Mapping your UX career trajectory — Part 1/2

Planning for a career in UX is a recent thing. Our industry is perpetually evolving due to exponential disruption in tech. Formal structures for progression aren’t always there. What once was specialised is becoming commoditised.

If you are a designer figuring your route, I hope this serves you well.

During UX Australia conference 2017, I attended a workshop where Mags Hanley and George Cockerill shared extensively on Mapping a Career Trajectory in UX.

What they shared was certainly eye opening for me. It opened up my lens on where I stand, and how to direct my next steps. The nuggets of wisdom were on point, and I believe will benefit designers tremendously if they had known this at the start of their career.

Firstly, it’s worthwhile to go into self reflection, understanding where I am right now and where I want to be. In evaluating my current state, consider:

  • Who am I as a designer?
  • What am I interested and strong in?
  • What value can I bring to my company / team?
  • How do I see myself professionally?

If the end game is 3, 5, 10, 20 years time; imagine:

  • Why am I still doing what I’m doing? What is my purpose as a designer in this world?
  • How do I want to show up everyday?
  • What value and contribution am I bringing to my company/team?
  • What kind of people would I want to work with?
  • What would I be doing everyday?

This exercise humbles me and reminds to compare myself to the designer I was yesterday, not the kick-ass designers I see on Dribbble, Behance. I have my own path to chart.

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It’s often said that there are 2 routes: Practitioner vs. managerial roles.

As a practitioner, we stay true to the design craft. We lead the product vision, influence stakeholders, communicate and help execute the design solution. 
As a manager, we mentor the team, provide technical guidance, influence upwards and downwards and manage resourcing needs.

Career progressions in the Practitioner and Managerial route

How do I know which path is best for me?

The truth is, there are no set rules around how a designer might progress in their career. Many UXers move back and forth between practitioner and managerial roles. It depends on your:

• Own preferences (working with people or in the design craft)
• Career aspirations (is it important to move up the ladder?)
• Place in life (parenthood, caregiving, illness)

Designers meander between practitioner and managerial roles, only learning what fits them best after having experienced those responsibilities. Knowing this brings me relief, as there was a point in my career where I felt pressured to have the answer. It’s okay to go for different roles, I’ll look back to connect the dots and know thyself as I evolve.

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Mags and George provided a blueprint for developing UX Professionals focusing on three skills; Deepening technical skills, Working with people, and business nous.

Emphasis on Technical, People and Business skill sets shift as one progresses from a junior to a principal UXer.

As a Junior:

  • The priority lies in honing your technical skills, executing design (attention to detail, quality of design).
  • People skills are learning to work with your manager and the immediate team
  • Business skills you need are to learn to present and understand politics.

As a Mid-weight to Senior:

  • Technical skills are honed and a specialism becoming apparent
  • People skills are strengthened; you will be managing a team and working across an organisation
  • You need to understand the value of the product to the organisation and your designs should enhance the value

As a Specialist / Principal:

  • You are an expert in a field of UX, with a specialism
  • People skills are overseeing that the work is done well — managing up and down
  • Business skills are high — every piece of work should be benchmarked and KPIs set
  • You focus on evangelising the value of design in the organisation, and getting stakeholders invest further in design

I learnt that, in order to jump to the next level, one has to already be taking on duties required for the next role. For example, as a Mid weight designer, I need to proactively seek opportunities to take on a Senior UXer’s responsibilities, such as steering design direction, meeting and liasing with clients. Likewise for a Senior, to be creating opportunities to involve in what a Principal should be doing. This makes it easier to convince for a promotion.

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As I become more senior, how I act, react and interact with clients and the team change. What changes?

  • How I develop relationship with the client
  • How I adjust to developing situations with the client
  • How I behave with colleagues

In Research, questions asked by various roles:

In Execution,

In Relationships,

Reflecting upon this, I realise I’ve often operated from the space of delivering to the best quality of work, but have neglected how my work can create impact and longevity in: 
- the organisation’ s understanding of the problem space,
- business outcomes 
- changing organisational behaviour, workflow, mindset

I can already imagine how my past projects’ outcomes could be starkly more effective if I had ground the conversations with a shift in the mindset.

What mindsets and behaviours do I need to ground the conversations in with my client and team?
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How about you? Do any of the ideas I shared resonate with you? 
Share your comments with me. :)

Credits to Mags Hansley and George Cockerill, for the clarity and wisdom.

Part 2/2 will be going in depth on what it really means to hone skill sets in the area of Technical, People, Business.