8 tips to thrive as a team-of-one designer in a startup

In your college third year did you end up making logos and posters for your college fest and your friends loved your design sense and raved about it? Yes?

Post that exprience, did you take figma too seriosuly and started bunking all your engineering lectures? Yes?

Did you do some free work, fiverr and some internship to get into design full time? Yes?

Post that did you win an offer in a startup fresh out of collegue and started an entire design departament as a team-of-one designer? Yes?

I will not be suprised if all the above happened to you.

Now are you wondering how to get shit done day-in and day-out as a lone designer in a fast growing startup?

If yes this post is for you. Not to worry.

First thing first, team of one is not a bad idea at all. It is certainly a challenge but an amazing opportunity to grow faster.

You might miss a design manager or designer colleagues to discuss the everyday product details but you get to shape an entire product all by yourself without much intervention and interruptions.

Here are top 5 tips to help you thrive in the organisation as a team-of-one and not just merely survive.

  1. You might feel a lot of uncertainty and even a bit of anxiety by talking to CXOs all day in a new environment. Remember you are THE designer. You are the subject matter expert in that environment. Make your product decisions wisely and confidently. Your confidence helps the entire team to see the evolution of the product.
  2. Ensure your thinking is proportionally more than your doing. Check your thinking process quickly with the leaders and shape your thinking on the go. Doing takes more time compared to thinking. When you have limited resources and a number of constraints, thinking and visualization helps you make better decisions.
  3. Understand the business deeply before you design.

    A few simple questions that can help you deep dive are, how does the company make money? Who buys our products or services? What did we learn from problem-solution fit? How is product-market fit shaping up? how is the startup acquiring new customers? what are returning customers sharing as feedback? The answers to these questions will help you think about your product design better.
  4. Document all the design decisions and rationale behind the same. Generally design is one sprint ahead of development and many decisions do not involve engineering teams. It is good to share a reference when specific decisions are questioned.
  5. Accelerate design and development process by managing files systematically, building pattern libraries and design systems from day one. It brings in design language consistency and is easy for more designers to join the band wagon.
  6. Communicate and collaborate with your team mates though they are not designers. Use workshops to structure complex conversations and discussions. Pick up facilitation skills and interview skills to help probe your leadership and stakeholders deeper. They are driven and know far more than what you can imagine.
  7. Use videos and voice to document decisions and spend more time on pixels. While documentation is important, prototype and MVPs using no-code are more important.
  8. Do not wait for someone to tell you what to do. Own up the product and do it your way. It is better to be sorry than not trying at all.

As the only designer in the team, you may pick many roles and responsibilities on the go. Enjoy the process. Fall in love with the problem. Learn and build yourself as much as you build the product.

🥂 to team-of-one designer!

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