These are some of the principles that I think foster a healthy environment where design can be both efficient and enjoyable. This is based on my experience as a product designer collaborating across departments, as someone leading small teams, and as someone who has had the good fortune to report to some great managers.
Most designers enjoy looking for solutions, not just designing them. That means getting them involved early on—with discussions about the problem, the audience, and the desired outcome—is a great idea. Involving designers when there is already a proposed solution however, means that they are being brought into the process too late, and is a sure-fire way to demotivate them.
There is a minimum level of preparation that needs to occur before somebody can focus on the fun part of actually designing. You can set your designer up for success by encouraging them to have a checklist of requirements in place before they start designing. It might look something like this:
Design can’t always be fun, there are parts of an application that some people just don’t feel inspired by, but design should definitely be fun some of the time. Find out if your designers have any particular skills they want to learn or parts of the application they want to redesign and try and schedule time for it.
One-on-ones are a great way to gauge how somebody is feeling generally about life at work and can help you catch potential issues early. Set up a repeating event and stick to it. It’s temping to say things like “we chatted recently and I think you’re all set, we can skip this week’s check-in”. If you don’t have much to say to each other that’s fine, you can just end the meeting early.
Be honest, but sensitive, and learn to separate subjective from objective feedback. Help your colleagues in other departments get better at giving design feedback as well.
Are your designers getting to talk to customers or is it a shuttered process where feedback is getting passed down by client managers and product managers? Learning to conduct user testing sessions, and soliciting realtime feedback, is an invaluable skill for designers to acquire, make sure they’re getting that opportunity.