My first year as Global Head of Experience Design

Design career – My first year as Global Head of Experience Design

As my design career stepped into the Global Head of Experience Design role, I realised the incredible impact this type of position can have on a designer. Through my reflections, I identified three key highlights that showcase the transformative power of this role: achieving a harmonious balance between work and personal life, elevating the visibility of design practices in corporate environments, and boldly confronting issues related to toxic positivity. These highlights remind me of the endless potential for growth and positive change that comes with taking on new challenges.

Private and professional life integration

One year ago, my design career arc moved one step further into the management area. Last November, I was honoured to be appointed Global Head of Experience Design at Vorwerk International, which builds and sells the Thermomix and the Kobold.

Although it seems like the first year has passed quickly, it has been filled with experiences in both my personal and professional life. Upon reflecting on these experiences, I have realised that instead of striving for a work/life balance, it would be more sustainable to seek work/life integration. I noticed several overlaps between my personal and professional life during this time.

A bunch of examples

Facing one task at a time is crucial to progress. This applies to both private and professional to-do lists. Because the stake is high, I learned how critical it is to effectively sort tasks based on a precise strategy that fits the business or private needs. I find it handy to cluster tasks based on the “four quadrants” or Heisenower matrix. On top of that, with both my family and my managers, I adopt the old “underpromise and overdeliver” motto.

In light of this approach, I learned to take a breath before reacting to daily life and not to ruin my plans. By doing so, I discovered how many issues disappear or become less relevant after a night of (hopefully good) sleep.

Lastly, I experiment with how to apply my business expertise to my personal life and vice versa. One field where I collected interesting overlaps is budget management. I used similar solutions regarding tools and methodologies to manage my budget as husband, father, and manager. I am so proud of my Excel files!

Business-friendly design vocabulary

As my design career transitioned into a management role, I faced the challenge of communicating with my teammates and executives. In my role, it is essential to establish clear and effective communication with all stakeholders. However, sometimes, it isn’t easy to convey a message that clearly expresses what is relevant to the design practice.

To bridge this communication gap, I prioritise facilitating a conversation where designers and senior managers can focus on how design unlocks business value. To achieve this, I have developed two distinct vocabularies to deliver a crystal clear message to both audiences. I speak business with my teammates and link design decisions to the company’s strategy and business needs. With management, I use an oversimplified design language. The goal is to highlight only two topics – the ROI calculation of every design initiative and the ability of the design team to contribute to cost savings.

So far, I can see things moving slightly in the direction I want, but this strategy requires much effort and patience. Multiple times, I’ve felt frustrated and forced to start from the basics, even when I thought the direction was clear.

Toxic positivity and the rule of “it’s OK not to be OK

Interacting with people on multiple levels, such as teammates, other managers, and C-level folks, is one of the most challenging tasks for those pursuing a design career that leads to a management role.

Feedback is critical to building trust and nurturing these relationships in this role-playing game. However, I consider the culture of feedback to be a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it is essential to create a safe environment where people can trust each other. On the other hand, it can be not easy to spot the truth between the lines. It is rare for a group of people to discuss the “stinky fish openly”. Therefore, I had to learn to differentiate between honest feedback and “toxic positivity.” The first one defines the blueprint to determine the best option for the team. The second one, because of its ability to create anxiety and frustration, must be spotted and dismantled to avoid spreading among the team.

In this first year in my role, I observed team dynamics and noted behaviours, statements, and actions to evaluate the feedback and make informed decisions.

Caveats and feedback

I haven’t hashed out all the details of the first year as Global Head of Experience Design at Vorwerk International. This is the shortlist of my key reflections.

Your feedback is precious to me. Are you familiar with the topics I have listed? Have you found better approaches?

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