Leadership Lessons from Product Designers

Product Designers

Jony Ive, is a Senior Vice President of Design at Apple.  He outlined his three key tips for designers during a talk at London’s Design Museum. These three practices – although crafted in product design and development language – are spot on for leaders intent on bringing new life to plateaued or declining organizations.

Jony Ive’s 3 Leadership Lessons

In his talk Ive offered up three key practices for high-tech product designers. In order to excel, these innovative product designers must:

  • Learn how to care
  • Learn how to focus
  • Be prepared to screw up and throw things away

Many times product designers work in start-up or entrepreneurial ventures. Cash is not yet king and errors are costly. Too many errors in these early stages will bankrupt a fledgling company and prevent us from ever experiencing their remarkable products.

Those product designers who work in established and mature organizations often experience a cut throat world where the product designer that hits on a winning design is potentially rich beyond his wildest dreams. But the carefree days and camaraderie of the start-up are long gone.

What is the Leadership Lesson in these three practices?

Learning how to care — You would think that this would not be something that a leader would have to be reminded of. At least not one who is an organization whose motive is not profit. But a leader must know how to care and also be able to demonstrate to those around that he cares about his followers.

A leader who cares is a likable leader.

Learning how to focus — This is hard for many folks. I personally struggle with “focus issues” and have struggled my whole life. It takes every ounce of self-discipline that I have to stay on task. And I don’t think that I am alone in this regard.  As I meet with other leaders and learn their personalities and their quirks, I see that many have focus issues.

But that does not relieve us of the need to focus on key things that need to be accomplished each day. And focus is something that a leader must be able to demonstrate in order to keep himself and his team directed toward the mission and goal.

A leader who can focus is a leader who has a head start on prioritizing everything around him.

Being prepared to screw things up and throw things away — At first this seems to be at odds with the previous practice. Focus indicates a commitment and steadfastness to the process. But leaders must be adaptive and adaptable to an ever changing landscape. Failure is not fatal. Rather, failure, if quickly recognized, allows us to make a major course correction and avoid repeated failures that can be fatal to an organization.

Failure must be quickly acknowledged, quickly assessed, and then quickly flushed from our collective memories. Leaders who are willing to accept failure in themselves and those around them will take the experience and use it to grow and develop.

A leader who screws up is of necessity a more humble and accepting leader.

I know most who read this are not product designers. But understanding the implications of these practices will make us better leaders.


Photo credit: Jordanhill School D&T Dept / Foter / CC BY

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Leader -|- Follower -|- Guide

I am the husband of a beautiful and wonderful woman. I am the father of two of the greatest kids on the planet. I am a father-in-law to a great young woman. And I am Papa to three very special grandchildren. In my spare time I am an active blogger and writer. And if there is any time left over, I work with small non-profit organizations and churches on the topics of change management, crisis intervention and leadership development.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.