Designer Talks Podcast: A conversation with Design Leader Anthony Dalby FCSD
The Chartered Society of Designer’s (CSD) Designer Talks podcast asks designers, how they do it, why they do it, what makes them tick and most importantly, what design means to them. The design podcast is hosted and produced by Lefteris Heretakis aCSDf.
About Anthony Dalby FCSD
Anthony currently works as a Design Leader, Vice President for the LEGO Group, and is currently focused on experience design leading LEGO Group’s building experience teams.
Anthony has been working in the design industry since leaving Central St Martins in 1989 and worked as a product designer for a decade before moving into design management and leadership.
He has managed and led design in highly commercial environments including Nortel, Nokia, Microsoft & currently the LEGO Group, and across the full spectrum of skills and expertise from product, graphics and digital through to end-to-end consumer experiences.
Anthony is extremely passionate about design leadership and the diverse skills needed to succeed and deliver the best consumer experiences possible.
Anthony wasn’t introduced to the word ‘designer’ until his teenage years, however, from an early age he was creative and considered himself to be a ‘maker’. As he progressed through secondary school he learned more about design and started to like the idea of being set a brief and designing something.
In what he calls a “sheer sort of serendipity”, Anthony was introduced to a new design teacher just as he was going into his A-Levels. They had come from Central St Martins and was e educated as an industrial designer – this was Anthony’s first introduction to industrial design.
This teacher inspired Anthony to pursue a career in industrial design himself and after completing his A-Levels he applied to study Product Design at Central St Martins and secured a place He skipped Foundation Level and went straight onto the degree course, which he loved every minute of.
Early experiences as a designer
After graduating from Central St Martins in 1989, Anthony moved straight into a consultant job at Cambridge Industrial Design – which he notes was “very, very lucky”. However, recession hit not long after securing his role, which meant a lot of his colleagues were made redundant, but as a young and “cheap” employee, Anthony managed to keep his job.
Working at a small industrial design consultancy, gave Anthony a huge opportunity to be involved in every part of the design process from ideation to technical drawing, model making and selling ideas to customers too.
After six years working at the consultancy and training in CAD-CAM, Anthony then moved into a role at Northern Telecom. At the Canadian firm, Anthony was designing a few generations of Northern Telecom’s mobile phones, putting into practice his CAD experience.
This enabled Anthony to secure a role at Nokia, that was looking for someone to manage its team in Copenhagen. He explains it was an amazing company on a steep growth curve and describes it as a “crazy time” as he was designing phones one after another.
Transitioning from designer to design leader
During his time at Nokia, Anthony found himself doing “less and less of the design work” and doing more management, managing a growing team of designers. After a few years based in Copenhagen, Anthony and his wife decided to return to the UK, where Nokia had an R&D centre based in Farnborough.
“To put a long story short” as Anthony explains, he ended up becoming the Vice President of multimedia devices on the design side for Nokia. This meant Anthony was leading a team developing ‘experimental’ designs, creating “crazy shapes” and folding and sliding phones too.
Throughout his time at Nokia, Anthony had moved from a hands-on designer – who deeply understood processes and tools – to transitioning to managing designers, and eventually becoming a ‘leader’ of designers.
The difference between designers and design leaders
When considering the difference between designers and design leaders, Anthony explains that designers are all about the day-to-day. Designers are always thinking about different ways of looking at things and solving problems and then working to deliver something. Whereas a design leader must leave the hands-on creative process behind.
Anthony recalls a moment in his career where he realised that once he became a design leader, he would no longer be able to just say “just give this to me” and actively design. It was a conscious decision for him to move from being a hands-on designer and moving into leadership.
He muses that there is “no right time” for designers to make this move explaining that some designers want to remain deep in the creative process and that design leadership isn’t for everyone.
Skills needed to be a design leader
While Anthony notes there are probably plenty of people who have become design leaders without practising design, he explains that’s not something he could do. He calls it “head in the clouds, feet on the ground”, he needs to be close to what the design teams are doing knowing he can speak with designers in a way they understand.
Similarly, to be a great design leader, Anthony believes you must have a strong understanding of business. He believes it’s important to understand business goals and metrics and be able to translate them into something tangible. This allows him to brief designers and creatives to deliver a meaningful outcome. To understand design leadership, Anthony believes it’s so important for designers to understand business’ as typically “somebody’s got to fund what you’re doing.”
A different perspective on design
Because of his experience in corporate ‘big brand’ environments, Anthony believes that when it comes to design, you need to ask, “where’s the value?” and “what does it bring?” to a business or brand. While he notes this may seem very business-oriented, he marries this approach with his other passion, customer experience.
Anthony opines that you can only deliver value if you deliver something that is appreciated by the right consumer. Because Nokia’s goal was all about connecting people, at a time when it was hard to speak with people across the globe, the brand was something he believed in. Similarly, he explains that it’s the same at Lego, as its goal is to help children be creative. Explaining that “creating designs that are actually useful” is what makes him passionate.
Design leadership and education
When asked if design leadership should be embedded into design education, he believes it should be. However, not because he thinks all designers should aspire to be design leaders – as it’s not something that appeals to many creatives – but rather that it will give all designers an empathy towards design being ‘managed’.
Anthony also suggests that design isn’t made for “cookie-cutter people” and to have a creative team you need to celebrate everyone’s differences. This explosion of different people is exciting, and in his opinion makes for the best environment.
He also considers how the education system, especially in the UK, can stifle individuality. ‘Art colleges have a huge role to play in inspiring kids who have been encouraged to conform and permitting them to “go wild”. Adding ‘there’s no good to come from being like everyone else, it’s just “not interesting”.