I’ve made many mistakes throughout my career, and chasing the (wrong) job title is one of them.
We put a lot of effort into work, so why don’t we aim for the best and chase for the title—right? I feel you. Bear with me.
As a Product Designer, I’m an Individual Contributor (IC) and was hired by specific skill sets and past works.
I consider myself a creator who translates vision into design executions. I progress my career through creative outputs—the design portfolio.
Sure, I also do ideation, strategy, and project management (directly and indirectly). But making things happen is still my primary domain.
I’ve been a Mid-weight, Senior, Team Lead, and Principal. Besides, things get more complex. It’s slightly different between each role.
IC is IC, no matter what the title is. If you don’t enjoy your Senior role today, it’s unlikely to feel much different once you get promoted to Principal.
Should IC (designer) care about the job title?
To be precise—it’s up to you.
But more importantly, you must focus on your portfolio. Always ask yourself if the project you’re working on today will attract better opportunities tomorrow.
If the better job title means a better project to get your hand on, fight for it.
Now, let’s take it a little bit more spicy.
The big difference in the design career path is when moving between IC and Manager roles.
“The outdated corporate culture makes people think the manager is more significant than the IC”
The manager role, such as Head of Design, VP of Design, or Chief Design Officer, might sound like a next step for the IC, but it isn’t.
The outdated corporate culture makes people think the manager is more significant than the IC. How? The remuneration is a good example.
Sadly it causes many outstanding ICs to sacrifice their unique talents to become mediocre managers—or even worse.
There’s even a name for this phenomenon called The Peter Principle, which states that a person who did great works will inevitably get promoted to a job they can’t do.
I used to have a wrong attitude toward my manager. I thought—if I can design much better than my manager, why shouldn’t I be a manager?
Good ambition, yeah?
Let’s analogy the design team with a soccer team. Say, the Design Manager is the coach, and IC Designer is the soccer player.
The coach will oversee the big picture of the games and adjust the plans or tactics once necessary while the soccer players on the field perform to win the games.
If I can run faster, control the ball better and score the games every time I hit on the field. I think I add more value as a player, not a coach.
Or even if I can read the games and manage the team while I’m playing—it means I’m a team captain, not a coach still. The difference is the point of view.
The coach stands in a better position from the sidelines to see the games and individual performances—while the soccer players are busy with the games on the field.
This explains why even I can design much better than my Design Manager. It does not necessarily mean I can be an excellent fit for the management role.
However, it doesn’t mean which role is rare or better than the other, but each part complements the other.
Should the IC aim to move to the manager position?
First, moving from IC to the manager isn’t a promotion. It’s a job change, and it depends on how you see the best version of yourself in the future.
Let put it this way, how’s the last job of your life look like? Do you see yourself offering products or services?
Do you want to run a business that provides products to customers? Or do you want to assist people with your services, such as freelancing or running a design studio?
If you want to create products, I think the manager track will give you the necessary managerial experience to succeed in your venture.
On the other hand, the work you contribute as an IC will build confidence and portfolio to demonstrate your competency once you run a design business.
Should designers care about the job title?