The Lifecycle of a Designer: Part 1
Edit: Spelling and grammar checked and re-checked as per popular request!
One thing that I believe many designers, managers of designers, or buyers of design talent will struggle with, is the understanding of a Designer’s Lifecycle within the design industry.
Dealing with Lifecycle problems come in many forms. A few examples include, designers looking for the skills to get to the next level? Or even designers wondering why they are stuck in their career? Or even why can’t we hire the right designers for the job?
For designers looking to rise up in their career, it will be one of those hard facts of life they have to deal with. The requirements of our professions do change as we move up, and the problem I see with most designers looking to move to higher positions is that they fail to realize what skills are required to get there.
Another problem is also in the hiring of designers. The reality is that there are no job title “standards” and it is very common that “Creative Directors” in certain companies might be equivalent to Senior Designers in others. The old saying that titles don’t mean everything is quite true in this case.
Part 1 of this 2 part article will focus on the lifecycle and the different paths a designer can take. In part 2, I will do my best to describe the various design positions available, the capabilities and expectations, and the sort of work that should be highlighted in the portfolio. While the titles are there for organization and discussion purposes, don’t worry too much about. Focus instead on the years of experience and the sort of skills designers are expected to have.
In general most designers start their career as junior designers. Duh. However it is worth mentioning that are many paths into design. Many companies have entry level design positions that can be segmented. They could include sub-specialty areas of trend forecasting, colors and materials, technology analysis etc. This could well move into a full sub-specialty career of design. I know for a fact that BMW has some of the world’s best colors and materials experts working for them. But for the purpose of this discussion we will just focus on generic design.
After junior design positions, the next is what is sometimes called middle-weight designers. Middle weight designers have a few years of experience that will lead into that of a senior design position.
After this things start to get interesting. At this stage is it more about what a designer is more interested to do as the path sort of splits into 2 routes. There is the design and creative direction route and the other I will probably call the design management route.
Let’s start with the most obvious route, the design management route. This path leads into the Design Manager positions, and ultimately a Design Director or even VP of design. This role manages and considers design on a strategic business level.
The technical design continues into lead or principal designer positions. This path has been becoming popular of late as companies are finding that there are designers that just want to do design and not program/project or designer management. As a result their career comes to a halt as their advancement stops and so does the pay.
Another thing to note is that even thought the creative direction path follows after the lead designer position, it is sort of an in between the design management and technical deign career path. At this level there is the strategic application of a design’s form or look within a larger frame work or brand context. This career path also requires managing the designers of the technical design route and as well as ensuring the form requirements of the client are fulfilled or met.
So this is pretty much in a nutshell the possible career paths for designers. In Part 2, we will dive deeper in to the individual roles and explore the sort of requirements and expectations to have, so that designers can aspire towards it.
The Lifecycle of a Designer: Part 2 is up and running so see you there!