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How to be the inexperienced designer on your team

4 min read
Tiffany Eaton  •  Jan 31, 2019
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When I finished school, I was fortunate enough to have my first design job waiting for me. It was pretty exciting: I couldn’t wait to start working with such a talented team and do impactful work.

If you’re about to start your first gig—or you’ve recently joined a team—I’m sure you’re familiar with the mixed feelings that come along with being the least-experienced designer on a team. It’s intimidating, right?

It’s all about setting yourself up for success. To help you navigate this big step in your career, I’d like to share my best advice.

Know what’s expected of you

When I first started working, I was thankful to have a supportive team that was able to provide me a document of references to help me ramp up, such as explaining the design team’s structure, which tools to download, and the names of people I’d be working with during my first project. I understand that not every new designer coming in will receive something like this and may be given little or no instruction on where to start. 

If you don’t know where to start, an important thing to establish is expectations. This means understanding what your manager and team expect of you when you’re delivering and collaborating.

When expectations are set, they get rid of harmful assumptions and allow us to prepare accordingly, dictating the amount of fidelity a design needs to be, which product stage we’re in, deadlines, etc. 

Setting up meetings with your team to introduce yourself and explain your role and what your design process is like will help others know what to expect from your end—and you’ll know what they expect from you. For example, it can be hard to keep up with everyone’s workflow, but understanding which meetings you need to attend and the team dynamics makes collaboration way better.  

Take time to settle in

When you start, you’re more than likely going to be really excited to dive right into a project. Know that as a brand-new teammate, it’s more than fine for you to take some time to just get accustomed to your environment and get settled in.

“Setting up meetings with your team to introduce yourself and explain your role and what your design process is like will help others know what to expect from your end—and you’ll know what they expect from you.”

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I’m not suggesting you take a nap under your desk or hang out on the patio all day—I’m talking about things like getting to know your co-workers; setting up a schedule that balances work time, meetings, and your commute; and figuring out new resources that’ll help you work.

Before you start designing, understand your project

As designers, we have the tendency to quickly get into the details of our design work without taking the time to understand the space we’re designing in. Any designer can make this mistake, but it’s especially easy for newer designers. So find the people you’re working with and ask them questions about what they’re working on and what needs to be done.

Try to understand the present state that can help you generate ideas for the future state (what you are working on)—you can’t just assume something is the way it is. And if you’re encountering any assumptions, find the answer for them in order to create a well-framed design. 

“The worst thing you can do as a new designer? Not ask any questions.”

Tiffany Eaton
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There’s prep work for any project, and if you don’t know where to start it’s totally okay to ask your team how things get done, how designs get presented, etc. These questions can help you get started on your projects—plus, they’re questions your team expects you to ask.

The worst thing you can do as a new designer? Not ask any questions and start something that’s based on assumptions or a surface understanding of the product. Please don’t do that. Go ask questions!

Meet people!

This one isn’t just for new designers—it’s for all designers. They say it’s all about who you know, and that’s just so true.

The worst thing you can do as a new designer? Not ask any questions.

Tiffany Eaton
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Build your network by attending industry meetups and conferences, sharing your knowledge (writing is a great way to do that!), and being active in the design community.

Ask people about what they’re working on, how they got to where they are, and what makes them tick. Don’t be afraid to ask for advice from them, too. Know that someday you’ll be in that position, and you’ll be able to offer guidance to a new designer.

Having a network of people you trust and admire is awesome because when you need something, like honest feedback on a design, you’ve got people to ask (and vice-versa).

Want to learn more about getting started in design?