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10 things before you join a startup as a Product Designer (Part 2)

10 things before you join a startup as a Product Designer (Part 2)


In the part 2 of this long article, I continue to share some insights for young, aspiring designers out there if joining a startup is the right thing. I explain some of the things that one should know about before considering a startup.

In part 1 of this article, I talk about the difference between an agency style of working and product style of working and when should you choose what. I talk about communication skills, perception of product design and UI design. I also talk about the perception of culture and perks.

In part 2, I talk about 5 more important things to understand before joining a startup as a product designer.

6. Startup = chaos

I’m pretty sure everyone reading this would already know by this point of time that life in a startup is not easy. It’s full of chaos. But how does chaos affect you as a product designer? Let me help you understand.

The following will inevitably happen when you’re a designer at a startup:

  • You will produce designs that sales will push back and your dream design is down the drain

  • You will disagree with business goals but business will win

  • You will get frustrated with your oversight not approving your designs for the 10th time in a row

  • You will get into long fights with the product manager and still not reach a solution

  • You will get exhausted and give up sometimes and re-think your life

  • You will get frustrated and pass on the negative energy to your peers over water cooler talks

  • Your manager is going to yell at you in front of team about your work negligence (Fun fact: I was once politely asked to leave the company after I accidentally sent an email to 5+Mn customers. I didn’t. I corrected the issue and we had beers after!)

  • You will sometimes not be listened to and just be micro-managed to do what’s required. Till. The. Last. Pixel.

  • You will ship things with confidence which will break conversion and give the company revenue setback

  • You will be at a bar, with your friends, thinking about an alternate signup flow

  • You will traumatised the night before your monthly performance meeting with your manager

and many more.

But, it’s okay. You’ll be honed to become a better designer, better problem solver, better communicator and you’ll keep getting better through these inevitably occurring things. So, if this sounds scary but you’re still willing to take the leap, a startup is for you.

7. You will have to constantly work, learn, work and learn

At a startup, everyone is already busy. You’ll be really lucky to get a dedicated mentor during your first months. During college campus placements, we all had the notion of company trainings for 3–6 months before you’re put into a project; at a startup, no. You’ll mostly need to shadow people, understand how they’re working and learn on the go while breaking things (hopefully, fixing as well) on the way.

Let’s look at how YOU, as a designer can make the most out of this situation.

Do the homework. Got the offer letter and now you’re just waiting for the joining date. While you’re doing that, I recommend you stay in touch with your HR, to-be manager and ask how you come a bit more prepared for your job. If there are some resources, small reads, videos and so on that will make you atleast 20% more efficient on your first day/ week/ month.
Example: Read all you can about the company — how they’re making money, what are customers saying about their product. You can follow their blogs to get candid insights on culture. You can ask upfront about the tools that you will be using at work and keep practicing it in your free time.

This will help you break the ice with a good conversation about their product, some specific reviews, some recent product release and so on. If you really do your homework well, there might be a juicy project for you on day 1 as well.

Practice will make you close-to-perfect. There’s absolutely no alternative to this. You need to keep practicing your work to get better. If you don’t, sooner or later, you’ll become useless for the team. You have to design hundreds of pages, hundreds of different form fields, make hundreds of calls, ship hundreds of small/ big features to truly start understanding a domain. Your job cannot be clerical in nature.

Learning while you’re shipping. This is something that will never change as long as you’re on the job. You will design a set of screens and you will learn development complications, on the fly iterations, trimming of features and scopes. You’ll understand numerous edge cases that are missed by the best of the guys and will have to accommodate in the existing designs and more. You’ll truly keep making changes till the time the design actually hits production and even after.

At a startup, you will see how things often don’t fit the ideal processes. But, by learning and working more, you’ll keep refining the processes and grow more than you’d expected.

8. Your notion of work/ life balance will change

Couple of years ago, I was at my boss’s place where some of our close friends, colleagues, significant others were just having beers over loud EDM. In small groups, some were talking about the premium grass one had scored from Himachal, some sharing their wedding event plans and some were just high and chilling.

My boss and I were stuck with a design problem for over a week now and we were on the terrace discussing about it using the concrete wall as our whiteboard with our fingers as imaginary markers. We continued to do so for about an hour or so. *we were pretty high too* We didn’t solve it but parked at some progress to continue on Monday. We quickly put some bullet points in our shared Evernote and got back to the party. After that night, hardly anyone was willing to join us for a party.

When you’re starting off, to become good at your job, you will need to forget all pre-conceived notions about a fixed time job and how you manage your time. You’ll basically be working all the time and try to fit in your life in parts, in between. I’m not recommending or suggesting in any way that this is good or healthy. But, for a certain period of time, multiple times, this will be required of you and will be expected from you.

9. You’ll need to park your ego at the door

One of the things that will absolutely destroy your ability for personal and professional growth is your ego. Product design is tribal in nature and there’s no room for your ego in a tribe of designers, managers, engineers.

Some examples of common scenarios when designer ego kicks in:

  • Take my word for it, this is the only possible design. Take it or leave.

  • ‘I’ designed it. It cannot be wrong.

  • You have no idea about design, you have no right to comment on my work.

  • I have been doing this for the past 1 year, I know more about this than you.

  • Don’t show me wireframes and other product inspiration on how to do this. It’s very disrespectful. I will do it my way.


  • There’s never an only design. You can improve. Always. Ask the other person to help you if he/ she has something in mind.

  • If you’re very convinced, try to bring the other person on the same page. Spend time in setting the context and story right instead of putting your foot down.

  • If you have worked on a domain for a year or more, it’s a great practice to share some past experience, numbers, success/ failure stats with use cases. You can build a strong case for your design instead of putting your ego as a wall.

  • As a designer, you should encourage others to speak and communicate with your language. It leaves less room for error. You’d want to have a clear picture of what your manager, peers have in their mind.

10. It’s a double-edged sword, your position!

The job of a product designer is quite a beautiful one. It’s like a beautiful double edged sword that you’re holding, as one of my managers from years ago taught me.

When your work is visible to hundreds and thousands of customers, you can take all the pride in your heart if they found it useful but, you’ll also have to be the one to take all the hits if they did not find it useful!

You can show off your pride in the form of blog posts, status updates, social bragging, dribbble shots and so on talking about the good work you just shipped. You’ll also have to be the person taking in all the heat from business, founders, engineers and fix if your last work was an inefficient solution.

© Copyright 2023, I guess.

© Copyright 2023, I guess.