The knowledge, experience, and mindset that a senior and junior designer may bring to the table can make a substantial impact throughout the design process and decisions. In this article, we'll explore these 7 fundamental differences between junior and senior designers in terms of their problem-solving approach for complex problems, the ability to have a bird's-eye view of the project and the client's needs, the presentation of ideas and skills, mindset, and design choices for creating impactful solutions.Note that by drawing the comparison of senior designers vs junior designers, we’re not claiming that senior and experienced designers are inherently better than their junior counterparts. In fact, some of our students early in their careers are more competent than UX designers with years of experience. We merely aim to point out the commonly observed differences and how those designers are often observed to perform.So with that in mind, read on to learn more about the key differences between a junior designer and senior designer in UX design!Introduction to Senior UX Designers and Junior UX Designers
The difference between a senior designer and a junior isn't about the title. The years of the wide range of experiences don't define your title; the quality of those experiences and how it translates into your qualities as a designer does.
We certainly don't claim that all the senior user experience designers are more competent than that of young designers. But, on average, these are fundamental differences we observe that are worth investigating and sharing.
The difference between a junior and senior UX designer isn't merely about how many different tools you know. It’s about acquiring a unique mindset, set of disciplines, and a certain depth in your craft that shapes up your professional brand. Your broad and in-depth abilities give you a unique and irreplaceable character. And that’s what makes a senior user experience designer different from a junior UX designer (on average).
Before we go deeper, let’s review the concept of T-Shaped Learning:
“T-shaped people is a metaphor used to describe the abilities of people in the workforce. The vertical bar on the letter T represents the depth of related skills and expertise in a single field. Whereas the horizontal bar is the ability to collaborate across disciplines with experts in other areas and to apply knowledge in areas of expertise other than one’s own.” (Wikipedia)
What we often observe is a senior designer masters different verticals and has developed their soft skills (horizontal bar) to a level that can lead and manage teams and projects.
Thus, as a junior user experience designer, you must attempt to deepen your skill set in different fields for example, mastering user research, interaction design, and interface design. Furthermore, after mastering in certain vertical fields, you will double down on your personal development and broaden your soft skills.Key Differences Between Junior Designers vs Senior DesignersHere're the differences we've observed in the context of senior designers vs junior designers.
1. Presentation of Ideas and Skills
If there’s one thing to take as an accurate measure of the maturity of a UX designer, it’s presentation skills and expressing their ideas. Being able to articulate design decisions is what makes the world go round.
- Junior designers tend to express ideas sporadically. This often is due to unnecessary stress and pressure, and insecurities of a young career. The ideas you present are all over the place (and that’s okay).
Impulsive and irregular delivery of ideas exposes your decision-making process and that can be unsettling for you. Don’t get us wrong, sometimes good and raw ideas pop in merely because of your sporadic thinking, but it doesn’t happen all the time and that is something you don’t want to rely on.
- Seniors communicate ideas cohesively. They can drive a conversation from beginning to an end and they often come into a meeting with a set of expectations and having a clear agenda. You control the wheel because you made the road and have the map.
Also, you’re able to communicate your ideas visually. And that’s their key. We should not rely only on words when the output of our work is mostly visual.
2. Mindset > Tools
There're various tools to master as a designer. For example, you need to master at least Sketch, Adobe XD and Figma, which are the most common tools UX designers use. Anyone spending months on one of each tool can become really great at it. But that’s only a part of what you do. The creative problem-solving mindset is something that takes longer to develop and must get involved in different projects and people.
Your mindset (how to solve any problem systematically) and personality (how you’re deemed as a person) and demeanor (how you react in times of pressure) would set you essentially apart from others who more or less know the same tools as you do.
3. Creating Impactful Solution
UX design can be a lonely job. Over 60% of our students alone lead a department of one. Mostly they’re pressured to tackle different tasks within an unreasonable timeline. This often puts young UX designers in a tough dilemma. On one hand, they'd like to do proper research and deliver outlasting solutions, but, they've to deliver what they're asked to. This often leads UX designers to copy-paste what already works. As they worked in the past and often neglect the new cultural and technological trends.
However if you work in a bigger organization where there's an established design department, then you’d be given enough time to research and develop their ideas. There's a good career tip for you: Join a bigger organization early in your career so you can learn from other senior designers in order to help with your journey of becoming a senior UX designer yourself.
Unfortunately, the majority of UX designers are the victim of such circumstances (working alone) and as a result, they’ve been trained unknowingly to deliver quick results. Which often leads to no impact.
And that’s what differentiates a great designer from an average one i.e. the ability to design experiences that WOW its audience.
4. System Thinking vs Improving a Part
This isn't on you, this is on the collective mindset of our culture. We tend to improve a part as opposed to looking at the whole system. And often as a junior UX designer, you’d end up improving a part like a sign-up process.
It can be that you’d be leading a department of one and end up doing everything but you’d probably have no time to look deeper into how different parts affect the total experience of the users.
And the more experience you gain through different projects, the more you realize how important it's to look at the entire experience of users from a bird’s eye view. Over improving a part and neglecting others might cost you the future of the business.
5. Assumptions vs. Experimentations
One of the pivotal differentiators that set your path apart from others is the ability to solve problems systematically using market inputs. As a good rule of thumb, you must verify all the assumptions and that’s what you’d often pay less attention to early in your career.
As you grow experiences you’d realize how costly it's to lay the foundations on unverified structures. The more you gain experiences, you assume less, run experiments to verify all assumptions, and prototype more than actual design.
6. Intuitions vs Research
This point is the extension of the previous point. Our intuition is an invaluable gift by which we can navigate. But, we have to bear in mind that our intuition is often wrong. The world is continuously changing and evolving and what your intuition considers to be true reflects on your past experiences.
An senior designer grows a healthy relationship with their intuition and knows when to use it and when not. When facing new challenges, you must often rely more on research than intuition. Intuition opens the door to the past and research discovers the new NOW.
7. The Size of Your Activity Radius Matters
When you start your career as a UX designer, you often work within the design team and often in collaboration with developers. That’s the range of your activities. As you gain experience, you get invited to different meetings and work with different departments. And that’s a beautiful sign. It means you’re deemed to be of great value.
If you’re some years into your career and still hang out with your design team only, that might be an alarming signal. Of course, it can be a different case for you. I know User Interface Designers who are fantastic at their job but they don’t necessarily fancy developing the ideas. They’d prefer to design and develop interfaces.
If you want to become a UX designer who is equally good at UX research and UI design, then eventually you’d meet more people from different departments and get to work more on the ideas than actual pixels. This is the gradual career path we see amongst senior designers.