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Growing Designers Skills With Ace AI

March 29, 2023


min read

Valentine Steph

Growing Designers Skills With Ace AI

Yuri, Design & Brand Director, tells how Raiffeisen bank built a transparent framework for the professional development of designers inside the company and increase productivity of the whole team.

The Raiffeisen design team was 50+ people, when I joined it as a new design director. My main goal was to increase productivity of the design team by more than 200%. To increase productivity 2 times you generally have 2 options: 1) Hire more designers that are quite expensive 2) Increase productivity of the existing design team.

Design teams of 50+ people had several issues in the workflow:

  • Due to the number of designers, the process of professional growth in the company is not transparent, which leads to a lack of motivation and performance.
  • Design managers don’t continuously track the condition (performance, motivation, etc.) of each designer, which causes unexpected layoffs of key designers and subsequent failure of projects.
  • Managers don’t know the skills of designers, so they work on projects where their skills don’t fit, so they can’t reach their optimal performance level.

I decided to push the idea of skill growth to increase productivity of each designer and used Ace AI to scale it across the whole team.

Designers' skills growth

If the team leader is concerned about skills growth, and does it systematically, each designer's performance can be doubled. Some of them feel the courage and can even become “team rockstar”.

As a result, designers grow professionally and they are more motivated to stay longer in a company. The benefit for the company is obvious, because the design team creates more designs and the quality of design is getting higher.

How skill growth can help your design team

  • Develops professional skills (general, professional focused, and leadership skills)
  • Increases motivation and engagement
  • Reduces turnover in the team
  • Makes career progression and compensation policy transparent for other team members

Methodology of growth

In this case, we will discuss in detail each step of the design team’s growth implementation. There are 5 steps, which will lend you a hand, during the planning of your team's growth.

  1. Creating skill matrix
  2. Setting Grades
  3. Personal development plan
  4. Monitoring progress

1. Creating skill matrix

To understand the current capabilities of your team, you need to assess the skills of each designer. A classic HR tool, the Skills Matrix, will be really helpful.

The format is pretty simple – a spreadsheet with a list of skills in rows and team members in columns. On the intersection of the table, I write the score of each skill level for each designer. At first, I assembled the skills matrix in Excel, and customized it for my needs. I was aware of Excel's limitations, which later made me look for a third-party software to implement this task.

I collected the following skills divided into 3 groups:

Hard skills

  • Product thinking and analytics;
  • User research;
  • Information architecture and interface design;
  • Visual design;
  • UX writing;
  • Front-end.

Soft skills

  • Result-driven;
  • Communications and teamwork;
  • Creative thinking;
  • Systems thinking.

Leadership skills

  • Planning and organization;
  • Strategic thinking;
  • Working in uncertainty;
  • Hiring;
  • Mentorship and growth management;
  • Motivation.

To grow skills in a team, you need to understand the company's goals and coordinate them with long-term product plans. You need to match your recruitment plan with a combination of experience and skills that your company needs. These are the  growth points in the current team profile:

Skills matrix in Excel

You don’t need all skills to be perfect. Of course, there are key skills for each product designer. However, you also need to keep in mind that you can have experts in key areas and juniors who you need to grow. If we consider secondary skills, each designer needs to have at least 1 of them.

Later we completely switched to Ace AI, where I no longer had to fill in every skill and didn't have to think about the skill evaluation scale. They were already provided in a ready-to-use skills matrix. In addition, in Ace AI, skill data can be viewed not only by proficiency level, but also by the group.

Skills matrices for 50+ tech roles in Ace AI
Skills matrices for 50+ tech roles in Ace AI

These skills matrices, or skill graphs, contain the full list of skills for different engineering roles with descriptions and level requirements. Skills graphs are updated in real-time, so you always have a list of relevant skills and recommendations on what skills to develop.

You can also use a skills matrix for hiring. If several candidates have similar levels of key design skills, you can use the matrix to see what skills might be useful for the team.

It is necessary to develop the existing team in these directions or hire new people with such professional experience. On the other hand, if some skills are already quite strong, you can lower the entry requirements for them, when hiring new designers, who can grow these skills in the company. In return, you will have an opportunity to hire more people with unusual experience that will enrich your team.

2. Grades of designer's growth

The growth of skills and responsibility is usually followed by a promotion. Despite the fact that level of tasks and responsibilities is a major motivation for designers, promotion is also a good way to motivate and celebrate success.

The standard set of grades in the design team is as follows:

  • Intern
  • Junior
  • Middle
  • Senior
  • Lead

It would be useful to set skill requirements for each grade so that the employee understands how to get a promotion.

Ace AI automatically identifies the career path levels of each team member in your team and their skill gaps based on working activity.

See how Ace AI works in practice:

Ace AI automatically identifies career level
Ace AI automatically identifies career level

Depending on the company and the size of the team, the grade system can vary. We also appreciated that in Ace AI, everyone can set their own number of grades and name them in their own way. We specified skill requirements and got designer profiles for each grade. These grades help to:

  • Show designers what skills they need to grow in order to reach the next grade;
  • Form salary brackets that give transparency to current employees and candidates when hiring;
  • Balance the teams by the level of professionalism;
  • Set the right goals for hiring - designer of what grade you're looking for;

3. Personal Development Plan

Once you have determined the current level of skills of the team members, the manager builds a Personal Development Plan (PDP) for each designer:

  1. Choose 3-5 skills. At first, let the designer choose skills to take his/her personal motivation into account. However, you need to decide together whether a designer should develop weak or strong skills. Also, don’t ignore a long-term focus to have an approximate understanding of what skills might be needed in a year or later.
  2. Discuss personal ambitions and possibilities to reach the next grade. Decide what skills a designer should develop and is there such a growth opportunity at all. Use the skill gap between the designer's current and next grade to choose skills to grow.
  3. Selected skills become personal goals for designers. Ace AI has a special feature, which will help each team member to concentrate on this goal. It allows you to create a development plan up to an employee's individual needs and general positions. Inside these plans, you can attach a knowledge base and product tasks for designers. The knowledge base is basically a list of literature, articles, courses, and mentors which will help your team members to master the theory. Product tasks will help an employee to grow skills in practice.

AI hack: Ace AI allows you to save time on creating individual development plans for each employee. Based on the skill gaps, Ace AI gives personalized recommendations on mentors, courses, books, and other learning materials and offers to add tasks to a development plan:

Personalized recommendations in Ace AI

The Final Step

After completing all steps, we know the strengths and weaknesses of our team. And we also identified what tasks we can take to grow skills. 

Nevertheless, the most important thing in designers' skills growth is to integrate the process of constant growing into the daily workflow. For this, you need to answer the following 2 questions.

How to develop employee skills?

Professional growth. Your team must constantly grow and develop, so that designers become stronger and wiser, and thus they will be ready to meet new challenges and solve more complex problems. But to achieve this goal you  need to create the following conditions:

  • Professional Environment. Create a space, where everyone can share their knowledge and experience. For example, you can establish design critique sessions, where designers regularly discuss each other's work or book clubs.
  • Additional education. Conduct offline and online conferences, training, master classes.
  • Product work. Make your employees solve unusual tasks, participate in new projects, develop weak skills, perform as a manager for a while.
  • Coaching, mentoring, and feedback. Help your team members to choose directions for professional and career development. And monitor their progress, help them to analyze both successes and failures.

A Wide Range of Tasks. It is necessary to keep designers away from getting bogged down in routine. Let them think in different directions, provide a wider range of tasks. For this purpose, you can divide tasks into three types:

  • Product. Tasks on products and their functionality.
  • Infrastructure. Tasks to unify design and its individual components - icons, animations, typography, type screens and patterns, grids, etc.
  • Visionary. Abstract tasks to answer questions, like what will products look like in a couple of years? What unusual interface solutions on the market can be applied to the core product?

A good ratio between these tasks is 70%/20%/10%. Most of the time employees work on a product, just because there are plenty of daily challenges in this area. Such professional challenges move employees forward and make the work beloved.

Most employees have a hard time growing skills only by reading literature and listening to special courses. Try to provide an opportunity to practice their skills with real tasks. Ace AI integrates with task managers, such as Jira and Trello. Using this feature, you can link tasks with the development plan of employees and monitor their progress. 

How to give feedback?

Regular 1:1 meetings between the design manager and designer are always a little retrospective. These meetings have a great help for:

  • Professional development support
  • Fix problems
  • Information exchange
  • Mental comfort zone

Conduct such meetings regularly. There is always a time window when you can bring a question or a problem. We cannot miss these meetings, because the design manager and designer build mutual trust during them.

During the meeting, you can go through each team member's development plan and set tasks for a certain period. Over the period, you can monitor the progress and analyze results later.

Choose a single platform for browsing tasks. You can keep them in the wiki-system, the task manager. But since Ace AI helps us to conduct the entire designer development process, so we track developing tasks there as well. Ace AI recommends automatic agenda generated for your 1-on-1s:

Automatic agenda for 1-on-1 meetings in Ace AI
Automatic agenda for 1-on-1 meetings in Ace AI

You can also track the process of professional skills development with automatic feedback for certain skills:

Automatic feedback for skills in Ace AI
Automatic feedback for skills in Ace AI


In order to implement constant skill growth into the workflow of the design team, you need to make the following 3 steps:

  1. Create a skill matrix, and provide a report on the strengths and weaknesses of your team
  2. Set personal growth goals for each designer
  3. Conduct regular 1:1 meetings, where you discuss skill growth of each employee

The whole process of development will work only with the combination of these 3 major steps. These steps are highly dependent on each other. It is quite a time-consuming process, and it requires special attention. Also, it was challenging to keep a skill matrix in Excel, record tasks for skills growth in the task manager, and collect the knowledge base on a third-party resource. In order to handle the process faster, and make it as transparent as possible, we use Ace.

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