Table of Contents Hide
What the role of a Senior UX Designer entails and how to get there
Every person follows a different career path. For designers, there isn’t one way to get into the field of UX design.
Whether you graduated from design school or a UX bootcamp or transitioned from a different career, you will eventually find yourself somewhere on the career ladder.
The differences in seniority levels are based on a few factors including:
- Scope of influence — the number of people influenced by the designer’s perceptions and experiences, ranging from the individual level to multiple departments
- Ownership — the area of work that the designer is held accountable to
- Responsibilities — the tasks that the designer is required to do as part of their role
As organizations can have different expectations for each seniority level, these factors help teams determine where a UX designer will be placed on the company’s respective career ladder.
As a junior designer, you’re at the bottom of the ladder. This is where new grads or career switchers are usually placed.
Scope of influence: Focus on individual objectives
Ownership: No ownership responsibility yet, as they are still learning about the domain, how to operate effectively, and improving their skills
- Contributes by delivering design artifacts with minimal ambiguity
- Works under the guidance and technical mentorship of a mid-level or senior designer to avoid becoming blocked
Average expected timeframe to mid-level UX designer: 6 to 18 months
Some people may enter the UX field at mid-level for various reasons such as having relevant experience in a previous career or internships.
Scope of influence: Focus on team and department objectives
Ownership: Co-owns or owns a product area with guidance from a senior designer. Takes initiative to find solutions to problems or explore new areas of potential opportunity.
- Works on self-directed end-to-end projects
- Manages tasks with moderate ambiguity within the projects
- Collaborates effectively with cross-functional peers, such as product managers, developer, researchers, and content writers
- Turns to the guidance and technical mentorship of a senior designer when faced with blockers
Average expected timeframe to senior UX designer: 3 to 5 years
Scope of influence: Focus on guiding functional objectives within a department, considered a subject matter expert
Ownership: Owns an entire team or product area
- Involved in product strategy from a design perspective
- Provides guidance and mentorship to junior and mid-level designers on their team
- Can be involved in the information architecture process when needed
- Makes well informed design decisions based on data, insights and tradeoffs
- Delegates tasks to team members and reviews designs
According to Indeed, it takes on average at least 5 years to become a senior UX designer. Taking a look at Senior UX Designer jobs on LinkedIn, most job postings ask for at least 5 years of relevant experience.
It’s important to note that some designers may reach a senior level in more or less than five years, depending on their quality of experience and proof of outcomes. it doesn’t mean that after five years of working, you will automatically get promoted to senior UX designer.
A brand new UX designer may come from a product management background and excel quickly in three years to become senior.
A designer who stays at one company their whole career may have trouble getting promoted due to reasons such as internal politics or lack of budget.
On the contrary, a designer who interview well may be able to level up quicker by switching jobs every two years.
So if years of experience isn’t a good indicator of seniority, then what is?
Instead of looking at how long a designer has worked, a better indicator of their seniority is the quality of their experience.
What were the outcomes of the projects they delivered?
How much ownership and influence do they have?
Here are a few considerations that are more indicative of seniority than years of experience.
Junior designers have limited domain knowledge and continuously learn about the product and its users.
Mid-level designers become experts in their area, but may not have full expertise on the entire product.
Senior designers are considered subject matter experts on their domain. They possess extensive knowledge about the product and competitive landscape. Junior and mid-level designers turn to senior designers for answers when they are faced with unknowns about the product.
Level of strategy
Senior UX designers have a strong understanding of business objectives. They often focus on the long-term vision of a product and look for opportunities where design can impact those objectives.
They work with cross-functional stakeholders and leadership to align the design strategy with business strategy and bring the product’s future vision to life.
Essentially, the design process should produce outcomes that help the business achieve its goals, which usually pertains to financial impact.
A senior UX designer is expected to make an impact on the business and the team. They should have experience facing challenges with high levels of ambiguity and applying creative problem solving methods to achieve positive outcomes.
Senior designers should also have proof of delivered work and how it impacted the business. Impact can be measured by various success metrics from both a business and user experience perspective.
Examples of business success metrics include:
- Total number of customers — How many customers paid to use your product?
- Customer retention rate — How many customers remained customers over a timeframe?
- Annual recurring revenue (ARR) — How much revenue is generated by all paying customers during the year?
Examples of user experience success metrics include:
Aside from UX design expertise, soft skills like communication, leadership, and eminence, are excellent indicators of seniority.
A senior UX designer should have developed soft skills to excel in areas such as:
- cross-functional collaboration
- client and stakeholder relationships
- visionary leadership
Being able to communicate ideas using storytelling can greatly help convince stakeholders of your design decisions.
Strong leadership is necessary to guide and mentor a team of designers to not only deliver quality work, but also experience growth in their careers.
After becoming a senior UX designer, many designers may decide to stay at that level for a while or even for the rest of their career.
For designers that seek the next step in their UX career, they can usually take one of two paths.
For designers that wish to continue down the individual contributor (IC) path, the next step above senior UX designer is UX design lead.
The scope of influence for a UX design lead is much broader than that of a senior designer. They usually oversee multiple projects and are able to influence organizational strategy.
It’s not uncommon for senior UX designers to also become first-line managers. They take on a small number of team members under their management, while also balancing design and strategy work.
If they choose to go further down the management track, then they could become a senior UX design manager and take on first-line managers as their direct reports. They are usually more involved in cross-product strategy, developing strategic partnerships, as well as recruiting and growing the design organization.
UX designers early in their career should strive to reach the senior level, as one would have achieved some level of mastery in their craft. The indicators of a senior UX designer are based on quality of experience, rather than years of experience.
Remember, titles don’t mean anything. Companies often inflate titles simply to attract talent. Your impact within the organization and level of strategic thinking will determine what level you operate at.
Thanks for reading!
Be sure to SUBSCRIBE to never miss another article on UX design, career tips, life lessons, and more!
Read the full article here