how does a Design Department of an growing firm evolve?


I have been hired as a senior architectural designer by a growing firm of around 300 people where the Design Department was stripped off its OLD leaders and left me to stir the ship. As part of our growing pains, the partners have realized that their mindset needs to change over the course of its growth, the Design Department has to pick up the pieces where it left off and regroup. Right now its just me and another temp in that group (serving the design needs to the rest of them).I feel that it is very important to have a sound Design Dept. coming from a traditional mindset.

I am aware that bigger firms like Gensler etc. have established their own design department/ Studios and have tremendously made an impact to their mantra and culture. I would like to hear some of your take on this. 


Jan 9, 19 12:43 pm

Did they hire you with the purpose of leading the design department so they could fire the rest of them and you build a new team or is it just coincidental that you're in charge because there's no one besides you and the temp?

Jan 9, 19 1:47 pm

Also, where's the firm and are they hiring ;)


its more of coincidence :)


You're not providing any information to give us a hint as to what was wrong with the old design department, or what the partners' intent is now.  Of what are you "picking up the pieces"?  Why do you need to "regroup"? Why did the partners realize that their "mindset needs to change", and from what and to what is it changing? What happened to the previous designers? 
One would think that these are discussions you'd had during your interview process. 

Jan 9, 19 2:24 pm

Hire a mix of a) seasoned people that know detailing, codes, constructability, and what things cost and b) a tech-savvy production crew for renderings, models, and presentations.

I've been in too many places where management confuses digital rendering skills with architectural design knowledge.

Jan 9, 19 2:28 pm

thanks for the reply, here are the circumstances that surrounds it:

a. the old design department had a director with an older mindset, older skillset (manual rendering and conceptualization), refused to move to digitalization and fresh ideas. the firm let him go, to be replaced by the other designer who has fresher approach in design. 

b. but coincidentally, he resigned the same day the other one was let go.

c. I was hired to be part of the push for revamp

d. now im all that is left, and automatically have been assigned to take charge and go on with that push for change. 

b. the old design department were all about eye candy and pretty pictures to please the developers. I came from big international firms where Design Department was much more than that- where were part of the core. I woud like to start integrating that change as the firm grows. I think that is what the partners wanted to do as well. 

Jan 9, 19 3:07 pm

sounds like you might be in over your head... 2 senior staff members resign and get fired... and you are here asking for advice on how to create a design philosophy for a large firm.  It is gonna be sink or swim... give it your all and see what happens.  Good luck!  

Jan 9, 19 10:42 pm

Agreed. I see nothing but giant red flags here.


I'm not, I have spoke w some of the heads and they're basically exploring an uncharted territory as they grow. It is important to note that the firm started with just 3 people with a much different dynamics. The design department is also growing along with it. Running the department day to day is a given, but I'm interested knowing how other firms have run theirs.


In my experience large firms that are particularly known for good design don't tend to have "design departments" anymore.  The firms that hold onto a dedicated design department (i.e. a relatively small number of designers who feed big-picture early-phase design concepts to a larger production department to flesh out, detail and draft) tend to be firms that are more known for being production oriented, and/or older and stodgier.  If they're intending to take the firm in a more design-oriented direction then you may want to work toward dissolving the "design department" altogether, and working toward the mindset that everything (from broad-brush design to production to project management) is part of "design", and all roles are design roles.

Jan 10, 19 10:24 am

thanks. a huge bulk of the firm is geared towards production. and some teams are divided per client. I think once a firm reaches a certain number, work needs to be segregated


I have enjoyed working in firms with separate design departments because everyone's role in the organization was very clear.   

The "everyone is a designer" thing is only effective to the extent that you are able to fill just about every position with a capable designer.  The offices I have been in that took that approach often had very muddled decision making when it came to design matters.  

Jan 10, 19 11:25 am

Yes I've seen that happen too. Having worked as a designer in both types of firms, I've preferred the no dedicated design department approach - but it works best when project teams within the firm are small and fairly constant, and when there's skilled management. If clear communication is lacking, or if nobody knows what their role on the project is exactly, then it's not great.


It is not the question of whether a Design Dept is needed, it is. I'm just curious how other firms cultivate their own.

Jan 11, 19 7:57 am
Non Sequitur

we don't have a design dept. Staff are grouped by common project types and design is handled within those small groups by the senior architects. Sometimes I'm a one person group. Those are good group meetings.


especially when its about the incoming "architectural conference" in Vegas


Can you hire new people? Or are you stuck trying to use the existing crew to transform the place?

Do you have a critical position or core philosophy on design and Architecture? Does the firm? Your bosses? 

Big firms that do good work have a simple set of values that are more than corporate sloganeering and translate into strong work. Other big firms pay lip service to keep a good image, but the motivation is 100% profit. 

Jan 12, 19 11:55 am

Thanks. The firm itself isnt known for its flair, it was back in the days, but the firms design has grown old. I was hired originally as part of the new revamp ended up being in charge as I'm the next in line after the guys left. Were not BIG or anything like that but I was told that we need to start to put Design as a huge part of the culture.


I myself, personally, have strong core beliefs,I'm aslso a believer of the phenomenological aspects of design. But hey, I also am aware that employers would treat that as either an asset or a red flag.

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