What differentiates a Junior Designer from a Senior Designer?

"Years of experience" is a proxy for the actual skills you can build with intention to further your design career

What differentiates a Junior Designer from a Senior Designer?

The most common answer you’ll get to “what separates a junior designer who’s now really sure what they’re doing from a confident senior who makes strategic decisions” is
“Years of experience and technical skills”.

But that’s not particularly instructive or helpful — you can’t just fast-forward in time to get more years under your belt. And you’ll need technical skills as a requirement for any design position, so that’s already covered.

So, what are these skills that can help you get promoted? There must be some way apart from just “Experience,” right?

YES. You can get ahead in your career by focusing on some key areas and improving with repetition. Ultimately, the most important thing which differentiates a junior from a senior is:


…which altogether doesn’t sound very interesting.  (Were you waiting for some flashy new design tool? ;) )

But Responsibility is the ULTIMATE asset that sets a junior and a senior apart. The key being how much of it you take, willingly and proactively.

What you don’t want to do is wait until your boss recognizes your potential and gives you more responsibility; instead, start taking more on your shoulders on purpose.

Embrace sincere communication

While you’re probably on board with the fact that you need to deliver your tasks on time, you’ve probably committed this rookie mistake: not communicating soon enough if you’re not meeting a deadline. Failing to communicate early enough that you can’t meet the deadline is like a big sign flashing “junior” in bright neon letters.

It shows that you can’t estimate how much time you need for your work, and definitely doesn’t make it seem like you’re a team player.

So, if you think there might be even a slight chance of you not meeting the deadline, communicate it to your boss. What this will ultimately show is that you care about winning as a team vs about losing your own face — an ultimate sign of a senior designer!

And here’s a pro tip: Every time you have to communicate not-so-nice news, offer a few ways to solve the issue along with it. Even if your boss won't go for these suggestions, it will show that you've put some thought into how to amend this. 

Manage Your Boss

It’s true that your boss manages you, but you also manage your boss! 

When you’re working with a team, especially in a dynamic, fast-paced team, nobody will have time to look out for every junior to check they're doing a good job.

You think it might be obvious that you're acing it, but in reality, your manager could be occupied with completely different tasks and simply not notice all the great work you're putting in. So, it's on YOU to show that.

Managing up is not about buttering up your boss and being insincere, it's about making your boss's life easier every way you can.

Instead of anxiously waiting until your boss asks you what your task progress looks like at the end of the week, send them a short (and that’s the key: NOT an essay) bullet-point list with what got done, and how your priorities look for next week. This will take a minor but annoying task off of their plate, and ensure they notice your work.

Understand what makes them tick

Get to know your boss’ work style. Do they hate getting emails and want to hear everything in person? Or maybe they can’t stand to get distracted by the chit chat and prefer having the majority of communications over Slack? 

Get to know them and communicate in their preferred way.

Fully own your mistakes

This sounds SO simple, yet MOST of the juniors don't do this. 

When something goes wrong, take full responsibility for it and resist the urge to come up with excuses or point a finger at something or someone else. Look at the situation and come up with solutions. After owning the mistake, communicate exactly how you'll make sure it won't happen again. 

Learn how to Prioritize

The ability to effectively Prioritize is a crucial skill that most juniors struggle with. A good starting point is learning a basic framework to help you make decisions in the face of competing priorities.

See the Bigger picture

Junior Designers often focus too much on specific design characteristics and don't think about the broader challenges, and the bigger picture of the project they are working on.

It's not that hard to come up with a sleek, cool design - most designers can do that. 

What's harder is to design intentionally -- with a bigger goal in mind. 

So the next time you find yourself getting carried away on a project, stop and think critically: why are you designing in this particular way? This will help you when pitching or communicating your design work to non-designers. 

Learn to look past your direct role and consider your team as a whole: is what you're suggesting feasible for the web dec department to implement? Does it meet the business goals?

Considering all these implications makes your job a little harder, but it also levels you up as a Designer.

Own your career progression

Rarely is someone going to hand you any kind of promotion on a silver platter, so you need to really think about where you want to be. 

Think of it like this:
It’s not your company’s responsibility to hand you a promotion. It’s your responsibility to earn it.”

You need to be thinking about how to get to the next level, instead of impatiently waiting for your boss to give you the instructions. This mindset shift alone will empower you to take charge, rather than sitting around impatiently wondering when the promotion will happen. 

You’ve already shown the initiative and drive to progress by signing up for this newsletter, so keep up the good work!


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