On being the only UX designer at a YC startup

Learnings from my time at Pillar

Katarina Blind
3 min readOct 4, 2023

It’s no secret that working at startups implies having a lot of ownership and doing a lot of different types of work. Pillar was no different.

As the only UX designer in the company, I worked on over 30 projects within the 4 months and that doesn’t even count smaller day-to-day operations or helping out in product, marketing and growth.

The sheer volume of work taught me so much prioritizing and being a more effective designer.

Prioritizing tasks

With packed days already extending way past 8 hours on the regular, understanding what tasks to take on and which ones not to can make a big difference in creating meaningful work.

Context switching is a given but it’s also crucial to understand when to pause external communication to fully focus on a task for longer.

At the end of the day it’s not about checking off the world’s longest todo list but working on what is most important to the company. And for that you need to understand the company.

Understanding what matters in the long run

When it’s common for several projects to go on at the same time, understanding which one is more important is crucial to prioritizing your own and stakeholder resources.

This also means really understanding the companies goals, values and plans which are constantly changing in the early-stage startup world.

It’s also important to realize how each of the past, current and future projects influence each other to ensure a certain product quality at all times.

Being in tune with the product and users

As the only UX designer, I also took on some product and growth responsibilities to ensure that design decisions also aligned with the product vision and business goals.

In very early-stage startups, resources are tight so being able to justify and convince stakeholders of why they should be spending time building certain designs is essential to having impact as a designer.

Keeping in touch with data really helps here. Not just understanding the product but also the users and their problems through conversations and numbers. Staying up-to-date with everything surrounding the product is the foundation to proactively driving change instead of just passively executing tasks.

Additional tidbit: communicating in remote setups

I mostly worked remotely in many different time-zone deltas to Pillar’s SF office.

Even though small startups have a low-barrier of communication, it’s very important to understand how much to communicate and in what way. Only regular design-focused plannings/retros or product vision syncs were meetings.

For design feedback we did a lot in Figma comments with supplemental Slack pings for more pressing issues. Writing down your questions or what type of feedback your looking for really helps to communicate more effectively, saving everyone time and consequently the company money.