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How Do I Become a Design Manager?

Jennifer Voight
Jennifer Voight

Design management is a career field that combines technology, design, and business management. To become a design manager, an individual must have thorough knowledge of the creative process and principles of design as well as the ability to guide and manage creative thinkers in sync with corporate design goals. The education required to become a design manager can be obtained by any number of different paths, but typically requires at minimum a master’s degree. Usually to become a design manager a student will earn either a master’s in business administration (MBA) with a concentration in design or a master’s in a design field with a concentration in business. With few exceptions, a design manager must have several years of work experience in the field of interest.

Design management is a relatively new field that encompasses many types of design in a variety of industries, and design management educators tend to disagree on how design management is taught. Still, any design management education should combine business management with arts and design. The primary building block for anyone who wants to become a design manager is to be an excellent designer who is well acquainted with the creative process and design technology. Design managers often hold either a master’s in fine arts or majored in art at the undergraduate level.

Man with hands on his hips
Man with hands on his hips

As more management professionals seek to become a design manager, business schools are responding by adding design management concentrations to their business degrees that teach creative thinking. These concentrations also teach skills necessary to establish a guiding structure for the design process and use resources to enhance creative productivity. Students learn various principles of business management to effectively manage this process, including marketing skills, elements of financial management, and project management. Design managers are the navigational link between the creative process at its most basic level and the achievement of corporate goals.

The personal qualities required by an individual who wants to become a design manager are varied. As the field encompasses not only the management of design projects but also the integration of design principles into management philosophies, there are different types of personal qualities that add value to the various foci of design management. Design managers almost universally must be able to manage creative teams and have superior interpersonal skills. This involves using available resources to help the creative process operate most efficiently while keeping track of the goals of the corporation as a whole. Design managers must also be able to incorporate business principles, think critically, and attend to details.

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