Junior vs Senior: A Conversation

January 10, 2022 in Consulting

My friend Femke posted a twitter thread (and a video if that’s your cup of tea, but I’m not one to generally watch videos) about what sets a senior designer apart from a junior one. I was intrigued by the thread because it resonated with me while I simultaneously disagreed with some of the arguments. Although this might be obvious to most of you, I want to note that there’s no right or wrong here. Me agreeing - or disagreeing - with Femke’s point of view is just a case of differing opinions, and that is a good thing!

Small scale vs big picture thinking.

While junior designers may focus on smaller, simpler pieces of a project, senior designers may focus on higher-level information architecture, or the wider product or platform.

In my experience, this is essentially true; however, there’s an asterisk needed. Part of being a senior designer is having a deep understanding of the project’s constraints. While a junior designer may focus on smaller, simpler pieces of a project, it’s also not uncommon that they want to redesign everything.

Reliance on others.

Although both rely on others, junior designers may wait for others to step in and provide expertise. Senior designers are more aware of what they lack, and may be more proactive and strategic in pulling in the people and resources they need.

I agree 100%. Senior designers understand that their weaknesses are, in fact, a strength! No one is a master of everything, and knowledge on where you’re able to add the most value is something you’ll evolve over time. Going further, it’s nearly impossible for a junior designer to fully understand their weaknesses and strengths simply due to inexperience. It’ll come with time.

Pushing back.

Junior designers may feel uncomfortable pushing back, or saying no. Senior designers demonstrate more independent thinking — they're unafraid to push back and ask questions to better define goals.

Pushing back/saying no and asking questions are two entirely different things. Perhaps this could somehow be correlated to seniority level, but pushing back and saying no relates to limiting scope and process, whereas asking questions is defining and possibly expanding the scope. Perhaps they’re trying to relate it to a frame of mind or the attitude used during the approach. Generally, I’ll agree that senior designers are more confident with saying I don’t know, something I’ve written about in the past.

Design process.

While junior designers are still refining their design process, senior designers have experience with different methods and frameworks. They rely less on a rigorous design process and more on their own toolkit to solve problems.

Whenever I teach at Hyper Island, I am amazed at how some designers are rigorously following a design process, usually the latest hottest design process™. I have no recollection of us ever talking about design processes when I went to design school.

Skillset & craft.

Junior designers may be still developing their craft, focusing on specific design tasks to help them grow instead of end-to-end projects. Senior designers can create quality designs w/ minimal oversight & clearly articulate rationale for design decisions.

Agreed. It’s easy to assume that seniority = years of experience. But, in my mind, a true senior in any craft is a person that never stops developing their skills. This is one reason why I continue writing. It forces me to articulate and reflect on some of the design choices I make on a daily basis.

Influence & impact.

Junior designers tend to solve problems within project boundaries. They may focus on pixels rather than experiences & impact. Senior designers have more ownership and independence, and may create project proposals to influence team roadmaps & priorities.

I agree, but I would like to see more organizations move away from this way of thinking. People tend to spend more energy listening to the senior designers in most organizations. While that can obviously make sense, there’s also a risk of missing out on new ways of thinking and ideas that can truly transform the experience. No one calls a junior designer fat and lazy.

Curious to hear your thoughts on the differences you’ve seen in junior and senior designers!

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