Staff Design is a collection of interviews exploring how product designers navigate the individual contributor path to its highest levels.

What is the motivation?

I’ve observed two general patterns*:

  1. Career ladders nudge designers into management roles as the most realistic way to level up, have more impact, and make more money. Many companies tout a “two track system” that in reality rewards managers with de facto influence on product development and outsized compensation.
  2. Most designers transition into management or leadership roles right around the Staff or Principal level. It’s a natural inflection point for many people, but it means that it is increasingly rare to see individual contributors with 10+ years of experience.

With these observations in mind, I want talk about what life is like for people who stay on the IC (individual contributor) path for the long term. I want to know how people level up, what it means to “practice design” at the highest levels, how to track career growth, and what new skills are required.

* But of course there are obvious exceptions.

Why is it called Staff Design?

There seems to be an invisible line between the senior and staff levels (in a traditional design ladder) where people are able to choose between the IC and management track. That invisible line is where I want to add definition and context.


What would make this project better? Are there different questions I should be asking? Or would you prefer a different conversation medium – like audio or video?

I’m all ears! Let me know what you think of this project – constructive or otherwise. Leave your email in case I need to follow up.


My deepest thanks to the following people for graciously giving me feedback and support while working on this project.

Additionally, thank you to Will Larson for inspiring this project with StaffEng.

About me

Hey, I’m Brian Lovin. I’m a Staff Product Designer at GitHub.

I’ve spent a lot of time over the years thinking about what it takes to level up as a product designer. I started this project to answer questions I wish I had the answers to five years ago. Something like this would have saved me a lot of time and stress.