Learning from Design Leadership

True design leadership can be hard to come by, and as a creative professional, it can be even harder to rise to the level of a design leader yourself. Doing good work is not enough. You have to be influential, unafraid, ahead of the curve.

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You know who these real-life design leaders are. They’re the Paul Rands of the world, the Paula Schers. They’re the ones with the catchy aphorisms and the hard-hitting advice. When you hear them speak at conferences or AIGA events or TED Talks, their words empower you to act, not simply jot down a few notes that will be lost or forgotten when you return to your cube.

With all the fluff advice that’s out there in the universe, it’s relatively difficult to discern what’s worth listening to. Design leadership transcends the listicles about “Steps to Becoming The Boss” or  funny gifs about “Creating The Best Resume Ever.” Design leaders discuss the things you can’t get out of your head. It’s when Stanley Hainsworth says:

“The most success I had in my career was when I took on things that I was not asked to do.”

It’s powerful stuff.

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But it’s not just the words. It’s also the work. Stefan Sagmeister has tons of influential projects, posters and exhibitions, but it was the moments when he took on the idea of happiness or design as pain that he proved himself worthy of the “design leader” designation. There are many examples like this one. And many more people who have been inspired by those who came before them.

So how can you learn from design leadership? Once you’ve identified who’s the real deal, listen. Take it what this person is saying, and add it to your work flow. Write this words down on a sticky note near your computer; look (really, truly look) at and consider her projects. Figure out the things that speak to you, and implement the ideas that will work for you. Most of all, reach out to the people you find inspiring. Meet them for a cup of coffee or chat over the phone. Send them an email. The best thing you can do to begin down the path of becoming a design leader is to challenge yourself to do something you’ve never done before. You may be terrified, but do it anyway. After all, you know a design leader would.
 Some of the industry’s greatest minds came to HOW Design Live. For those who didn’t get to attend, we’re bringing the best of the show online and giving participants the opportunity to chat with some of our speakers. Check out the full event page and chat schedule here.

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