Career progression for Product Designers & User Researchers at Lyst

Picture the scene: you’re hired as the first designer at a startup. It’s small, scrappy, and you work hand in glove with the founders and developers to build a product people love. Success brings in money, which allows the team to grow. You hire another person or two and you’re off to the races!

Suddenly you’re no longer a maker on a small team. You have people to manage. Responsibilities. Your first thoughts turn to the obvious questions: What are they going to work on? Should we buy an enterprise plan for Marvel? Can we get a discount on our Pact Coffee subscription? Everything’s going great.

But then they start leaving. That junior you hired is now a Senior Designer at Facebook or somewhere like that. You’re still friends, so you talk to them and they tell you there wasn’t anything wrong, they just wanted to “take a step up” in their career.


Progression matters. And yet it’s often something we don’t think about until it’s too late. Either our team members start leaving, or if you’re on a team, you start feeling unfulfilled in your current role.

In some ways this is understandable. Design — at least the way we currently do it — has undergone a bit of a personality change. We haven’t had ‘Digital Product Designers’ for more than a few years, and so (with some notable exceptions) there isn’t a thick layer of past cohorts to learn from and aspire to. It’s hard to know where we are, let alone what we’re going to do next. (This is also one of the reasons we started Design Club, but that’s a story for another time.)

This stuff is important, and was at the top of my mind when I joined Lyst to head up the Design team. I wanted to make sure progression was baked into the way we worked, and not an afterthought. Whilst this is an ongoing process, the first step was to create a clear career ladder showing the levels and steps involved in progression for our Product Designers and User Researchers. Today I’m going to go over some of the thinking that went into it, and make the document for everyone to see and use.


What did we need?

At a high-level, we were looking for something that helped us be more intentional, more consistent, and less reactive in our decision making. Specifically, we wanted:

  • Something to help align what a Product Designer or User Researcher at Lyst should be.
  • A way for team members to know where they’re at, what the next step looks like, and importantly, what they need to do to get there.
  • More useful performance reviews that focussed on progression.
  • A framework to make our salary bands consistent and fair.
  • Eventually we want a way to evaluate people more consistently when making hiring decisions.

Our career ladders describe the different roles, the expectations for each, and detailed information regarding what’s needed to move into each level.

Whether you’re building a team, wondering what skills designers and researchers have, or are interested in joining Lyst, feel free to take a look, make a copy, and use it however you see fit.

View the document here.

View the document here

Luckily we didn’t have to start from scratch, and borrowed heavily from the amazing efforts of others, notably BuzzFeed, who have open sourced a lot of their internal documentation. If you’re interested in design career ladders (and who isn’t?!) then I thoroughly recommend checking those out as well.

What we’re sharing today is a first draft and very much a work in progress, but there are some things that are already proving quite useful, specifically:

Role summaries
Each level has a short plain English summary pinpointing exactly what’s expected from someone in that role.

Core skills
We’ve broken the roles down into discipline specific and general skills. Though this felt artificial at first, it’s really helped make evaluation and conversation easier.

Each skill has a list of what is expected at each level. These are designed to encompass a range, and are not intended to be a fixed point. For example, whilst it’s important that a new designer progresses in lots of small steps early on in their career, they might then be a Senior Designer for 5 years. As we develop we still need room to grow and earn pay rises.

Required skills
Items we value as mandatory for a level — something you need to be consistently demonstrating to be considered for promotion — are marked with a * (thanks for the idea Cap Watkins!). So in practice, for a mid-weight designer to be considered for a senior role, they need to be demonstrating what’s described in the mid role, plus the items with a * in the senior role.

This helps show what we value. The more we ask for in a skill, the more important it is at that stage.

Specific language
We describe each skill at each level using a deliberate five point scale from interest through to mastery. It allows us to be very consistent with our wording, and to be clear about the progression required.


What next?

This is all a work in progress, and it’s subject to change. We’ll officially review the design and research ladders after each round of performance reviews (April and October), but I’m sure it’ll be tweaked every now and then regardless. Check back to the doc for the latest updates.

Next steps:

  • We need to define our more senior roles (Lead, and potentially, Principal— the choice here involves drawing distinctions between ‘individual contributors’ and ‘managers’ — we’re not sure if this is the right approach for us yet. We can’t really tell until we grow a little more.
  • Translate the career ladders to be more useful when hiring designers and researchers.

Ideas for how you could use it:

  • If you’re building a team, this could be an interesting data point for you. However, definitely do what’s best for your organisation, there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to these things!
  • If you’re a designer or researcher, this might help identify areas you’re strong and areas to build on.

That’s it! Take a look, share with anyone you think might like it, and let us know what you think.


If you found this useful, please let us know by liking this post, commenting, or hitting me up on twitter.

If you like the look of this, and want to be a part of the team we’re building at Lyst, we’re hiring Product Designers and User Researchers, so please take a look at the roles and get in touch! More info at lyst.com/careers