I relish the opportunity of being the solo UX designer at a software company but it’s not without its challenges. Below are some of the main challenges I face, as well as the key benefits I enjoy in my role, which I hope will give you a distinct flavour of my working day.
No conversation between UX designers
This is one of the biggest challenges I face. A single designer can suffer from tunnel vision, so I prefer to talk to other designers to brainstorm different ideas. Collaborating with others helps broaden the vision and overcome any ‘designer’s block’, so I often speak to our graphic design and UX development teams on a daily basis. I also find support from colleagues outside the design teams – from sales and solutions to product and marketing – because these are the people who have direct contact with customers, as well as a good vision of the product. There are quite a few hidden decent UX designers in our company and I find reaching out to them can be very inspiring.
Anyone can be overburdened by work – but you can feel it more acutely when you’re the only UX designer. My main job is designing features for the Tasktop Integration Hub, a powerful solution that has a vast, ever-expanding number of different features. While a small feature can be done in two to three iterations, a bigger feature can take up to 10 iterations (which means the original workflow/path may change dramatically). Sometimes I have to work on three or more features at any given time. Design itself may not take a long time, but validating design and finding the best solution can be very time-consuming. To speed up the process, I prioritize the work based on the importance of the feature.
Possibility of overlooking details
If your ‘big features’ have 20 or more screens, then there’s a real possibility of missing details – especially in enterprise software. It happens. Sometimes those details can be easily discovered by product managers during the approval of the design, but sometimes it is found after the features are released. To mitigate this risk, I frequently seek input on design plans to ensure as much detail is captured as possible.
This challenge may not apply to everyone. Some of the challenges are because of specific domain knowledge. With enterprise software, compared to consumer software, there are some terminologies that are not well known by regular customers. To address this language barrier, I always provide comprehensive notes that explain the design in great detail – but in simple terms – so everyone (even non-English speakers) can understand what is going on.
While being the sole UX designer is a challenging job, it’s also hugely rewarding with a number of benefits that makes it all worthwhile:
Pride of ownership
As the single UX designer, I am in charge of the user experience within the product, so I take a lot of pride in seeing a new feature released. I live for positive feedback from the field/customers, always seeking to make their user experience as enjoyable as possible. Whenever I receive a request for feature design, I will chat with product owners to clarify what the customer wants and what the detail requirements are. If there are any further questions, the product owners and I will reach out to the field – as well as speak directly to customers – to make sure our design is satisfying and easy to use. To ensure the best user experience, it usually takes lots of iterations. Seeing how the design evolves, based on the feedback from various people, really makes me proud and not a day goes past where I don’t learn something new.
Flexibility of reaching out to different people from different departments
At a small company, people are much more connected. I can easily reach out to people in different departments to get any question answered. Arranging a meeting is more flexible, compared to a big company where finding time can be more problematic because as the company grows, work is more separated/categorized and the number of teams grows. To ensure efficient collaboration, tool integration is super important, flowing information between teams/departments, providing better transparency and visibility. People can better understand what we are working on and what is coming next. The days of chaser emails, phone calls and spreadsheets are a thing of the past.
Cohesive visual design
Being responsible for the design of a product enables me to keep the design cohesive. It can be easier for a single designer to keep the style of features in the product consistent, rather than ‘too many cooks’ creating an unbalanced, visually disruptive experience. For example, the key visual principle of the Tasktop Integration Hub is clean and neutral. The product is more in neutral colors like grey, black, white, only use highlight colors in place where bring attentions. In addition, there always new features that are coming in, such as the recently release visual landscape feature, that have to slot in seamlessly with the overall design. Having these key design principles helps keep design cohesive in a product that is always evolving.
Zhen’s Top Tips
- Plan work early and create a way to organize/project manage that works for you
- Proactively make notes on your design during the process, and send email to summarize/explain your design before presenting to the team
- Actively participate in UX meetups/conference to learn from other designers, avoiding isolation
- Take time to browse design sites to get some fresh insights, keep yourself up-to-date towards the trend
- Feel comfortable to say “No, I don’t have a good idea yet,” and invite other people to share their ideas
- A comprehensive visual presentation (design) is more convincing than lengthy discussions