5 types of effective designers and their superpowers

We're 14 years removed from the introduction of the iPod touch and the commercial realization that designers can drive competitive value.

We're not just pixel pushers anymore.

In fact, the real work we do on a day to day basis is sometimes less about crafting quality products and more about compensating for organizational chaos.

And while dysfunctional career growth exists, the 5 types of effective designers have become clear:

  1. The Innovator
  2. The Systems Thinker
  3. The Bridge Builder
  4. The Growth Optimizer
  5. The Wartime Contributor

5 archetypes of effective product designers (and examples of their impact activities)

1. The Innovator

Jobs: Artisan, Scout, Researcher
Goals: Product-market fit and expansion

You're a clever craftsperson with a desire to challenge the status quo, especially in order to find new market opportunities. You seek to understand before you start and develop a deadly intuition about the future as more inputs become available. You're a scouting function who can carve a path through the fog of war and rally your team to follow.

  • Takes charge on producing new competitive teardowns and distributing takeaways to the team
  • Searches for analogous opportunities in unrelated markets to draw upon for inspiration
  • Uses unconventional tools (e.g. video editors) to demonstrate new and progressive UI patterns

2. The Systems Thinker

Jobs: Author, Engineer, Ops Leader
Goals: Efficiency and optimization

You're a manager of complexity and operations nut who thinks in systems - not pages, not features, not components. You key in on how things "in-scope" affect the wide-angle view of other initiatives and departments and work tirelessly to distribute that perspective.

  • Spearheads new systems by starting with affordable initiatives (e.g. component inventories vs. design systems)
  • Introduces the first customer advisory board to streamline research infrastructure
  • Creates designer + engineer + QA handover processes that actually work through active collaboration

3. The Bridge Builder

Jobs: Facilitator, Advocate, Driver
Goals: De-risking and optimization

You're a permissionless collaborator and the glue of your product org whose killer questions regularly uncover knowledge gaps. You're a steward of cross-functional alliances that brings other ideas to life and centers them on the table for discussion. You regularly ask the questions, "what needs to be known, by whom, and by when?"

  • Regularly meets with XFN partners like Sales and Support to help represent the big ideas of little voices
  • Hosts frequent office hours and lunch n' learns to invite new ideas and Q&As into the design house
  • Advocates for and facilitates inclusive design sprints for new initiatives

4. The Growth Optimizer

Jobs: Data Scientist, Strategist, Polymath
Goals: Expansion and activation

You're an analytical product builder with a wide-angle view of the business from prototyping to customer acquisition to business intelligence. You think in terms of scale and take a long-term view of people and processes. You regularly map the value of design activities to revenue operations and successfully advocate for new initiatives because of it.

  • Advocates for better instrumentation (e.g. behavioral analytics tooling, knowledgeshare processes)
  • Identifies micro-opportunities for in-product activation experiments
  • Teaches and rallies product org around smarter metrics frameworks (e.g. North Star framework)

5. The Wartime Contributor

Jobs: Velociteer, Negotiator, Shapeshifter
Goals: Product-market fit and survival

You're a fast and flexible multi-threader who is capable of juggling competing priorities in a dysfunctional environment. You have the ability to zoom in and out of contextually isolated problems in real-time and can effectively fill in the gaps for uninformed teams. You're a critical player whose ability to compartmentalize enables your regular heroics in an effort to weather the ongoing storm.

  • Creates sustainable shipping cadences across 4-5 times at any given time
  • Finds ways to install upstream while managing a minor amount of complexity to be addressed later (e.g. component inventory)
  • Keeps competitor teardowns at the forefront of PRD reviews to inform the team's lateral limits

If you've been an active designer for any number of years, it's likely you've worn one or many of these hats - and in some cases, at the same time.

While it might feel chaotic in the moment, this is how you become a kickass asset.

Not discussed this week: the archetypes of dysfunctional product designers.

We'll take a look at those very soon.

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