Clearleft has been working on a professional development framework to share with the UX Design community. Here’s how, and why, we’ve arrived at something we hope is potentially valuable to your design team.

Andy Thornton
Andy Thornton
2 weeks ago

A work in progress

Mindful of the general sense that the design profession has historically been terrible at elaborating on career paths and progression, and inspired by some of our recent speakers at Leading Design and other conferences over the past few years, we’ve arrived at something we wanted to put out into the public domain.

For many years, Clearleft was exclusively a ‘seniors’ only club, where every practitioner had over 10 years experience in the bag, and this badge of honour formed an explicit part of our USP to clients. Over the past few years, as the Clearleft team has grown in size and capability, we’ve naturally hired more junior members of staff. With less seniority has come more appetite and need for mentoring, support and structure to aid and accelerate professional development.

However, on reflection and with the benefit of hindsight, even when we were a shape that was dominated by seasoned veterans, we were often guilty of throwing people in at the deep end, under the naive assumption that those who would swim could ultimately succeed at a company where autonomy and ownership are key characteristics needed to thrive. As an adhocracy, we prided ourselves on our lack of documented processes, ‘can-do’ attitude and ability to improvise under pressure. But we probably all suspected (and ultimately learnt) that regardless of seniority some semblance of structure was required to navigate cultural norms, manage expectations and accountabilities, deliver work productively, and anchor to a deeper purpose that made more explicit everyone’s contribution to the ‘Clearleftiverse’. This appeared to be true, even if any imposed structure needed to be experimental and adaptable to change, a core belief at Clearleft.

As we continue to be a relatively small and vociferously anti-hierarchical company, we appreciate the importance of giving all team members a clearer sense of where they can progress, or what they can specialise in. And not just within Clearleft today, but beyond that. Whilst there is an undoubtedly special bond that exists amongst all Clearleft alumni we’re not only comfortable with, but also active supporters of, enabling people to achieve their career dreams beyond their time at the company. Clearleft are just one part of a much bigger individual journey and a broader career path. Our passion for the digital community and our innate collective desire to make a meaningful contribution towards enabling design to thrive beyond our studio is something that continues to excite and motivate us. The success of ex-employees is one part of that which continues to make us all proud.

With all this in mind, we've been busy mulling and musing over how we can codify what it means to progress at Clearleft.

Measuring what counts

The first challenge of any measurement framework is ensuring there is a focus on what is meaningful. As Drucker (may or may not have) said “What gets measured gets done”. Essentially as we were aware that a measurement framework would have an impact on behaviour, encouraging the right behaviours and discouraging the wrong ones would be critical.

Clearleft is a place where collective values and behaviours are intrinsic to our way of working and continued success as a design studio. And moreso than any other company I’ve worked for or with, IMHO. When deciding on what to measure, and indeed what to ignore, we therefore felt it important to find a way to wrap up an expression of our values into the framework.

Our values

  • Make it great over good
  • Don’t go it alone
  • Own it
  • Be fleet of foot
  • Speak your mind
  • Learn, share
  • Feed your curiosity
  • Work to live, love to work

On investigation, a number of overarching themes within these values felt appropriate to measure as core skills, namely Communication, Problem solving, and Empathy.

Communication

Collaboration

Participate and facilitate collaborative group activities and/or workshops with colleagues or clients.

Presentation
Speak publicly or present to an audience articulately and persuasively.
Feedback
Open to seek, receive and give constructive feedback on your work or the work of others.

Problem solving

Initiative

Pro-actively own and be accountable for solving problems under your own initiative.

Methodology
Understand, apply and adapt your approach to problem solving.
Planning
Shape, coordinate and lead activities on project work with colleagues and clients.

Empathy skills

Relationships

Build strong relationships with colleagues and clients.

Support & Recognition
Support colleagues when they need help, and outwardly recognise the hard work of others.
Human-centricity
Advocate for a shared understanding of the needs and concerns of users, customers or audiences.

CPD Trello board
A section of the CPD Trello board

With these core skills serving as the foundations, we were then readily able to identify a suite of specialist skills across the themes of Strategy, Design and Leadership.

Strategy

Vision

Understand and articulate a clients mission, goals and desired outcomes, analyse their domain, and inform the vision and strategic direction of their products or services.

Insight

Diagnose project challenges and opportunities through evidence-based investigation and research.

Architecture

Map the architecture of the user experience.

Brand

Create, adapt or interpret brand guidelines and translate them into tangible artefacts and experiences.

Design

Exploration

Explore, iterate and improve on a broad range of ideas and potential design solutions.

Craft

Produce elegant, usable and responsive user interfaces and user experiences within known technology constraints.

Validation

Validate design concepts and solutions with end-users and/or business stakeholders to measure the impact of design.

Leadership

Direction

Lead or manage others to do better work and shape the strategic direction of the organisation.

Mentoring

Support the ongoing professional development and growth of colleagues.

Teaching

Coach and train others to learn new skills, techniques and ways of working.

Right now, this framework is well suited to UX, Research and Design professionals, but we aim to build on it to better reflect a wider variety of disciplines, such as Content, Development, Project & Product Management, and Events.

Each of the 19 skills are measured on a five point proficiency scale: Beginner, Novice, Intermediate, Expert, Master. The proficiency scale is intended to mirror the likely capability of a population along the lines of a bell curve distribution, with Beginner level typically reflecting a minimum benchmark for graduates or interns, and Mastery being the culmination of many years of hard work or serving as an aspirational, often career-defining, pinnacle of achievement. Most people will exist within the Novice to Expert proficiencies, which are intended to map neatly to obviously recognisable stages of any given career or skillset: from Junior through to Senior.

Where next?

The ambition is to have a universal framework that recognises and expresses the breadth of capability, both individually and across the company. Given the diffusion of skills amongst digital professionals, we’re acutely aware of the risks of putting individuals into explicitly narrow, pre-defined categories that can ultimately harm growth and professional development. As such we’re consciously trying not to design a system that stifles the unique attributes of any individual member.

With 19 measurable categories so far we believe there’s enough flexibility to avoid this. However we’re also mindful to introduce clarity around which roles and seniorities demand which subset of these skills and proficiency levels as essential prerequisites for promotion and salary compensation. Clearly this is a fine balancing act, but one we’re currently in the process of developing and refining further, along with a means by which to measure and evidence the criteria for progression in a more tangible way, that doesn’t inadvertently encourage gaming the system.

The Trello format is an unglamorous and occasionally cumbersome one, but for now is one well-suited to our tool agnosticism and the relative informality and conversational nature of how we manage performance and line management at Clearleft. Each individuals unique and private Professional Development board is fed from a root source of Skill & Proficiency definitions that exist on a shared board. This is something we’ll be looking to develop into more useful, easily communicable visualisations (e.g. Radar Charts), via a more robust and sustainable platform in the coming iterations of the framework. So watch this space.

Explore the framework