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Tips for a designer that just joined a startup as an internal designer

13 days ago from , Designer

I just joined a startup as a designer—working remotely for now but will relocate to their office in a month or two. Startups can be or rather are fast-paced and I want my workflow to support that environment to help the startup grow. I know speed doesn't go well with quality. But I know, or at least I believe, that a balance of how good a design is to how much time is spent on it can be achieved. Also, as I do this, I want to gradually educate the people I work with about the value of design and why we need to slow down sometimes.

Any suggestion on how I can do this? :)

5 comments

  • Todd CantleyTodd Cantley, 12 days ago

    As someone who has done exactly this (new startup working remotely, then moved to the country) and then worked in another new startup (~3 months old) the biggest thing you'll have to learn is patience.

    Right at the start everyone will be throwing requirements at you and you'll be designing a bunch of stuff, likely with content and data that isnt real. for an audience that doesnt exist. It's kinda difficult to do, so I'd suggest creating a couple of loose personas for the people you want to use the app.

    Another thing to realize is that every week or month the product direction will change, either slightly or dramatically, which will make the design decisions you made last week look bad. Try not to look back on your previous work badly, because you were essentially designing a different product then.

    Once you've got a rough design and you've got frontend and backend building it, you'll probably just sit around and have to be self directed because there gets to a point where you can't go any further on assumptions and you need real users. During this time I'd suggest polishing the visual identity of this. Also, during this time build issues that you never thought of will appear, so you'll have to fix those.

    But yeah, its an interesting design situation and there isn't too much accurate literature on it because people love to sell 'the startup dream' but honestly, there is a huge amount of scope change, work that never gets used and waiting around involved.

    4 points
  • Israel SundsethIsrael Sundseth, 12 days ago

    Prioritize. Make a trello board for tasks and be transparent about your workload. It's too easy in this situation to take on too much at once, and you'll look bad rather than the people who have asked you for the deliverables.

    2 points
  • Chris KeithChris Keith, 12 days ago

    Share and communicate. ALL. THE. TIME. The last two startups I’ve been with use Slack. One of the first things I have done is create a product design channel and invite everyone to it. I’m always sharing snippets of what I’m working on. I ask opinions. I ask people to vote on things. I talk about why I made a certain design decision and reference data whenever possible. For example, posting the results of a split test between two designs, complete with a few sentences about your hypothesis and/or learnings.

    Communicating proactively in a startup is a good idea for a lot if reasons, but I think it’s especially relevant to what you want to achieve.

    1. You’re remote right now, so high-quality, frequent communication is going to remind people you actually exist. I don’t care how remote-friendly a culture is, out-of-sight-out-of-mind is unavoidable.

    2. Sharing often with your team will give them a better understanding of the problems you solve, which will also (hopefully) give them a better sense for the importance of design.

    0 points
  • Anand DoshiAnand Doshi, 4 days ago

    Hi Mel. I work as a designer and software engineer at a startup. The best thing about a startup is that teams are close knit. You get quick critical feedback and I would take advantage of that.

    For the design stage, it helps to create multiple incomplete designs that convey the difference in each approach, get feedback and iterate further on one design. I usually go through 5-6 iterations in a short time.

    You will likely not have enough time to polish your designs and it’s okay. You can keep improving your designs, even after handing it off to the developers. Make sure you don’t become a bottleneck. Even your worst designs would likely be better than a non-designers take on it. The goal is to keep making progress.

    Do you have more specific questions?

    0 points
  • Jan SemlerJan Semler, 8 days ago

    Hey Mel,

    a lot have been said. And there is nothing to add. But i would like to give you an insight from a freelancer who had worked since 1994 in the digital business from startups to fortune 500 companies.

    Always ship but never get burned. Like Todd mentioned already they will throwing todos at you. They will get the best designs out of you, when they get it, they want more and fast. I guess you are the only designer in this startup i would highly recommend that you establish in cooperation with your stakeholder a process how you work and how certain process are designed for example: QM, HandOff, Approvals, Sprints, etc. But always consider to change something because technology will change and also the workflows who come with it. Be prepared and always try to use new tools or just have a peak in it to understand why it is good.

    You are the foundation of the startups design. So you will be the person who will get people under your wing someday and teach them. You will need to be prepared for that and also hold accountable when something goes wrong.

    Always a good read: Design is a Job by Mike Monteiro

    I wish you all the best. Come back to DN if you need further help.

    0 points