“Help! I’m about to start a job as the only UX designer at my company, what do I do first?”

As a co-organizer of Nashville UX I get asked this question a good bit by junior to mid level designers who are about to start a job as the sole person doing UX in their company. This is also exactly where my brain was the night before I started at StudioNow. If you’re about to start on a larger design team, keep reading, this is relevant to you as well!

I had left my comfortable job at a large tech/insurance company where I was a cog in the big wheel of corporate design. The biggest projects I had worked on took months to see the light of day, and I had about 3 layers of red tape between myself and my developers, 15 layers between myself and the client, and about 100 layers between myself and the actual users. Needless to say when I interviewed and realized how much facetime and freedom I’d have at a small company I was terrified. I decided to take the role and I was the most excited and scared I had been in my career since making the transition from graphic design to UX.

I thought long and hard about where I would start, and was hopeful I’d receive direction from my boss. Day 1 I showed up and was given freedom to simply make the platform better. After a few conversations with my product manager and my boss I decided to take advantage of the fact that I had barely interacted with the platform. During my time at my past company I had done a heuristic evaluation and saw how much good could come out of explicitly aligning a product with the Nielsen usability heuristics.

So I embarked on my walkthrough of our platform, I started by getting my hands on Paparazzi! a tool recommended to me by my good pal Justin. I used this to take screen shots but also to get a baseline sketch file going (as the previous designer didn’t leave me a specific design system or pattern library.) If you’ve never used Paparazzi to turn a website into vector files you’re sorely missing out. Take a look at this quick guide on how to do it. As I went through each screen I would take notes on top of the screenshot based on what heuristics were being broken, and what my initial understanding of what was supposed to be happening.

The heuristic being broken is in bold, with quick notes below that.

I did this for different types of users based on what my product manager told me. I captured emails as necessary as well.

One of the user flows. When there are multiple tabs on a single step I stacked them vertically.

When I decided to do this, my boss was a little hesitant of me not hopping in on something that was set to be done on the roadmap before I was hired. I made sure to emphasize to him that I would never again be able to have the perspective of never before seeing the interface, and as a Saas product making the hurdles for a first time user smaller is key.

Utilizing this methodology has numerous benefits:

  • You have the ability to show progress within the platform if you have the original screenshots for posterity.
  • You can check if future changes/features align with making the first time user experience smoother if you are able to get back into that headspace.
  • I was able to truly empathize with users of the platform because I myself had been confused at varying points within the flow.
  • It shows your management you can be self-managed and that you don’t require handholding.
  • It gives you a clear path to accomplish some quick wins within your first few months, good examples of this are microcopy, making sure you have enough contrast between your backgrounds and text, and of course finding bugs.

tl;dr: If you find yourself starting a job with little direction, do a cognitive walkthrough/heuristic evaluation and take detailed notes your first week at a job, future you will thank you. This can be beneficial whether you’re the only designer at a small company, or part of a larger team.