How To Become a Design Manager: A Step-by-Step Guide

Updated 27 April 2023

Design managers are an important part of any construction team and are responsible for coordinating the design work carried out during a project. If you want to know how to become a design manager, it is vital to understand what a design manager's responsibilities are and what skills you need in this role. As a design manager, you commonly work with designers, architects and construction managers to deliver consistent results in every project. In this article, we explore how to become a design manager and what it's like to work in this role.

How to become a design manager

To become a design manager, you need to gain the qualifications, skills and experience needed to demonstrate to employers that you can succeed in this role. Other terms for a design manager might include design coordinator, build manager or design specialist. Follow these four steps to learn how to become a design manager:

1. Go to university

While it's possible to become a design manager without a degree, the simplest route to becoming a design manager is by starting with university study. You could study for a bachelor's degree or a Higher National Diploma (HND) in any relevant field, including architecture, design and construction or architectural technology. To qualify for these courses, you likely need A-levels, ideally in related subjects like art and design or maths. After your bachelor's degree, taking a Master's degree could also help you to get your first design manager role.

2. Get work experience

Once you're qualified, your next step is getting your first role in construction design. You likely are not going to graduate straight into a design manager role, but entry-level roles might include construction designer or architectural designer. These roles require qualifications and technical skills, including experience with computer assisted design (CAD) software and knowledge of contemporary building standards and regulations. Make the most of your earliest roles and seek out new responsibilities so that you can gain the skills you need to apply for a design manager position.

3. Gain professional qualifications while you work

You can improve your design management CV by working towards professional qualifications while you work. Professional industry bodies offer these qualifications, such as the Chartered Institute of Building (CIOB) or the Association for Project Management (APM). Gaining your charter through the CIOB helps you to acquire more senior roles in design, including design manager roles. To become a chartered design and gain other industry qualifications, you may have to amass industry experience or, in some cases, take exams.

4. Tailor your CV and apply for design manager jobs

Once you have gained the skills, you need to secure a design manager position. You can tailor your CV and start applying for design manager roles. You must write a custom CV and cover letter which demonstrate all the criteria that each job application is looking for, using the same language and buzzwords they do. Use a combination of work experience and formal education to showcase both hard and soft skills that are of use in a design manager role.

Related: Common Designer Interview Questions (With Example Answers)

What is a design manager?

Design managers are essential to the completion of large-scale construction projects. They are highly skilled project managers with experience in construction and architecture. A design manager's job is to oversee the design of a building or other construction, while carrying out other duties related to the design of the building including legislative, financial and security duties. Design managers work with a team of architects, engineers and designers to create unique and structurally sound designs before construction begins.

While coordinating a team of designers and architects, design managers are also responsible for ensuring that your team completes all projects on schedule and within budget. Design managers usually work on a construction project for a long time before any construction begins and continue working on it until all construction has finished. Responsibilities of a design manager in construction include:

  • putting together a winning bid to tender for new projects

  • hiring and managing design specialists to work on a project

  • discussing projects with clients, managing client expectations and negotiating features

  • upholding legislation, codes and standards during the design process

  • ensuring that all designs are correct, with clear and specific labelling and design information

  • managing the project, ensuring it is on track to meet both deadlines and budget constraints

  • conducting meetings and giving presentations on the design project

What skills do design managers need to demonstrate?

Before you begin applying for design manager jobs, search for design manager jobs near you and make a list of the skills and experience these job listings ask for. When you apply for design manager roles, you need to demonstrate all of these skills yourself. It's important to seek opportunities to develop these skills at work, either by asking your employer for more responsibility or by seeking more opportunities outside of your main role. Below are five of the key skills that design managers need to demonstrate at work:

Related: 12 Essential Architect Skills

1. Technical skills

As a design manager, you need to demonstrate very strong technical skills and knowledge in the principles of construction design. You also need to be adept at using contemporary design software like AutoCAD and project management software, such as Jira. You need up-to-date knowledge of building regulations and standards and years of experience working as a designer on a range of construction projects.

2. Attention to detail

Design managers must have excellent attention to detail. For example, you have to spot small inaccuracies in design drawings and make corrections to ensure that all drawings are accurate before the next stage of design begins. Attention to detail is also useful when design managers take on project management duties. Design managers must keep track of budget and schedule constraints, ensuring that every stage of the project meets these constraints.

Related: How To Improve Your Attention to Detail

3. Leadership skills

As a design manager, you are in charge of junior designers and architects. You need to demonstrate strong leadership skills, which include communicating, giving feedback and offering guidance to junior members of staff. You are also responsible for coordinating members of staff and need to communicate clearly with your team to keep them working together towards the same goal.

4. Problem-solving skills

Design managers are responsible for ensuring the success of a construction design project from start to finish. When issues arise, it is the design manager's responsibility to find effective solutions to problems, which often require creative thinking skills. Design managers must be able to think independently and solve problems without requiring help from other design staff.

5. Organisation and time management

As a design manager, it is your responsibility to ensure that you are ready to sign off each stage of the design within budget and on schedule. You may also be in charge of managing the schedules and workloads of your design team. Not only do you need to organise your own time, but you need to organise the time of your staff members. Organisation and time management skills are a necessity for all design managers.

What is being a design manager like?

As a design manager, you have opportunities to work in different employment options. Some design managers work in-house at construction or architectural firms, while others work on a freelance basis or as a contractor. Freelance or contracting opportunities may pay slightly higher rates but offer less stability and security than working in-house in a permanent role. As a design manager, you typically work core office hours of 9-5 or slightly longer, though you may need to work evenings or weekends if unexpected problems arise in a design.

Most design managers divide their working time between an office and the construction site, though some work exclusively in an office and some exclusively on-site. Positions that require travel to the site usually require you to have a driving licence. The average salary of a design manager in the UK is £51,070, though this can vary between regions, with roles in London and the South paying more and roles in the North of England and Scotland paying lower than the national average. Your salary as a design manager may also increase with experience and time.

Salaries figures reflect data listed on Indeed Salaries at time of writing. Salaries may vary depending on hiring organisation and a candidate's experience, academic background and location.

Please note that none of the companies mentioned in this article are affiliated with Indeed.


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