Defining the FT Design Career Framework

Leonardo Mattei
Sep 16 · 4 min read

At the Financial Times, the design team has gone through substantial growth within the last year with a lot of new designers joining the team. Offering them the possibility to have a fulfilling career is one of our top priorities and we believe that putting together a structure is the best way to support career progression.

We started with three principles in mind: Transparency, Nurturing Individuals, Fair compensation.

Introducing the 2 tracks and levels

FT’s Design Tracks

We believe it’s important that everyone at the FT feels valued and confident about the next steps in their careers. This is why we introduced levels with clear descriptions, definitions and expectations. The framework that we delivered is a tool for everyone on the team to have a structured conversation with their managers and align on expectations on how to get to the next level in a transparent way.

Everyone is a different individual and we made sure we kept that well in mind when we worked on defining the different roles. We don’t expect people to “tick boxes”, we want them to feel empowered, and understand the opportunities available to them to improve their skills and make an impact. Having a framework in place is also a tool for managers to understand how they can support and create opportunities for the different people in their teams, according to their goals.

When reaching Senior Product Designer II, people have multiple progression paths; either as an individual contributor, or as a manager. People shouldn’t feel obliged to become a manager in order to have a larger impact, and progress in their career, this is why we have the dual track. Designers can follow the expert track and have a larger strategic impact on a set of products part of our “pillars”, and set the vision for the future of the FT. On the other side, managers take care of their teams’ health, make sure that the team members feel empowered and have the right opportunities. They also make sure that the right structure is in place, and continue to contribute to the vision of the team.

Horizontal moves are possible. We decided to split the track at the Senior Product Designer II level, because this is the crucial moment in your career where your focus starts to move towards making a bigger impact at the organisational level. We wanted to give the opportunity to embark on a journey without fully committing to it, so designers at that level can decide which skill sets they want to become experts in: having a bigger impact leading teams, or leading projects.

Compensation

One of the principles of the FT is fair pay, to make sure that everyone at the same level receives adequate pay, within the same band. The new career framework supports this even better than before by introducing an increased granularity that better reflects the level of the individual. Pay ranges are known by designers per each level, and having more levels now available guarantees that designers are paid fairly according to the specific level they are at. We believe that being transparent on pay bands increases the confidence of everyone, and tackles pay inequality by making sure that there are no gaps in salaries based on background, gender, or any other characteristics apart from skills and performance. This is why we are also planning to make all pay bands transparent internally soon.

We believe that being transparent on pay also plays an important role in hiring, as new designers can be assured that there will be no gaps in salaries compared to other people on the team at the same level.

We want to hire the best talent and being transparent also challenges us to frequently review our pay bands to make sure we stay competitive on the market.

What we expect going forward

Start the conversation early

Having visibility on the career framework means also that people at a more junior level understand how their career can evolve, and allows them to have career conversations early. This is particularly important because it allows managers to help them find the right opportunities to improve the skills they want to focus on. Nurturing individuals and supporting their personal development is very important for us, and having the right structure in place enables everyone to pursue their ideal career path and feel inspired.

Increasing retention

We believe that all this will enable designers to constantly find new challenges, reflect more on themselves, and ultimately learn more. We know that working in a nurturing environment increases retention drastically, and we want our designers to feel like they are constantly growing and there are always new opportunities for them to explore. Flexibility is also key. We don’t expect designers early in their career to know already which way they want to go. Everyone is different, and having the possibility to explore more about what a design career can offer can be very exciting.

Impact

Being clear on what we expect from people at different levels means also that team members are clear about the impact that they can have on the organisation. This leads to having more honest conversations with their managers in order to understand how they can give meaningful contribution to the FT and increase the level of impact that they can have.

Becoming a more design mature organisation

Last but not the least, having this structure in place contributes to becoming a more design mature organisation. Making levels official, and describing the impact that our designers have contribute ultimately to being more aware of what design can offer to the FT, and to becoming more user-centered.

Thanks to the team who worked on putting together this framework, we think we now have something solid that will make a great contribution to the design organisation at the FT. We can’t wait to see the results!

Credits to Carmen Brion, Caroline Lambert, Luke Griffiths, Sarah Parker, and Chris Belmore.

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