Design Management 101

In a professional design practice, there are 6 main management facets, discussed under the corresponding hexagonal links above right:

Practice, Client Relationships, Risk, Quality, Design, and Projects.

What is Design Management?

Somewhat like risk and quality, managing the design process is an ever-present, but mostly invisible and unconscious activity that “just happens” in the great majority of design firms.

Because it is formless, DM usually escapes the evaluation and rethinking process unless and until something goes horribly wrong. We’ll try to shine some light on DM.

When it comes to process rethinking, it is extremely important to have clarity on the boundary between Design Management and Project Management.

Design Management is a firm-wide state of mind, driven by ethics, values, opportunities, skills, and other factors. It is a holistic “way of working”; of realizing the goals of the principals. This collection of drivers comes to bear on each project, and is adapted to suit each project. This adaptation is part of Design Management. Compared to the linearity of project management, design management is iterative in nature.

By contrast, Project Management is project-specific (although here too, the values of the practice are a guiding force). Projects, by definition, have a start and an end, and are more or less linear in between.

Dale Sinclair (see sidebar) notes: “Project management concerns the overall management of a project and does not specifically deal with the management of the design process. Design management is how organisations strategically use and harness design in order to pursue their objectives.”

It follows that project managers do not have responsibility for design (although they may share responsibility for aspects of design outcomes e.g. budget, schedule, etc.)

The 5 functions of design management

DM has (in this DesignNode model) the 6 main functions listed below.

E01      Design Communication
E02      Design Planning & Programming
E03      Managing Design Teams
E04      Managing Scope
E05      Managing Design Schedule & Budget
E06      Coordination & Integration

Design Communication

It might seem obvious that communication is a core function of managing the design process – until you consider that communication issues account for approximately half of all claims against design professionals. So, clearly there is insufficient attention to good communication in the majority of practices.

Good communication, for all project team members, requires:

  • Communication planning
  • Negotiation, agreement & acceptance between primary parties as to the plan (including the client, owners if not the same as the client, representatives of the client, and other main consultants
  • Internal communication within the team, including any subconsultants

In addition, lead consultants must establish, monitor and maintain communications with and between secondary consultants.

Design Planning & Programming

There are a number of excellent sources for design planning and programming – see Design Process Resources. All those listed are very good, and I shall not attempt here to re-invent an already round wheel.

My personal preferences are for the Programming Design section (pp 37-55) in Dale Sinclair’s book, and William Peña’s Problem Seeking: An Architectural Programming Primer. Peña’s work, now in its 4th edition, is  graphically presented, so is easy for design professionals to understand. But these preferences do not diminish my respect for the more extensive, detailed treatment in the other listed sources.

Managing Design Teams

Here, too, there are “round wheels” available: Sinclair’s book has an excellent chapter on the topic (pp 5-18).


Ed. Note:  27.02.2016: Getting there, but not quite finished – keep your eyeball to the hole in the site fence.

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