UX Academy graduates Robbin Arcega and Mary Schwab, share their experiences working as UX designers at large companies.
We’re excited to continue our new webinar series: A Day in the Life of a UX Designer.
In this series, you’ll get a glimpse into the day-to-day lives of UX design professionals. We’ll chat with members of our community to learn about what they do, work processes, team structure, and more.
In the last episode, we spoke with two UX Academy graduates and Group Crit facilitators, Kristina Wang and Jennifer Hwang, about their experiences working at a small company.
Episode 2: Life as a UX Designer in a Large Company
In our conversation with UX Academy graduates Robbin Arcega and Mary Schwab, you'll learn about about:
Experiences working for a large company (500+ employees)
Their approach to design and how it relates to the business
Design team structure and day-to-day ceremonies
Working relationships with project managers and developers
Recommended tools to help with prioritization and productivity
You can watch the full conversation here, or keep scrolling to read some of the key takeaways from our conversation below…
What does your design team look like within a large company and how do you work together?
Mary: “At Sprout we have about 35 designers, and are split up in zones and squads. A zone is like a big part of the app, and then a squad is a smaller part within that zone. We're broken up very nicely in that we are all responsible for a fairly specific part of the software.
I would encourage you when you’re interviewing to find out how a company’s design team is set up. If it was 35 of us working across the app with no constraints, it would be wildly inefficient and confusing. Luckily, that’s not the case.”
Robbin: “I've worked at a couple of big companies: Procore and Yelp. At Yelp there were about 40 designers that were split up into pods. There were pods for payments, reviews, brand stuff, and more.
Everything is really structured very differently at different companies. At Procore, we have 80 people on the full design team; I’m on the Design Ops division, which is currently 5 designers strong.”
What does your relationship look like with your product managers on a day-to-day basis at a larger company?
Robbin: “Prior to joining the Design Ops division, I worked on the data branch of design. I worked with anywhere from 4-6 product managers at any given time. I've created my own personal design roadmap that I make sure that each of these product managers has visibility on. I led a meeting for all PMs and myself every two weeks so that they can all talk to each other and see what I’m working on. They then have to prioritize my workload together based on business objectives.”
Mary: “I consider my product manager to be a partner. We have some rituals, which is another more positive term for meeting. One of our rituals is every Monday with the designers and product managers from my zone, where we talk about design. This is where I may present my updates on what I'm working on for any of the projects to get feedback from the product managers.
Their perspective is important and helps with prioritizing timeliness. It frees up my bandwidth so that I can just think about designing for the user. I keep my product manager updated on my status throughout the week. If I hit roadblocks or have business questions, they're my go-to.”
What do your teams do to assess user experience over time?
Mary: “We have a FullStory Friday ritual every two weeks, which is where we can watch users within the app. We track a small amount of sessions, which allows us to go into the FullStory and capture things that we want to look at. It's also our time to share anything that we've experienced with users. It's kind of like an empathy hour. It's a way for everybody to just tune in on the user, no matter what your role is. We might find something that's not working super well and add it to something that we want to focus on moving forward.”
Robbin: “When you have a big company that has invested in a big design team then you actually have resources to do this. So we have a full research team and they are consistently doing research. We have weekly meetings where you can hop in and see what everyone is working on and some of the things we've been seeing from our users.”
How can you grow in a large company and do you feel like larger companies care about your individual growth?
Robbin: “Any time that I'm going to be interviewing at a company career growth is literally the first thing that I'm going to ask about. So if you're ever in an interview situation and they're like ‘Do you have any questions for us?’ Y'all should be asking the question: ‘What does growth look like for your company as a designer, and do you have a growth ladder?’
Once you’re hired, the first thing that you should do is reach out to your manager and ask them what the 30, 60, 90 day plan is. Find out what they actually want you to get done in that time, so that you can feel successful. Also, talk to your manager, talk to the people around you, and make allies. Your allies are going to be the ones who can say ‘Yes, Robbin was a great designer, I loved working with her, here's why, and here's how she helped us.’”
What are some benefits of working at a larger company?
Mary: “At a larger company you’re probably going to have a design system. I love working in a design system; I love the constraints. If you’re not super passionate about UI, then that might be a good reason to join a large company. I also think joining a large company you’ll be able to learn from other designers, and find a colleague who can be a mentor.”
Robbin: “Make sure they're paying you well or you're getting a really good education out of it. Procore has been fantastic because there's so much education (and I also get paid fairly).. We have a whole design month of learning where designers are paid to create their own sessions! And we have a mentorship program. Bigger design teams mean more chances for you to learn from somebody.”
How much of your day-to-day is spent in meetings versus designing?
Mary: “Meetings are a culture thing. It's not specific to a UX designer position. I'm in meetings maybe 30% of my week, which I think is pretty manageable. I also work at a company that really respects everybody's time and we do not have meetings for the sake of having meetings.”
Robbin: “I’d say 15% of my week is meetings, so I'm very happy about that. But when it comes time to do usability tests, that's a different story–this can take a lot of time out of my week.”
Any tips on communicating with developers?
Mary: “Show your work early and often. If you show your work with developers or engineers (we use the term engineer at Sprout), when it comes time to pull your ticket to start actually doing the work there's no surprises. Just don't surprise them.”
Robbin: “Don't be a jerk and you'll do fine. I like to ask, ‘What are some of the goals that you have this quarter and how can I help you reach them?’ Or ‘If I gave you a handoff, what's going to give you the least amount of anxiety?’”
How's your work-life balance at a large company?
Robbin: “It’s great. The fact that we have so many people makes me feel like I can have a better work-life balance. And I know for a fact that the company as a whole values mental health, they make sure that you take time for yourself.”
Mary: “At a large company there's going to be more teammates who can cover while you're out, so that's always a benefit. Plus, there is rarely a ‘design emergency’. Like what emergency would there be? My work-life balance is great. I leave at the same time every day, and I don't think about it again until the next day.”
Looking to transition your career into the world of UX/UI design like Mary and Robbin? Learning visual and UI design is the best way to start. With UX Academy Foundations, you'll work 1-on-1 with an expert mentor to learn key visual design concepts and practical skills. By the end, you'll be ready to progress on to UX Academy!
About the Speakers
Robbin Arcega (she/her) is a Senior Product Designer at Levelset, a Procore company (2,000+ employees, design team of 80+), and a Group Crit lead for UX Academy. She was previously a Product Designer at Udemy, Yelp, and small startups, among other UX-related jobs. Robbin worked in customer support and community management before graduating from UX Academy in 2016. In her free time, she runs a small, sort-of-secret set of sessions called UX Tea Time where she talks about UX and creates space to practice and ask questions. In her actual free time, she reads lots of books, plays too much Stardew Valley, and drinks more tea than most Americans and about as much boba as many Asian-Americans.
Mary Schwab (she/her) is a Product Designer at Sprout Social (1,000+ employees, design team of ~30), and a Group Crit facilitator forUX Academy and UX Academy Foundations. Previously, she was a UX Researcher at National Geographic Learning and a UX Designer at Camping World. Also a career transitioner, Mary was previously an Account Manager at a digital marketing agency, Rakuten Advertising. She graduated from UX Academy in 2020.In her free time, Mary enjoys staying active by cycling all around Chicago and rock climbing. To rest and recover from all that activity, she enjoys reading, browsing her many cookbooks for new recipes, and consuming vegetarian burritos. She looks forward to taking her first pottery throwing class soon!