So far, I’ve worked at four different companies. Every time I started a new job, I felt a mix of excitement and nerves. Even though I’ve proven myself during the interviews, and my manager has sent an introduction email, my new coworkers could still have a lot of questions in their minds:
“How good is this UX designer?”
“Does she really understand this field, and why is she able to lead our product design direction?”
“What’s her work style?”
I needed to answer these questions well, one by one, and I have done exactly that for my time at the four companies.
As a UX designer, joining a product team involves handling design tasks while collaborating with one or more product managers and a varying number of engineers. It’s crucial to build trust quickly to establish credibility and gain greater control over the design process.
So, how can you build this trust?
I think that as a new designer on the team, you need to quickly show outstanding performance in these three areas: learning, design expertise, and communication.
Your ability to learn quickly can help you dive deep into a product, team, and project workflows, providing a strong foundation for design work.
What should you focus on learning?
First, it’s crucial to thoroughly understand the product, business, users, and the ecosystem in which the product operates, as well as the project’s upcoming release timeline. This knowledge will help you set the design direction and organize your work, forming the basis for successful designs. Much of this information can be found in documentation, but it’s also a great opportunity to learn from your new teammates. Identify who you’ll work closely with and proactively seek their advice to understand their work styles—you’ll build relationships through these conversations.
Second, familiarize yourself with how things operate in the new environment—how is design quality ensured? Who needs to review design drafts? How is the engineering implementation evaluated before release? Knowing these details will allow you to navigate the process smoothly, potentially finding ways to improve efficiency.
Additionally, if you’ve switched to a new field while changing jobs, quickly acquiring new knowledge about that field will significantly improve the quality of your designs.
In my most recent job change, I transitioned from financial services to the Internet of Things (IoT). Although both are tech companies, the industry knowledge they require is vastly different. Previously, I hadn’t been exposed to the complex world of IoT technologies, but upon joining, I learned that I had to design and launch a product interface from scratch within six months. I had to adjust my learning pace to quickly digest this challenging subject while simultaneously starting the design work. After successfully delivering the design and receiving positive user feedback, I could finally take a breather and relax. Those months felt like a battle—I put freshly gained insights to work right away in the design. The saying “learn by doing” truly resonated with me this time.
However, don’t just stop at absorbing information. Once you’ve digested it and start applying it to your work, you’ll start getting feedback. You will know whether your understanding aligns with others or not as you design for unique use cases. Your colleagues will recognize the effort you’ve put in when you pose questions that spark thoughtful discussions.
Strong Design Expertise
It’s crucial to seize opportunities to quickly showcase your strong design skills.
This is especially important if you find yourself in a business or engineering-driven company culture. Although user experience design is no longer a novel concept, many tech companies still view engineers as the primary contributors to the business, allocating more resources (such as hiring quotas) to them. Designers, on the other hand, must continually advocate for more resources and recognition.
As user experience designers for software products, first, we must take a strong stance.
Consider product managers as advocates for the business, engineers for technology, and designers as advocates for the users. These three roles have different focus points for a product, and their close collaboration leads to outstanding results. I sketchnoted the relationship between these roles:
Next, take actions to boost our teammates’ confidence in designers. We need to show them that designers not only create interfaces but can also serve as guides and catalysts for product strategy and overall user experience. Designers can offer various tools and frameworks to help every team member think beyond limitations.
Every designer has their unique toolbox. Using it appropriately can speak for the users and secure a voice for yourself:
- 1. Facing unclear product directions and team members being pulled in different ways? Set up a workshop to gather product managers, engineers, and other stakeholders. Define user journeys, personas, and utilize storyboards to tell user experience stories. From this, define product requirements and identify their priorities. This approach not only offers direction for the team but also removes obstacles for your design work.
2. The team previously lacked a designer, leading to design delays, and now the project faces tight deadlines. Make the most of this situation by putting in the time and effort to create several high-quality design drafts, filled with carefully considered details that hold up under close examination. Your teammates will undoubtedly be impressed.
3. Collaborating team members don’t understand the importance of user experience? Encourage them to join in user research to personally experience user pain points and gain a deeper understanding.
Through these small steps, you’ll gradually show your team the value of design and establish yourself as a design expert.
Due to the pandemic, I did not meet my manager and teammates face-to-face for a whole year. We’ve been working remotely the entire time. In this situation, maintaining smooth communication is extremely important.
Firstly, ensure your basic work communication is done well—know who to talk to about specific issues, how to communicate, what information is needed, the goal, next steps, and who to follow up with. In remote work, it’s sometimes necessary to overcommunicate to keep projects on track. If you’re consistent and reliable, your coworkers will notice.
Secondly, voice your needs promptly. If you face obstacles that impact your work efficiency, talk to your manager as soon as possible to find solutions. Solving problems early helps you complete projects more effectively. As you reach your goals, your coworkers and manager will appreciate you more.
Thirdly, seek opportunities to share. In a product team with dozens of members, not everyone works closely together, but everyone needs to know who to consult for design issues. To help my team understand how a designer works, I gave a short presentation during our product team meeting. I introduced user experience design and user research to them, talked about how to work with designers, how we could best work together, and invited them to participate in user studies. You can also start with small sharing sessions, like summarizing recent user feedback and data or organizing a discussion to talk about product improvements. This helps colleagues better understand your role as a designer and increase your designer influence in the team.
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In conclusion, if you can showcase your strong learning abilities, establish yourself as a design expert, and communicate effectively, you’ll quickly gain your coworkers’ trust. Keep up the good work, and you’ll maintain that trust.
Check out my write-up in Chinese《初来乍到，设计师如何在产品团队中拉高信任值》.