I’ve observed two general patterns:
1. Career ladders nudge designers into management roles as the most realistic way to level up, have more impact, and make more money. Many companies tout a “two track system” that in reality rewards managers with de facto influence on product development and outsized compensation.
2. Most designers transition into management or leadership roles right around the Staff or Principal level. It’s a natural inflection point for many people, but it means that it is increasingly rare to see individual contributors with 10+ years of experience.
With these observations in mind, I wanted talk about what life is like for people who stay on the IC (individual contributor) path for the long term. I wanted to know how people level up, what it means to “practice design” at the highest levels, how to track career growth, and what new skills are required.
I started this project to answer questions I wish I had the answers to five years ago. Something like this would have saved me a lot of time and stress.