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The Next Generation of Design Leaders Needs Your Help

Jamie O'Brien
The Next Generation of Design Leaders Needs Your Help

When Kate Aronowitz has something to say about the future of the design industry, it’s wise to start taking notes.

After a stint on the first user experience team at eBay, Aronowitz built a design team at LinkedIn, then went on to become Facebook’s first design executive, growing that team from 20 to more than 200 people. She is now design partner at GV, the firm formerly known as Google Ventures, and has worked with more than 40 companies this year—including Slack and Uber—to help them use design thinking to solve their biggest problems.

Rather than discuss her work last Wednesday at Fortune’s Brainstorm Design conference in Singapore, Aronowitz chose to send a warning to the audience of design leaders. She is worried that the next generation of designers aren’t getting the support or the opportunities they need to ensure that the industry fulfills its potential.

She asked some unsettling questions of her audience: How long will you stay in your current position? Do you have the desire to build a team? When you leave, is there someone to take your place?

She already knows the answers. There’s never been a better time to be in design, but designers are exhausted and shunning the step up to management. There are currently more than 66,000 vacant design leadership roles on LinkedIn; demand is clearly outstripping supply.

Aronowitz is concerned. “This puts our legacy at risk,” she said. “What would happen if you left your current role and your vacancy wasn’t filled?”

The solution, she said, is not to look for a one-to-one replacement for yourself, but focus on giving the opportunity to the next generation. These rising candidates aren’t designers who will stumble into a design management role or will have the time to grow up with the industry. They have been to design school and trained for the role. They’ve grown up in world with easy access to design.

Aronowitz wants you to hire them.

She also demanded that design leaders to make more of an effort to mentor the next generation—not by grand gestures, but by doing small things like giving people a chance on more challenging work or inviting them to important meetings.

Aronowitz saved her biggest curveball for last: Designers need not hoard, but share, their best people. It’s for the good of the industry, she argued.

“Managing from a place of fear that people are going to leave you,” she said, “is not true leadership or good for design.”

For more coverage of Fortune’s Brainstorm Design conference, click here.