Climbing the designers' career ladder: moving from Junior to Senior

Paulo Dziobczenski
Sep 28, 2017 · 4 min read

This post is the second in a series where I summarise the findings of our recent article in the International Journal of Design: ‘Graphic Designer Wanted: A Document Analysis of the Described Skill Set of Graphic Designers in Job Advertisements from the United Kingdom’.

Here is the link for the first post: Hey designer, these are the 10 skills companies request more often when hiring


The work developed by Junior and Senior designers is different: while in the beginning of the career designers focus in more operational and mundane activities, seniors have a broader spectrum of tools and experiences that give a more holistic contribution.

In the graphic design career, during the Junior phase professionals are still learning the tricks of the trade. They have very specific (and small) tasks in projects, where they can work and learn from others. Usually junior designers will be responsible of tasks such as looking/cutting images, generating print files, etc.

In design education, teaching young designers usually happens through strict and step-by-step methodologies, where the students can experiment the model to later adapt it: 'you need to know the rules before break it', right? :)

Senior designers carry some years of experience on their backs. They have done multiple projects, so they know when and how to take a 'shortcut'. Beyond that, senior designers have extra roles that juniors do not receive, such as leadership, defining strategy and concepts, etc.

In this published paper, we approached what skills companies look when recruiting graphic designers in the United Kingdom. To find that out, we analysed more than a thousand job advertisements (1.406 to be precise) for graphic designers. In doing that, we unveiled (1) what are the most requested skills by companies; (2) how designers progress from junior, to middle and then to senior positions; (3) how the skill set differs for internal positions (in-house agencies) to external positions (design agencies and consultancies). If you are interested in the details of how we performed the data collection and analysis, I recommend you to have a look into the full paper.

To analyse how designers move from Junior to Senior level, we took in consideration (1) how many years of experience the company was requiring and/or (2) salary level. We defined the following criteria to classify a job as Junior, Mid-level and Senior, based on reports from HR companies and the Design Business Association from the UK:

Moving from Junior to Senior design positions

Across the 36 themes we analysed — counting the frequency of each theme in the job ads — we found 6 that had significant difference when comparing the job ads from the 3 groups (junior, middle, senior). The 'M' in the figure means the median across the whole dataset.

Skill requirements that differ significantly among Junior, Mid-level, and Senior positions, in % (p < 0.17).

1- Business orientation — When you climb in the designer's career ladder, you start being asked to have different knowledge. In this case, companies are asking that their Senior designers should know about strategy, branding, marketing and 'commercial oriented design'.

2- Process understanding — This category shows a good picture of what does it mean to go up in the career as a designer: Process understanding means being able to contribute throughout the whole design project, from the briefing until the delivery of the final files. Again, when you are a Senior designer, companies request that you can 'handle projects from the beginning to the end', while when you are a Junior designer your participation is limited to one part of the project.

3- Team management — Perhaps the most obvious role gained by a Senior designer is being able to lead/supervise/coach other colleagues.

4- Illustration — Notably recognised as a hard-to-master skill, companies do not expect Junior designers to be able to illustrate. Instead, this is a skill that only comes after you have some years in the profession already.

5- Coding and platform management — The love-hate skill for designers: coding. Here we have an interesting finding: Middle designers are the most requested to be able to code. Basically coding is not necessary something you need when you are Junior, as you probably need to worry about plenty other skills. Neither is something to consider when you are a Senior, as you are worried with other topics such as Business and Leadership. Therefore, mid-level career designers are who companies think should know more about Coding .

6- Self-driven — Here it's more about the limitations of our data (job ads): perhaps companies do not need to tell Middle and Senior designers that they need to be willing to learn and grow, but maybe is something to emphasise when hiring Junior designers

Overall, our findings show that when moving in the career, graphic designers start doing and fulfilling different roles within companies. But more important, designers when growing in the profession start to learn new skills that are not necessary from our field, as for example coding, Business, etc.


If you like, agree or disagree with this post, please comment here or send a msg to paulo.dziobczenski@aalto.fi :)

Paulo Dziobczenski

Written by

Design Researcher. Visual Designer @AaltoUniversity. Running a job board for designers: bit.ly/design_helsinki. #designCareer #UXcareer— paulodzi.com

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