When you’re searching for a new design opportunity, you scroll through dozens of open listings and reach-outs from recruiters. Some ask for senior designers, some for mid-level designers, and some for junior designers. But how do you know if you’re right for that position? Do you know what level you are?
We talked with our recruiting team at Allovus to discover what actually constitutes junior, mid, and senior design levels. As you’d imagine, sometimes the lines are blurred—making it hard to know exactly what the client is requesting. In fact, some hiring managers don’t know either—which makes it all the more confusing.
If you’re uncertain which category you fall into as a designer OR you’re a hiring manager who is uncertain what level you should ask for when searching for the right candidate, we have some helpful information for you.
The junior designer
Typically, a junior level designer has 0 to 3 years of experience. They can be straight out of design school with no work experience or someone who’s been working as a designer for up to 3 years. A junior designer often times works under the direction of a mid to senior level designer. They may be handed a piece of the project/product to work on but are not involved in the strategy aspect of it.
What a junior level designer should show in their portfolio
If coming straight out of design school, junior designers should show projects from their final year—often times they’re assigned real pro bono work for non-profits or start-up companies. They should show the process from beginning to end, starting with initial concepts, through feedback, and final versions.
If already out of school and working in the industry, the junior designer should show specific pieces of the project/product they worked on. They shouldn’t be tempted to show just the glossy finished piece. Rather, they should show the process, talk about the role they personally played in the project and how they arrived at the finished output.
Of course, every situation and job is different. “Personally, your experience and breadth of work is more important than the number of years worked. Nobody is expecting a perfect, process-driven portfolio from a junior designer. They want to see personality and if you’ll be a good fit culturally,” Allovus Recruiting and Content Strategist Viviane Veraguth said. She added that things have changed and will continue to change over time. “In the past, a junior designer had to do a lot of production before getting to do hands-on design. These days, the involvement can be much deeper depending on the opportunity and the team size.”
The mid-level designer
3-5 years of experience is a typical requirement for a mid-level designer. Allovus Recruiter Brian Jensen said, “A mid-level has a good chunk of professional experience, but they are being directed by a senior-level designer or a lead. They are the hands and feet of the team. They’re asked to go forth and deliver and here’s the road map.” But remember that not all mid-level designers are truly at the same level of experience and capability. Brian added, “Someone might be mid because they’ve been working 5-6 years, but the caliber of their work won’t indicate that.” Experience and breadth of knowledge is all relative and dependent on the individual.
What a mid-level designer should show in their portfolio
This is much the same as the junior designer—show your highest quality work and projects, but please show the process of how you arrived at the finished product. Hiring managers want to understand how you think. Show sketches, concepts, and finished work, but also talk about your failures as much as you do your successes. Failures often times lead to a much better solution at the end—having learned valuable lessons that you can apply to your next project.
The senior designer
The senior designer typically has at least 5 years of experience, but often is required to have 7+ years. According Brian Jensen, “A senior designer has responsibility, impact, is self-directed, manages others, and has a voice that is more directive. They need to be someone who brings a higher level of thinking to the process, can critically analyze, and push back. They are looking at the work from a higher level. A senior designer brings to the table the voice that is helping to steer the team and refocuses design to where it needs to be shifted. Senior designers will talk about their failures, not just their successes. They show their process and what worked and what didn’t.”
What a senior designer should show in their portfolio
“If you are a manager of a design team, the question of what can be shown in a book poses the biggest question,” Viviane Veraguth said. “As long as it clearly defines what was done and by whom, it is okay for a manager to show their team’s work. Don’t just take credit for the work—talk about how you strategized and developed the team and how you arrived at the solution. If you have mentored designers, state what you helped them with and showcase the work you helped them strategize on.
Want to know more?
If you’re looking for more information on what to show in your book, consider attending The Space Between: A Design Director’s Guide to the Perfect UX Portfolio hosted by AIGA Seattle. Our own Viviane Veraguth will be speaking along with other amazing speakers. (Click the link above for more details and tickets.)
Here’s a description and the deets:
Date and Time
Thursday, May 16, 2019 from 5:30 PM – 8:00 PM PDT
619 Western Avenue #500
Seattle, WA 98104
Are you feeling stuck on how to best represent your current user experience or interaction design work? Is your portfolio trapped in time and looking dated?
If it’s been too long since you’ve refreshed your portfolio with a critical eye focused on relevant and timely examples, join AIGA and local Design Directors from some of Seattle’s hottest companies as we explore ways to best market your experiences and UX-focused examples. No matter how many years you’ve been in the industry, design trends are always changing—take this time to explore showcasing your work in a way that’ll get you noticed!
Recruiting and Content Strategist, Allovus Design
Hui Liu (Daisy)
Senior User Experience Lead, Microsoft
Design Director at Convoy
Principal Designer on Microsoft’s Ethics and Society team