Do they even care? Evaluating the design maturity of a company
How many of you worked in companies where design is undervalued, people don't understand the role of design, and there's no representation of the design in leadership positions?
Something isn't right. I just received a contract to review, and the role stated "designer," even though I was applying for a product designer position. But I needed that job because it would allow me to finally break the barrier and start working with international clients full-time. So I ignored my gut feeling and signed the contract.
In the summer of 2015, I was lucky to catch this opportunity to work with a startup from California. Until then, I only had experience working with local clients, doing all sorts of design work: from brochures and CD covers (yes, I'm that old) to websites and mobile apps.
This new job would allow me to level up my career and get it to the next stage. I would focus solely on product design and get involved in strategy, business, and product thinking. But the gut feeling I ignored was right. It was odd at first, but then I figured the company sees designers as generalists and order-takers who don't ask many questions but do what's said instead.
I considered myself a generalist at the time because I was self-taught and mainly had freelance and early-stage startup experience. So I convinced myself that calling the role "designer" was good and accepted the position.
I left that job only six months after starting. It remains my career's shortest term with a company.
Does that sound familiar? How many of you worked in companies where design is undervalued, people don't understand the role of design, and there's no representation of the design in leadership positions?
This could be a really challenging environment to be in, especially if you're the only designer on the team.
To avoid these situations, you have to do a background check on whether the company is mature enough in terms of design. It's best to do this while interviewing for the role because building a design culture in a company is an even more challenging task.
By doing the design maturity check, you can future-proof that the company you're interviewing for is where you will be valued.
The process of evaluating the design maturity of a company can be relatively simple. Designers who want to join a company where they get to do more exciting and better work should come up with a list of essential parameters.
Here are some of the questions I would ask a company before joining to evaluate whether they are a good fit for me.
What is the structure of the design team?
You can leave this question as it is or dive a bit deeper by asking something like:
- How many people are on the team?
- What is everyone working on?
Answers to these questions give you a good understanding of the structure of the design team. Whether it's a studio vs. an embedded model. A studio model is when a designer works with multiple product and engineering teams, depending on what's the higher priority. An embedded model is when a designer works long-term with the product and engineering teams on a single or set of features.