UX Research & Design Career Pathing


With this being an internal-facing project, the Customer is the team I lead. There was a gap in the career growth pathing for individual contributors at Southwest Airlines, and I wanted to build out options for the current and future team members that wanted to continue to practice their craft.


For Southwest Airlines to be able to recruit and retain top-teir talent, they needed to have clearly defined growth paths for their creatives. By aligning these career paths with established individual contributor roles — from entry-level to senior advisor roles — the business is able to buikd out growth plans for current talent, forecast for future roles, and recruit for the level of expertiese needed to ensure success across the company.

Project Overview

UX Research & Design Career Pathing

Client: Southwest Airlines

One of the challenges I am most proud to have helped solve at Southwest Airlines was building out clear career pathing for the UX Designers and Researchers. When I started leading the team, there were only four design focused roles available:

  • Associate UX Designer
  • UX Designer
  • Senior UX Designer
  • UX Architect

The existing structure was lacking in that it mapped the competencies to general buckets that included database engineers and email developers. By lumping all of these roles together, the expectations for success and growth wound up being overly generic and lacked any clear direction. The generic expectations and lack of more senior roles made it difficult for our existing team members to grow and made recuiting new talent extremely tricky.

One of the challenges with building out new roles and expectations is the Design industry lacks a single naming convention. UX Designers, Product Designers, HCI Specialists, and Experience Owners can all do the same thing depending on the naming that resonated with their organization. I audited job postings and job title trends across LinkedIn, Designer News, and Indeed in order to gain an understanding of what the level of expectation was across various career bands. I distilled that information down in to the following for both our researchers and designers:

Level Expectations
Associate Designer/Researcher
  • Understands and applies principles of design
  • Executes on basic requirements
  • The Associate level team member is expected to deliver on assigned tasks and begin to understand how individual decisions can impact each other
  • Seeks and applies best practices
  • Executes on complex requirements
  • The designer/researcher is expected to help identify tasks needed for a successful project and understand how different projects may impact each other.
Senior Designer/Researcher
  • Applies best practices to business objectives
  • Executes on scalable solutions
  • The Senior level team member is expected to understand the goals of multiple product teams across the organization, align existing and future work to consolodate efforts, and build actionable timelines for the Associate team members.
Lead Designer/Researcher
  • Defines best practices for the team
  • Simplifies complex, nebulous requests
  • The Lead designer/researcher is expected to understand key business objectives and prioritize work based on delivering the most impact. These team member are optimizing cross-channel efforts to optimize the digital experience for our Customers.
Principal Designer/Researcher
  • Audits and improves operational best practices
  • Maintains and drives multi-year strategy
  • The Principal designer/researcher is looking ahead and charting the course needed for the company to successfully deliver on yet-to-be-defined needs. They are working with Senior Leadership to understand the long-term company goals and prioritize improvements to both the internal and external Customer experience.