Working for a Start Up vs working for a Legacy Company
I live in London where the start up life is booming. It’s probably a lot easier to land a job working for a start up than it is for an already established company. And thus, I have had my fair share of working for start ups. However, recently I decided to try my hand at a more long standing business because their proposition souded great to me. However, what I found is that not all that glitters is gold!
I get a lot of emails from recruiters with the most embellished and amazing sounding work propositions, and the more amazing it sounds the less I tend to believe it! I think that if a company struggles to find really good talent, they feel like they need to make themselves sound a lot better than they are and I have fallen into that trap myself! It’s not a criminal offence, it just means that this is where they would like to be headed, but doesn’t mean they are there neccessarily and anyone taking up the position may need to steer in that direction. That doesn’t mean it’s always easy or possible, however.
In my experience, working for a start up as a designer is great. Most of these companies really do care about design and user experience, they are interested in building great products and contributing to a better future. It’s also the sort of workplace where you can really exhibit any entrepreneural qualities you may have, or you may not know you have had until you end up in a situation where you need to think on your feet! Personally, I’ve learned a whole lot of stuff and gained a ton of new skills. Start-ups are a playground for you to really explore your best side and really innovate on what you already know and have done. It’s great for that side of things, it’s great for learning new skills. Since a start-up may have less people employed, it is often the case that you may be doing several jobs all once, or working across several disciplines, such as web, print, packaging and UX in my case. It’s a great learning curve and not something that you would probably ever get to do at a big company where your role would be so much more narrow. Of course, in that case you would be an absolute expert in that field.
I would urge, any expert who has worked in a very niche field to really get out of your comfort zone and pursue some new ideas, work for a start up, do a side project. It really helps to take you that one step further and further so you will keep learning and keep on bettering yourself, and will not get bored or stuck in an endless routine of things.
Having said that, I thought I would quit my start up life and pursue my path at an established company. I wanted to gain more stability and I thought I could really put the skills that I have gained to use and help grow the product from a design and innovation perspective. The thing is, once you enter a long standing company you also enter into the lands of legacy. And legacy is hard. Especially if there are years and years of it. Big companies like Microdoft do struggle with legacy, especially from the code side of things. Working with legacy can be painful and it can be a stopper for innovation. Which is what I’ve come across. I have a lot of ideas for things that we can work on and how design could really influence the company and the product, but each time the legacy hits like a wall. The thing is, it’s not unbreakable, but it would take time and a lot of effort. Companies in such positions need really great management and also business and team design. That’s really the solution I would propose. It’s all about how we work together. One of the key reasons why start ups are so successful with making amazing products is that teams really work together and listen to each other. It’s not always the same situation at a longer standing company — there are many deparments to go through to get anything done, non-negiotable budgets and years of routine that are really hard to break.
If you want to see some change, you gotta change the way you do things. Sometimes trying new things is good, trying and failing fast is good. Innovation and change is good, but sometimes it gets hard to really bring that home.
What is business design? Part of that is building a methodology that would work for everyone and with the time each team needs to spend on a project. The least successful method of working is probably ‘Waterfall’ — it’s a software development method, established in 1970s. It’s much like walking down a staircase from point a-z, where each team works separately. There is no iteration and no consideration for changes or feedback or working together. A much better way to move on from that is agile — a more interactive and incremental process. It beckons for teams to work together better and really build on skills, learn and improve the process and the product. Here’s some examples of how a working environment could be designed: