Behind UX Design Roles at Riot Games

Every company’s design track shakes out a little differently — here’s what a design career looks like in our world.

While the titles for user experience roles at different companies may LOOK similar, we’ve all seen firsthand that they can differ wildly. If you’re curious about what it’s like to work on user experience in the video game industry, join us on a tour of the user experience career track here at Riot Games — and see how our approach aligns with (or differs from) your own!

In this post, we’ll talk about what the UX work at Riot looks like, our design community and job architecture, our responsibilities and collaborator roles, and walk through the various job titles and descriptions. Let’s get started.

About Riot’s Work

UX designers at Riot Games have the unique opportunity to work at a company whose mission is to develop, publish, and support the most player-focused games in the world. Riot’s ability to listen to players and pivot back in the early days of League of Legends set it apart from other games in the Multiplayer Online Battle Arena (MOBA) genre. That mission now extends to a variety of work in support of our games, from esports and entertainment to our entire developer platform.

Design and development at Riot are a highly collaborative, cross-disciplinary effort — across UX, visual design, game design, audio design, engineering, product management, and beyond. Photo: Riot Games.

As with any company, UX started out small at Riot — but in the last 5 years the craft has come into its own. We now have approximately 50 UX designers across the company. Different teams offer different types of opportunities:

Production Games

A majority of our UX designers are attached to a game in production, like VALORANT or League of Legends. They holistically own the experience for different game modes and features, and will work closely with game designers. These UX designers are encouraged to engage deeply with games, game design, and the gaming industry to grow their craft. As their work often shows up in a game engine like Unity or Unreal, a subset of these designers also pick up specialized prototyping skills to help them envision the unique ways their designs will be surfaced.

Research & Development Games

Occasionally, an R&D game will hire one or more UX designers. These roles will be more all-encompassing, as one or two designers are likely to be designing for an entire game. These designers are more likely to need prototyping skills, game design experience, and/or experience on new products. Because the R&D team works in uncharted territory and without clear processes, they will typically look for senior or late-career designers with enough experience to comfortably navigate high-ambiguity situations.

Player Platform

Some of the work from my UX team on Player Platform focuses on experiences that are either game-adjacent (like Riot Mobile or Riot Client) or in support of multiple games (like reusable authentication and social components across games). There are also a number of teams that support their own sites and require more traditional design skills for that work. We don’t require deep engagement with games, though we do expect respect for games and a curiosity about the industry. Traditional web, desktop, and mobile design skills are our bread and butter.

Developer + Internal Tools

While Riot’s mission is to be the most player-focused game company in the world, some of our employees are working towards that goal by supporting the developers that support our players. There are a variety of critical developer, internal, and third-party tools that keep our games running and make new games possible. Designers working on these problems often benefit from prior business-to-business (B2B) design experience. Designers who love complex challenges will thrive on these teams. My Player Platform team recently built out a new Developer Impact UX team to design a streamlined future experience for our developers.

Esports, Events, & Entertainment

Riot produces a great deal of content in support of our games — and that content is as rich as the games themselves. From support for leagues and tournaments to huge cross-company events, designers on these teams are often working with more marketing-style content to reach players or optimizing the path to game and lore for new fans and existing players.

Riot’s UX Community

At Riot, your professional practice will be part of:

A job family — User Experience Design
These are the practitioners most aligned with your expertise.

A craft — User Experience

  • This is a collection of related job families. Right now, there’s only one job family in UX, but that may be changing in 2022.
  • Crafts make decisions about things like job architecture and new job families.
  • Crafts also come together for training, best practices, and social events.

A discipline — Design

  • Disciplines group multiple related crafts together where it’s beneficial to do so.
  • At Riot, UX Design and Game Design are part of the Design discipline.
A visual breakdown of the relationship between UX design, game design, and the Design discipline as a whole at Riot. Visual design is a craft within the Art discipline, and research is a craft within the Insights discipline.

There is a larger community within Riot for the entire Design discipline and a more specific community for the UX Craft. I’m the “craft lead” for the UX craft community, so it’s my responsibility to foster and grow a healthy space for our full time UX designers at the company.

What’s somewhat unique about our Design discipline is that Riot views UX design and game design as cousins, instead of wildly different fields. The depth of cross-pollination depends on the UX role’s proximity to a game.

  • We have bi-weekly Design community meetings where people from either craft can give talks about topics of interest for them, helping us all cross-train and grow. These are open to ALL UX designers and game designers at Riot.
  • By mid-career, UX designers on game teams can report to game designers and vice versa.
  • UX designers working on game teams are expected to be able to operate (or grow to operate) one level below their UX role on the design track: for example, a Principal UX Designer able to contribute insights along the lines expected from a senior game designer (Fun fact: the reverse is true for game designers and UX.)

UX designers not associated with a game are not expected to possess game design competencies but are welcome to explore them, especially if they hope to switch teams in the future. Early-to-mid-career UX designers on games might come in with little to no game design experience and learn as they go.

How UX partners with the rest of Riot

Every company seems to have a slightly different approach to UX — some designers work full-stack, doing visual and interaction design and sometimes even research. In Riot’s case, these crafts are split up. The philosophy behind this is that at a media company like Riot, the bar for visuals and branding is extremely high, and it’s asking a ton for candidates to be world-class interaction designers AND visual designers AND researchers. Instead, we let folks specialize in one or the other.

  • UX Design: This craft brings clarity to ideas from players, peers, and stakeholders. UX design helps shine light on new opportunities, explores the many possible solutions to a given problem, and works to advocate for and adapt to evolving customer feedback. On some teams, UX designers may also conduct lightweight research like qualitative interviews or a usability study.
  • Visual Design: This craft is responsible for the final look and feel of Riot’s digital interfaces, and for visual problem solving. They are often, but not always, paired tightly with UX designers to take layouts, interaction specs, and prototypes and transform them into polished products. Visual Designers can solve design problems too, identifying challenges UX missed or contributing new ideas along the way. (If you’re interested in Visual Design roles, note that these careers sit under the “Art” craft on our Careers site.)
  • Strategic Advisory: This discipline encompasses a variety of crafts including research and data analysis. UX partners with SA on our biggest and most complex player outreach and understanding projects, while learning to run our own smaller outreach efforts to help us scale.

Individual Contributor roles at Riot

Even though our job titles may align with other job titles across the industry, if you’ve been reviewing job descriptions you’ll know that titles don’t mean alignment. So what levels do we have, and how do they correspond to YOUR experience?

Overview

As you progress through your user experience career at any employer, your scope of influence will increase over time. Here’s how you can think about that journey in terms of Riot’s UX roles. (Thanks to Jordan Checkman, Sr. UX Manager on League of Legends, for providing this lens.)

  • UX Designer: Designing part of a system or feature
  • UX Designer II: Designing a system or feature
  • Senior / Lead UX Designer: Designing a large system or feature
  • Principal UX Designer: Designing a system of systems or features
Visualizing the growth of a UX Designer’s scope for our 4 most common roles: UX Designer, UX Designer II, Senior UX Designer, and Principal UX Designer.

We also have an entry-level role — Associate Designer — which is intended to work with existing systems. However, to be frank, this role requires heavy mentorship that most of our teams are not yet staffed to provide. We’re working to change this, but that requires getting more career support bandwidth in place. We hope to begin expanding the use of this role in tandem with an expanded UX internship program next year.

Here’s more about our core UX roles at Riot, and what they do on a day to day basis.

UX Designer I (or just “UX Designer”)

  • Junior (1–2+ years)
  • Portfolio: May include academic work, internships, or work from your first few jobs

These candidates are just starting their careers, and are typically hired into teams where more senior designers can provide mentorship as these designers work on small to midsize feature areas on a larger product. As a result, these roles can be rare as they usually come after hiring a more senior designer.

Example competencies:

  • Owns and works on on smaller features
  • Works within existing design frameworks and patterns
  • Conducts competitive analysis on industry best practices for features
  • Provides appropriate design artifacts for their team, including journey maps, flow diagrams, wireframes, mockups, prototypes, and occasionally high fidelity shippable assets using an existing design system
  • Contributor to and participant in design critiques for growth of craft

UX Designer II

  • Mid level (2–4+ years)
  • Portfolio: Should include case studies of individual contributions on product features in a professional environment.

These designers can own a feature area with moderate supervision. They work to build strong partnerships with their producers, product managers, and key engineering partners. They’ve learned how to adapt to feedback, hand off their work reliably to development, and see things through to completion. These candidates are starting to think about what it would take to become a senior member of the design community.

Example competencies:

  • Drives design for their assigned feature(s) with moderate supervision
  • Evaluates designs against product-level strategies and potential tradeoffs
  • Seeks out feedback proactively from peers, customers, and stakeholders and adapts as necessary
  • Builds trusting relationships within a product team, and potentially outside it
  • Contributes to existing patterns and frameworks
  • Partners with Research and Strategic Insights to evaluate current and proposed designs

Senior or Lead UX Designer

  • Senior (5++* years)
  • Portfolio: Case studies of strong feature-level work (medium to large size features) or product-level impact like design systems work.

At this level, candidates are self-sufficient and capable of working on multiple features simultaneously. They can manage their workload switching back and forth as needed, and delegate to more junior designers on the team when necessary. The “Lead” designation is used on a few teams to indicate someone who represents UX on a product leadership team and mentors other designers — it is not a people management designation.

Senior candidates are also expected to have well-developed listening and collaboration skills. When they encounter roadblocks, they should be able to do more than just repeat their message and hope the other party changes their mind. They should be proactive about seeking feedback from peers, stakeholders, and customers about their work, and should have evidence of acting on some of that feedback.

Example competencies:

  • Ensure experiential quality and consistency across features end-to-end
  • Works on complex design problems that touch multiple systems or change the product fundamentally
  • Willing to propose and appropriately advocate for new processes or projects.
  • Understands and can effectively apply product ownership skills. (measurable outcomes, KPIs, use of Insights)
  • Builds strong, trusting relationships across product leadership, cross-functional peers, discipline peers, and other Riot partner teams

It’s OK to stay at Senior! At most companies — Riot included — it can be quite common for designers to spend quite a bit of time in Senior / Lead. It’s even referred to as a “terminal” role in some places (although that seems a bit dire, and perhaps “peak” is a better term) — meaning it’s totally acceptable to stop your upward climb at this level. Advancing past Senior requires a clear business need for a broader role AND a candidate’s desire and readiness to move forward. Some folks are perfectly happy pursuing change and growth at Senior by switching roles and teams.

Principal UX Designer

  • Veteran (8++ years)
  • Portfolio: Includes product-level impact, systems design or service design, and strong evidence of collaboration, research, creativity, and iteration.

The Principal UX Designer at Riot is a craft expert who serves as an example for many and who can adeptly manage relationships across company boundaries to achieve strategic goals. They see beyond individual features and products, and connect the team’s work to the company’s short term and long term strategies. Mentorship and recruiting are also key parts of the Principal level role. Where possible, Principals can participate as part of product leadership teams. At Riot, Principal UX is purely an individual title; we do not assign Principal to UX manager roles. (The equivalent of a Principal is a Senior Manager.)

Example competencies:

  • Designs solutions for multiple audiences, systems, or products.
  • Vision holder and leader in projects of full team or initiative scope.
  • Maintains project vision for their projects and represents Design on leadership teams
  • Mentors multiple designers
  • Communicates complex ideas clearly to a variety of audiences
  • Brings clarity to explorations, ideation, and feedback across a wide range of contributors
  • Delivers designs that shift player behavior and/or successfully delivers on a design space that has failed to resonate with players in the past.

UX Architect

  • Late Career / Industry Leader (11++ years)
  • Portfolio: Includes transformative work at a product or service level for multiple products. Clear evidence of thought leadership, collaboration, and positive impact.

Architect is our highest potential individual contributor role. UX Architects are at a point in their career where they are well-respected not just for their product work but for their strategic insights, ability to innovate, and expertise in the industry. These roles are extremely rare, and when we see a need we are likely to promote from within rather than recruit externally due to the small number of potential candidates.

Example Competencies:

  • Performs at or above Principal level on design execution level consistently
  • Proactively delivers novel insights and product ideas that push the company forward and transform our products, services, and strategies.
  • Maintains a strong network of connections all the way up to the leadership level to effectively land new ideas
  • Established as a subject matter expert in the user experience community, contributing to the greater base of knowledge and bringing candidates and insights back to Riot

UX Management at Riot

UX Managers at Riot keep an eye on the what, who, and why of the player or developer experience, while making space for their teams to chart the how in a way that leads to growth and positive outcomes. The UX Management track starts with UX Manager (equivalent to Senior UX Designer on the IC track) and grows through Senior Manager, UX and eventually Director of UX.

All management role competencies at Riot fall into these categories:

  • Creating vision and strategy
  • Ensuring execution quality
  • Wider org impact
  • Healthy and effective teams
  • Growing individuals

Our managers aren’t explicitly hired for player/coach roles most of the time, although on smaller teams on emerging games our managers might find themselves contributing to IC work. Riot asks all managers to complete a 5-session online manager training course, provides rigorous interview training, and a management community of practice.

All of our managers are expected to directly manage multiple people (seniority of reports depends on experience), remove barriers to team success, maintain team momentum and morale, and build a supportive and inclusive environment for creativity.

UX Manager

  • Senior (5+ years)
  • Portfolio: Senior-level UX craft (See above) with mentoring experience

Example competencies:

  • Manages junior — midlevel designers, avg 3–5 people
  • Can assess craft quality in a specific area of expertise
  • Focuses on audience needs for a specific ownership area and core audiences
  • Translates organizational strategy into design pillars for their team, and connects those to the team’s work via artifacts and direct communication
  • Gathers expertise from many sources to ensure design problems are solved
  • Builds trusting relationships across disciplines WITHIN the product team.
  • Manages low performers with moderate support, and helps develop high performers in a style appropriate to their experience and needs.

Senior UX Manager

  • Veteran / Principal (8+ years)
  • Portfolio: Principal-level UX craft (See above) with management experience and a focus on collaboration and communication

Example competencies

  • Manages multiple individuals (junior — senior, 3–6 people)
  • Ensures long term plans are in sync with org goals and are on track
  • Can assess craft quality in multiple areas of expertise.
  • Advocates for a broad range of relevant player groups, regions, and cultures
  • Translates high level strategy into design pillars for multiple teams and communicates this direction using a variety of techniques.
  • Gathers expertise from cross-disciplinary experts to ensure problems are solved
  • Builds trusting relationships across disciplines WITHIN the product team.
  • Manages low performers with moderate support, and helps develop high performers in a style appropriate to their experience and needs.

UX Director

  • Late career / Architect (11+ years)
  • Portfolio: Architect-level craft UX experience (See above) with a focus on collaboration and communication. One or more projects can focus on strategy and leadership instead of hands-on delivery.

UX Directors typically oversee all user experience design operations for an entire business unit: a game team like VALORANT or Teamfight Tactics, or a support group like Player Platform.

Example competencies:

  • Manage early and late-career designers (through Principal and Architect)
  • Sit on business unit leadership teams and represent player and designer needs in quarterly and annual planning discussions.
  • Ensure their team’s work is clearly aligned with Riot’s mission, strategic goals, and business unit goals/OKRs.
  • Build trust with organizational leadership and help the organization understand the value and role of UX.
  • Create space for the designers on their teams to grow in their careers and work with individual managers on promotion cases and performance plans.
  • Oversee overall workloads: foreseeing potential load balancing issues, helping to prioritize work, and proactively developing and championing growth plans for their teams tied to organizational goals.
  • Maintain connections and build trust across the organization, helping their teams bridge gaps when necessary.

So what’s next?

If you’ve read this and found yourself wanting to join our merry band, click here to view open Design track careers on the Riot Careers page. Note that the “Design” craft filter includes UX Design and Game Design, so be on the lookout for jobs with UX, User Experience, or Content Design in the job title.

If you have questions about these job levels or the Riot UX community, post them here and we may reply or use them to inspire future articles.

No matter where you are, may your designs bring your customers joy and maybe we’ll see you in game — GLHF! That’s “good luck + have fun”, for those new to gaming ;)

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Cheryl Platz

Cheryl Platz

Designer, actress, teacher, speaker, writer, gamer. Author of Design Beyond Devices. Founder of Ideaplatz, LLC. Director of UX, Player Platform @ Riot Games.