4 important lessons I learnt as the only product designer in the company

Hansel Wong
Jun 28, 2019 · 4 min read
*insert random quote about knowledge*

When I first knew that I’d be the only product designer in the company, I felt a little uneasy. Being fresh out of college, I wasn’t yet confident of my design skills and thought I would feel safer working together with fellow designers. I was afraid of not being able to ‘deliver’ and that self-doubt made me question my ability as a designer from my lack of experience. In school, I was used to working with other design students and the thought of having to work alone made me anxious.

However, being one the only designer in a startup, I do get to heavily shape the product, which is a big advantage that I might not get in larger companies. Despite the challenges, I got to put my hands on every aspect of the product design process and was able to learn many valuable experiences through this.

These are some of the important lessons I learnt as the sole product designer in a company.

  1. You learn to be confident in your work.

The first lesson I learnt was to have confidence in my work, and taking responsibilities when things don’t go as planned. As the only designer in the company, most of the product decisions fell on me. When you are the one deciding on what features get built and released, there is a certain level of self-doubt that starts creeping in on you unknowingly. What if users don’t use the feature that we built? What if we spent our time prioritising on the wrong things? What if things didn’t turn out the way we expected it to? As scary as it was, it never helped to dwell in these insecurities as it impedes your ability to communicate with your stakeholders and gather the support required to build the product.

2. You learn to work with non-designers.

The second lesson I learnt was how to work with non-designers. I was used to working in design teams where I worked with other fellow designers. Being the only designer in the company meant that I was working directly with the front-end developers, the back-end engineers and even the data team on our product. While I encountered difficulties trying to understand the technical constraints that were brought up, the subjectiveness and rationale of certain design decisions, I slowly learnt to see things from their perspectives. It was important to note that we are all after the same goal — to build products that our users will enjoy using, regardless of where we came from and that learning how to work together was fundamental to the success of the company.

3. You learn to take ownership of the entire design process.

The third lesson I learnt was to take ownership of the entire design process. Being the only product designer in the company, I didn’t have the luxury of a UX researcher, a UI designer or copywriter to work together on the design of the product. Instead, I had to learn to wear multiple hats and play out all these roles at the same time. While you definitely won’t be able to excel in any of these by spreading yourself so thin, you get the luxury of owning the entire design process and taking ownership of the end-to-end design implementation. Learning how to do all these simultaneously might be nerve-wracking, considering how time crucial it was for a startup to move as quickly as possible. However, you get to play a big role in shaping how the product will turn out. Most designers can only dream of shipping their work as often as you do.

4. You learn to prioritise and make intentional compromises.

The fourth lesson I learnt was to make intentional compromises. I was used to trying to make my work perfect before I showed anyone. However, when you are trying to juggle everything at the same time, there is just no way you get to cover all aspects of the product design process. Being critical about what is important and learning how to prioritise is an important trait I think good designers should have. It’s easy to approach a problem and say hey let’s add this or that to solve it but there’s much more beauty in finding out what you can remove/reduce to make it even better. Through this, I learnt how to prioritise what was important and make the compromises needed to help keep my focus on the most important tasks at hand. Design is an iterative process that constantly evolves itself. Instead of waiting for the perfect design to be built, ship as often as possible to learn from your users.

If you have any design resources that you think will be useful for other designers, share with me on neede.co, a website where I curate some of the most popular and useful design resources used by designers all over the world.

That’s all for this week’s post and thanks for reading! 🎉

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Hansel Wong

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