What Is Design Management?

Written by Coursera Staff • Updated on

Learn how businesses use design management to create products, attract customers, and more. Discover design manager roles and how to get started in this career.

[Featured image] A design manager with long brown hair and wearing a gray sweatshirt, is standing in front of her desktop in her office. She is wearing a headphone around her neck.

Design management describes how businesses incorporate design aspects to help achieve business objectives, create products and services, attract customers, and support marketing efforts. Design management is essential to businesses and operates depending on the industry and design discipline.  It also offers various career opportunities, advancements, and a competitive salary.

What is design management?

Design management offers a way to apply planning and problem-solving to products, services, brands, and marketing to meet customer needs and business' goals. Design management encompasses every design discipline, including graphic design, engineering, architecture, textile, and fashion.

Design management typically operates on various levels. In larger organizations, this can involve an entire team. The typical responsibilities of a design manager are: 

  • Creating a design brief based on client or company needs.

  • Ensuring that designs meet necessary standards, requirements, and specifications.

  • Assisting in setting and managing design budgets.

  • Training and supporting the design management team.

  • Working across teams to meet business goals.

  • Managing designers and assigning responsibilities to meet their skill set.

  • Reviewing designs and requesting changes.

Why does a business need design management?

Design management is essential because businesses can use design elements to stand out from their competition and distinguish themselves from their offering and branding. Its usefulness extends into almost every business aspect, from product development and launch to operations.

Businesses incorporating design management can link their products, business practices, and brand under a unified message connecting with the customer. Design management can help:

  • Improve customer relationships and loyalty 

  • Streamline internal processes 

  • Increase sales while meeting budgets and timelines 

What are the main areas in design management?

Design is an umbrella term that covers many mediums, processes, and disciplines. It can also be applied to several strategies, decisions, and plans; some popular areas include:

  • Brand: A design manager in this area looks at a company’s message and determines how to project that through design. One example is how a business chooses fonts, color schemes, and tone of voice for social media posts. 

  • Business: Business design applies the design process to business functions. This typically means defining a problem, researching options, brainstorming solutions, building and testing prototypes, and adjusting accordingly. This can help improve efficiency at all levels. 

  • Engineering: Engineering design management is similar to business design. However, it usually applies to technical areas like manufacturing or system design instead of the business.

  • Products: Product design professionals manage processes used for developing and launching products. Their work often includes an emphasis on how to build relationships between internal and external collaborators to meet their goals.

  • Services: Service design management extends to the services customers need to use. This requires considering the relationships between all the people using a service and how the design meets the customer's needs. 

How to start a career in design management

To start a career in design management, you need design management skills and a bachelor's degree. Common undergraduate majors include graphic design, fine arts, and design studies. At the master's degree level, you may earn a degree in design management. 

You may also find it helpful to have a firm grasp of business and design processes, which you may develop through business courses or work experience. Companies routinely specify the qualifications and experiences they want, so it’s essential to research what's expected in the industry you wish to enter. This can help you plan your next steps.

Gain the necessary education.

The qualifications for a career in design management vary depending on where you plan to work. However, many designers start by choosing a design-focused major paired with a minor in business. This gives you practical experience designing and creating pieces and an understanding of business practices and models. You may need a graduate degree for more advanced design management jobs. In the US, sixty-two percent of design managers have a bachelor's degree, 20 percent have an associate degree, and 10 percent have a master's degree [1].

Consider certifications.

In addition to a degree, earning certifications may enhance your resume. Through these certificate programs, you can deepen your understanding of design processes and learn about design management techniques used by top global companies. You can explore how to apply design principles to problems, test ideas, and more.

AI skills have become increasingly valuable in recent years. With IBM's AI Product Manager Professional Certificate, you can learn to apply your leadership skills to the AI product management lifecycle. You'll examine real-world case studies of successful AI integration and develop or strengthen your knowledge of Agile concepts and methodologies. By the end, you'll have earned a Professional Certificate from an industry leader in technology.

Gain experience.

Experience in design is essential for a career in design management. Many people in the design management field start their careers as a designer in their desired industry. This may be construction, architecture, fashion, graphic design, or product design. Your experience helps you develop a strong understanding of the industry.

An entry-level design role may help you begin building your experience and your knowledge of business processes, styles, and products. It's also a good opportunity to start your design portfolio to document your design work, interests, and achievements. 

Read more: 5 Entry-Level Graphic Design Jobs + How to Land Yours

Build necessary skills.

You can expect to use both technical and workplace skills in design management. Generally, a design management professional should demonstrate the following skills:

  • Attention to detail

  • Creativity

  • Critical thinking

  • Design skills in the appropriate medium

  • Leadership

  • Listening

  • Problem-solving

  • Project management

  • Teamwork and collaboration

Career progression: How to become a design manager 

To become a design manager, you may start in an entry-level position in your field. This is where you further develop your skills and industry knowledge. From there, you may accept leadership opportunities and move into an entry-level design manager position where you can advance into a senior role.


Design management positions typically fall into three corporate hierarchy levels: operational, tactical, and strategic. According to Glassdoor, the average salary for a design manager is $107,534. However, you'll find a variety of jobs available within these levels, with salaries ranging from nearly $79,000 per year to more than $160,000 per year. 

Operational level

Operational design management professionals are responsible for the day-to-day design process.  They typically design and lead a team of designers to meet business outcomes that higher-level leaders usually establish. Some common operational-level design management positions and average salaries include:

  • Team leader: $48,151 [2

  • Senior designer: $78,131 [3

  • Corporate designer: $67,180 [4].

Tactical level

You’re typically responsible for structuring design projects to achieve business objectives at this level. A tactical design management professional manages the design processes and all resources. It’s about creating structure and ensuring high-level systems are in place to support design. Positions and average annual salaries include:

  • Design director: $130,749 [5

  • Brand design manager: $98,580 [6

  • Design and innovation manager: $86,341[7]

Strategic level

This is the highest level of direction in the company’s design. At this level, a strategic design manager ensures that designs meet corporate strategies. You may develop product strategies and branding to support and strengthen the company’s vision. Positions and average annual salaries include:

  • Chief design officer: $159,225 [8]

  • Vice president of innovation management: $164,050[9]

  • Strategic design manager: $100,943 [10]

Get started 

Are you interested in getting started in your design management career? If you have experience in the design industry, you’re on the right track and could benefit from gaining more knowledge with a certificate. Consider Product Ideation, Design, and Management Specialization, delivered by the University of Maryland, on Coursera. This Professional Certificate covers topics like developing innovative ideas, product management skills, establishing product-market fit, and more.  

Article sources

Zippia. "Design Manager Education Requirements, https://www.zippia.com/design-manager-jobs/education/." Accessed April 17, 2024.

Glassdoor. “Team Leader Salaries, https://www.glassdoor.com/Salaries/us-team-lead-salary-SRCH_IL.0,2_IN1_KO3,12.htm.” Accessed May 19, 2022.

Glassdoor. “Senior Designer Salaries, https://www.glassdoor.com/Salaries/us-senior-designer-salary-SRCH_IL.0,2_IN1_KO3,18.htm?clickSource=searchBtn.” Accessed May 19, 2022.

Glassdoor. “Corporate Designer Salaries, https://www.glassdoor.com/Salaries/us-corporate-designer-salary-SRCH_IL.0,2_IN1_KO3,21.htm?clickSource=searchBtn.” Accessed May 19, 2022.

Glassdoor. “Design Director Salaries, https://www.glassdoor.com/Salaries/us-design-director-salary-SRCH_IL.0,2_IN1_KO3,18.htm?clickSource=searchBtn.” Accessed May 19, 2022.

Glassdoor. “Brand Design Manager, https://www.glassdoor.com/Salaries/us-brand-design-manager-salary-SRCH_IL.0,2_IN1_KO3,23.htm?clickSource=searchBtn.” Accessed May 19, 2022.

Glassdoor. “Design and Innovation Manager, https://www.glassdoor.com/Salaries/us-design-and-innovation-manager-salary-SRCH_IL.0,2_IN1_KO3,32.htm?clickSource=searchBtn.”

Glassdoor. “Chief Design Officer Salaries, https://www.glassdoor.com/Salaries/us-chief-design-officer-salary-SRCH_IL.0,2_IN1_KO3,23.htm?clickSource=searchBtn.” Accessed May 19, 2022.

Glassdoor. “Vice President Salaries, https://www.glassdoor.com/Salaries/us-vice-president-of-innovation-management-salary-SRCH_IL.0,2_IN1_KO3,17_KE18,42.htm?clickSource=searchBtn.” Accessed May 19, 2022.

Glassdoor. “Strategic Design Manager Salaries, https://www.glassdoor.com/Salaries/strategic-designer-salary-SRCH_KO0,18.htm” Accessed May 19, 2022.

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