Revamping Our Onboarding Process for Product Designers
As a design manager, I spend a good chunk of time finding and recruiting new talent to join our design team. With so many talented folks available to talk to, it can hard to find the best fit that matches the needs of our product teams and aligns with our unique culture at Creative Market.
Recently, it took me six months to find and hire a great product designer to join our conversion product team. As her start date approached, I went digging for the onboarding document that I had used in the past. I was disappointed by what I found. My document was just a list of tools, documents, and meetings to invite them to. I stared at the list and thought, “Surely, great onboarding is so much more than this?! Our new team members deserve the best we can offer them right from the start.”
How could they learn about and become comfortable in our company culture? How might I effectively walkthrough design team processes and best practices? What could I do to encourage them to build strong relationships with team leads and their product team more quickly? Clearly, I needed to rethink my approach.
Fast forward to today. Our newest product designer is a few weeks in and she’s doing very well. Through this process, I captured tips that might be useful as you onboard new product design team members and help them achieve their full potential.
At Creative Market, we believe that we’re stronger together, that every individual has a valuable contribution to make, and that working together should feel inclusive, effortless, and a ton of fun. So, we want to get onboarding right for every new person that joins the team. These insights are specific to our team at Creative Market, but I hope you find them helpful.
Through every step of their first few weeks, the design manager should reinforce your company culture and show how the product designer’s contributions can make an impact on company growth. To make sure we get this right, the design manager invites the team to share in the onboarding responsibilities. It takes a village. The details matter, so don’t go it alone.
1. Build An Onboarding Foundation
Start During The Interview
Great onboarding starts during the hiring process. You and your team have the opportunity to paint the picture of your company culture, process, and values. The more you communicate about the realities of the job upfront, the greater returns you’ll find later in the process.
- Lay out expectations for the role and how to be successful in it.
- Share the vision and mission of the company.
- Have them interview with multiple team members who they’ll be working with.
- Explain the objectives, key results, and process of the product team they’ll be joining.
- Flag any culture or process gaps in order to offer stronger onboarding.
- Keep the leadership team updated about your plans.
Make Your Preparations
The more you prepare to onboard, the more likely that your new product designer will feel comfortable, confident, and set up for success. Don’t saturate them with unorganized information all at once on their first day. Create a solid plan for the first month of core onboarding, and what you plan on focusing on for the next five months after that.
“According to a 2007 study by the Wynhurst Group, when employees go through structured onboarding, they are 58% more likely to remain with the organization after three years.”
- Create a prioritized onboarding checklist for the new product designer to go through during their first two weeks. Pass this document to them on day one as a resource home for all of their information needs.
- Build an Asana (or your preferred task manager) process list of tasks for yourself as the manager. Monitor and adjust this queue by the half day to accommodate the onboarding work.
- Prepare to track closely with their work for the first twelve weeks.
- Bring your design team along to make specific contributions. Identify a lead design team member to be an onboarding buddy for the new product designer.
- Get team member input about project dynamics (or produce work in the seat they’ll occupy before they join). Share insights about the product team’s workflow.
- Triple check that there are no blockers for for them to sign-up and use their systems, tools, equipment, etc.
Before Day One
Every designer gets a little anxious about starting a new job. There’s a few ways in which we soften the first day experience for new team members.
- Send an email to the team announcing the new product designer and include their email on the thread. Encourage the team to reply to it with gifs and a warm welcome.
- Send the product designer early access to email and Slack so that they connect with the team before their first day.
- Send them a short list of primary tools to get an early jump on installing and accessing if they’re excited to jump in.
- Have them connect with design team members before their first day to get them comfortable and excited. Best options for this are (a) in-person cup of coffee or (b) group video chat.
- If they’re remote, help them coordinate a paid flight and hotel for their first week of work in the office with the team.
- Prepare a welcome kit of swag and ensure all equipment is ready to go at their assigned desk. If they’re remote and onboarding in the office, prepare to ship the swag home to them separately if they need to.
- Plan an after-hours meet and greet happy hour during their first week.
- Send instructions to help them get to the office on their first day.
2. The First Week
The big day! Your new product designer is probably as nervous and excited as you and the team are to meet them. Be as gracious, clear, positive, and helpful as you can be. Focus only on the essential, non-critical items during the first day. It’s a lot to take in. Don’t skip ahead.
- Connect with them via phone or text so that you can meet them promptly at they entrance when they arrive.
- Don’t make it all about business. Get know them. For example, ask about how they’re weekend was and if they did anything fun.
- Review their workspace. Deliver swag and equipment. Offer them coffee, water, and snacks (or breakfast!).
- Introduce them to the team during the weekly Monday team meeting.
- Give them an office tour with tips on how to navigate the space.
- Help them get an employee badge and explain how to use it. Talk about work schedule and key policies.
- Have them take the Strengthsfinder test and share the spreadsheet with the team’s results.
- Take them to lunch!
- Reinforce the key objectives and expectations of the product design role. Explain how and why it matters to the success of the company.
- Talk through the company vision and mission.
- Share the team’s core values. Walk through the org chart.
- Onboard them to primary tools. Provide context on how the team uses each one.
- Leave time for questions.
As they enter their second day, your new product designer is starting to get a sense of the company and the team. Now it’s time to onboard them to the purpose and goals of the design and product teams they’ve joined, and how their role and contribution will make a difference.
- Start digging into the How and Why of the product design work they’ll be doing.
- Review the design team’s members, principles, processes, and position in the company.
- Share the history (MVP) of your design system’s history and where you’re headed (future efforts).
- Review the design team’s current quarterly roadmap.
- Walkthrough the product design experience by giving them tasks to explore core features.
- Get another delicious lunch.
- Review their product team’s goals, key results, tools, and roadmap.
- Establish strong relationship with their product manager. Share an example workflow that they’ll experience for a product design project.
- Talk through how the team collects and iterates on design feedback.
- Leave time for questions.
- Go to the after work happy hour. Encourage them to talk to team members they haven’t visited with yet (if needed).
Days Three, Four, Five
The rest of the first week should be about making the product designer feel comfortable with the work, tools, processes, and their team. Only assign them tasks associated with onboarding. Leave product work to the second week (or later). There will be plenty of time for that.
- Have them meet with the CEO to talk about the history and future of the company, as well as the competitive landscape and opportunity.
- Have them keep a document to journal their daily standup that they’ll share with their product team on Slack and on their daily video calls.
- Walk through your Dropbox folder structure and file naming system.
- Show them how to work in the design system. Walk them through the design guidelines and components.
- Review the calendar and uses (how to schedule meetings, request time off, rules, etc.). Have them schedule 1:1 intro meetings with various product team members and team leads over the next two weeks. Have them request to sit in on other cross-functional team meetings during their first month.
- Have them answer questions for a welcome blog post and provide a photo for the about page.
- Have them shadow you in meetings and as you work through projects. Ask them questions as work is scoped and reviewed so they can get comfortable making design decisions and being in the project flow.
- Share insights about the company’s users (personas, user flows, etc.).
- Talk through your team’s community (feedback, forums, vision, social, curation) dynamics.
- Talk through your team’s support (tickets, payouts, payments, help center) efforts.
- Assign tasks for extra onboarding items (extended reading, tools, etc.) as needed.
- End the week with a 1:1 meeting to talk through questions and set expectations for week two and beyond.
Weeks Two through Four
As the new product designer starts their second week, set the expectation that they’ll begin some light product work. There are three primary goals for the rest of their first month, which are the following: finish tool and process onboarding, build deeper relationships with the team, and start designing small projects with their product team.
- Continue to dig deeper into the How and Why of the product team work by getting them to learn by doing.
- Have the product designer produce UX deliverables for new projects (e.g. user flows, UX plans, empathy maps, etc.).
- As they become comfortable, have them produce visual UI comps for new projects.
- Make sure they’re updating the design manager and product manager at all steps of the work, and ensure that they’re using the tools correctly.
- Ask them about their design interests. Solicit for ideas within your design system and product. Work with them to plan their first strategic design project(s) to work on outside of their product team’s project queue. Explain how these projects run differently than product team roadmaps.
- Praise their early success points. Reaffirm good design decision-making and designer attributes that make for success in their role.
- Provide context of how other cross-functional teams work together, how their strengths grow the company, and how they support the work of their product team.
- Create an opportunity to work with a brand designer on a project.
- Make sure they’ve experienced all aspects of your product and its features.
- Onboard them to any additional tools that weren’t completed in week one. This should be a short list at this point.
- Learn about their personal interests and hobbies. Get the team involved, too.
- Discuss team and product dynamics that require more explanation and clarity (as needed).
- Offer them access to the company wiki for additional needs.
- Check in as frequently as possible with work in progress. Stay in touch daily on Slack (as much as needed).
- Establish a recurring 1:1 meeting with them for every week.
Month Two and Beyond
Obviously, onboarding your new product designer doesn’t stop after the first month. The first four weeks are just the tip of the iceberg. I could keep adding a ton of conversations and information to continue to pass your new product designer for the first few months. Much of those insights are contextual to our brand, product, and company. These insights about the first month also works well for onboarding new brand designers and other team members, too.
Research shows that only 15% of companies continue onboarding after six months. While first impressions matter, putting together a structured onboarding program is what truly makes the difference. Plan on working close with your new product designer in the first six months to ensure best results for them, yourself, the team, and company. It’s a good idea to track closely with their product work through the first year as they discover how to achieve their full potential at your company.
Get them as deep into your product system as early as possible. Empower them to collaborate with the team to evolve your product in ways that can increase results for your company in the short- and long-term. Keep following up with them to make sure they’re understanding the work and enjoying the choice they made to join your product and team!
Note: A special thank you to our talented Head of Operations, @priyakothari , who has contributed much work to our tool and logistics onboarding process over the past 2+ years.