5 things I learned working as a solo UI/UX designer in an entry-level startup

By Prototypr

5 things I learned working as a solo UI/UX designer in an entry-level startup

Well, the last year marked a big change in my life, as I was in the gruelling transitional phase between my undergraduate and postgraduate studies. While I got done with my undergraduate degree by May 18, I still had time till September 18 for my postgrad studies to commence at University of York.

Just to let everyone know, this article isn’t a generalised work process in all the entry level startups, but rather what’s my personal experience was and what did I take-away from it.

Since I had a couple of UI internships up my bucket till then, I decided to get an opportunity as an UX Designer (primarily due to the fact I was starting my masters on Human-computer interaction and wanted to get the taste of industry experience). So I start applying for some internships at the startups in the startup-hub of India, Bengaluru. After having a couple of interviews, I got the opportunity to work for Kloh, an organisation aiming to help people meet offline. My decision to work for them mainly was backed up by two reasons:

  1. It involved a redesign of their existing app, with added functionalities, which sounded exciting to me as a young designer with adrenaline pumping in my blood to create “beautiful” designs(hell yeah, I know, as an amateur designer that was my aim, aesthetics over anything else :P).
  2. They had a pretty large user base but not much of financial backup to aid the user research, which leads to my intention of taking up the challenge of driving the redesign in a few months of time, to be specific, it was only two months I worked.

On the flight to Bengaluru from my college, I popped up this book called “The Universal Principle of Design” by Lidwell et al (this isn’t the best book to start since I’ve read loads of books regarding UX now, but it’s definitely a good pocket guide). It was kinda my handbook for the next few months, with me seeing illusions of Gestalt’s Principle in everything and Fitt’s Law judgements in every interfaces I was interacting with, even vending machines and cash machines of banks I haven’t heard of before. I was hooked to design principles, I was fascinated by how much I missed over in the strive to create just “beautiful” yet meaningless designs, and this led me to the mission, how can I use user research without a budget in that short period of time.

The organisation just wanted me to speed up, produce the wireframes, and convert it into nice looking designs with the judgements coming from the one of the founders. I wasn’t intimidated by it, because honestly, back then I knew nothing about user research methods, how to conduct usability testing or even how to generate a proper questionnaire with an end design view. I was just a guy, trying to find inspiration from Dribbble, Uplabs and Behance and just trying to get an idea what might the users want and what might be good for them.

All I did was design the screens following the design principles I was daydreaming of. I came up with the user flow by the end of the first week. But as you learn through making mistakes, here’s what I took away from the project:

Project Management Skills:

I was literally the “UX Team of One”, but to be noted, I was just a novice in the field of UX design and that pushed me to learn some crucial project management skills. Starting from using spreadsheets to create the project timescale and scheduling deliverables, to actually scheduling remote interviews with user to get the ideas about the perception of users about the new functionalities, the stress of being the lone UX guy increased my project management skills a lot.

Photo by Stephanie Ecate on Unsplash

Manipulating through the obstacles:

Well, since there wasn’t actual time or budget for proper usability testing in a lab environment, I literally made use of all the available resources I had. From friends to families, from finding quiet corners at a pub and asking friends to use the prototype, I unknowingly carried out research methods like think aloud user testing protocol in manipulated environments. Though it violated the ecological validity of the testing but it made me learn how you can still get insights with nothing at your hand, or no support from your organisation. This later helped me drive some concept projects I started working on.

Develop speed in workflow :

One of the key skills I acquired through working in the fast paced environment was how to do things in a rapid form yet not losing sight to the details. I remember waking up one day, going to the office and then transcribing the key points from the “interviews”(can rather call it a discussion) with my friends the last night, and creating a quick spreadsheet of the points, segregating it into groups using content analysis(used priori codes) and then coming up with 10 points which were the most important and came up in each conversation. This method is known as rainbow method, yet another thing I used which I was unaware is a relevant practise in the field of UX. After a quick coffee, I got back to mapping out the solutions to those usability problems and iterating the wireframe and converted it into the final screen the same day. This was just one day of my two month long journey with the organisation, with working Saturdays, and hence it indulged me into rapid thinking and problem solving methods.

Photo by David Travis on Unsplash

Remote User testing skills:

A lot of times, I got some users who are remote and since there wasn’t any incentives, weren’t willing to show up. At this stage, I sent out the prototype link and the task through a formal email and the testing(think aloud user evaluation or concurrent verbal protocol to be specific) was done over a video call. This remote work flow is another skill I acquired which is essential if you’re working on some project remotely and the sample population can’t be physically accessed by you.

Patience of endless iterations :

The last step in the process of user centred design is refine or iterations, and working for a small organisation makes you build up patience towards the fact that you’ve making lots of iterations before building the version that’s shipped. But you may argue, that’s its the same in case of big organisations, but the argument here is, in big organisation who has the budget for successive user testing, most of the design decisions are user-directed rather than the “personal perceptions” of a manager or the CEO. But as the case here, it’s almost the entire team throwing in “suggestions” to iterate your design or their personal opinion on the product which you’ve to take into consideration. So it melts into a process of listening to everyone and growing the patience to take criticism in a constructive way.

Photo by Raj Eiamworakul on Unsplash

At the end I believe, everything teaches you something.

While after 6 months of my masters, I’ve strong concepts of UX research and user centred design approach, sometimes I have a glance back, I feel grateful for the opportunity that Kloh gave me, the fun times I had during the regular debates over a topic with my team, and the office outings. It indeed helped me get an insight into the first paced startup world, how to balance business goals and user goals in that world and how I could’ve made the design process so much better with the knowledge I’ve now.

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