My Path as a UX Designer

What DO I Mean by "SR. UX Designer"?

It became abundantly clear to me recently that job titles within UX Design are not universally understood even within our own discipline. When I called myself a Sr UX Designer in Seattle it was because I have 15+ years of experience and the ability to think and take on responsibilities at the Sr Manager and Director levels. Elsewhere, “Sr UX Designer” may simply mean a designer with 5 or more years’ experience.

What I’m utilizing as a base in the image above is Matthew Diamanti’s ( graphic attempt at “creating a design leadership hierarchy that more clearly differentiates design roles.” I have loosely mapped my positions and responsibilities upon this chart.

The descriptions in the grey boxes describe a role, or area of focus. The words on the far right describe the  motivations and the things brought to the org. (e.g. - A VP may answer questions of “why” by linking projects to larger initiatives that answer business goals. A Director is more focused on “how” the work is done.) 

Based on these titles, my “sweet spot” is roughly at the Process (“HOW”) band. I tend to think at a higher level than a principal individual contributor, but become more cautious with more ambiguous situations which are common at the Sr Director and VP levels. The advantage I have at this level is being able to maintain line of sight both above and below my role, and to see the larger currents and patterns well.

The important thing to note is I find it necessary and personally rewarding for me to continue focussing on hands-on UX design work, which is one reason I call myself a Sr UX Designer.

An Ideal Week

The graphic and my explanation above have likely confused matters more at this point. Am I an amply experienced individual contributor, or am I a possible director-level leadership candidate? The role I have found most engaging for me and of value to an organization involves a bit of both, but definitely starts with individual contribution.

I love doing the work (my Design Process section explores the activities and artifacts I participate in). As my career has progressed I’ve begun avoiding roles that don’t allow the opportunity to do actual tactical UX work. My experience allows me to more fully understand the problems I am designing for: from being able to parse the original problem statement and pinpoint what’s really being asked, to knowing what the organization values in terms of end results and connecting design outcomes to those end results.

Some of the activities that are part of my ideal week include:

  • Lead a new project through the Insight phase (discovery & definition).

  • Help organize a design team to align interests and capabilities with needs and challenges (temporary staff augmentation if necessary).

  • Identify and tune the pipeline to implementation, especially if outside vendors are involved.

  • Map out a project’s lifecycle with product owners, design leadership, and the working team to identify reviews and critical milestones.

  • Review and critique design work.

  • Present and socialize my work via demos, reviews, and retrospectives.

  • Participate in year-out strategic planning.

  • Create wireframes, flows, and informational graphics. Create and review prototypes and any needed final assets.

  • Work with product owners and leadership to understand what certain business decisions mean for the product, and how to begin the design process to address them.

  • Co-locate and support engineers implementing our solution.

  • Identify opportunities to influence and enhance the workplace culture.

  • Mentor and/or manage younger designers.