Role of a Design Director: in conversation with Lisa Ortiz

Lisa is the Director of Product and Design at the Council on Foreign Relations, which is an independent, nonpartisan membership organization, think tank, and publisher. She has a collective design experience of over 20 years with 15 years leading teams and working for a diverse array of organizations. I was glad to interview her and understand what it means to take a managerial position in design. Here is a synopsis of our conversation:

You graduated with a major in Communication Design, what was the one thing that motivated you to pivot towards UX?

UI/UX is quite different from communication design in the sense that communication design was more print focused. I applied basic design principle to web design and learned wire-framing etc. on the jobs. The field has evolved a lot in the past decade. UI/UX has been a separate design principle for only the last 14 years. Earlier it was called web design and information architects used to do UI/UX designing.

What does a typical day in the life of a design director look like?

At my level I am not designing right now but managing the design team. I have been here [at CFR] for 4 years, initially I was involved in the design process. A typical day is packed with meetings and explaining the current status to stakeholders. I usually meet with my team twice a week.

Do you miss designing or working on projects?

Yes, I do miss designing and working on projects. But I do personal projects at side and I also enjoy reading about design. I know peers who are at the same level and also work on personal projects. I also attend conferences (not design per se) and also encourage my team to attend them.

What is the team size that you supervise? How often do you arrange team meetings?

The design and product team has ~12 people but I indirectly head ~20 people including the 4 design heads. I bring the whole team together at least once a month with every department and share something with them and encourage them to share something as well that they learned during that month outside the job.

How do you manage multiple projects at the same time?

I communicate the requirements to the leads and trust them for feedback. I deal with the meetings case by case and sort out the priorities for the project. In case of conflicting deadlines I go to the executives and ask them to prioritize. I try to manage expectations and let them [organization] know.

How would you define your work environment?

The work environment is pretty healthy, it works better when I am working remotely. Overall I enjoy working, the team usually goes out for drinks after work. A healthy 9-5 work life balance exists.

In your opinion how has the design market changed over the past few years?

It has progressed technically. It blossomed during 2005-15, but no major change has been seen. Ex. Apple iPhone has not changed it design quite very much. Tools are always changing but people are looking for change in design.

What are somethings that you are looking for in your next role?

I would want to be somewhere more software or technology based. A company which evolves with the industry, rather trying to cope up with it.

What would you suggest a design student looking for jobs?

Work with somebody you can learn from (mentors). Be open to critique and make your arguments well about why you believe something is correct. You can always grow and learn from critique.

Pro Tip from Lisa: Always read. Always stay updated with what people are doing in the industry. Look at enough apps and websites even if they are not related to your industry. Always stay on top of everything.