6 Lessons I Learnt As A 1 Year Old Product Designer In A Startup

A year ago, I joined Seedly, Singapore Biggest Personal Finance Community, as a Product Designer.

Though I had prior intern experience at Shopee, I was still half foreign with how the tech industry works. The transition from doing a graphic design brief to a product design brief was hard. Nevertheless, I’m glad that I took on the job.

Here are a few things I learnt as a product designer in a growing startup.

I heard about horrible stories between designers, engineers, and project managers. Or perhaps at some places, a product designer is equivalent to a UX researcher, a UI designer, a UX writer, and also a PM. Working at Seedly is entirely different.

Having the luxury of a UX researcher, I know that I can trust on the researcher to provide useful researches and insights. My designs are more informed by the insights provided and decision making is much clearer with research.

The product manager writes very clear requirements and does not interfere a lot in the design process. Likewise, communication with engineers is also very straightforward. Any UI issue can also be easily discussed with them and vice-versa.

With everyone respecting each others’ professions and having great work ethics, there are seldom any hiccups in our hand-off processes. Learning how to communicate and work with different stakeholders became a crucial skill that allows this synergy to work.

Being the only designer in the company technically means that all products are under your care. From web pages, internal tools, to design systems, some tickets constantly require my attention.

In the beginning, I did feel overwhelmed by the things I needed to complete for each sprint. The challenge became bigger when projects became cross-functional and switching context between each project can be tough.

I experimented with different productivity tools and found a method that works well. I am using a mix of GTD and timetable methods to prioritise my day-day schedule and weekly plans.

Finding a method that works is important as it gives you time after work hours to rest and focus on your own life. Work-life balance is still possible in a startup if you take charge of your daily schedule.

Unlike working in an MNC with mentors and senior designers to reach out, my best mentor so far has been the wider online community.

I spent a big bulk of my after-work hours catching up on Figma tutorials, design conferences, and Slack chats. That said, I also have my fair share of great exchanges with designers working in startups and learning about their processes.

I find that a proactive learning attitude is a must-have for designers to work in a startup. There may be no one to guide you through each step and this is especially true if you are the only designer in the company.

As the sole designer in the company, I entered without a proper process in place. There is no luxury of a design system that I can follow nor a component library that I can fully utilise. These are challenging circumstances when you have to work fast and get things done.

That said, this also allows me to create my process and work on multiple perspectives as a designer. I jumped on the Figma ship; started building everything from scratch and creating guidelines while building features.

Through the learnings, I also identified that what works for other companies/startups may not necessarily work for your company. Every company has its unique design process to match with the culture.

Every fresh graduate may feel uncertain about their work, and I was like that too. For the first three months, I was feeling uneasy about the work produced. I wasn’t sure if what I produced was aligned with the standards and expectations of everyone.

The first few projects went by in a flash. It feels surreal as I am still self-doubting my abilities. Perhaps this is what you call imposter syndrome.

Projects after projects, I realised that I have to make my decisions fast and accurate (probably that’s why there is no time for ‘imposter syndrome’). Every project is dependent on my design to happen. These challenges posed to me shaped me into a better designer. These iterations, projects, and challenges shaped me to be more confident about my own decisions.

My love for the design system.
I am an advocate for the design system. Though Seedly is still at a very early stage of a component library, I am excited about the possibilities a design system can bring. That said, I believe there are more things I need to learn about this whole new world.

(To anyone reading this, please feel free to reach out to me to discuss or provide me with tips and experiences!)

The impact we bring to our user.
Joining into user research sessions, we often hear what our users have to say about the product. These feedbacks validate the feasibility of our ideas and products.

Occasionally, we will hear stories of how Seedly impacted their life or helped them make an important decision in life.

These are all an assurance to us that our work has a meaning attached.

Perhaps it’s a basic thing to say but it does make you feel good when you know you are helping someone with the things you have done.

I am no writer but I think it’s good to reflect on the things we produced from time to time!

Here’s me signing off at the 1-year mark, thanks for reading folks!


Written by Zhi Liang, Product Designer and originally published on Medium.

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