What would you say you do here?
Being a designer at a startup is more than just contributing to the production of software. You need to be much more holistic in your approach to design. Not only should you produce mockups, but you should also conduct user research yourself. You should interject in a conversation about pricing out a new SKU. You should pitch in during QBRs. You should have an opinion on the positioning used in advertisements. Your goal is to design the entire experience a customer will go through, not just the software they use.
Here’s a screenshot I took of the chart I used to describe this process during one of my quarterly reviews. This is the journey for any customer. They start with their first touch, whether it’s an outbound call, or maybe a booth at a conference, or a recommendation from a peer. They interact with a BDR or AE who tells them more about the product. They start a trial or negotiate a price, convert to regular users, then come to renewals or expansions. My job, in a nutshell, is to control their experience so that when it comes to renewals,they’re more than happy to sign up for another year.
I start by designing a customer's experience before they even touch our software. The language that BDRs and AEs use when talking about software greatly affects a customer's first impression once they use a product. One of the simplest ways I can contribute is to help with the design of their discovery deck.
On the most basic level, I can make sure colors, copy, etc. match what they will see in the product. It helps things feel cohesive and professional. On a higher level, I can help by including examples of how our most successful users approach our product. That way, when I design the onboarding for our software, I can match those examples giving them a clear path to being a successful user. One of the most jarring experiences I’ve found is when a sales team sells a tool by saying it can be used to accomplish “X”. but when a customer first uses the product, the steps to accomplish “X” aren’t apparent. Or even worse, “X” is in the pipeline for Q4 and isn’t available yet.
The next step is designing the software itself. When designing software, I have three goals. First, make sure the rate of new features/iterations is quick and not blocked by the design team. Second, audit the existing product for accessibility compliance, ease of onboarding, and other things typically spearheaded by the design team. And third, review the product roadmap, and assess if there is anything the design team, through its user research, feels is missing from the roadmap. The most complicated thing about this part of the process is that you might have five things that are high priority, but only enough people to accomplish three.
For example, when at Sense, a major missing feature, which was never prioritized on the roadmap (for good reasons), was customer onboarding. If we dedicated a whole team to the project, by most estimates it would take several months to complete. The design team tackled this problem by stopping the incoming flow of new features that needed onboarding. So, for each new feature on the roadmap, we made sure that designs and resourcing to create onboarding for it were included in the spec. While this didn't solve our problem for any existing feature, over time, more and more features gained onboarding. All without adding a fourth feature to the roadmap and with minimal extra time for each new project.
The last piece of the puzzle is designing a customer’s experience once they're using the software and approaching renewal. I help out the customer success team in any way I can. Sometimes,that's helping with the design of their decks to make them match our marketing/positioning style. Other times, that’s interviewing the customers to assess what features they feel are missing and trying to advocate to add those features to the product roadmap.
I am a generalist. I’ve spent my career learning everything I can about every step of the enterprise SaaS process. When people ask me what makes me different from other designers, I walk them through this process and explain that my job is not to design software but to design the experience that a customer has with a company.