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Design Lead vs. Design Manager: What Are the Differences?

Learn about the two careers and review some of the similarities and differences between them.

Design leads and design managers are both important roles in the design industry. If you’re interested in a career in design, understanding the similarities and differences between these two positions can help you decide which one is right for you. In this article, we discuss the similarities and differences between design leads and design managers, and we provide additional information about each position.

What is a Design Lead?

Design Leads are responsible for managing and mentoring a team of designers, as well as overseeing the design process from start to finish. They collaborate with other departments, such as engineering, product, and marketing, to ensure that the design team’s work is aligned with the company’s overall strategy. Design Leads also work closely with clients to understand their needs and ensure that the final product meets their expectations. In addition to managing and mentoring designers, Design Leads also create high-level designs themselves. They are responsible for ensuring that the designs they create are user-friendly and meet the company’s brand guidelines.

What is a Design Manager?

Design Managers are responsible for leading and coordinating a team of designers to complete assigned projects. They collaborate with clients, executives and other stakeholders to develop creative briefs that outline the project’s objectives, target audience and budget. Design Managers then create timelines and schedules to ensure that deadlines are met and projects stay on track. They also provide feedback and direction to designers to help them produce their best work. In some cases, Design Managers may also be responsible for designing certain elements of a project themselves.

Design Lead vs. Design Manager

Here are the main differences between a design lead and a design manager.

Job Duties

Design managers oversee the design team and make sure each project is completed on time and meets the client’s needs. They may work with clients directly to determine what they need from a design and communicate that information to the design team. Design managers often manage multiple projects at once, so they might coordinate with other departments like marketing or business development to ensure the design team has everything they need to create a quality product.

Design leads are more focused on the work itself. They’re responsible for creating beautiful designs that meet the client’s specifications and the design team’s standards. A design lead might collaborate with the design manager to discuss the project and provide feedback, then present the final product to the client when it’s complete.

Job Requirements

Design leads and design managers typically need a bachelor’s degree in graphic design, web design or another related field. Some employers prefer candidates to have a master’s degree as well, but it is not required for entry-level positions. Additionally, many design leads and design managers pursue certifications through professional organizations like the American Institute of Graphic Arts (AIGA) or the National Society of Professional Engineers (NSPE). These organizations offer training programs that teach professionals how to use design software and other tools they might need on the job.

Work Environment

Design leads and managers typically work in different environments. Design leads usually work in an office setting, where they can collaborate with other designers to create new products or services for their company. They may also travel to meet with clients or attend conferences related to design.

Design managers often work in a studio environment, where they oversee the production of designs from start to finish. This means that they spend most of their time working on-site at their company’s manufacturing facility or warehouse.


Design leads and design managers share several similarities in the skills they use on the job. Both roles require excellent communication skills, as they need to be able to effectively communicate their vision for a project to their team and stakeholders. They also both need strong organizational skills to keep track of deadlines, budget and progress on a project.

However, there are some key differences in the skills used by design leads and design managers. Design leads typically need to have stronger creative skills to come up with innovative solutions to problems. They also need to have a good understanding of the latest design trends and technologies. Design managers, on the other hand, need to have stronger project management skills to plan and oversee the execution of a project. They also need to be able to effectively motivate and manage a team of designers.


Design leads can earn an average salary of $93,240 per year, while design managers can earn an average salary of $89,351 per year. Both of these average salaries may vary depending on the size of the company at which you work, location of your job and the level of experience you have prior to pursuing either position.


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