How Design Taught Me To Be A Human-Centered Project Manager

Created March 13, 2019 Branding

Do you often struggle with keeping projects on time and in line with quality checks? Do you feel like your team members are uncooperative? This post is for you then.

Here you will learn:

  • How design can change your general perspective of project management

  • How design can better influence your people management skills

  • How to use the concepts of design to improve your efficiency at the workplace


So, let’s get to it. As rigid as it sounds, Project management requires certain skills and creative thinking in order to achieve the set goals for any organization. As a matter of fact, being a project manager implies that you have no room to be mediocre and you never let yourself be confined as every project requires its own unique approach. This means that you have to employ a lot of creative processes and applications in order to make your job less challenging and more efficient.


In my role as the project manager of a foremost Nigerian design agency, I have come to appreciate the way thinking like a designer has helped make my job easier while still maintaining quality.

Previously, I’d just have been content with informing team members of upcoming projects and trying to check in at intervals to see how the underlying tasks are going. Yes, that worked, but it wasn’t the smoothest method. In time, I learned that the core principles that work for arts and design worked on… wait for it… humans too!


Lesson 1: In design, less is always more and I took that mindset into project management.

I was finding it difficult with keeping up with tasks,I thought for a while and realized that humans were essential designs too and as such, they go along with whatever is easy as long as it works. This called for a change in strategy; focusing on how to actually centre my efforts on the individuals performing these tasks more.

I did this by:

i)        breaking up projects into milestones

ii)      milestones into tasks and

iii)    Each task into micro-tasks before handing over to them.

This way they don’t feel overwhelmed by the scope of the project which usually led to faster execution.

Lesson 2:

Using the concept of ‘communicating at a glance’ which I learnt in icon designs, I made sure to communicate with my clients and team members in simple and friendly terms. Some of the approaches included:

i)        Ditching “big words” and replacing them with basic phrases ensured that team members understood their tasks, clients knew exactly what to expect and I didn’t come off as off-putting to anyone.

ii)      Understanding that when possible, I had to involve more verbal communication methods to relay my messages to teammates, I ensured that social interaction was encouraged in the workplace. A simple hello with a warm smile could ease a team member’s nerves, helping them focus on their deliverables.


Lesson 3: Design thinking, in particular, taught me the power of reaching into the emotions of individuals.

I used to see team members as parts of a spinning wheel that drive the project along, and you can probably tell that this is far away from empathy.

Nowadays, I try to address each team member as a unique entity thereby breathing life into the project.

For example, instead of sending them a text message asking them how far they have gone with a certain task at hand, I walk over to the individual’s desk, smile and ask them how they are enjoying the epic boxing match with their task and how they should remember to play according to the referee’s rule.

When they ask who the referee is, I tell them that the referee is time. These metaphors often make them laugh or react in unique ways, thus helping them see these projects as an avenue to win instead of seeing them as things they have to do. And everybody likes to win!


Lesson 4: The rule of simplicity in design.

I have cut down the number of tools, now preferring apps capable of integrating several functions within the same space. One of such apps is Slack and I encourage every project manager who wants to improve their efficiency to try it out. Integrating it with Asana, Google Drive and Miro made for a more unified yet effective working experience. This proper management of apps and tools also fostered a friendlier atmosphere within the team by boosting communication between me and my team members.


Lesson 5: I equally try to create and maintain visual appeal by using symbolic colours. The Miro tool integrates this concept. These symbolic colours help my team members understand the moving pieces of the tasks being assigned to them at a glance.

For example, I use the green colour to symbolize the beginning of a project and the red colour to symbolize the end of a project. This creates a visual understanding of my team members and makes the process more entertaining.


In a short summary, design thinking has taught me:

1)      The power of applying empathy and handling teammates as the emotional beings that they are.

2)      Concise communication skills that helped with collaboration.

3)      To involve each team member in the process, putting their well-being first, because happy employees bring about a happy customer.

4)      Less is more when it comes to the use of tools and apps and generally assigning tasks.


I have come to understand that I deliver better projects when I focus more on my team members and my client. As such, I try to be more human-centered.

You too could become a more human-centered project manager by improving communication between you and your team members.



Listen to their ideas and try to implement the relevant ones in the project.

Ensure that whatever task you assign is simplified and is one that they completely understand.

Take your team members and clients into consideration when working on a project, you get to churn out better content and results.


Thus, try to collaborate as much with your team members instead of being a one-man army. With this, you would be well on your way to becoming a better human-centered project manager.

  • DODO admin


    Project Manager

    Precious loves art and designs. He strives to incorporate it in everything around him and is not shy about it. He also loves being stylish because "why not?"

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