A Day in the Life of a UX Designer at a Small Company

UX Academy graduates, Kristina Wang and Jennifer Hwang, share their experiences working as UX designers at small companies.

Alexa Harrison
Alexa Harrison
Sep 15, 2022
Min Read

UX designers work in many different scenarios and environments: big design teams and design-teams-of-one; small companies and big companies. Some designers work on multiple client projects in an agency (or freelance) setting; others focus on a single product as an in-house designer. 

That’s why we’re excited to announce 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.

Episode 1: Life as a UX Designer in a Small Company

In this first episode, we spoke with two of our Group Crit facilitators—and UX Academy graduates—Kristina Wang and Jennifer Hwang.

You’ll hear about:

  • Their experience working for a small company (1-100 employees)
  • Their approach to design and how it relates to the business
  • Design team structure and day-to-day ceremonies
  • Working relationships with PMs and developers

You can watch the complete conversation below, and read some of the key takeaways from our conversation…

About the Speakers

Kristina Wang is a Senior Product Designer at Reputation, helping businesses leverage feedback data into insights they can use to learn and grow. In her spare time, she volunteers as a community lead and events coordinator for UX of EdTech, an online community that helps UX practitioners who work on products and services that support learning. When she’s not looking at screens, she’s daydreaming about adopting a dog, traveling the world, and eating good food.

Jennifer Hwang is a Product Designer at John Burns Real Estate Consulting, a B2B business that helps clients make more informed housing decisions. She spends her days designing interactive dashboards, bringing JBREC’s proprietary research and data online for clients who include home builders, developers, and private equity firms. In her past life, Jennifer worked many odd design jobs: as a collegiate-wear graphic designer, a high-school watercolor teacher, and an art director for film and TV. Ask her anything about the latest celebrity gossip, Korean food, and balcony composting. 

Webinar Highlights

Who do UX designers at a small company collaborate with on a day to day?

Jennifer: “I am the sole Product Designer at my company. I work with a PM and two developers. And we're a tiny, tiny team.”

Kristina: “When I first joined the startup, it was really small. So I primarily worked with our CEO (who acted as a PM), the Head of Product Design, a couple of other Product Design interns, and overseas engineers.”

Now that your startup has grown, what are the biggest differences in how you interact with people and who you interact with?

Kristina: “I have a lot more PMs now. We went from two to 10 PMS. There's a PM for every single solution within our platform that I support. It's nice, because they all have very specific domain knowledge in their particular areas. There's way more engineers that I'm supporting now as well. So it's a lot more meetings these days. Also, now that the company is bigger I no longer work directly with the CEO.”

What are the pros and cons of being a solo designer within a small company?

Jennifer: “What I love about being a solo designer is I have a lot of ownership over all the work that I do. So I actually don't have that many meetings, which is great. But I think there are definitely some trade offs. Not having a design community within your company is pretty difficult. And having to present your work to non-designers for critique is a challenge. And something that I didn't expect as a solo designer is how much of my job is design advocacy, versus just design work. Design hasn't really been a priority here. So I’m always trying to get people to pay more attention to design.”

How do you find your balance between actually designing and doing all the other things that enable you to design? 

Jennifer: “I have been prioritizing design advocacy and growing our design team. This will enable me to do more of the work that I want to do in the future. It’s going to make my life easier, but also build a foundational design structure for my company.”

Kristina: “It wasn't as much of an issue for me when I was in the very early startup. We didn't have a lot of meetings. It is more of a balance these days, just because of the amount of teams that I support. I don't typically struggle to find time to design. But if I am struggling, I will literally block out my calendar. My company has also implemented no meeting Wednesdays, so that’s been helpful. Also, sometimes I don't need to be in all of the meetings that I'm invited to. So I have to stand up for myself and say ‘Hey, do you actually need me on this stand up for your team this week?’ 

I also have had situations where PMs are eager to talk about their projects before the sprint starts. I have to set boundaries and say, ‘I don't have time for that this week. Please schedule this for next week when I'm going to be working on your ticket.’ And that way, I have all of that knowledge fresh in my head when I'm actually going to work on it rather than forgetting the smaller details within this time.”

What were some of your challenges that you faced during your first year as a designer within a small company?

Jennifer: “One of the biggest challenges was figuring out what my job was. There was no one to tell me what I was supposed to be doing. I didn’t have mentorship or senior designers to show me the ropes. There was a lot of trial and error. I made a lot of mistakes. But there was also no one to catch my mistakes. I had to do a lot of outside research on my own to figure things out, instead of following existing protocol.”

Kristina: “The biggest challenge for me was applying the design process to a real life situation in an industry that I knew nothing about. The startup that I joined was about big data and AI. Coming from teaching, I didn’t know anything about that. It was a lot of ramp-up time to understand the industry.”

What words of wisdom do you have for those working as a designer at a small company, or students entering the industry as a junior designer?

Jennifer: “Don’t compare yourself to other students or other grads; just carve your own path. Also, as a student in UX Academy, I didn't really do a lot of outside work, I just did the course. I would encourage students to build knowledge outside of the course on things like the hand-off process and design systems. And always maintain a growth mindset.”

Kristina: “It's really important to be flexible for that first job, because it's really just about getting your foot in the door. Don't worry about the size of the company too much, or the industry. You have time to find your dream company. For now, just focus on finding a company where you can really grow your skill sets. Don't worry about finding that ideal situation the very first time.”

Looking to transition your career into the world of UX/UI design like Kristina and Jennifer? 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!

Launch a career in ux design with our top-rated program

Top Designers Use Data.

Gain confidence using product data to design better, justify design decisions, and win stakeholders. 6-week course for experienced UX designers.

Launch a career in ux design with our top-rated program

Top Designers Use Data.

Gain confidence using product data to design better, justify design decisions, and win stakeholders. 6-week course for experienced UX designers.