625 Shades Of “Designer” at Publicis Sapient

Publicis Sapient Experience
5 min readSep 6, 2020


CEO and Design Leader Helen Tran via Twitter

“I think often it’s hard for people to accept Designers come in shades (just like every other profession) so it’s easier for them to imply all designers are visual or all designers should do user experience or whatever set of skills.” — Helen Tran

At Publicis Sapient we’ve created an in-house system by which our various design talent can be roughly categorized into one of 625 shades of designer. It addresses the common challenge of trying to differentiate between design that is primarily decorative or aesthetic (AND important) versus design that is more about problem solving at scale (AND important, too). We’ve developed some proprietary machine learning techniques around it that enable us to match talent to projects, and also to support talent development. It recognizes that there’s a wide spectrum of design talent to draw upon —and it does a good enough job for most design talent staffing needs. There’s other aspects of our system that addresses the need to be more oriented towards computational design, but in this piece we just focus on 4 of the markers we use out of an overall 10 marker system.

You just need to answer four questions, and from those answers we’ve seen that a lot can get revealed immediately.

» Learn more about Publicis Sapient Experience Design

Semiotics Marker Question

Rate your ability to create and curate sensory design systems, particularly non-verbal. We’re gauging your Semiotics marker here — someone who over-indexes in this area is more commonly a design craftsperson or artist.

  1. I have a solid understanding of good taste in design, art and culture, but I personally don’t have design or traditional visual arts skills.
  2. I am competent in visual design and storytelling across multiple mediums but please don’t make this my core job responsibility.
  3. I can be hired as a strong visual designer, UI designer, art director, motion designer, AV/VR designer, etc.
  4. I am a master of a specific visual design and artistic craft, and I can confidently lead a team doing this work.
  5. I produce category, redefining work that advances the art and design craft — e.g. I’ve contributed to projects like Google Material Design or something similar in impact.

A “1” rating in the Semiotics marker can still be a valid and useful designer when you consider the other three markers. A “5” is going to be a great fit for getting visual or auditory design tasks done, and yet they might be able to cover more territory, too. That’s where the other three markers come in.

Semantics Marker Question

Rate your ability as a verbal communicator and storyteller This question is required. We’re gauging your Semantics marker here — someone who over-indexes in this area is more commonly a writer or philosopher.

  1. I can recognize good writing when I see it but I personally do not consider myself to be a good writer or verbal communicator.
  2. I am a solid writer and storyteller. I can present ideas with no issue in presentations but don’t make writing my primary job responsibility.
  3. I have a strong hold on writing and language systems, and I could be hired as a writer or content strategist.
  4. I am an excellent writer and content practitioner, and I can confidently lead a team doing this work.
  5. I produce category, redefining work that advances the communications and writing landscape — e.g. I’ve publish work like Torrey Podmajersky’s “Strategic Writing for UX” or something similar in impact.

Systems Marker Question

Rate your ability to create and implement systems thinking and strategyThis question is required. We’re gauging your Systems marker here — someone who over-indexes in this area generate ideas and methodologies with scaled impact.

  1. I have a basic understanding how to apply logical thinking and pattern recognition to solve problems, but do not expect me to operate in this way.
  2. I am more than competent at identifying and implementing methods and principles to enhance the quality of my work (e.g. if I’m a UI designer, I can make a UI style spec document for a project).
  3. If you hire me, I can advance best practices within my craft and develop solid frameworks for operational and material impact.
  4. I can define new methods and frameworks to drive large scale impact within my craft.
  5. I am a master systems thinker and innovator that consistently produces revolutionary work — e.g. I created Atomic Design/Development theory or something similar in impact.

Science Marker Question

Rate your research and data processing capabilitiesThis question is required. We’re gauging your Science marker here — someone who over-indexes in this area builds and organizes information into testable explanations and predictions.

  1. I understand the importance of using research and data to solve dynamic issues; however, I’m not capable of (or interested in) facilitating these processes on my own work.
  2. I can use simple research and testing tactics to generate insights and inform my work.
  3. I am highly proficient at facilitating research and data analysis, and I am comfortable making this a primary function of my job.
  4. I live, eat, sleep and dream “data”. I am a master at running complex analyses and operationalizing research insights into measurable CX and business impact.
  5. I consistently publish innovative research that bridges engineering, design and business — e.g. I am regular contributor to the Nielsen Norman Group research report library or something similar in impact.

How it Works

So with these four markers, it’s easy to tag the set of skills a designer might have. For example, if they are a content designer, they’re high on the Semantics dimension and demand that the actual meaning of what’s being presented and shouldn’t just be “lorem impsum’d.” Or, if they are an art director, they’re high on the Semiotics dimension and go the extra mile with “pixel perfection.” When you have someone who is both high on Semiotics and Semantics, then you have a more balanced designer who can create meaningful expressions versus “pixel perfect” craft.

The typical “design thinker” is going to be higher on the Systems marker because they’re attempting to achieve scale and address processes at a “meta” level. And if they’re leaning towards a “design researcher” on top of that, then they’re going to bring up the Science marker to assert the value of qualitative and quantitative data.

The upside of this approach is that it doesn’t have to sit out in the foreground, and existing roles can still exist with their various associated professional titles. A flexible system like this becomes even more important in the age of UX and nouveau product designers that are necessary within our workforce today. And as we mentioned, there are more markers in our system to address the concerns specific to the age of computational design.