As Ad Hoc’s Creative Director, part of my job is bringing the Ad Hoc core value of “build great teams” to the design practice. Creating great teams starts with hiring talented designers who are ready to put their skills to the task of designing services that raise the expectations of government. It also means we invest in helping staff learn new skills and advance in their careers.
As part of our goal to help people have long, successful careers at Ad Hoc, we recently launched a new career ladder for the design practice. Each step has clearly-defined competencies and responsibilities that help staff chart a path for how to grow at Ad Hoc.
Before I get into the details of each of the different design positions, I want to talk about what it’s like to be a designer at Ad Hoc. Above all, Ad Hoc’s teams use a cross-functional approach to collaboratively discover and build services for our government customers. That means that our designers work closely with members of the engineering, product, and research practices to shape and define both the user-facing product and the systems that support it.
Ad Hoc’s larger programs have a number of small, cross-functional teams each with designers, while our smaller programs and subcontracts may only have one designer that’s helping a team level up their human-centered design skills. Because of the structure of our teams, all of our designers have a high degree of autonomy and agency on their projects. No matter the size of the team, all of our work is guided by Ad Hoc’s UX Principles.
As a growing company, we don’t yet have separate individual contributor and design management tracks. As our designers grow, they take on additional responsibilities outside their immediate program teams, but all of our designers are still responsible for making direct design contributions to our government contracts.
I’ve been with Ad Hoc since the very beginning of the company, and being the Creative Director is the best job I’ve ever had. We’ve got an amazing group of designers in the practice, and we’re always growing the types of work we get to do and the impact we get to have on government services.
Below, you’ll find brief descriptions of each of the steps on our career ladder and a short perspective from one of our designers who recently made the jump from Designer to Senior Designer.
Associate Designers are at the beginning of their career and are still developing their design skills. At Ad Hoc, Associate Designers are likely on one of our larger teams so that they can benefit from mentorship and guidance from Senior Designers on their project.
Responsibilities: Associate Designers are mostly responsible for their own work. They’re working with government customers and the other designers on their team to create discovery artifacts, wireframes, prototypes, and other design deliverables.
Typical week: A typical week for an Associate Designer would include standups with their project team, meetings or coworking sessions with other designers on their team, and a significant amount of work time on their assignments.
Designers are growing their craft while delivering high-quality designs for government digital services. They’re likely on a small design team led by a Senior Designer who also serves as a mentor to help them continue to expand their skills.
Responsibilities: Beyond working on design artifacts, Designers are responsible for working with other members of their cross-functional team to investigate customer problems and develop solutions. They’re presenting work to stakeholders, critiquing the work of other designers, and facilitating workshops for the larger project team.
Typical week: You’ll find Designers leading internal collaborations sessions in Miro, preparing prototypes and slide decks for stakeholders, and working with engineers to understand how design can best help the team’s technical solution. Some weeks, Designers may be asked to contribute ideas to business development proposals led by the Growth team.
Senior Designers have mastered core design skills and are ready to use their knowledge to influence the direction of Ad Hoc’s program teams. Senior designers work with other leading practitioners and design leadership to make decisions that impact larger systems on their programs and at Ad Hoc.
Responsibilities: Senior Designers may be the only design practitioner on their team. They’re often responsible for all of the design work that the team produces for our customers. In addition to creating UX flows, prototypes, and other one-off artifacts, Senior Designers may contribute to design libraries and other design tools.
Typical week: Much of a Senior Designer’s week will be working with the rest of their cross-functional team and customer stakeholders to continue their program work. They may also spend a day or two writing a solution proposal for the Growth team, reviewing portfolios from new job applications, or participating in panel interviews to grow the design team.
Senior Designer 2
People in a Senior Designer 2 position are usually the design lead for their program, which means they’re often working with stakeholders from customer agencies and other vendor teams. In addition, design leads are expected to take on mentorship and business development roles.
Responsibilities: In addition to a broad range of design work, Senior Designer 2 roles include proposing new business development opportunities, writing components of business proposals, giving design critiques, and collaborating with other leaders across Ad Hoc.
Typical week: This role may look much different week to week. Some weeks will be spent doing design work critical to one of Ad Hoc’s programs, while other weeks may be mostly spent on working with customers, leading other design team members, or lending their design expertise to internal projects and business development.
Principal Designers are skilled designers who spend much of their time working at the program and practice-wide level. They’re involved in career paths for the design team, managing work with subcontractors, and helping to chart a path for the design team as a whole in coordination with the Creative Director.
Responsibilities: The Principal Designer position adds responsibilities with a broad scope such as ensuring the design hiring process is bringing in talented, diverse people and working to improve the overall health and quality of Ad Hoc’s design process. Principal Designers still contribute work to programs while also being a primary resource for our business development and recruiting teams.
Typical week: A Principal Designer may make the final decision on hiring a new person to the team, meet with the Creative Director to continue work on a new professional development project for the design team, and work through a disagreement with a vendor about a specific design deliverable.
Moving up the ladder
Savannah Million joined the team in 2017 as a Designer, and last fall she came to her program leader and I with a pitch deck to demonstrate why she met the requirements to be a Senior Designer. In her two years at Ad Hoc, Savannah had mastered the transition from being an in-house designer to working with customers, helped to onboard a number of new designers, and grown her core design skills. Here’s how Savannah described getting promoted to Senior Designer.
The promotion was really important to me. It made me feel appreciated. Ad Hoc wants people to feel supported and stay, and I felt that. The biggest change has been the emotional confidence that you get with having a senior title.
I also appreciate all the work Ad Hoc has put into making the career ladder explicit. Over the next couple of years, I can work toward a Senior Designer 2 position. I haven’t been interested in management, but at Ad Hoc there is more room to grow in responsibility without turning into a design manager.
If you’re a designer looking to use your skills for the greater good and are interested in joining a company that’s invested in you growing your career, head over to our hiring page to see if there are any open design positions.