Creating a clearer purpose for design leadership

Design at Co-op plays an important role in solving users’ problems and Co-op achieving its goals. We advocate for user-centred design, accessibility and a full-service view as key to Co-op’s success. 

The design leadership team are made up of 2 Heads of Design and 5 Principal Designers. We cover our Co-op businesses and colleague facing services, manage our large team of designers, and push forward our core design disciplines. These are interaction design, user research, content design, service design, CRO (conversion rate optimisation) and SEO (search engine optimisation). 

In its current form the design leadership team has existed less than a year. We’ve been busy forming teams, building relationships and delivering for the Co-op businesses, our members and customers. We’ve been sharing challenges and supporting each other, but not spending enough time together working as a group. We needed to focus on why we exist, what value we can add to the design team and what we want for the future. 

We reflected on our purpose by taking part in a workshop 

It was important we took a step back and came together, because as a team, we should have a purpose we align on and can refer to. Our purpose is for our group – it’s not a design strategy. Design strategy is related and part of the wider goals that we share with other digital colleagues. 

Our purpose is a way to focus on the things that are important to us and how we want to grow and enable the design team. 

Part of the design leadership team writing notes and talking around a table

What we did 

The workshop (devised by Imran Afzal, our Interaction Design Principal) was split into 6 parts and helped to guide the group towards creating a purpose statement. 

Thinking about our values 

We discussed the unique qualities we bring to the team and the values we hold. We grouped these into themes. 

A grid of post-it notes with rows according to team member name, with each row showing the values of that person

Discussing our shared history 

We took the time to understand each other and the events and influences that brought us together. This gave us a shared empathy for our individual stories and motivations. 

Designing leadership posters  

We created posters that described the role of leadership in the design team. This helped us visualise our shared challenges and our goals. 

Defining our team purpose 

We defined our purpose by asking: 

  • why does our team exist? 
  • what is our motivation day in, day out? 
  • what are we trying to achieve long term? 
  • how does our work make the world better? 

Bringing our purpose to life 

We considered how we might bring our purpose to life by asking: 

  • what behaviours will bring our purpose to life? 
  • how can we bring our purpose into our day-to-day work? 
  • how can we serve our purpose better? 
  • how can we inspire others around our purpose? 

Our purpose statement 

“The Design Leadership team enable designers to make meaningful change” 

Breaking that statement down, we intend to: 

  • enable our design team to succeed by helping them to grow in their careers through developing their craft and themselves, and making sure they have the confidence to innovate and challenge in the ways they work 
  • ensure we design in a way that is meaningful, creating the conditions where ethical, accessible and sustainable user-centred design can flourish, in turn benefiting our users and the Co-op 

Alongside this we made a set of commitments and behaviours that would help to drive this purpose forwards. 

The commitments that design leadership made are to: 

  • try things and be bold 
  • increase design literacy across disciplines (outside of design) 
  • share our vision for the future of design at Co-op 
  • have challenging conversations 
  • define ways to measure design value 
  • share our story (failures and successes) 

The behaviours that design leadership will display are: 

  • bravery 
  • openness  
  • kindness 
  • vulnerability 
  • reflection 
  • listening 


We haven’t changed how we think about design by doing this. Much of it we already do quietly, and our objectives align to these commitments, behaviours and purpose already. However, by saying it out loud, we have a reference point to guide us as well as a benchmark to ensure our team’s future and culture can be measured. 

What’s next 

We’re already working on objectives that align to our purpose. We’ll remain open as we keep working. 

Co-op Design Leadership team

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