We all have egos and keeping the ego in check is very important for designers who are very creative people. Take the example of Steven Spielberg, the famous movie director in Hollywood.
He once said – “I turned down ‘Harry Potter’ and ‘Spider-Man,’ two movies that I knew would be phenomenally successful because I had already made movies like that before and they offered no challenge to me. I don’t need my ego to be reminded”. Stephen went onto creating some great movies like E.T, Jaws, Raiders of the Lost Ark, etc.
Fundamentally, we believe egos get in the way of creativity. That is why a conscious title designer may actually not be a good thing. In the next few paragraphs, we will see what influences titles before we argue for why we shouldn’t care for titles.
Let’s take a look at the design industry and trends in career paths and how they influence titles. Typically, the pattern is to have either one of the two following career paths:
- Technical career path – This is a career path where you are still designing, but you take on more challenging projects as you progress, do more cool work as you gain experience and continue to enjoy creating. Sometimes you may be called upon to mentor junior designers and take them under your wings. Here there is a trend to have a title related to what you are designing. E.g., A web designer creates web pages. A product designer is a bit more generic and develops products.
- Managerial career path – In this career path, you transition from being a designer/do-er to actually taking on more administrative activities of managing a team, guiding and assigning tasks as well as resolving resourcing issues of allocating designers. In this path, the titles are somewhat hierarchical – Manager/Team Lead, Director and Vice President of Design. Often, the title is more senior if your scope of responsibility is larger.
Many designers who moved to a managerial career path find that they miss the excitement of creating something new by doing actual design. Some find fulfillment in teaching/mentoring while others in the technical career path want to do the same but in different contexts like doing a side project or creating a design curriculum of some sort.
Let’s face it – As designers, we are creative people. While titles can seem right for the egos, ultimately, we find excitement in creating something new. Don’t you agree?
This blog details some findings by interviewing a few designers across the world: https://uxplanet.org/5-years-from-now-where-do-you-see-your-design-career-efde6f9ba9d2
Another factor that hugely influences title is the cultural context where you live in, which is a function of geography. Compared to the Americas and Europe, Asia is more title conscious.
In Asian culture, saving face is very important, and the title is one way to show your counterparts that you are progressing in your career. In Asia, while things are changing, “the person with the higher title is always someone who knows more and has more authority.”
In the west, it is quite common to have a flatter organization and focus less on titles and more on what influence the person has on the organization. While some may argue that this is not as black and white, it is generally true.
So coming back to this question of titles for designers, we opine that it is harder to implement a flat organization in Asia compared to the West. However, the rise of startup capitals all over the world from San Francisco to London to Singapore is changing this as we speak.
There is an inherent psychological feeling that if one has a more full title, the pay would be higher. While in some cases it is true, in many cases, the fee is actually determined by market factors – How hard it is to find a candidate (supply) against the demand for that candidate.
Frankly, statistics indicate that it is harder to find individual designers who are good and have lots of relevant experience versus managers who can supervise a team of designers. There have been cases where individual designers make more than their managers and of course, the vice versa is true. So it is hard to draw a conclusion that one would automatically earn more money if one becomes a manager. The answer is “It depends.”
So now, we will turn to discuss the case of why we should have a design organization without too much emphasis on titles.
The complexity of jobs
Today’s innovation cycles are getting shorter and talented folks are being asked to wear more hats than just one. As startups are proliferating and even large organizations are continually looking to innovate, a designer who is a product design person may be asked to do a web or a graphics design as well.
The more flexible a person is in doing things, the more value he/she adds value to an organization and in essence, can negotiate a better pay package as well as work content. A flexible title allows an organization to utilize this person better. How about just calling them “Designer”?
The trend is to have more cross-functional roles. This is a bit different than the complexity of the job itself. A designer not only does design but they are also involved in business strategy, then product strategy and influence product management and finally during the development and testing phase influence how the product is developed and tested for example.
For example, the designer of a new smartphone will have to think about the end consumer from a product sales or marketing person’s view. A retailer or distributor view, a materials/production/manufacturing view as well as from the perspective of the person who has conceived of the product idea, which is sometimes the Founder or the Product Owner per se.
In other words, a designer is not just a designer. He/she is a “strategist and a business thinker” per se. In our opinion, a designer takes on a whole new and bigger role on the internet and sharing the economy of today versus what he/she was contributing 10/20 years ago. Every organization, new or old, is incorporating design thinking into their entire business and therefore a Designer takes on the role of a “Uber Designer and Strategist” in our opinion.
Outcomes and Influences
Our point of view is that we don’t need titles, we really need to be result driven. A designer’s results are really the following:
- Influence externally on the market in terms of new innovations brought to the market and revenue impact
- Influence internally on their firm and organization in terms of the various functions right from the owners of the business to product management, marketing, sales, distribution and development teams.
- Creating opportunities for the value chain of the organization – suppliers and distributors/retailers and so forth until the product reaches the end customer.
- Broad impact on the community of fellow designers, practitioners, and followers.
Separation of titles and levels
Some internet age companies like Microsoft and Google have made serious attempts to do away with titles. Such organizations have a separate title and level of seniority which are two different things. A person may have a very ordinary sounding title but may be very senior in the organization due to their level of experience.
So in our model, a senior technical career path person may be a Level 8 in Google, whereas another person who is on a managerial path may be at the same or perhaps a junior level compared to this person. So, any organization that is facing challenges with their design organization can easily call all of them “Designer” and have an internal level that is hidden and visible only inside the organization, thus solving this problem of titles partially.
In conclusion, we believe titles are on their way out and with dual careers and folks doing freelancing, what matters is what impact a person has on their organization, customers, suppliers, and the broader community.
Why don’t we make a bold suggestion to you as a reader and have you experiment with this new model of a flat organization, the standard title of “Designer/Strategist” and separate the levels out as Microsoft or Google are doing?
In summary, separating title from creativity will do a lot good to the design community.