It’s been 7 months since we publicly released our professional development framework. In that time we’ve received lots of helpful feedback from the design community in terms of how it’s been useful, how it could evolve, and where we want to take it next.

Andy Thornton
Andy Thornton
14th November 2019

From supporting individuals and teams working with our framework directly to inspiring design leaders to create their own professional development frameworks using ours as a starting point, we’ve been humbled by how helpful people have found it so far, and energised by the potential to do so much more with it.

Whilst professional development in digital design is being taken much more seriously these days, there is still so much more to do in this space.

We were also fairly surprised by how extensively the framework has been shared and put into action. What we published was very much in an Alpha state, missing some essential context of how to use it, and some nice data visualisation artefacts that help to make it more practical to use, both of which we were aware would limit its effectiveness.

Nonetheless, we’re happy to be able to elaborate further on the framework by demonstrating how it can be used to define specific roles and their career path(s) in relation to some role archetypes relevant to us: UX Designer, Product Designer and Design Researcher.

We’re also pleased to announce our Professional Development Framework is now available on Progression at clearleft.progressionapp.com, which elaborates further on these role specifications and their respective primary career paths.

Framework principles

As we touched upon on the initial release, there are a few critical principles behind our framework:

Measure what matters
Define an appropriate level of specificity, that neither overwhelms or abstracts what’s important.

Shape behaviour
“What gets measured gets done”, so only measure what you want to influence.

Exemplify values
Soft skills, attitudes and behaviours, such as collaboration and empathy, are equally important, if not moreso, than hard skills.

Be role agnostic
Support an approach to professional development that can scale and flex to multiple roles, initially within digital but potentially beyond.

Open the conversation
The quantification of professional development into numbers is meaningless without the conversation framing it (as Jason Mesut also alluded to in his talk at Leading Design London this year.)

A professional development framework is the starting point for a dialogue between people. It is a means to an end, rather than the end itself.
© Hayden Slaughter

Defining a role

Defining a role should hopefully be as simple and obvious as it sounds:

Step 1. Shortlist the prerequisite skills
The framework currently contains 20 skills. Not all skills are relevant to measure on every role, so a useful starting point is to filter out the things that aren’t essential to the role, or shortlist the ones that are.

Step 2. Benchmark the proficiency
When you’ve decided on the skills to measure, the next step is to decide on the proficiency level required of each skill for the role.

Step 3. Plot the career path(s)
As a general rule, aim for a tiering that allows skills to ‘level up’ logically as the seniority of the career path for that role evolves. This isn’t necessarily always relevant however, given that the Mastery level of each skill can be extremely hard to accomplish, and skill focus areas can naturally change based on seniority (see example below).

Step 4. Ensure roles complement each other
No discipline exists in a silo, and your framework should ensure roles when combined together provide a set of skills that is greater than the sum of the parts.

Example: The UX Designer Role

Here’s a practical example of how we’ve put this into action at Clearleft…

At Clearleft we use a set of 9 skills intrinsic to our values which we feel are important to measure in all roles at the company. These are:

Communication

  • Collaboration
  • Presentation
  • Feedback

Problem solving

  • Initiative
  • Methodology
  • Planning

Empathy

  • Relationships
  • Support
  • Human-centricity

That’s already a fair few skills to measure, so we’re very conscious not to overwhelm this list with an unwieldy number of additional things to measure.

For our junior and midweight UX roles, as an example, we measure around 12 skills in total. This grows to 15+ skills for senior roles. These additional discipline-specific skills in UX are:

  • Architecture
  • Validation
  • Exploration
  • Craft

It’s worth stating what may already be obvious here, in that the framework categorisations of Core skills, Strategy, Design, Leadership, and Operations are not necessarily analogous with roles. A role can comprise of skills from multiple categories.

Also of note is that at Clearleft, around three quarters of what we measure is based on the same foundational behaviours, the remaining 25% on roles-specific hard skills. Maybe that feels like a disproportionate split but Clearleft’s collective values and collaborative, consultative and open design approach is intrinsic to our way of working and continued success as a design studio, moreso than any discipline-specific hard skills, hence this focus.

At Clearleft we have three simple tiers of Junior, Midweight and Senior to most roles. This generally maps nicely to the Novice, Intermediate and Expert proficiency levels in the framework, but as already mentioned, it isn’t always the case that skills follow this obvious progression, or that the tiers for the skill are relevant to the seniority of the role.

As a demonstration, our midweight UX Designer role skills shift considerably when levelling up to UX Strategists.

e.g. UX Career Path - from midweight to senior

Example: The Design Team

A common team shape at Clearleft might be a UX, Designer and Researcher, which would provide the following complementary skills mix for our clients.

e.g. 3 person design & research team

Another probably even more common team might be a UX Strategist and Product Designer, which would still create a strong mix of complementary skills. It’s also worth bearing in mind that all our UX Strategists have already accumulated the skills of our midweight UX Designers, such as intermediate-level Validation skills, so there is more depth than may be initially obvious looking at a single role description alone.

e.g. 2 person strategic design team

You can therefore see how we shape different teams, for different clients, based on the needs of each specific project and the skills we measure within the individuals in our team.

Next up from our professional development framework will be some visualisation tools that help you benchmark the individuals in your team against the roles you have defined, and start to understand where they’d like to go next.

Get in touch if you’d like us to help apply it to your company.