Career paths of an experienced UX Designer

With a few years of experience as a UX designer under your belt, you might be thinking what’s next? How can I progress in my UX/UI career? There are several interesting career paths you can take to boost your UX career growth.

As you have probably noticed, the UX field is not a traditional upward climb on what you might call a classical career ladder with all positions being distinctly different. Instead, it’s a very eclectic field where different positions are more intertwined in one another, possessing a lot of similarities in work duties and support one another. Some positions may be straightforward practical product development, while others focus on business viability or leading people. Understanding the different titles within the field can cause a dilemma and most importantly you might ask yourself, do I have what it takes to move onward and what position would best suit me? 

In this UX career guide we will have a look at the different positions out there. What do the titles mean and what do the positions entail for you as a growing UX designer. With the help of this career guide, you will understand the different tasks, a little bit of what they do and hopefully you will have an idea on which path to pursue. 

UX Manager

UX Manager sounds like a fancy title but what does a UX Manager actually do? The main difference between UX Managers and the rest of the UX team is that the UX Managers hold more responsibility, and their task is to manage the rest of the UX team and usually does not include much hands-on UX/UI design work. 

The UX Manager’s job is to function as a team lead, aiming to create an atmosphere where team members feel psychological safety, so that they are able to freely express their ideas without fear of being criticised.  Part of this is to establish design team rituals, which consists of regular common activities like design feedback and knowledge sharing sessions, retrospectives and informal events.

UX manager’s (like any manager) responsibility is to get to know the ambitions of their team members by having regular 1-to-1 meetings, and then help the people to join projects or trainings where they get to learn skills they are interested in. 

Other UX Manager’s tasks vary depending on company but some of the key combining responsibilities are to recruit the UX team, connect the UX team to other parts of the business organization, report to other departments about UX projects and progress, drive UX workflows, facilitate workshops, participate in building user journeys and personas and conducting research. 

UX Lead Designer (also known as Design Lead)

So, what is the difference between a UX Manager and UX Lead Designer? UX Lead Designer roles include the hands-on design work as opposed to only managing the UX team.   An opportunity to take a Lead Designer role becomes typically possible for designers who work in bigger organisations after they’ve got about 5+ years of work experience.

A Lead Designer still does similar design work as a UX designer, designs wireframes and interactive prototypes, develops navigation and structure, and acts as the advocate for the user. Typically a Lead Designer also has responsibility for the overall concept of the service, and facilitates it’s creation for example by arranging workshops and user research activities. However the Lead Designer should be able to split the concept design in meaningful parts and give responsibility for other team members as well. 

In a nutshell, the UX Lead manages design and research, and they make decisions related to design and features. You could say that they are the nr 1 UX designer of a team not forgetting that the other designers input in a project is equally important. 

Since they have a leading role, successful Lead Designers use some of their time for team leading tasks that UX Managers would typically do. These are for example establishing design team rituals and helping the team members to reach their personal development goals.  The challenge for a Lead Designer is to balance their work time between hands-on project work and team leading activities.

Another aspect that is good to mention is that a Lead Designer can also benefit from a Business Designer mindset and skills, hence the fact that Lead Designers often join projects in the early stages of product development, when the business model has not yet been validated. Let’s talk about that next.

Business Designer 

Business Designers are applying design methodology on strategy and new business model development, which can take place in large corporations or start-up companies. Involving customers to business development will significantly increase the chances of the business succeeding.

For example, think about a company which manufactures and sells a physical product, let’s say a boat. If the company plans to start selling a maintenance service for boats, they would have an opportunity to use design methods in the strategy planning phase to support decision making. By utilising customer interviews, prototyping and analysis, the Business Designer can gather customer insight for example by exploring following questions:

  • What kind of value proposal gets the customer’s attention?
  • What pricing model and level is the most attractive? 
  • Which of the alternative strategic hypotheses would solve the customer’s  problems?

Business Designers often work with people from different departments of a company, including sales, marketing, technology, and HR. Being a UX Designer provides a great platform for pursuing Business Designer positions since UX Designers already know design methodology. The challenge for a novice Business Designer is to learn the strategy and business development concepts and terminology so that they can speak the same language with other stakeholders.  

Business Designers also need to have skills to advocate design thinking to get stakeholders convinced that it’s time well spent.  

Growth Designer

Whereas Business Designers are often focusing on new business ideation and development, the Growth Designer typically works to grow usage of existing services and revenue of the company.

Growth Designers work with product development, marketing and sales. Together with stakeholders the designer optimizes the journey of customers, aiming to acquire and activate them. Growth Designers have a wide range of skills, the base being in visual UI and UX design, supported with web analytics, user research, copywriting and digital marketing tools. The growth of a business can be found through systematic experimentation and analysis of results. Genuine interest in growing a business is usually a big motivational factor.

For example, think about a company that is sending email marketing for a wide audience, but conversion rates from the emails that are sent out to the actual purchasing is not great. Growth Designers can ideate together with stakeholders multiple hypotheses, and then help to test each of them one by one and analyse results.  The experimented solutions could be for example:

  • The email content to be better personalised for the recipient
  • The email visuals to be more appealing
  • The landing page UI to have clearer Call-to-action
  • The company web store to look more trustworthy

Growth Designers must look at the big picture, not only from a product point of view but from a business point of view and balance between business targets and user problems. 

Service Designer

A Service Designer typically has a bit of a wider perspective than a UX Designer. A UX designer often focuses on the digital part of the service, like mobile apps or web services. Service Designers aim to understand the whole customer journey, also what happens before and after using the digital solution. 

What could UX Designer learn from Service Designers then? Service Design methodology contains a large variety of tools for conducting research, and visualizing findings in the form of customer journey maps and service blueprints.   Because they master the research skills, Service Designers are good at figuring out “the problem worth solving”.  That is an extremely valuable skill to have, because solving the right problem is a prerequisite for a successful product or service.

Another skill area where UX Designers would benefit from service design is the facilitation of workshops.  Service Design methodology contains many workshop formats and facilitation tricks that gives a UX Designer the possibility to involve stakeholders and customers effectively in co-creation of events. 

What career path to choose?

As you have probably noticed while reading about the different options within the field, they all have key elements combining them. They have overlapping boundaries and blend into each other. All benefiting from one another, while striving towards the same goals just from different angles. 

Then how should I know what position would best suit me? My recommendation is that you do some research and evaluate what part of the product’s or service’s lifecycle you enjoy doing the most, and what part of the UX design process you are good at. Is it the practical side of solving challenging design problems? In this case, a UX Lead Designer position could be the right fit for you, especially if you also enjoy helping your colleagues in their career growth.   Are you more interested in the business viability of the company? In that case, a Business Designer or Growth Designer is your best bet.

And the truth is that many of us also enjoy the role of being a digital UX/UI designer, and just want to keep on doing that!

Photo by Leon on Unsplash