x
Design

8 tips for new designers in tech

4 min read
Yael Klass  •  Jul 26, 2019
Link copied to clipboard

The tech industry is shifting and it’s taking a whole bunch of designers with it. With this rapid change, exciting new design positions are opening up every day.

UX and UI are becoming more visible and imperative to customer facing tech companies. The United States Bureau of Labor anticipates an average of:

All this is to say, you’ve entered the right field—from UX and UI to marketing and motion designers, there’s something for everyone. And lots of those positions are in tech.

As the Head of Content at Promo.com, a video creation startup, part of my job is helping creatives adjust to their new jobs in UI/UX. These are the eight tips I can give to new designers who are dipping their feet into the full-time job pool for the first time.

We’ll be going into:

  • Getting used to your new structure
  • Dealing with (inevitable) office politics
  • Explaining design to non-designers patiently and with love
  • Developing a transparent, tech-friendly workflow
  • Fitting design into the corporate structure
  • Proving your success
  • Planning your career track from the jump
  • What it means to take your job seriously, but not too seriously

1. Learn how to explain design in layman’s terms

More often than not, your projects will include stakeholders who don’t have a background in design. This could mean that they don’t know how long a task should take, what you need in order to execute it, or why they should invest in the design process at all. 

While it can be frustrating to defend what may feel like your very existence, we recommend that you see it as a positive challenge to overcome. Don’t expect non-designers to know how to give helpful, design-oriented feedback! Instead, learn how to present design in their language—and then to interpret their questions and feedback into design needs.

Imagine this scenario: A Marketing Automation Manager is pushing for several long CTA buttons in an email, but you know that users tend to skip long CTAs and that more buttons can overwhelm the user with options—making them less effective for marketing. You can tell her that they’re ineffective and you don’t think it’s a good idea—opening the door for an argument about aesthetics.

Alternatively, you can explain that a shorter button increases the click rate—letting them know that you are both on the same team and working towards the same goals.

Being able to brainstorm with other stakeholders will move you from the position of service provider in the position of valued team member. This will give you access to a whole new level of expertise when pushing for more elegant and user friendly design solutions.

Pro tip: Learning how to explain design in a language that other stakeholders understand can make or break a project. Use charts, graphs, data, and surveys to help defend your project and gauge their reaction.

2. Create and communicate a transparent workflow 

Especially when you’re working with a project manager who isn’t a designer, it’s up to you to create a clear communication system that addresses:

  • What you need in order to complete certain tasks
  • How long you expect each task to take
  • What the end result will look like.

Make sure this workflow breakdown addresses all of the steps, including time for researching and moodboarding. Non-designers might not understand how important this step is, so it’s up to you to determine how long it will take and to justify why it’s a critical part of the workflow.

Pro tip: Here’s how we explain it. Brainstorming and moodboarding are the equivalents of researching content before you sit down and write a blog article, or looking at the data before pitching a brand new product. The same way that no one would expect a writer to write an article without researching the subject matter beforehand, one can’t expect you to jump into a project without any forethought.

You can present your workflow in a 1:1 meeting, kick-off presentation, or even just an email, depending on the scope of the project or the common practice of your office.

We recommend:

  • Kickoff presentation: if you need to explain the value of a project or get signoff from non-designer stakeholders. This open forum allows questions can be asked, holes to be addressed, and clarification for points that might get lost in translation.
  • 1:1 meeting: when your performance or results will only be measured by one person, usually your manager. This is especially relevant to larger, cross-company projects.
  • Email: when a project has been agreed upon or assigned, and all you have to do is clarify the stages and workflow.

The system that my team has in place involves a form (including a due date and details) that once submitted, shows up our Trello board. Any questions (and answers), plus approvals, are housed on the board. If we are dealing with a project of large scale, we will often set up a kick-off meeting with all stakeholders as well.

We continuously communicate throughout the whole process, and it’s made our work go smoothly—and our relationships more relaxed. 

The Google Form we use to communicate requests

3. Understand design’s role in larger projects

Design makes everything possible, but it’s not every project’s first priority. There will be projects in which design is the star, and there will be projects in which design is just a functional cog in a larger machine. In both cases, designers need to play nicely with the other stakeholders.

Taking part in projects encompassing other players gives you the opportunity to explore design’s role within the bigger org. This is where working as an in-house designer at a tech company gets interesting—because you see where you fit into the puzzle, as opposed to just your solo contribution.

Real-life example: You’re working on a book release with other teams, including marketers, writers, and developers. Your design is important, but you have to work in conjunction with those other players: reading the book, learning the target audience, and understanding the format it will be released in. If you tried to design without those efforts…well, good luck to you. 

If not for the joy of learning, then do it to become a better teammate and designer. By training yourself to focus on more than just design, you’ll become more attuned to the product, the company, and your role in the operation. 

You can only deliver your best work once you understand the big picture. See yourself as part of the greater company’s operations, instead of just a designer on the design team. You’ll be surprised by the collaborations you’ll find.

Pro tip one: To make sure your projects are good to go from marketing, QA, and product perspectives, don’t be embarrassed to ask for one-on-one meetings with folks from each department to get their input and expand your skill-set!

Pro tip two: Take the time to understand the company roadmap, budget, project goals, and technological capabilities. This will help you understand the players and realities that can hinder and encourage your work, which will save you time and energy while developing new solutions.

4. Lead by numbers

Meet your new best friends, KPIs.

KPIs are Key Performance Indicators. This is how you’ll measure your success. Common design KPIs include conversions; average time on page; bounce rate; event action, and exit points. All of these numbers measure the effectiveness of a page or product’s UX. By setting goals based on these numbers, you will have an objective way to measure your outcomes and determine what is and isn’t working and how you can improve. 

Especially for those aiming for the management track, finding ways to take subjective output and make it even slightly objective for the higher-ups is a very helpful skill.

Pro tip: Find a mentor who can help you out. The numbers will be a lot easier to understand when there’s someone taking the time to explain them to you and ideally create relevant data dashboards you can track.

5. Don’t fear office politics

Working with the same people every day means that, even if they drive you crazy, you have to play nice. I assure you that making an effort to be pleasant to everyone will pay off. This means you’ll have to start coming up with what we call “political solutions.”

Ruffling feathers will not only hinder the company’s goals, but also your own. I know you’re not running for city council, but this is just a helpful reminder that your attitude towards employees does affect your reputation, and you want it to be sparkling for this job—and future jobs as well. When you’re feeling cranky, remind yourself of the value of soft skills—and being easy to work with is a highly valuable one.

(Check out our Product Design Hiring Report for more on the present and future of product design.)

It’s fair to assume that (almost) anyone you work with was hired because they have some sort of talent and, while working with them may not be easy or pleasant, it will be easier if you find out what that talent is. 

Pro tip: Just like in any functional relationship, sometimes you just have to smile and compromise. 

6. Stay flexible

Your job may come with what feels like strict design guidelines, but you’ll need to develop more professional flexibility than ever. 

Your company is likely to be faced with lots of competing priorities. Projects will change, deadlines will move, and tasks will be reprioritized. Some days it will feel like the wild, wild west. 

The trick is to find a way to ride the wave. Don’t paddle against it—you will sink. If you need to stop what you’re doing and start a new project at a moment’s notice, don’t panic; take a deep breath and move on. 

When you’re working for a company, the unfortunate reality is that the company’s needs will come first and, even if you feel married to a given project, you’ll have to let it go if the need arises. This is an important quality to acquire for the sake of your sanity, but also for the sake of the office environment and the workflow as a whole. If chaos ensues every time there is a change of plans and you’re the source, you will soon become known as an impossible person to work with.

Pro tip: Even when everything seems like a mess, you can still have a system to keep your tasks in order.

For instance, I keep a task board on Trello. Each task has one dedicated card that includes:

  • All of the involved stakeholders
  • Due date
  • Progress updates
  • Attachments and assets 

7. Adapt to your new schedule

Adjusting to your new job isn’t just about handling the many tasks that are going to flood your inbox: there’s also an emotional and career-altering change in your life that you’ll be addressing. For former freelancers or students who are used to a flexible schedule, the shift to a rigid 9-5 isn’t easy. 

To prepare yourself, start implementing that 9-5 life into your life before the job starts. By getting used to scheduling your personal life—errands, meeting friends, that yoga class you love—around work hours, you’ll have a smoother transition into your new rigid schedule.

The good news, especially for former freelancers: a salary means that time away from your desk doesn’t equal lost money—including vacation days. Take advantage of the time you have off to invest in your personal life.

More good news: While you might not have the open schedule to run errands mid-day, you will have more tools, bigger opportunities, and exciting educational resources at your disposal.

This organization system helps me know who to notify whenever there’s a change in a specific task in the project. And, if things really begin to get out of hand, I can call a meeting to do a post-mortem to understand the intricacies of the issue and ensure it won’t happen again. 

8. Never get too comfortable

Your career doesn’t stop at your current place of work and neither does your professional development. It is vital to constantly educate yourself and stay at the forefront of technology, innovation, and new design trends. Expanding your toolbox will ultimately expand your professional horizons, open doors and give you a leg up in the industry—and you never know when a few extra skills in your back pocket can take you to the next level. 

Here is an example that I love to use: there was a junior Marketing Designer in our studio who was especially hungry. She shadowed product managers and practiced motion design, taking on new challenges and educated herself on every new project instead of simply fulfilling her responsibilities as a design service provider. 

A few years after she started, an Art Director position opened up and she was the obvious choice, even above more senior designers. It was because of her consistent commitment to learning and due diligence that she was noticed and offered a major leap forward. 

Don’t fall into a comfort zone where you stop growing your future opportunities in order to thrive in your current one. 

Pro tip: Keep your finger on the pulse. Read a little every day and, whenever possible, take an online course, class, or seminar. You can even try to get your company to send you to a conference or two.

And with that, I wish you tremendous luck on your new endeavor. Go show ‘em what you’re made of! 

Want to read more about design jobs?

Feature image from Undraw