Learning from junior designers

I’ve been doing this product design thing a long time — before there was much of a distinction between UX and UI in job postings. My first foray into what would come to be known as product design was being hired as a “web designer” for an email marketing SaaS application.

Throughout much of my career I was either the only designer at the company or on the same senior level as everyone else. After moving to Bestow last year I suddenly became a senior product designer in an organization that had a hierarchy with junior designers.

Over the past year and a half I’ve learned about the importance of having junior designers in an organization. Here are some things junior designers have taught me as a senior/staff product designer.

I’ve come a long way

It’s been a humbling reminder every day of how far I’ve come in my career. When you’re in the trenches and continually growing incrementally it can be hard to see how much you’ve learned over the course of 13 years.

There’s a lot of experience under my belt, both in terms of craft and soft skills. Some of these things have become second nature and muscle memory — from knowing which interaction pattern will be most successful to how to effectively use storytelling to sell a vision. When I’m able to help junior designers build up those same skills and muscle memory it’s an opportunity of introspection for me to take a step back and be reminded of how much I’ve grown.

Giving back is important

Having junior designers on the team provide more organic opportunities to share all that knowledge and experience I’ve gained over the years. Being able to give back through mentoring and coaching is important for 3 reasons:

  1. Leveling up a designer’s career — I wouldn’t be where I am today without those mentors I had in my own career. Paying it forward allows other designers to continue growing.
  2. Leveling up the organization — A rising tide lifts all boats. By leveling up individual designers within the organization I elevate the entire organization through stronger, higher-quality designs.
  3. Leveling up my own career — The final piece is leveling up my own career by becoming a mentor. Without having those organic opportunities it’s harder to flex those leadership muscles.

More confidence in my craft

With junior designers on the team, providing these opportunities of introspection and mentoring mentioned above, I’ve become a lot more confident in my abilities as a staff product designer.

When everyone in the design organization is on the same level, it’s harder to see how you stand out from others. That, in turn, made it more difficult for me personally to feel confident in my work.

At previous companies where I was a sole designer or a designer in a flat career ladder, I struggled a lot with imposter syndrome. All of this amazing work was coming out of my peers and I struggled to see my own value I provided to the company.

However, having designers who are earlier in their career has made me realize how much value I bring to the table. When someone on the team asks for my feedback on their work because I have experience and knowledge to share, I happily and confidently share what I can.

Renewed inspiration in my work

I often find myself learning a lot from junior designers and being inspired by the work they’re doing. They’re usually the ones who come in with wild innovative ideas and pushing the boundaries. As someone who’s been doing this for years, it’s easy to become complacent and comfortable doing the “safe” thing.

Seeing how designers who haven’t spent years entrenched in somewhat “boring” systematic design approach solutions to problems is a breath of fresh air. There have been more than a few times over the past year where I’ve been inspired to try a new direction for a design after seeing fresh ideas from younger designers on the team.

All of these things I’ve learned in the past year and a half have ultimately made me a better designer. With junior designers on the team, I can not only help guide them along their career path, but they help me level up my own skills. They’ve taught me the importance of occasionally coming back to that beginner’s mind and first principles thinking.

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