Career Progression for Design Teams: The 6x6 Framework

Brent Palmer
5 min readMar 7, 2019

A Simple Framework for Brand and Product Design

The real reason Designers, Writers, and Researchers leave your company is because of the lack of growth opportunities and purpose. I’ve seen, even in organisations that don’t offer sexy projects, team members expand existing skills and explore new ones amidst dull teams. That’s because we are innately curious. So if culture beats strategy, then developing the people you have is the key to any design team’s success.

Personal growth isn’t linear so why should our professional growth be any different?

Signposts. Not Box Ticking.

There are a lot of frameworks out there. I consider this framework as a matrix of signposts instead of a ladder to climb. It’s easy to refer to a ladder and check a series of boxes on the path to promotion. The difficulty with ladders is even if boxes are checked, it doesn’t guarantee a merit increase. The goal of the 6x6 framework is not to be prescriptive with behaviours. That gets in the way of genuine improvement. I aim to give managers a tool for evaluating team progress, promote evenhandedness in salaries, and hire effectively. For team members, my hope is this framework will help you in your journey towards self-discovery, knowing thyself, and maximising your strengths in the workforce.

The Challenge with Frameworks

As with any progression framework, if growth mindsets and proper coaching aren’t engrained into the culture’s DNA, the 6x6 will become soft and useless.
The backbone of any progression framework is steady feedback loops.

Another challenge to installing the 6x6 framework is mapping levels and dimensions to our counterparts in Engineering and Product. Separating levels from titles gives me flexibility with backend systems yet still matches the job expectations with their respective peers.

A Case for Dual tracks

When a team scales beyond 15–20 people, it should consider specialisation and introduce a people management layer. For example, at carwow, we needed a way for leaders to grow as individual contributors and people managers. Those who wanted to increase their sphere of influence could improve without people management responsibilities. As the team scaled, both disciplines were valued. Here, I apply leadership to Brand, Research and Product Design across all levels. Even junior members are regarded as leaders. It’s just their sphere of influence is much smaller. Examples per each level provide clarity around leadership behaviours.

Principle and Staff titles allow for greater influence without people management responsibilities.

Six Levels

The range from one to six indicate an increase in both depth and breadth. The order of magnitude ranges from “self” on the far left to “industry” on the far right. The degrees of depth range from one to six with Level 1 being a novice skill to Level 6 which is best-in-class.

According to Daniel Pink in Drive, “A fulfilling vocation requires three elements: autonomy, mastery, and purpose.” Here, I’ve combined autonomy and purpose in to “Conduct” or, how one works. I’ve renamed mastery as “Craft” or, the output and production.


Personifies excellence in their respective practice to ensure quality.

  1. Qualitative data
    With smaller sample sizes, identifying the right problem, deploying the appropriate generative or evaluative method, synthesising insights, and ensuring consistent action.
  2. Quantitative data
    With larger sample sizes, identifying the right problem, collecting actionable insights with structured methods, running experiments, and spotting patterns.
  3. Illustration
    Creating an image to communicate an idea, process or thought. Visualising concepts by drawing.
  4. Writing
    Expressing ideas, processes or thoughts within a range of written styles for the appropriate audience.
  5. Concept Design
    Facility with methods, process and tools to demonstrate proofs-of-concept in low- and mid-fidelity.
  6. Execution Design
    Facility with visual design principles including, but not limited to colour, type, composition and scale. Ability to execute against existing patterns and styles.


Inspires day to day excellence and embodies company values

  1. Evangelism
    Frames and elevates the design offering to the broader community and beyond.
  2. Communication
    Shares the right amount of information with the right people, at the right time. Listens actively and empathetically.
  3. Planning
    Delivers well-scoped outcomes that meet goals, on time and budget
  4. Belonging
    Builds a positive and rewarding culture internally
  5. Initiative
    Drives improvements and effects positive organisational change outside of mandated work
  6. Coaching
    Provides strategic support to help build and develop talent

Leanne P.

Leanne is a Senior Product Designer looking to become a Lead. With 360, self, and manager reviews from Lattice, we map Leanne’s Craft and Conduct skills across the framework, create a plan together, and discuss any skill gaps. I take a picture and refer back to it with Leanne at least every six months.

The highest grouping of proficiency labels indicate where she is. As Leanne evolves her Craft and Conduct skills, I’m delegating responsibilities to her. For example, I see Leanne is executing very well with high-impact projects, communicating with stakeholders at all levels. Now, Leanne wants to be a Lead. I can give her new responsibilities like managing an intern for the summer or on-boarding our next design hire as a first-week Design Sherpa. Or improve data collection skills. Together we’ll clarify the outcomes for these assignments and, based on her performance, move from left to right on the 6x6 framework.

Proceeding from one column to the next helps build a convincing case during calibration periods or for a merit increase. Plotting my team on this framework can also identify stretch goals or important development areas outside of title and pay increases.

Final thoughts

Like most design projects, we’re testing and learning. After six months with the team, I’ll iterate and revise. Building the 6x6 framework was a really fun project, and it was a pleasure creating this alongside my counterparts in People and Engineering. Special thanks to Vrash Irbe and illustrious Jonny Burch for the progression framework greatest hits (check out his company!)



Brent Palmer

Design leader and manager @Mixpanel. Previously @Fast @Zendesk @PayPal @TrendKite @Spredfast.