My question is just about titles. I have been working at a company that uses fairly traditional titles for designers such as Senior and Lead. I am now talking to a new company that utilizes many different terms such as Designer II and Designer III. Within the new company there are also titles such as Senior and Lead. The terminology varies between orgs. What are people's understanding about the differences between Designer II, Designer III, Senior, Lead, and Principal?
In my experience, the difference is an organization that's bogged down with bureaucracy and title fatigue and lacks an understanding of "fuzzy" roles. They aren't sure what it means to promote a designer, so they just use numbers to make the designers feel appreciated.
If you could draw a parallel between the two schemas, it looks something like this:
Designer 1 => Designer Designer 2 => Senior D. Designer 3 => Lead D.
In both cases you might have a Principal or Design Director. I've never seen a Designer 4. One point for the bureaucrats.
On a lighter note: To answer your question about people's understanding of Designer II, Designer III, Senior, Lead, and Principal -
As long as you are doing good stuff, delivering your responsibilities, and are able to showcase your understanding of the craft - outside community does not care much.
HR/Hiring perspective: Avoid the designer 1,2,3 etc. Senior/Lead works better.
As far as I know, numericals signify designer specialists that are on one rank (junior, mid-level, senior). A horizontal division.
Seniority rank shows how experienced a person is. You would hire a Mid-level specialist if you have a not very big range of not very complex systems to work with, but you would need someone more experienced and seasoned for innovative or complex service/app. It's a vertical division.
Finally, a lead is just someone who leads the team and is responsible for delivery and people. Lead status correlates with but doesn't necessarily depend on seniority.
So you can have mid-level designers 1-3, senior designers 1 and 2 and a lead (who is a senior designer 3), all in one team.