Product Design Archetypes


Cap Watkins


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How do we ensure we’re identifying and valuing different shapes of designers?

After a calibration session earlier this year, I found myself asking that question to Jared in our weekly one-on-one. We’d been discussing the output of the calibration exercise, and I reflected that, in particular when talking about our most senior teammates, we were attempting to hold everyone to a high bar for every aspect of their career track. In my experience, though, it’s rare for designers to develop their skills evenly across every aspect of design. Instead designers tend to spike in different areas. Some folks lean more heavily into strategy and UX design, while others go deep on getting the visual details and interactions absolutely perfect. Some people grow to be more skilled at zero-to-one product development, while others are great at taking an existing product and iterating.

To be clear, it’s not that if you spike in one area you’re deficient in another. Rather, designers develop particular superpowers through their work experiences, their personal preferences and where they feel most successful. It’s easy when evaluating designers against a career track to weight everything evenly, to see non-spikes as negatives. When it should be the other way - we should have a baseline for the career tracks, but recognize, celebrate and reward people for the areas they spike in. We should use our knowledge of where our team spikes to put people on projects that take advantage of their superpowers. I think as design managers we already do this intuitively, but we lack a language for it and we don’t call it out explicitly when doing our team evaluations.

Luckily for me, Jared agreed that we were missing something as a team, and asked me to figure out how we should address it. And also luckily for me, when I mentioned it to my engineering partner, Ami, she told me that the Lattice engineering team had already identified and solved that problem. She sent me a link to a document titled “SWE Archetypes @ Lattice.” In the document the engineering team had identified a handful of potential archetypes engineers could fall into as they progressed in their careers. It was a thoughtful and excellent document which I was more than happy to use as a starting point (in other words, steal), ensuring that we’d share a common framework across at least two of our disciplines within the Tech org.

After a few different drafts, getting feedback and input from my fellow Design Directors, Cassie and Miki, as well as Jared himself, I was ready to go on a roadshow to share the document with the Product Design team and get their reactions. I set up time with each designer, sending them the document and asking them to think about which archetype they’d identify with most. The reaction was universally positive - folks were able to see themselves clearly in 1-2 of the archetypes, and I got great feedback about how I’d written or phrased various descriptions. The team could clearly see the value of the document, both for themselves and their own career focuses, as well as how we could use it at the management level.

After we cemented the document and fully rolled it out, I took over one of our Monday warm-up sessions to have an archetype reveal party. The team were given scorecards to guess each other’s archetypes, and then each person got to reveal which archetypes they identified with and explain what about those archetypes spoke to them. One of our designers, Carrie, even designed some amazing cards for each of the archetypes:

And now, we’re sharing it with you! While these may not work verbatim for your team or your organization, hopefully this document can serve as a good starting point for developing your own archetypes (just like the engineering document was for ours).