Designer Career Ladder

The term 'designer' can be often times be rather vague. Depending on the persons skill set they might have more experience in one particular category, making them an expert (🌟🌟🌟), while having little experience in another category. For example, someone who is formerly schooled in UX might have the knowledge to craft a great user experience which leads to high conversions, but they might not be as strong creating a beautiful UI based off of those wireframes. We need to be flexible and understanding of these variances and know that when it comes to contractors in particular that they are being assessed particularly for the skill which is being asked of them.

Individual Contributor Track

Some designers are not drawn to management, community engagement, content creation, and team leadership. They still deserve the opportunity to grow on our ladder even if they are not interested in this side of the work.

To reach the higher levels of our career ladder, an Individual Contributor must reach even more success on the aspects of the ladder that DO apply to them. If they are not going to provide value through leadership, they have to find a way to provide even more value in their design work.

Since the Individual Contributor is not focusing on leadership, they need to outperform the normal standards in ways like:

  • Their work needs to be impeccable. If they are focused on individual contribution, the contribution needs to be flawless and accurate.
  • They don’t need to lead directly, but they should lead by example: Overdelivering, always being on time, having a great attitude, etc.
  • They don’t need much input to do a great job. For example, when confronted with a unique problem or a design tool they have never used, they should be able to independently come up with good solutions. Sometimes this means setting up discussions to learn from someone internal, but most likely it means finding external resources.
  • They need to learn quickly and be eager to take on the toughest challenges. For the elite individual contributor we have to count on them to handle our hardest problems and to be flexible to handle types of design they may not typically handle.
  • They need to do unique things that are very difficult to find. Clients would seek us out so that they could work with this specific person.
  • They are willing to work harder than a non individual contributor, and take more accountability for project outcomes. They have a passion for learning and growing, and take time to learn new skills outside of work.

These increased expectations apply to whatever the typical expectations would be for a given level. For example, when comparing a normal ⭐️⭐️⭐️ dev to an IC ⭐️⭐️⭐️ designer, the IC should be doing less mentorship and should not have any direct reports, but should be even more independent, reliable, and eager to solve the biggest challenges we have.

The IC is still expected to teach their skills within the company.

Career Ladder

Design Systems
Can implement styles from an existing design system to make a new page.
Can contribute basic new components and styles to a design system.
Can create a simple design system by themselves, and can contribute complex, multi-variable components to existing systems
Can create and maintain a design system of any complexity which is easily scalable and has a 1 to 1 relationship with a code base.
Knows how to implement simple components, shared colors, and typographic styles. Keeps layers neat and contained.
Can create nuanced components with a variety of states. Finished design is fully optimized, with no one-off unaffiliated styles.
Can implement deeply nested components to create flexible, powerful systems with a document. Can teach Figma to new users.
Deep understanding of all the features of Figma (components, styling, prototyping, external plugins). Can create plugins within Figma to extend functionality.
Visual Design
Understands the basic rules of visual design: hierarchy, balance, alignment, order, etc. Can differentiate different typeface styles and what they are best for.
Has a mental library of design principles informed by successful designs from history. Understands the progression of typography through the years and how web and print typography differ.
Knows when to "break the rules" to create dynamic style. Is up to date with the latest design thinking across multiple disciplines.
Has a style that influences other designers. Their work is cited as inspiration in the design community. Non-Individual Contributors: Speaks and writes about design thinking and trends for the Cantilever audience.
Can create a set of wireframes for a simple website in both mobile and desktop.
Can present wireframes effectively to a client. Can build a clean, consistent set of wireframes for a complex website. Can analyze business needs to understand user journeys and create psychographics. Comfortable running user testing and analyzing sites in relation to competitors.
Can create powerful, flexible wireframes to show both website structure and nuanced UI patterns (such as scroll-triggered effects and animations). Is imaginative in the UX process to think of new UI paradigms that are uncommon and differentiate our work.
Own UX work is both precise and imaginative. Creates tools to make UX work faster. Non-Individual Contributors: Inspires others to create more advanced, innovative UX work. Creates and publicizes new UX methodologies (ex. UX Kits).
Can visually show different states of a component through multiple artboards / storyboarding.
Is comfortable creating a finished site design from approved wireframes, resolving the nuances of the UI in a consistent and on-brand way.
Creates best-practices UI that is intuitive for users. Can create a common style across all UI in an interface. Knows the basics of how UI will translate into code and pitfalls to avoid.
Creates imaginative new ways to address common UI challenges. Can prototype complex interactions and micro interactions within a tool like Framer.
Can create logo concepts that are unique, balanced and clearly convey the brand. Can provide strong feedback on visual identity work.
Can work with a client to design an on-brand, production-ready logo for them.
Can create a larger visual identity for a client including ancillary materials alongside the core brand. Branding work is imaginative and thorough.
Can handle a massive branding project with global scale, successfully integrating input from many complicated stakeholder relationships. Non-Individual Contributors: Can creative direct a large branding project
Team Lead (Non-ICs only)
Can participate actively in team discussions around project planning and can provide estimates for design tasks.
Can lead 1-2 other designers in a medium-sized project to accomplish a full design. Accepts ultimate responsibility for the results and timeliness of design work.
Can lead projects of any size as Artisan. Can clearly articulate design direction, managing and inspiring team members to create their best work which is up to our high standards.
Reliably communicates with team leads around project status and deliverables.
Comfortable speaking directly to clients to learn about their vision and desired direction.
Can participate in client discovery or sales meetings and clearly communicate vision and intent when presenting to clients.
Can lead important client meetings as our point person. Can create presentations to inspire and direct our clients/prospects. Non-Individual Contributors: Speaks and writes publicly about design on behalf of the company.
Front End Development
Understands the basics of how web technologies work to render design to the screen
Has a basic understanding of HTML/CSS and knows how tags and styling work.
Has experience writing HTML and CSS and can articulate to developers how a component might be built.
Can write production-level HTML/CSS/JS for any component that is created within the design.
Webflow Development
Can work with a template to customize colors, typography and site content
Can translate a visual design into a custom built Webflow site using components and shared styles
Can create more advanced Webflow sites using collections and e-commerce features.
Able to create new custom components that are accessible and re-usable between Webflow projects.