

The team you get

  • UI designer 
  • UX designer
  • UX researcher
  • Project manager
  • Graphic Designers
  • Front-end developer

Specifications they may deliver

  • UI/UX design
  • UX research
  • UX audit
  • Prototyping
  • Design system
  • Front-end development
  • Additional (branding, building marketing strategy, and so on.)

UI/UX design agencies partner with both established and small businesses from various industries. However, mind that in most cases this type of agency doesn’t provide development services.

Website design agency

When you employ a web design agency, they’ll probably handle the entire process of creating your website: designing, developing, launching, and maintaining the website. They are aimed at creating visually appealing, simple-to-navigate websites that convert leads into customers.

The main responsibility of the website design firm is to complete the project and deliver it to the client on time. That’s why, unlike the UI/UX design agency, a web design firm typically enters the web design process early on and is more focused on finishing a project to your requirements than on conducting deep research to learn what will really work for your business and its target audience.

Some web design agencies may also provide content writing services.

The team you get

  • Web designer
  • Graphic designer
  • Web developer
  • Photographer/videographer
  • Copywriter
  • Brand strategist

Specifications they may deliver

  • Logo design
  • Corporate branding
  • Wireframes
  • Mockups
  • Color palette
  • Typography
  • Photo/video content
  • Web development

Full-service development agency

UI/UX design agencies can help you design a website or a web app but mostly they don’t provide development services. Website design firms can help with website design and launch but they are not focused on creating complex web applications that require thorough research and a well-thought-out design process. Full-service development agencies usually have both developers and designers on board and are hired to help with the front-end and back-end development of custom web applications. 

Naturally, their web design prices would be higher than those of other agencies, so it rarely makes sense to partner with them for regular website design services.

The team you get

  • Front-end developer
  • Back-end developer
  • UI/UX designer
  • Project manager
  • QA
  • Business analyst

Specifications they may deliver

  • UI/UX design
  • UX research
  • Prototyping
  • Design system
  • Front-end development
  • Back-end development
  • Manual testing
  • Testing automation
  • Deployment
  • Code quality checks

Common pricing models

To understand the web design services pricing better, let’s learn how agencies usually charge for their work and figure out which variant is more beneficial for different clients.

Hourly rates

The hourly rate approach is the most popular among design agencies. They set hourly pricing for each service they provide, then bill the client for each hour that is spent on a project.

hourly rate web agency pricing formula

Who is it best for?

Paying for design services hourly is suitable for lengthy projects that are prone to changes. This way, you can easily take project changes and other uncontrollable variables into account without being afraid about the final outcome.


  • With the hourly rate pricing model you stay flexible and can change the scope of a project on the go.
  • It’s cost-effective because you pay only for the number of hours you need.
  • You have a good understanding of what you pay for.


  • Designers can be less productive when they are paid hourly, so you may need to ask for evidence of the hours employees spend on tasks.
  • It’s difficult to predict the final cost, as often tasks take more time than you expect. 


When you pay hourly, the cost usually ranges depending on the type of design services you need, the designer’s experience, and the location of an agency.

For example, we’ve analyzed agencies’ hourly rates for web designers at Upwork in different locations.

  • Median hourly rates in the USA vary from $35 to $90.
  • Median hourly rates in Germany vary from $40 to $80.
  • Median hourly rates in Ukraine vary from $25 to $45.
  • Median hourly rates in India vary from $15 to $35.

Flat rates

With flat rate pricing, clients pay a set charge for the project. Agencies calculate the total number of billable and non-billable hours needed for a project and multiply that amount by an hourly rate.

flat rate web agency pricing formula

Who is it best for?

This model is a good fit for your needs if you have a defined set of requirements that won't change during the design process, or if it’s a repeatable task for which the designer has a reliable estimate of the number of hours required. 

Together with the agency, the client agrees upon set requirements accepted for a predetermined amount of time at an hourly rate. It's the ideal choice for small or medium-sized projects with a fixed budget and no unpredictable expenditures.


  • This pricing is quite straightforward as you know the sum you have to pay upfront and can effectively plan your budget.
  • No additional fees during the project.


  • Flat rates are usually set higher as agencies want to make sure they don’t underestimate the scope of work.
  • Flat-fee pricing might result in low-quality design since it emphasizes completing tasks as quickly as possible to maximize profit.

Price range

Design agency price lists will differ depending on the business type, project’s size, design complexity, features, animation, and the like. 

According to WebFX, web design cost starts from $2,000 to $9,000 for a small business website, and rises up to $6,000 – $75,000 for complex data-driven websites or web apps. 

Time and material

With time and material pricing, a contract will outline the general scope of the task and include a proposal for a fixed hourly rate plus the cost of materials. Under materials, we mean the cost for using tools, markups for subcontractors, and so on (they are agreed upon with the agency beforehand).

time and material web agency pricing formula

With a time and material pricing approach, you will still need to define the full project scope in advance, much like with a fixed-price contract. But here you also divide the project into stages: every time you make a billing, you meet the contractor to discuss the time spent and materials used.

When using this model you can negotiate each detail with the contractor including tasks and resources used during the design process, as well as the payment type they want to use (pay hourly, daily, weekly or monthly rates).  

Who is it best for?

If you have a big project and no comprehensive vision for the finished product and its implementation details, the time and material pricing model may work well for you


  • It gives flexibility in determining the project’s scope, requirements, and timeline.
  • As the project is divided into phases, you pay in parts and based on how much you “consume”.
  • The design process and progress is transparent and you know exactly what you’re paying for. 


  • Difficult to predict the budget.
  • No clear deadlines.
  • High administrative costs.


Cost-plus pricing approach is very easy to understand. The agency calculates the total cost they spent on design (like employees' work, overheads, tools price, and the like) and adds a defined extra charge depending on the service they provide.

cost plus web agency pricing formula

Design agencies may use this model to cover their overheads. This way, they bill their clients at hourly, daily, weekly, or monthly rates according to standard market designer’s rates or for specific design deliverables. The rest of the price includes a consistent service fee percentage to cover overhead expenses.

Who is it best for?

The cost-plus model is suitable when a project requires flexibility, such as when it's high-risk or the scope of the task isn't clear right away.


  • Less chance to overpay for a service as it’s easy to understand what you pay for.
  • Generally less expensive than a flat-price model as the agency doesn't have to charge more to cover the risk that the project would cost more than expected.


  • Usually companies use little market research when defining a markup percentage, so sometimes the price for design services can be unfair. 
  • It’s rarely used for web app design services.


In contrast to other pricing types, with a retainer model the client agrees to pay a fixed fee in advance throughout a predetermined time period for professional services. It’s similar to when you pay for a subscription, but instead of a product, you buy design services.

retainer web agency pricing formula

Who is it best for?

It works well for long-term projects with a big scope: as clients pay for a certain period of time in advance, they need to have enough work for a designer to stay fully occupied during that period. 


  • Agencies that charge their clients with retainer pricing are usually highly focused on the value of services they deliver as they want to retain customers for as long as they can.
  • It's also very simple to budget with this model and you don’t have to spend time on cost estimations and other administrative activities.


  • If you won’t have enough tasks to occupy your design specialists, paying a monthly fee can be too expensive.
  • In some cases, it’s difficult to see what you’re paying for what you receive in exchange.

By the way, a retainer is the type of pricing model that we use at Eleken. Though we define ourselves as a UI/UX design agency, we are not a typical one. We help our clients eliminate unnecessary expenses and hire professional UI/UX designers experienced in design for SaaS, as part of their product teams. Basically, it’s like hiring an in-house employee remotely, as you get full dedication to your project only. 

We charge a monthly fee (time-based retainer model) for ongoing product design done by our top design talent who can help you design from scratch, redesign an existing web application, or create a responsive design for your product.

Some other benefits of buying a subscription for a full-time designer at Eleken are

  • You don’t have to spend time on hiring and educating new employees.
  • You don’t pay sick/vacation leaves or any other overheads. It’s on our side.
  • A designer speaks directly to you (no project managers in the middle from our side). 
  • We work on one project at a time, meaning if you hire a designer at Eeken, it means they a fully dedicated to you only.
  • We have a three-day free trial period so that you can make an informed decision on whether to sign a contract or not.
  • You can cancel the subscription anytime.
  • You can change the number of designers you hire whenever you need.

Who is Eleken best for?

Our model works best for SaaS companies with lengthy projects when they don’t have designers on their team, or lack employees and seek additional design help in launching, revamping, or expanding their cloud product.

To sum up

As you can see, it’s impossible to give a clear answer to the question “How much does web design cost?” due to a great number of variables that influences the price and the fact that each specific project is unique.

But definitely, when you need to find a designer for your web app, hiring an agency would be the best choice (and probably the most costly one). So, before signing a contract, you should first decide whether the high cost is justified by outlining your essential project requirements and your business goals. Most websites don't need such thorough care that an agency gives, but if, for instance, you want to design a complex web application, managing all your needs will require the help of a professional design team.

Invent the look and feel of your web app with Eleken.

Design team
min read

Managing a Design Team: Interview With Seasoned Design Leaders

The design team is an essential part of any organization's workforce, whether they are in-house employees or an external team. Mainly because their responsibility is to create new concepts or empower existing ones in order to accurately portray a certain product or the company's brand to the general audience.

But having been providing UI/UX design services, for more than seven years without any project manager on board gave us an understanding that admitting the importance of design and managing a design team is not the same and may cause many difficulties and insecurities (and yes, at Eleken we don’t have project managers on our side as we believe our clients and designers should talk to each other directly).

To help those who are about to lead a team of designers for the first time, we talked with experts in the design field who had solid experience in team management, and asked them the following four questions:

  • What do you think is the main responsibility of a design lead?
  • What do you find the most challenging about managing designers?
  • What can you advise those who’ve just started their way as design managers?
  • How does managing a design team compare to being a designer?

Further on, you’ll find tips and insights that will help you discover how to manage a fantastic design team and produce your finest work together.

Marian Fusek, Career & Leadership Coach, Leadership & Design Consultant

After working over 10 years in the design field, Marian took over leadership of the Design Team at STRV. Within two years, he got further promoted to lead the whole Design & Engineering department of 130 people and 13 team managers. Today, he’s a certified Life, Career & Leadership Coach, Leadership & Design Consultant and Design Mentor.

What do you think is the main responsibility of a design lead?

Leaders need to serve the people they lead. It all starts there. Just by mentioning design as a discipline, there may already be a sorting mechanism within ourselves, defining what that specific demographic is and what its needs are. But serving designers is not much different than serving any other profession. So, if the first thing you think about is pushing through that polished design process of yours - well, okay, but no!

For me, the main responsibility of a design lead is a simple understanding that there's a unique individual in every single designer, with their passion for the craft, their ways of learning, getting feedback, working in a team, with a client, and so on. Then it comes down to working, managing and leading them in sync with their ways.

Ask a lot of questions, be curious, create an environment full of energy, potential and mutual respect - the results will be there. Make sure the team is working together. You just have to give them freedom to try.

What do you find the most challenging about managing designers?

While this process can be a truly challenging matter by itself, the other thing that pops in my head is providing the type of design opportunities that make your team fulfilled as the days, months, years go by. The preferences of each individual differ, designers profile their services into specific niches. Saying that, can your company ensure a great project for every designer all the time to really keep them fully engaged?

There are many challenges the leader has to face just because we all constantly change and evolve. As long as you work with the resources you have, provide the best setup for your team, you are set for success. But don't be disappointed with a designer leaving your team every now and then because, simply put, you cannot satisfy everyone at every stage of their lives and careers.

What can you advise those who’ve just started their way as design managers?

Sit, lie down, or go for a walk and think of yourself when you were a regular designer. Ask yourself: if your leader really (and I mean really-really) knew you, how you work, what you love, what gets you going, what brings you energy, what really helps you at times of struggle - how would you work, how would you grow as a designer, how likely would you do something extra, make less mistakes, be excited about every Monday?

You now have people in your team that are just like you from the past. They represent your team every day, they represent you. Do you know them? And I mean, really really know them?

Get to know your team members, get to know yourself and find where the two parties vibe. Teams that vibe will have it easy when getting a product to the next level, staying sane through post-launch madness and covering your back in tough times (you should see my confidence writing this, hehe).

How does managing a design team compare to being a designer?

It goes back to categorizing designers and thinking we are all the same. But Tom is passionate about interactions, Maya about design systems, others about visuals, UX, typography...

I always knew I am a people person. Working with humans is easy for me, I vibe with it (wink). I've been asked many times whether I miss designing more, if I now keep losing track of the newest trends, and the like. Luckily for me, leadership is still design - the design of my team members’ best experience in my team. Designing the right education plan made just for Tom and designing the perfect project setup for Maya… the list goes on.

The purpose of design is to give answers. Make “it” easier for humans to engage with things and each other. So while Tom played with interaction design, I played with team design. Also, stay obsessed with providing the best conditions for your designers and they will share so much with you that you’ll never lose track of the craft or any trends, even if you wanted to.

Richard Strother, Technology and Clarity Coach

​​Richard is about three things: psychology, technology, and human connection. With extensive experience in design, production and technical side in the graphics and print industries, Richard has managed full projects and small teams for other companies as well as for his own agency. His focus has always centered on making information more clear and relatable.

What do you think is the main responsibility of a design lead?

Make sure that everybody is playing the same game. 

Any sport has positions. But why do we need them? Because everybody has got their strengths, and all of us are good at something. As a leader, you’re allowed to switch your team members around, and let them try other things, make mistakes, and develop new skills. This way leaders make sure everybody’s playing the right sport in the right position. And that’s the greatest purpose of a manager/leader: you have to be the one to bring everybody together on that one vision.

You should be like “I trust you guys to do the job, but if you need anything - let me know, and don’t be afraid to come to me. I don’t care if it’s just a joke you want to tell, or there’s some difficulty you face - I’m here for you!”

You know, there are people who are given the leadership title, but they are terrible at managing. On the contrary, there are people in teams (I call them sparks), who have no authority but everybody goes to them. Why? Because they are the leaders. They are the ones who have their fingers on the pulse and know everybody in a team. These people keep the right spirit, the team’s morale. If you happen to have both the title and the spark - oh, wow, your team is going to do some incredible things.

So, make sure everybody in the team is on the same page, working together rather than in silos. You, as a manager, don’t have to just split tasks. Your team members are all experts in what they do, and what you as a manager want to see at the outcome requires the skills they all have. The more they learn from each other, the more you get new ideas and innovations. And you don’t have to pay more for that, you just have to give them the freedom to try. 

What do you find the most challenging about managing designers?

Scheduling is tricky. 

Designers tend to be artistic folk, and designers tend to be big personalities, especially when we’re talking about timetables and scheduling. And that can get very tricky because, as a design manager, I need to know at what point in their work my team members are and I need my designers to keep me in the loop. I’m like “I have no problem if you are a day behind schedule, just tell me where you’re at, so I can move to the next stage”. And some of the designers are terrible at it. Absolutely terrible. They are just like students that wait until it’s the last minute before an exam. 

You need to make sure the designer you’re accountable for is good at communicating. You don’t want to chase your designer, right? You have to build this relationship on trust. You need your team to understand you’re not just a guy who gives them a contract, you’re in this together. It’s really about keeping in touch: “I’m not going to tell you how to do your job or check your every step, but don’t leave me in silence.”

Money can be tricky too. That’s why I need to be very clear about my expectations. I don’t pay for designers’ hours, I’m paying for a result, so I need it good and I need it on time. Am I willing to flex a little? Am I willing to adapt to the designer’s style? Yes. So, to resolve the money issue, you have to have a really good work agreement, with clear expectations. In that case, designers will understand what needs to be done, and you’ll understand what you’re paying for.

What can you advise those who’ve just started their way as design managers?

  1. Make sure that you’re organized, well-centered and know your role. You should know what your designers have to do and should be always focused on the outcome. Our entrepreneurs have a terrible habit of “I have to do everything myself”, while the best skill the design lead has to get good at to survive and thrive is delegating. They have to learn to say “I can do that, but out of the six tasks I have here, there are two that only I can do, because it requires the information that only I know, and so on.”

Imagine an office where one person tries to be a receptionist, a boss, and a worker. It doesn’t work. You hire the receptionist because they can take the phone calls, and filter them down to the messages the worker has to deal with. The worker, from their side, goes to the boss for the one or two things on that list that only the boss can cope with. That way everybody has a respective amount of work and you’re not trying to do everything yourself.

  1. Learn to communicate what result you expect to see and stay objective-focused. You should have impeccable communication skills because you need to be able to tell your designers what it is that they’re going to do, and what you expect from them in return. And you really have to be focused on what the outcome is. You shouldn’t care how your designers got to that outcome, with Photoshop or whatever. You just need to be specific about what you need as a final result and bring that one vision to the whole team.
  2. Say “thank you” to your designers. Simple phrases like “thank you for your work”, “I love how you handle this”, or “have a good evening”- such little interactions can go a long, long way. The team will be ready to make that extra step for you when they know they are appreciated. Let your people know they matter and that will make a huge difference.
  3. Don’t become best friends with designers. Don’t get me wrong. Have good relationships, but the problem with friendship is that it may become a manipulation point. I don’t want to make people feel bad, but if you screw the contract, I’ll have to tell you about it: business is business, and friendship is friendship. So if you are about to work with a friend, make sure to sign a contract which says what you expect, what is to be delivered, when, how much (full stop). No exceptions.
  4. Treat your designers well. Working with designers, you’re not curing cancer or solving world hunger, like, you’re not solving the great problems of our time. That doesn’t mean your work isn’t relevant, to you and your client - it is, but if a designer turns to you and says “look man, something happened in my family, I’m going to be a few days late with my tasks” or “I need help”  - that’s not a problem. I have no problem calling a client and saying that due to certain circumstances we ran into some delays, and this is how I foresee the timeline changing. Remember that a missed deadline isn’t the end of the world, so stay human to your teammates.

How does managing a design team compare to being a designer?

Being a good designer doesn’t make you a good manager. Management is its own skill. Well, a good designer with the right skills makes a good manager, but good designers usually want to do everything themselves. And being a design manager means that you’re no longer a designer, you trust others to do the job, and you’re in charge of making sure that they perform well and work towards the same goal.

Imagine you’ve got the best accountant, and you put them in charge of other accountants. They no longer perform the accounting job and, most probably, they’re going to fall into one of two traps:

  1. They will be like “Never mind, I’ll do it all myself because I know how to do it.”
  2. They’re just going to do the job and then get caught in the middle between whoever is about them and the team where they are not actually managing anyone.

Your job as a manager is to protect your team and make sure your designers have everything they need, I mean not only the resources, but also the healthy environment, to make their lives easier and their work pleasant.

Finally, here is also a statement about the difference between managers and leaders: managers ask you to do work, and leaders ask you to give them results.

Maksym Chervynskyi, head of design at Eleken

Maksym has more than 8 years of experience in UI/UX and graphic design. In 2018 he started his career in Eleken as a UI/UX designer and was promoted to senior user experience designer and then to lead user experience designer within 2 years. Now Maksym’s responsibilities include leading a team of user experience designers, participating in hiring and evaluation processes, supporting and mentoring junior designers, as well as sharing knowledge and expertise with the whole team.

By the way, there’s a separate article in which Maksym shares his experience of being a product design manager.

What do you think is the main responsibility of a design lead?

The main responsibility of a design lead is to do everything in your power to provide your designers with the most suitable and comfortable work conditions that would allow them to deliver high-quality results. 

I mean, you have to create a safe environment that will foster professional and self-growth. This includes giving your team access to relevant knowledge, teaching them to find actionable design solutions on their own, helping them master new skills, and giving them a sense of support, no matter what challenges they face.

What do you find the most challenging about managing designers?

The most challenging is to learn to trust your team and their ability to create cool things. It’s quite complicated to stop giving your designers ready-made answers every time they face some difficulty, but to let them search for a solution on their own. 

If you watch each of your designer’s steps and think you know better how to create a great user interface, you don’t give your team members a chance to improve and develop their own design style.

So, every time you want to “slightly” modify your designer’s idea - get over yourself, stop micromanaging, and let the team unleash their creativity and feel the responsibility for their work. Be ready that their solutions may differ from what you expected to see, but that doesn’t make them poorly made. 

What can you advise those who’ve just started their way as design managers?

Trust your team and let them know you’re available to help at any time. That means, on the one hand, the conditions you create should give your designers freedom of action, but on the other hand, your team should understand that you serve as their lifeline and that they are never left alone with their problems.

You should be the epitome of stability for your people, someone who is always on their side ready to lend a helping hand. They make independent professional decisions, but know that they can turn to their design manager, if necessary.

How does managing a design team compare to being a designer?

Being a designer means that you have your individual daily tasks to complete: you’re the one to make decisions and choose methods you like to come up with the solution. Being a design manager means that you have to delegate all the responsibilities to your team.

And again, it’s all about trust. Your role is to clearly communicate what you expect to receive, but believe that your designers’ individual decisions will result in a great outcome without your constant involvement (in fact, the result may happen to be much better than you expect). And it shouldn’t matter to you what path they chose to deliver that outcome.

Of course, you can teach junior designers your own methods of work, but in the end, each team member will have their own unique approach. And that’s what stands behind the professional development of an individual employee, a team, and consequently, the whole company. Diversity of design talents doesn’t let your business stand still and allows you to create truly innovative products. 

To sum up

All the interviewed experts gave us a lot of food for thought (kudos to Marian Fusek, Richart Strother, and Maksym Chervynskyi). Even though all of them have their unique experience in managing design teams, we can see some common thoughts that repeat throughout the whole text no matter who comments on the topic. This way we can distinguish the three pillars of a successful design team management and they are trust, freedom of action, and taking care of each individual designer.

  • Trust your designers as the experts that know how to do the job.
  • Give them enough freedom to create, experiment, make mistakes and consequently bring more innovation to your company.
  • Remember that all your designers are individuals with their own strengths, weaknesses, problems, and desires, and treat them accordingly. Create a safe environment for each worker and watch your team grow and thrive.

And if you are looking for a trustworthy and dedicated team of designers for your SaaS product, extend your team with Eleken.

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