What Type of Design Manager Are You?

If we have a look back to our design career, we can easily identify the bad, good, and great managers who not only achieve success in business but were able to help us to get the most of our creativity and apply it to projects. In many design companies, managers either come from a business background or a technical background. While the business-based managers have already acquired business and managerial skills in school, technical managers are usually designers who get promoted through positions to reach a managerial level. The lack of business education can be easily spotted to this type of manager, since the majority of design schools don’t provide business or management courses for their students. However, design managers with technical background can be a perfect fit to manage design and creative projects, as they have intensive experience of how designers think and develop new ideas.

Managers vary based on how they make decisions, handle authority, and collaborate with the working team. Design managers should be able to identify the suitable type of management style that should be adopted when dealing with a creative team at different times during project development. Usually, there are six type of management styles: directive, authoritative, affiliative, participative, pacesetting, and coaching. Choosing a management style is affected by many factors including the manager’s personality, the project status, and the type of the working team. For example, a creative team requires more attention to their ideas and with adopting styles that help them be more creative, brainstorm ideas, and less stressed, even during a project crisis.

The Six Management Styles

The six management styles below are based on how managers control the team, accept shared ideas, motivate the team, and handle critical time and thread. A good manager is able to switch between these styles depending on the situation in hand.

management style


The directive or the coercive style managers depend on giving orders to the team. They expect the team to comply to these commands in order to achieve the project objectives. This type of manager expects the team to do exactly what they were asked. The manager closely controls the team and has direct supervision over them to motivate them through threats to achieve discipline.

  • Use When: the project is in critical situation, and direct commands are required to to overcome the project crisis mode, such as late delivery or last-minute client comments.
  • Don’t Use When: high creativity is required for the project, such as the ideation phase, the team is underdeveloped to handle the stress, or the team is highly skilled and can’t accept the micromanagement style.


This style is also known as the visionary style where the objectives are clear and the manager has a long-term vision that needs addressed to the team. In this style, the project objective comes first, but with considering the team requirements, the manager gives clear direction to the team and motivates them through feedback and persuasion to achieve tasks.

  • Use When: the manager is very skilled and trusted by the team, so they follow through with clear, long-term directions. This style requires the company to support the project with a strategic plan that is reflected on the project development.
  • Don’t Use When: the manager is not skilled enough to handle long-term plans, or the team isn’t qualified or trained, so they need frequent guidance and monitoring.


This style puts the team first and tends to build harmony between the team members, which should reflect on their spirit in work. In this style, the manager tries to focus on the people through avoiding conflict and building good relation with the team, which works as a motivation for them to achieve the required tasks.

  • Use When: handing routine jobs, consulting the team, and handling conflict. This style is good to adopt along with the other styles in times of conflict between team members.
  • Don’t Use When: there is a critical project type where loose management style puts the project in risk to archive the required targets.

management styles


This style is also known as the democratic style, where the project objective is shared with the team and collaborative relation between the manager and team is developed in order to archive this objective. In this style, all the team collaborate to take part in the decision making process. the team is motivated through rewards psychologically for their effort, as they become part of the decision making process through adoption of design thinking methods and tools.

  • Use When: the team is collaborating together and have good experience that allows them to provide suggestions and be part of the making decisions. The work environment should be stable, and the team is aware of the holistic strategy of the project.
  • Don’t Use When: the team always needs to be managed directly and coordinated together, the project is in crisis and there is no time for meetings and brainstorming, or the team lacks the comparative attitude that influences them to think in new ideas and suggestions.


Many of the technical employees who get promoted to a managerial position tend to follow this style either fully or partially. In this style, the manager is very skilled in the technical side and aims to achieve the tasks in the highest quality by doing the tasks themselves. Then, the team follows the archived examples in similar tasks. In this style, the manager motivates the team through the provided high quality examples and expects the team to follow the direction to achieve similar quality.

  • Use When: the team is very competitive to be influenced by the manager’s own skills, no or low level of guidance is required, and when the team consists of a group of experts.
  • Don’t Use When: the team is not skilled to achieve the appropriate quality, or they need direct guidance and monitoring during work.


This style aims to build the team skills through a long-term development process. The manager helps the team to improve their skills and performance and motivates them by providing opportunities to develop their skills. This style should work with other styles during the quiet time where there is enough time to develop the team skills, yet the team should have the desire to learn and develop their professional level.

  • Use When: the team needs to acquire specific skills and develop their existing ones in order to meet with the future project challenges.
  • Don’t Use When: the team is not motivated to learn new skills, the manager isn’t skilled enough, or the team is involved in the project with critical status.

The above six managerial style highlight the different situations that can face design managers when dealing with their teams. Many managers mistakenly stick with one style and avoid the advantages of adopting other styles, yet good managers are able to switch between different styles based on circumstances such as the project status, team skills, and the manager’s own skills and experience. In summery, understanding these styles and when to use them can help design managers improve their managerial skills and build a better relation between them and their teams.

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Dr Rafiq Elmansy

As an academic and author, I've had the privilege of shaping the design landscape. I teach design at the University of Leeds and am the Programme Leader for the MA Design, focusing on design thinking, design for health, and behavioural design. I've developed and taught several innovative programmes at Wrexham Glyndwr University, Northumbria University, and The American University in Cairo. I'm also a published book author and the proud founder of Designorate.com, a platform that has been instrumental in fostering design innovation. My expertise in design has been recognised by prestigious organizations. I'm a fellow of the Higher Education Academy (HEA), the Design Research Society (FDRS), and an Adobe Education Leader. Over the course of 20 years, I've had the privilege of working with esteemed clients such as the UN, World Bank, Adobe, and Schneider, contributing to their design strategies. For more than 12 years, I collaborated closely with the Adobe team, playing a key role in the development of many Adobe applications.

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