Helping evaluate what their current strengths are and identify which areas they can grow.

A surprising amount of the organizations my friends and I have worked for or with do not have a practice in place to help designers evaluate what their current strengths are and identify which areas they can grow. Additionally, some of these organizations have trouble identifying the strengths and weaknesses of their design teams and found it difficult to identify who/when to promote and which candidates they should be targeting when hiring.

So in response to these challenges, I aimed to make a that can be used by any company and any designers (including areas like service, product, and digital design). Designers can use this to figure out their own growth path and design leaders can use this to better understand their teams.

More than likely you will need to make modifications to the tools I have provided, but this should save you time from creating your own from scratch and bring up some considerations.

The Concept

There are two parts to this concept:

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Part 1: A form that the designer, the design lead, or teammates fill out to evaluate where a designer is in their development.

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Part 2: A spreadsheet that lists some behaviors and characteristics of designers at different levels. This is supposed to be less of a checklist and more of something to spark a discussion.

These different “levels” are incredibly subjective, but at the least can help folks start to ponder what the behaviors and skills of a designer are at different stages of their career.

It is important to note that I threw in a section at the bottom titled “Different Growth Paths To Consider” to also show directions that designers can grow into if they wish to move into a different role. In the future, I plan to make a similar growth chart for each of them.

Things I Considered/Explanations

Why those particular “design skills” — Much of this section was inspired by the students and faculty in the Human-Computer Interaction Design program at Indiana University (while I was a student and an associate instructor with some of the design courses there).

Why those particular “professional skills” — These skills were based off of discussions I have had with different design teams on the roles and responsibilities of the designers within their organization.

The “Level of Impact” rating scale — This rating scale was inspired by the work done by Todd Zaki Warfel. I was particularly drawn to this scale because I have seen many instances where talented designers keep their knowledge and work to themselves and/or just the projects that they are assigned to. This scale would help to set the expectation that the designers are expected to play a larger role in the organization as they progress in their career. It also provides multiple avenues for designers with different ambitions.

Additionally, it is incredibly valuable for design leaders to better understand if their designers feel that they can impact their team, organization, or industry. If the designers are feeling that they can’t be impactful, this tools sparks a productive conversation or identifies an issue that the design leader needs to address.

Prototyping & Visual Communication (Wireframing) — This one was tough, but I felt like this warranted two different skill sets. The first one is supposed to focus on the craft of building something. The second is how you communicate your designs to others (users, development,…). You could argue visual communication just falls under general communication, but it felt right to separate visual communication from general communication because of the visual nature of our field and the different skills required.

Omitting leadership — This will need its own chart. I originally tried to fit leadership skills into the same chart and it became too cumbersome.

Omitting branding & market — This is its own discipline. This was brought up multiple times, but I wanted to exclude crafts that required different skills and approaches. I am still feeling like I need to remove coding, but I know plenty of designers that code as well and that there are organizations that expect some of the designers to code.

Omitting interaction design — Too specific to just the digital realm. I wanted to make this growth chart a little broader.

Omitting adaptability — This came up in a few discussions, but this feels like a universal skill everyone should strive for.

Moving Forward

I plan to test this version and see how it does with some end-of-year reviews. I am hoping this will help our designers create better personal goals for the next year and encourage our more skilled designers to play a larger role in the organization. Based on how those reviews and the next year go, I will make a second version and publish what changes I made and why.

I also am playing with the idea of utilizing the first page of the growth chart during or after interviews with candidates. I could have a candidate rate themselves. Or I could have the interviewers fill out this form after each interview session.

This is just the first step in a long journey. There are still three other growth paths I would like to develop growth charts for (design leadership, design operations, and design mentorship). I am excited to see how others take this and change it for their own organizations and design teams. Even if you don’t end up implementing a similar growth chart at your organization, I highly encourage you to practice making your own version because it is a great opportunity for reflection.

Inspiration & Thank Yous

I would like to thank Fred Beecher, Brian Rowe, Eric Van Scoik and my fellow Indiana University alumni for your feedback and thoughts.

And I found inspiration from work done by David Travis, Todd Zaki Warfel, and the book “Org Design for Design Orgs.”

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