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Mention “employee evaluation,” and many designers shrink in their chairs. They often express fear of judgment coupled with the potential negative impacts on their careers. These reviews are not something to dread. UX designers actually have a lot of control over how they steer their careers and create a strategy for addressing employee evaluation reviews is the key.

Regular one on one sessions should be the vehicle for building up the content for reviews. Read the post on effective ways of using that time with your manager.

What is an employee evaluation?

An employee evaluation for designers is a meeting where you discuss with your direct manager the work you did over the past year, how you have grown in your skills, and where you may still need to grow. If there have been concerns about your productivity, work with the team, skill level, etc., then this is where your manager would review this as well. From the employee perspective, the question is often, “how will my work influence my ability to get a promotion and / or a raise?”

Employee evaluations should not be a surprise. You should set goals with your manager that helped the work, the team and the company, as well as your skillset. Over the course of the year, you should have regular meetings to review progress on those goals and adjustments to what you do and how you do it.

Stats on the effects of poorly implemented employee evaluation programs

  • One in five employees is not confident their manager will provide regular, constructive feedback.
  • 24% of workers would consider leaving their jobs if they have managers that provide inadequate performance feedback.
  • Teams led by managers who focus on their weaknesses are 26% less likely to be engaged.
  • 21.5% of employees that don’t feel recognized when they do great work have interviewed for a job in the last three months, compared to just 12.4% that do feel recognized.
UX career path - 9-box-grid

A version of the 9-box-grid. Based off of a leadership evaluation and peer review.

Learn more about using the 9-box-grid for evaluating UX designers.


Why do they matter?

Everyone wants to progress in their careers. Conversely, your managers need help with the day-to-day work and building the team, culture, and practices. Essentially, your relationship with work is transactional. What value have you brought to the team and company and how should you be rewarded? It is essential for you to think about the key things that the team and company need and how your current abilities and interests lie. You can then craft goals to help meet those needs.

How to do them?

Traditionally, businesses gravitate towards what they can measure. A business mentor of mine often repeats, “if you can track it, you can improve it.” This tends to translate into the results you have created.

Reward behaviors over outcomes

Mike Davidson, VP of InVision argues in his post, “Evaluating Employees in Product Design and Development Roles,” that just rewarding outcomes is lazy, and it ignores the work required to evaluate and link how we made our decisions and what the outcome actually was.

Outcomes are not always in our control. What designers create and what gets implemented are often at odds because of business decisions or technical limitations. Instead, Davidson advocates for rewarding behavior over outcomes.

Commit to three to five goals for the year and do them

This will take some conversations with your manager as well as some thoughtful observations and reflections of your product and team. Think about your responsibilities to the business, product, the team, and yourself. Where do you feel you can affect those areas? In order to improve those areas, where do you need to change?

Outlining and discussing these points with your manager will help you understand the alignment between what is important to the business and what is important to you.

Put people first

Working with your team

At most of my other positions, leadership made this a key goal. However, they also put this last after impacting business and client experiences. Why is this more important? It affects culture, and culture is everything. We have decided on the fate of new hires based off of how well we feel we can work with them.

Put people first. In Tony Hsieh’s book, “Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion, and Purpose,” he covers the importance of bringing in the right people that will add to and support a positive culture. If people feel the company is taking care of them, they will take care of the team and do the right things for the client.

Showing the work you completed

The work you and your manager agree on should have some strategic importance to the client, the company, and the team. Your review should highlight how you approached that work as a designer and/or researcher and how this affected the product releases. This is not about what actually made it into the product. We do not have full control over prioritization and implementation despite our best design and research work. Nonetheless, you can still show the intention of the work and the pros and cons of the current release.

Demonstrate your skills

Core skills

We often discuss the “T” for outlining designers’ technical strengths and areas of potential growth. Designers get a mix of advice on being a generalist versus a specialist. In reality, we are all somewhere between the two. Communicate where you are on the UX spectrum. The hard part is then working out with your manager of where it makes sense for you can grow in your core skills.

Peripheral skills

Early in our careers, mentors and potential bosses ask us what our specialty is. Given the breadth of the UX field, this does help place us on projects and teams where we can best contribute. During the course of our careers, our focus, interests, and specialty can shift. I have met so many creative professionals at their 10-year mark who have started out in a different area of UX.

For the sake of the immediate evaluation, you probably have already communicated where you want to focus. It is worth bringing up areas of potential growth in your core discipline and areas on the periphery. In my case, I started out focusing on interaction designs, but I had an interest in the research process. Letting my manager know that, she brought me on early for some projects. She then gave me some small research projects to lead.

Soft skills

Any extensive search for soft skills for UX designers will result in a laundry list of attributes we should be actively developing. Some of these overlap or contradict others. Regardless of the skills, I have found that management looks for your process of how you come up with your ideas, how you communicate them with your team, and how you eventually arrive at a common goal to work towards.

In the first years of your career, you can probably focus on how you can best impact your immediate team by refining your communication and collaboration skills. As you progress and become more comfortable as a designer and the value UX can bring to an extended cross-disciplinary team, you can start to stretch your abilities as a consultant. You are not directly doing all of the designs and implementing them, but you are influencing the teams who are.

Closing thoughts

On the surface, employee evaluation reviews represent a transaction you have with your company. You are showing how you are or are not fulfilling a need. In the end, there are common elements to a review that you can prepare for.

More resources on employee evaluation reviews

-T shape designer and getting hired
-What is a T according to InVision
-Finding where you can grow your T according to IBM Design

Learn more from UX designers and researchers on their career start.

Missy Yarbrough on finding her first UX position
Srikant Chari on starting in UX researcher
Denny Kim on struggles getting the first job

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Matt Eng

Matt Eng

DesignOps Manager. Based in Austin,TX. Worked with clients such as Alcatel-Lucent, Ogilvy, RBC, Deloitte, Whirlpool, Polycom, Symantec, and Pebble. Matt teaches, mentors, and speaks about design, creativity, and fostering stronger connections within teams.