What is a good product designer?

Front end design and development has become so diverse that people frequently find it difficult to define their roles. There’s visual design and prototyping, user experience design, HTML/CSS, and then front end engineering with Javascript.

For me, I can do every part just well enough because I’m driven by a need to solve problems end to end. This generalist behavior has me describing my job as product designer.

One of the most impressive things I’ve done professionally is my early work at Paystack. For the first year, I single handedly did all the front end work and design — website, multiple dashboards, checkout javascript library, payment pages etc. It’s my claim to fame, and I like to bring it up whenever I can. Even now, there are only two designers on the team, myself and Onyekachi. As the company grows though, we need to hire more.

Because of my experience doing diverse design work by myself, in trying to grow the design team I try to hire generalists. While specialization isn’t bad at all, I think at this infantile stage the company will benefit more from designers that can do everything. Also, since I’m only just learning how to manage other people, it makes sense to keep the team size small. So far though, it’s been very difficult finding really good generalist designers in Nigeria; the best designers tend to be specialized.

My evaluation process for this product designer role has been mostly manual. I look through code and portfolios to evaluate design chops, and arbitrarily decide whether the candidate is good enough. Recently however, the engineering team decided to put work into a mathematical benchmark for determining how good applicants are. Ezra 'God' Olubi. found a really good template on the internet, the Programmer Competency Matrix.

This was a good opportunity to create a similar grading system for product designers at Paystack. Using that as a guide, I created a product designer proficiency matrix.

Left: Guide, Right: I graded myself, Rick!
  • The y-axis highlights all the various skills that this product designer should have, and the x-axis is the competency level for each one.
  • For every one of the skills, add up the appropriate competency level and then calculate the average.

The resulting number will be between 0 and 3. Set your required benchmark using the results. An example benchmark is this:

  • Junior Designer A: 0–0.49
  • Junior Designer B: 0.5–0.99
  • Senior Designer B: 2.5–2.74
  • Babalawo: 2.75–2.99

This grading is also useful on a personal level for setting goals and OKRs. If you‘re a product designer or want to be one, this can help you pinpoint deficiencies and where to improve.

No. Because this was put together by Kachi and myself, I realize that we might be blindsided to some aspects of the job, or fallen short in defining competency levels. So, please check out the matrix on Google Drive, and leave comments to help improve this grading system.

Product Designer Competency Matrix

Thanks!

[Update: Teju Afonja did the honors and made a nifty tool to calculate competency without the excel sheet here: https://product-designer-matrix.herokuapp.com/]

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