“Designing” a Career Ladder for Product Design

Helena Seo
Sep 3, 2019 · 7 min read
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Audience and their needs

I identified three audiences who would use the career ladder: designers, managers, and HR. I also captured what each audience cared about the most:


  • I want to understand where I stand currently.
  • I want to know what I need to do to get to the next level.
  • I may consider becoming a manager at some point. What skills do I need to transition to that different path?


  • I need to know how I should level my new hire.
  • I need to calibrate levels across my team.
  • I need to assess who’s ready for promotion in my team.
  • I also want to know where I am at in my own career.


  • How do design levels map to the company’s job architecture?
  • How do pay bands map to the job levels?

Competitive landscape audit

Most career ladders I’ve seen are written in the form of a spreadsheet or a doc like below. The spreadsheet is most common because its grid format makes the presentation of the rubrics easy.

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Design principles

There were three design principles I considered:


There was no clear value in introducing complex rubrics at each level. Simpler structure equals to easier comprehension. I hoped that simplified content would also encourage more frequent conversations between managers and designers.


By showing the overall structure of the career ladder and describing what it takes to get to the next level, I wanted to make sure the relative state of each level was clear.


Unlike many other existing docs that looks like a performance criteria guidance, I wanted to help the team imagine the persona of each level as they read it.

Design solution

I chose to use a Google doc because it helps the narrative be more conversational. It also made sharing with the team easier.

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Test and iteration

This ladder was rolled out to the team in June, in time for our mid-year performance conversations. So far, the team’s feedback has been positive, and it’s been a useful guideline in career conversations.

Some interesting decisions and learnings

1. I made a conscious decision not to make the years of experience too explicit and keep it rather looser in definition. When there are specific numbers attached, it can be misleading because tenure isn’t always equal to an individual’s impact or contribution. For example, having 10 years of experience doesn’t automatically mean that you are qualified to become a design lead. Even if you have fewer years under your belt, you can still be a design lead if your talent is exceptional and you’re making a significant contribution to the company. A career ladder has to provide a general framework but with some flexibility.

What’s your story?

I feel privileged to establish a foundation of the design team’s career ladder definition at DoorDash. For other design leaders who also have gone through similar exercises and challenges, I’d love to hear your wisdom and learnings.

Design @ DoorDash

Stories and lessons from DoorDash Design team

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