5 things I wish I knew before becoming a Product Designer at a Startup 🚀

Shane
4 min readOct 19, 2020

I wish I knew this before I committed to designing for a growing startup.

In 2019, StockX was valued at 1 billion dollars. As 1 of 4 members on the product design team, it was impressive to know that our work directly impacts millions of customers every day. It amazed me that as a Junior Product Designer, I could have an immense amount of responsibility and impact so early out of college in an “entry” level role.

If you are considering a career in UX, it is important to note that you are paid for your critical thinking skills, not just your designs. Design is about solving problems and serving people. A designer creates solutions that communicate and structure information, decisions, and ideas. I didn’t realize this when I started but I won’t count this as one of the 5.

This list is a summary of the leadership feedback and experiences from my career thus far.

1. Voice your ideas, strategy, & work 🎤

Communication is imperative to success in UX. It is not enough to just convey your ideas. It makes an immense difference when you can clearly explain how and why your strategy is impactful and improves the business. It often comes down to better customer experience, cost savings, or increased revenue.

Often times I did not speak up because I was afraid to be wrong. Other times I didn’t think my listeners would value my ideas coming from a junior designer. However, this is far from the truth. Fresh and differing perspectives are valued, and building communication skills is imperative to growth.

Man giving a presentation.
I was fortunate enough to speak in front of the company about my work at our first hackathon and I’m thankful for that experience.

2. A digital product designer has a process like an architect

When people ask me what a product designer is I tend to give them this metaphor. An architect designs buildings and similarly digital product designers or UX designers design software. Although buildings and software are inherently different, the design process tends to be similar. Architects and UXers strive to create quality human experiences while maximizing the business and stakeholders' objectives.

3. To solve a problem, you must find it first

When you're starting out you may get assigned some low-hanging fruit to work on or some projects with low impact. I can certainly relate. At a startup, there are always opportunities to work on valuable projects but you may not be immediately assigned to them. Not to mention, as a Product Designer, your work may not just come from the design team in the first place. That is why it’s important to network with Product Managers and look for opportunities outside of one’s personal responsibilities.

Finding new problems and creating solutions will give you a better understanding of the business and the way that people work in your organization.

4. Become obsessed with the user

Whether you’re designing products for doctors, teachers, or pilots, it’s crucial that you understand the motivations and the problems of the userbase.

In most cases, you are not the user and you may not be able to become a pilot in a short amount of time but you can do the necessary research and talk to the people that use the products.

5. Great tools are great but the process is king

I wish that someone would have told me not to worry about mastering design tools and that a really good UX designer could work with anything. You can learn most tools once you have one under your belt. I spent way too much time focusing on learning Sketch, Adobe XD, Framer, and others. It took me countless hours to understand this. Don’t fall into the same trap.

I learned to focus on the design process. Making good decisions and clearly communicating can be the most useful tool. I am still developing my process and focusing on the user's problems.

As a product designer, you have the opportunity to serve and solve problems for millions of people. Don’t forget to ask for feedback often and reflect on what is and isn’t working. Speak up about your ideas, and solutions. Create and build quality experiences that solve pain points for your users and hit key business goals. Search for problems and work with people outside your immediate circle. Get to know the people that will use your solution. Develop your design process. In my experience, I have grown from constant feedback, iteration, and reflection.

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