Letter to a mid-level UX designer who’s looking to move into a leadership position

  Here’s my high-level rollup that you could talk about in the interview – As an individual contributor who is leadership potential:

   Design is the what

  • What should we build?
  • What is the right opportunity to go after for the health of the business?
  • What’s the right problem to focus on and solve?

Being a design-tech leader

  • Think big – to me this means really considering the big picture. If we build something and it doesn’t produce the outcome we want, we should rip it out of our product. The technical debt isn’t worth it.
  • Get smart on business – At the very least understand what part of the business you’re working on – a new income stream? Reducing cost of goods sold by increasing efficiency? What are you working on in the business, that will help you know what problems are most important to solve. Of course you’ll be at first leaning on the team to tell you these things, but show them that at some point you’re willing to contribute to the conversation.
  • Be an advocate for design – build in metrics, capture user interview in easily sharable videos – help the company better understand why design is valuable to the bottom line
  • Break out of the craft box – Probably least applicable to your current role – they want you to be a craft person, but show them that you’re more focusing on shipping and outcomes than perfection.
  • Design systems for repeatable genius – Show that you understand style guides aren’t an end in themselves, but rather help the business move more quickly to have higher quality work.

Be a dangerous designer

  • Understand the problem
  • Gather the business requirements
  • Do the research
  • Make the prototypes
  • Test them with users
  • Build high-resolution deliverables
  • Give developers a dev guide with margins, colors etc
  • Test post-release to make sure the product delivered on outcomes

 Systems thinking

  • This is slightly over-rated as a UX individual contributor – but it’s important.
  • Know that events are total react-driven – they are the thing that everyone reacts to, but they are actually at the top of a system – the iceberg theory
  • Events are the long result of values, structures and patterns – control those things, and not only can you shape events, but instead of being reactive (on someone else’s timeline) you can be proactive (you control the timeline) – that reactive vs. proactive is a huge point – a military guy made this point to me – and I love the concept.
  • Two concepts are important for understanding and improving systems
    • Emergence: properties of the system that are only evident when the whole of the system is in motion – you can’t understand these by looking at individual parts
    • Leverage points – areas to incrementally move the system towards a more ideal place – focus on leverage points make a small nudge that makes a significant move
Does this all help? I think the key is to show that you’re a strong individual contributor – but that you understand where your work fits into the larger business needs / design team needs.
I think joining a small design team will be great for your career – if you’re really looking to be a leader, just know that you should be learning as much as you can about running a design org – keep an eye towards design systems, how to hire, salary ‘bands’ and internal politics. At some point you should be the person solely responsible for those things, and you’re going to want to draw on your experience during this time to help inform your decisions when you are the key decision maker.
Does this help? I love these strategic, career-oriented discussions. If you have any questions or comments, please let me know.

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