Jul 20, 2023
 min read

Principal Product Designer Archetypes

The design leadership path for an IC is still under-documented.

Throughout my career, I've been advocating for developing clear leadership paths for individual contributor (IC) designers within organisations. I personally grappled with this issue in 2016, finding myself in a situation where the only perceived path forward was to transition into a people-management role. It became evident to me that there was a broader spectrum of possibilities yet to be explored. The dichotomy between ICs and Managers in terms of design leadership within an organization lacked depth and understanding.

In 2018, I reverted to an IC role and, with the backing of my Head of Design, embarked on a journey of carving my own unique career path as an IC. It also paved the way for creating a more robust and fulfilling career trajectory for other designers within the organization.

Drawing from my experiences, I've identified five unique patterns, or archetypes, within the role of Principal Product Designers. It's important to note that these archetypes are not all-encompassing, and a Principal Product Designer might align with one, several, or none of these categories. The specifics of the role can be incredibly diverse, heavily influenced by both the organization's culture and the individual's expertise.

The Visionary: This Principal Product Designer has a deep understanding of the industry and is always ahead of the curve in terms of design trends and innovations. They are able to articulate a clear vision for the product's design and user experience, and they are often instrumental in defining the product's strategic direction.

The Problem Solver: This archetype is known for their ability to tackle complex design challenges. They have a knack for breaking down large, complex problems into manageable parts and creating design solutions that effectively address these problems. They are often involved in the more technical aspects of product design.

The Collaborator: This Principal Product Designer is highly skilled at working with others. They understand the importance of cross-functional collaboration and are able to effectively communicate design ideas and concepts to stakeholders from different backgrounds and disciplines. They often play a key role in fostering a collaborative design culture within the organization.

The Mentor: This archetype is passionate about developing others. They often have a number of junior designers under their wing, and they spend a significant amount of their time coaching and mentoring these individuals. They are known for their ability to develop talent and build strong design teams.

The Executioner: This Principal Product Designer is all about getting things done. They are extremely efficient and are often the driving force behind the implementation of design projects. They have a deep understanding of the design process and are adept at managing the various stages of this process to ensure that design projects are completed on time and to a high standard.

I will be expanding each archetype with some examples, like project scope, design activities and expert in particular design skill, on my next post. Stay tuned.