Career Paths for Designers

Throughout my career as a designer, the role of UXD in product design has changed exponentially. It’s no wonder higher education and accreditation standards can’t keep up.

The result, many college graduates entering the workforce with little understanding of their career path and role as a designer in product development. It was obvious hiring a young team of designers at a growing ed-tech start-up.

Surrounded by competency-based education experts, I quickly realized the need to examine the competencies of UXD, help my team plan their careers, and clarify our value in product development.

UXD Competencies

The work by David Travis was a great starting point for competency statements but needed work to fit my needs. Performance indicators were developed for each sub-competency statement, requiring continuous assessment and clarification as criteria statements for each level were considered.

After a few dry runs and collecting feedback from my team, additional performance indicators were added and criteria statements clarified with help from Sarah Croughwell.

User Research

Facilitates research activities
  • Gathers research data throughout the product development lifecycle
  • Prepares research materials (test plans, discussion guides, questionnaires, surveys, etc.)
  • Conducts interviews that go beyond surface opinions (what users say) to reveal user goals (what users need)
  • Coordinates recruiting and schedules activities
  • Records and organizes research data for synthesis and socialization
  • Analyzes and interprets research data
Understands the fundamentals of human factors
  • Applies appropriate research methods to meet research goals
  • Applies principles of behavioral psychology and cognitive processing to research activities
Evangelizes user research
  • Presents research data in ways that can be used to drive design solutions
  • Socializes the importance and benefits of user research
  • Prioritizes usability issues and advocates product updates

Visual Design

Produces creative deliverables
  • Applies design to user experience according to brand standards
  • Designs with consideration for the visually impaired and disabled, cognitive processing of design, and cultural and social human factors
  • Designs with consideration for related creative tracks: graphic design, UI development, copywriting and content strategy, SEO
  • Designs for various devices and applications using design tools and software (Sketch, Adobe CC, Axure, etc.)
  • Manages production and delivery of design materials
  • Ensures designs meet brand standards
Understands the fundamentals of design
  • Applies visual hierarchy, composition and construction of meaningful color, typography, images, and iconography
  • Applies trends in visual arts, typography, illustration, photography, as well as media and technology
  • Applies visual brand standards according to guidelines
Evangelizes design
  • Facilitates design reviews and/or idea-generating team sessions
  • Documents and socializes design standards

Interaction Design

Produces evidence and context-based design
  • Translates user stories into wireframes
  • Wireframes using design systems
  • Designs multiple solutions to a problem
  • Creates technically feasible solutions
  • Designs using appropriate fidelity given the phase of design
  • Creates interactive prototypes for testing
  • Iterates based on quantitative and qualitative data
Communicates design intent
  • Creates user-centered functional requirements that explains design intent to technical and non-technical audiences
  • Maintains/improves design systems and supporting documentation

Information Architecture

Understands the fundamentals of information architecture
  • Applies principles of information architecture
  • Applies principles of cognitive psychology as it relates to information architecture and navigation systems
Produces evidence and context-based IA and navigation systems
  • Visualizes user-centered IA and navigation
  • Facilitates testing of IA and navigation

UXD Leadership

Resourcing and facilitating work
  • Organizes/delegates projects and oversees all UX deliverables
  • Matches projects to team members according to their skills and professional goals
  • Provides ongoing support, communication, and collaboration throughout projects
  • Removes roadblocks that get in the way of team members success
  • Motivates team members of varied skills, personalities, and work styles to achieve personal and department goals
Coaching and mentoring
  • Provides ongoing performance assessments, inspiring team members to grow and learn new skills
  • Constructively critiques teamwork — setting tone for healthy design critiques
  • Identifies team member strengths and weaknesses and helps define career paths collaboratively with team members
Recruiting and team building
  • Identifies hiring needs
  • Attracts, screens, interviews, and hires candidates who are a good fit
  • Facilitates the creation of offer letters and negotiates salary requirements
  • Facilitates the onboarding of new employees, getting new hires up to speed as quickly as possible
  • Facilitates ongoing professional development that aligns to advancement opportunities
  • Fosters a collaborative, productive, and positive environment
Evangelizes user experience
  • Socializes benefits of UX across departments and employees with varied understanding of user experience

UI Development

Produces reusable, accessible, maintainable code
  • Understanding semantic coding best practices (white space, commenting, etc.)
  • Uses modern coding tools (code repositories, source control, CDN, interface development environments, front-end task runners)
  • Produces responsive, mobile friendly, and cross-browser UI
  • Produces cross-browser compatibility
  • Pushing code to production
  • Collaborates with internal teams to create front-end solutions
  • Works with research team to test UI patterns
  • Develops with design systems
  • Works with front-end plugin/widgets (date pickers, calendaring, etc.)
Understands software development languages
  • Develops CSS
  • Works with CSS preprocessors (SASS, LESS, etc.)
  • Develops Javascript
  • Works with JavaScript libraries
  • Develops with data formats (XML, HTML, JSON, etc.)
  • Develops with run-time environments (NODE, PHP, etc.)
Understands the fundamentals of software development
  • Applies software development methodologies to UI development

Professional Competencies


Articulates ideas in writing and/or verbally to any audience in a way that drives progress/solutions

Meeting Management

Schedules and facilitates meetings efficiently and effectively reaching productive results. Provides agenda, invites appropriate team members, and manages next steps.


Captivates an audience, engages their input, and achieves shared understanding.

Growth Mindset

Looks at any situation, especially difficult situations, as an opportunity to learn, grow, and change for the better.


Works effectively with team members with different skill sets, personalities, work styles, or motivations to achieve results.


Able to look past existing solutions and develop revolutionary solutions, meeting the needs of customers using existing technology.


Aware of unspoken cues and developing cognitive or emotional empathy of other people’s situation/perspective.

Measuring Performance

The process starts with a self-evaluation. Levels for each performance indicator are selected using the scale dropdown in Google Sheets.

A beginner is familiar with the criteria statement, but has no working experience, until they grow to advanced beginner. Once they complete work independently they achieve competence. Emerging experts oversee and mentor junior work, becoming expert by demonstrating thought leadership and process innovation.

Evaluations for each criteria statement are ranked 1 though 5, then averages are summed up to the competency statement. Averages from all the performance indicators displays on the competency wheel making generalists, specialists, and career paths easily identifiable.


Work in Progress

While this was a huge success, work continues clarifying the relationship between sub-competencies and performance indicators, and defining a hiring process using self-evaluations.

If you’re interested in using this, please download UXD Competencies.pdf. Contact me for access to the interactive Google Sheet or if you want to collaborate on this project.

“The competency evaluations helped me recognize my strengths and opportunities as a UX professional, and gave me the perspective needed to advance my career.”

Sarah CroughwellUX Researcher