Round out your foundation.
Before you can rise to the senior level, you should have a strong foundational skill set that spans from end to end of the design process. While you may also choose to specialize in something specific, senior level designers should have a skill set broad enough that allows them to fill any gap that might exist in their team.
Find opportunities before they get assigned to you. The more your manager has to assign you projects and tasks to do, the more junior you will be perceived. Senior level designers are independent and autonomous — they can complete projects without needing hand holding. Senior designers tell their managers about opportunities, whereas junior designers are assigned them.
Own a specific skill or topic.
In addition to having a strong foundation, becoming an owner of a specific skill or topic will help you stand out. This could be anything — running experiments, managing design systems, physical modeling, etc. Just make it yours. If people at your company associate you with a skill and come to you for it, that’s a win.
Learn how to present.
Senior designers have started to master communication. They can be trusted to present their design work and rationale to PMs, junior designers, leadership, clients, engineers, and anyone else. This includes not only verbal communication but presentation slides as well. If you think slides are boring, guess what? Presenting decks is a huge part of being in any kind of leadership.
Maximize your visibility.
This is a key one that most designers miss. No one, especially your manager, should ever wonder “What does _____ do?” or “What is _______ working on?” If people don’t know what you are doing, they assume you are not doing anything. Show your passion and your impact whenever possible. Share your work regularly at reviews and company all hands.
I found a lot of value in sending weekly summary emails to my managers and leadership. In that email, I share key learnings, highs, lows, and plans for the week ahead. This allows managers to not only see my impact, but do their jobs better by removing any blockers that might be in my way.
Treat every project like an opportunity.
Seemingly menial tasks and projects are inevitable. Rather than shying away from them or doing the bare minimum (something a junior designer would do), find a way to make them interesting and something you’re proud of.
When I first joined Kickstarter, one of my first projects was to update and redesign our rules page. Though at first glance this seemed like a low lift project, after some brainstorming we decided that to push the concept further, we would also accompany the updated rules page with a small feature that flags content that might violate our rules in real-time. This feature ended up not only reducing 50% of problematic claims on our platform, but also got picked up by many news outlets.
Make a mini portfolio before each review.
Your manager has a lot on their plate, and they might not remember or be aware of everything you’ve worked on. Improve your chances of a strong review by making this mini 5 slide portfolio and sharing it with your manager right before reviews come around:
- A one slide recap of your last review with the focus areas you identified with your manager.
- A one slide summary of every single thing you’ve worked on since the last review.
- Identify your 2-3 highest impact projects or initiatives and make a one slide summary for each, and how each project addressed your focus areas.
- A final summary slide with a self-evaluation, proposed compensation adjustment, and title change if applicable. While it might seem daunting to propose your own compensation and title, if you do so earnestly, it will demonstrate your drive to manager as well as help them allocate salary budget with your expectations in mind.
I hope these were helpful! If you try any of these technique, we would love to hear about how they went. Give us a shout on twitter with how they went or feedback for us and your fellow designers.