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How do I become a Senior Designer?

10 months ago from , UI/UX Designer

I'm 3 years into my career as a UX Designer so I don't have too much experience yet and started working right after I finished my undergrad so I didn't make a career switch; not sure if this information is useful. I've thought about where I want to be in a few years and where I see myself finishing my career (of course nothing pans out exactly as we think but I'm confident in how I feel about my career path at the moment).

I'm very certain that I don't want to go into management for various reasons, but I have a lot of respect for people who do. I just want to be creative and hone in on my craft. Which means that there's technically not much more of the corporate ladder I can climb. And I'm okay with that.

My next step is to earn a title as a Senior UX Designer. I've talked to a few colleagues, read some articles (there's not that much out there on this topic), and now I'm asking this community. How did you transition into a Senior? What did you do? How different do you feel from when you were first starting off? I'm curious to hear the emotional growth as well as the tangible action items.

I'm not sure if I'm doubting myself, but I've been reached out a few times from recruiters to apply for Senior roles and I can't help but wonder what metric they're using since they don't know me.

I've also had a few conversations with my boss about these goals so I have been receiving feedback on how to achieve this status. It's been awhile since the last conversation so I don't know where I stand, but regardless of that I'm still curious of your journey. Thanks in advance!

31 comments

  • Account deleted 10 months ago

    There's two answers to this question.

    1 - You work in an agency for years, probably around 10-15 and slowly get promoted as your gain more experience

    2 - You hop around different jobs. As you've got 3 years experience now, I'd classify you as a junior, maybe intermediate. So just keep going for intermediate and senior jobs. Eventually you'll get one, especially if you live in a city.

    This is kind of related, but personally I think titles are meaningless. I am technically a senior designer, but there are hundreds of designers who are 'intermediate designers' who could run circles around me.

    Also, the fact that you've only been designing for three years and you're trying to get senior roles kinda backs me up on this. People will judge you far more on your portfolio than your job title. When I'm hiring people and they say they're a creative/design director or a senior designer but their work looks like a juniors, ill probably ignore them because if they're lying to me when they're applying for a job, there is already no trust there, and I wouldn't hire someone I don't trust.

    So my advice to you is: If you want to be a senior designer, start designing like one, but you've gotta realize there is more to it than just design - managing people, teams and stakeholders, buying fonts, hiring devs or other designers also come into the equation and for things like that the only way to get better is by doing your 10,000 hours of work.

    18 points
    • Dirk HCM van BoxtelDirk HCM van Boxtel, 10 months ago

      God damnit, did you edit that 10k hours thing into your post afterwards? I swear I didn't read that when I made my post hahaha :D

      3 points
      • Account deleted 10 months ago

        Haha nah man it was there from the start. Great minds think alike...

        1 point
    • Russ BrownRuss Brown, 10 months ago

      "If you want to be a senior designer, start designing like one" -- I think this is a great comment and approach to take. Make it about the work and not the title as Todd says.

      2 points
    • , 9 months ago

      Can you please elaborate on what you mean by “start designing like one”? As you said in the beginning of your post, you’re a Senior but there are intermediate designers who could run circles around you. So what exactly separates a Senior from everyone else if it’s just a title? You touched upon it a little bit (hiring, buying fonts, etc.) but I’m more curious about how they design differently.

      0 points
      • Account deleted 9 months ago

        That's a pretty broad question, but for me the things that stand out are an excellent understanding of Typography, Spacing and contrast. What i meant by having intermediate designers that are better than me, is that titles are often misleading. What I mean't by designing like a senior is; Have a look at the best designers on behance and dribbble and aim to design to a visual level equal to them.

        1 point
      • i. Sundsethi. Sundseth, 9 months ago

        Although the basics like typography, spacing, contrast, information hierarchy, etc are all important, the thing that separates a Senior Product/UX Designer from a Jr. or Midlevel is a holistic view of the product design cycle, and experience with more than just ux/ui. You should work on soft skills, pitching, presenting your work, and dabble in research and drafting product requirements as well.

        A Senior Designer should be able to pinch hit for a PM, basically, or at least have a deep understanding of what makes a good experience. There's lot of books, but the best teacher is experience. Anyone can throw up some good work on dribbbl by copying other's work or using a sketch UI kit, but those candidates always fall apart in panel interviews because they don't have a deep understanding of why they made the visual/ux/ui decisions they did.

        0 points
  • Aaron Wears Many HatsAaron Wears Many Hats, 10 months ago

    I'm a Senior Designer. At least that's one of my roles.

    It just sort of happened after like, a decade doing this stuff. But it's just a title. Titles are not a true indicator of your skills or performance, you should focus on those things and titles sort of just flow from it.

    6 points
    • Account deleted 10 months ago

      pretty much this.

      1 point
    • John PJohn P, 10 months ago

      and titles sort of just flow from it.

      Not always, if you want the title (and you should) then you do need to start asking for it in most cases. This is the case with most things in your career really, always be asking for more money always be asking for what you need to do to move up the ladder then doing it.

      Titles do matter, why do I say that? Because almost always someone unfamiliar with what you do on a day to day basis will be deciding how much to pay you based on what your title is.

      2 points
  • Dirk HCM van BoxtelDirk HCM van Boxtel, 10 months ago

    I think Todd got the direction right; put in the hours.

    Try to do as many different types of jobs/projects as possible.

    Compare it to a musician. When is someone a master of their craft? Generally, it's the 10,000 hours rule. There are some people that do it in less, but it still shows the general idea.

    A senior is just someone that has done a job often enough to have the answer to pretty much every situation.

    Note: THE answer, not AN answer.

    4 points
  • Tyler ButtonTyler Button, 10 months ago

    I've been working in design industry (client side) for around 10 years - Started as an intern fresh out of university and within 4 years I has hiring interns for my own team. My personal understanding of being senior is less about time in a role, and more about skills you demonstrate in that role.

    I'm sure it totally depends based on your roles and the kind of companies you've been at, but developing skills allowed me to initiate projects really helped me get to senior level, for me the most important skills for me to pick up were probably the following;

    • Being able to understand, measure and quantify the impact my projects - I found if could do I was able to influence the priority of projects. It also meant I could bring objectivity to often very subjective conversations, this helped me communicate with product/tech/execs and getting their buy in to initiatives.

    • Being comfortable/confident about up-skilling others - albeit hands on direct management, or hands off sharing knowledge and asking the right questions, understanding how to get the best out of others really helps with that progression towards senior design roles.

    • Evangelising user centred design - Interacting with wider business and others that may not have any real understanding about why design is important, and really championing users and the difficulties they face. Replaying feedback and user testing videos to show the progress we could make with solving problems from a users perspective has a massive impact on execs, and seems to add more value to the projects you're trying to initiate.

    Sure it differs for everyone, but in short my emphasis was always on trying to initiate projects that add tangible value and spread the word about benefits of UCD.

    4 points
    • , 10 months ago

      I helped spearhead the search for an intern earlier this year as well as our research program so it sounds like I’m on the right track!

      0 points
  • Svanhild EggeSvanhild Egge, 10 months ago

    Here in Norway, having the title "Senior designer" only symbolises how long you've been working as a designer + your company can also bill you clients a higher hourly rate for the work you do. A certain experience and level of quality is to be expected, but there is no requirement of you training other designers, managing people and stuff like that.

    3 points
    • Account deleted 10 months ago

      Best method imo. I should maybe start checking job boards in Norway.

      1 point
    • Fernando Lins, 10 months ago

      Same thing here in Brazil. I started working as an UX designer when I was already a mid-level art director, so now that I'm 7 years in UX, I've started getting requests to manage teams as a senior ux designer.

      If you don't want to work on a management level, you'll also have trouble getting higher pay (if you're working on companies and agencies, as a freelancer it's a different story...)

      1 point
  • Marc EdwardsMarc Edwards, 10 months ago

    Perfect timing for this article: What it takes to be a Product Designer

    https://uxdesign.cc/what-it-takes-to-be-a-product-designer-424a4151261e

    2 points
  • Xavier BertelsXavier Bertels, 10 months ago

    If you rephrase the question to “how do I become a better designer,” and reflect on that, you will find your answer.

    1 point
    • , 10 months ago

      I’m constantly asking myself that and learning new skills all the time. I’m at a point where growing and learning is just the default/second nature. It’s true that titles aren’t an accurate representation of a person’s skills but it still holds value in today’s world as it is an indicator of what responsibilities get thrown at you, your pay, how colleagues/clients respond to you, etc. But to your point, it sounds like a Senior Designer is just a “better designer”.

      0 points
      • Xavier BertelsXavier Bertels, 10 months ago

        This is definitely different from the experience that I have, but maybe there are studies that disprove this. I’ve seen plenty of unskilled people labelled Senior and skilled people labelled Junior. If you regard the label a label of “how much experience someone has” then think about this: if you have 10 years of experience being a lazy, unskilled designer, are you a Senior? And would you be happy with that title?

        There are most likely regional differences as well. In any case, I think you could ask yourself what you want to achieve and then act accordingly. If the goal is to get the senior designer label, you could move to a company with 0 designers, tell them you have 3 years of experience and call yourself a senior designer. If the goal is to become a better designer, then continue doing what you describe here and hopefully in 20 years or so you’ll be able to look back on an amazing journey.

        1 point
  • Account deleted 10 months ago

    You can grab your seniority (at a new workplace) with one thing. Your portfolio. If you've achieved amazing stuff on your works they'd be obvious. I'm tempted to say you have to sell yourself on interviews as well but the thing is, if you actually did a decent job, you don't have to come up with a 'story'. You'd be just explaining the process you've been through. The process itself is already a 'story' not a made up thing.

    Senior means experienced. I also felt the same when I worked 2-3 yrs. It's been more than 10 years since I've started this work. Tbh, I was a joke when I thought I was a senior when I had 3 yrs of experience. I admit I've pitched my senior role after 3 years and started working with them. Did add nothing. I thought it would be a great experience but it was the same job. Same work. Heck, even same responsibilities. Did paid a bit much though.

    Most important thing is, do not focus on titles. It's just bs. Your portfolio literally tells if you're senior or not. Right now, there have been times that I've been hired without being interviewed -well, just a brief phone call after sending my portfolio- Like I've said, seniority means being experienced. You might feel like you're the best but let me be honest with you, you're not. Neither of anyone on DN or rest of the world. Work your ass off to be a proper sr. Don't rush things. Deliver great projects, solve the most soul-crushing problems beautifully. Then what you're looking after will eventually arrive by itself.


    alternative method: dress sharp, steal ppls works, talk bs and only buzzwords. grab your colleagues works and don't give credits. That's another way to being a senior. Just being sarcastic, don't be a dick. Maybe even just for once, you'll have the honors to work with such asshole like just I've described through your work experience. THAT's also experience.

    Anyway, I feel like drifting a bit off topic. I'm just glad that you're aware of some stuff but you have to keep it in mind that if you want to be a senior, that's just a title. You'd be growing into a senior if you keep working. No need rushing things. If you're actually looking for raise, that's more than okay. Ask your boss for a raise. If they can't offer it, go change jobs. Grab some extra freelance works. We're all adults and this is professional life. No one's going to hold a grudge -unless if you leave leave out of nowhere and let your colleagues down. You need to pay your taxes and have a decent living standards after all. After all, this is not a charity work. This job seeking is also going to help you become more senior/experienced.

    ps. oh, i believe there are no metrics what hr people are checking. I wish they had. I never understood their way of thinking nor their opinions on such stuff. Most of the time it feels like they're just eyeballing and picking random CV's from the pile. An effective hr always brings a appropriate colleague during the interview. After all your’re not professional on Human Resources not the hr is pro on design.

    1 point
    • Jennifer Nguyen, 10 months ago

      Your post reminded me why I feel that my next step is to gain that title. I imagine there’s many reasons why anyone would want that title and to your point, if it’s a raise then simply ask for a raise. It’s always a good idea to really think about why we want things.

      When I ask myself 5 times “why I want to be a senior”, it boils down to getting treated/respected the same as my Senior colleagues. I feel like my colleagues ideas are weighted more because of their titles/they’ve been there longer.

      I agree that our work speaks for itself. If you’re good, people will see that.

      1 point
  • Nick ClementNick Clement, 9 months ago

    Please don't rush, you'll know when you're ready.

    Honestly, there's no rush to management and seniority, take your time, learn your craft and new avenues of opportunity will open up.

    Last thing you want it the title and not being able to live up to it (or handle the stress).

    You'll get there.

    It used to be 5-8 years in the 00's, these days less, there are many variables but loosely based on..

    1. Design skills
    2. Communication
    3. Responsibility
    4. Being able to talk to clients and challenge them
    5. Delivering
    1 point
  • Frédéric AudetFrédéric Audet, 9 months ago

    Expectations for senior roles depends on where you work. You should ask your lead to support you through understanding the expectations from where you stand to getting the senior title.

    IMO I don't think the "senior" role should be given after X years since the expectations from what a senior vs. a junior are very different.

    As your lead to describe you what it is to be expected, then write yourself some OKRs that aim to help you grow in this direction. The document with OKRs should be a collaborative document with you and your lead.

    1 point
  • James Young, 9 months ago

    Hi Jennifer, I think you've already been given a lot of great advice. I think to be truly senior you need to be able to lead, and leading doesn't mean asking the PO or the client what they want. You need to be able to see what they want and need and be able to stand in the fire to make that happen. That doesn't mean you need to be a design lead or march a team into battle. It just means you need to hone your skills to think like a leader and be able to own a project should the need arise.

    In the end, it's about confidence. When you can defend your work and back it with research and best practices and stand up to all detractors then you'll know you're Senior. Then you can start working on Principal.

    1 point
  • Andrew BeckwithAndrew Beckwith, 10 months ago

    I think people here have pretty much already nailed it. I've been working as an employed designer for about 15 years. I started as a Junior Designer at a print agency and today am Head of Design at a UK digital design agency. (tall.agency). This process has involved switching agencies three times (Junior > Designer > Senior > Head of Design). Two of these were to more senior positions and one was a 'side-step' to a similar role in an agency that had better prospects for my development. There's no secret strategy to climbing the ladder - just stick at it, continue to look to improve your craft & skillset. Stay hungry, stay curious, try new things. Learn what you're good at and refine those skills to have areas where you know you're in the top 10% of people who can do that task/skill.

    The following may be slightly controversial, but I've worked alongside many designers and many different attitudes and can say that (from my experience) the folks who get the promotions and end up 'going far' are the ones who aren't work-shy. They'll be the ones coming into work an hour early and leave a little late, doing stuff on weekends to make a project better and generally just being focused.

    Last piece of advice. I would say that without a doubt my strongest ability that I've worked hard to develop over time is GIVING A SHIT ABOUT MY PROJECT. Unless you're very lucky (or exceptionally gifted) you won't be designing campaigns for Nike or RedBull. Typically it'll be a company in an industry that doesn't really excite you - this is when you really need to dig in to show levels of enthusiasm, work rate and care for the company's cause as though it was that Red Bull project.

    Don't get me wrong. I'm by no means the perfect example to follow. I too have watched others go on to much greater positions than myself, but to be fair, in nearly every one of those cases, it's been someone that bit more dedicated, that bit more hungrier than me.

    Be those guys. I've never met you but I know you can do it.

    0 points
    • , 10 months ago

      I’ve never been told before to give a shit about my projects so that is very refreshing! You’re right, we often work in non-exciting industries. I’m currently in a B2B Enterprise industry so the content is very dry and heavily data-centric. I do care alot about my projects, I want to put out something that I’m proud of so I rarely half-ass anything. I do agree with your observation that people who get promoted are usually workaholics. At the moment, I am not in that category because I place extreme importance on a work life balance. I need time for family, friends, and my hobbies. But I see the point you’re making which is to work hard. Harder than most people. Thank you for your advice!

      0 points
    • Johnnie Gomez AlzagaJohnnie Gomez Alzaga, 10 months ago

      This quote came to my mind by Irene Etzkorn:

      "There is no such thing as a boring project. There are only boring executions."

      2 points