If you are a product designer fresh out of college or the first hire to a company or even the only designer in your team, things can be hard at first. Design school did not teach you how to deal with working at a real life job. You don’t need to worry though, most designers go through this and how you deal with things will mould how you grow as a designer. A friend of mine asked me what are some of the things I have learnt on this front, so I decided to go ahead and write about it.
Don’t let design be a blackbox
It is important that you advocate the importance of what you are doing and how you are contributing to what is being built. Take every opportunity to rationalise your design decisions and be honest if you do not know something. This does not mean that you shouldn’t follow your gut at times. Encourage team members to critique your work and thank them when they point out something that you might have missed out.
Ease them in
The team is probably not used to having a designer in their process. You may be met with hostility or non-cooperation but it is important that you get in good terms with them. Try to evolve your process to fit in with theirs but do not reduce yourself to a service that provides colour and icons. This may take a few months but what you can accomplish once your team feels comfortable with you around is definitely worth the effort.
Set a process in place
Always be present at all stages of the product; from the requirements being written till the product ships to the customers. Try to get your lead developer involved early on as well because this will prevent things from derailing at later stages. Do not let things ship without your approval.
Get feedback early on
Get a prototype out there as soon as you can. There are bound to be questions about the design and it is best if you can address these early on so as to prevent surprises at the last minute. No matter how diligent you have been designing the product, you are capable of missing out on edge cases and API limitations.
Own the product
Don’t think your job is done if you handover specs and assets to the devs. Tools like Zeplin make it easy to do this but your job is not done. You need to follow up and see that what you designed is what got implemented and that’s what is being shipped out to the world. Get your team to share the staging details or apk and see if everything is in place.
Understand that things can’t be perfect
You need to breakup with your habit of pushing pixel perfect designs. You should be able to ship something quick and dirty just because sometimes not doing so will impact your business. Remember that nothing is set in stone and you can always come back to fix it later.
Learn to choose your battles
If you try to fight all the battles, you will get weary pretty soon. You may not always get backup when fighting for your ideas. Listen to other people’s feedback and see if the both of you are trying to achieve the same thing. Be glad for whatever works in your favour and try using data to push your points across.
Know the business
A lot is written about how designers should code or know how to code at least. I, however, believe that it is far more important for a designer to understand how the business works. You will only be able to prioritise and ship quickly if you know what your business needs right now.
Be concerned with everything
This may be a bit taxing but you need to understand that nothing is somebody else’s problem. Keep an eye out for customer tickets, this will make you see what are their common pain points. Get access to your product’s instrumentation because this will show you how the users are moving through the product. Reach out to customers and do customer visits, this will teach you things that most users would not report.
Create a design space
You can make this physical or virtual or both. Do not think that since you are the only designer that no one is going to be interested in knowing more about design. Encourage others to contribute to this space. Maybe try and institute a monthly series of talks if not by yourself get your other industry friends to talk about their work.
Some of this may come easy to you while other things will take time. Until then, just keep calm and carry on.