How to make a great onboarding process for new product designers

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This article explains how to create a successful onboarding process for product designers after hiring them

A straightforward onboarding process for new designers in your team is like product onboarding. The process leads them to feel more comfortable and will enable them to deliver high-quality solutions for the product faster.

This image shows an employee onboarding package, including a laptop, pens, socks, notebooks, stickers, a water bottle, and a coffee cup.
Employee onboarding box

My experience with a few companies led me to understand that lack of clear onboarding processes is common. One of the most affected cases was when after three months at one of my previous jobs, I felt a gap in my knowledge.
I did not fully understand what the company does, what products it develops, and worse still, I did not have a thorough understanding of the product
I designed.

Comic of the new designer said, “Hello, I am Mark.” to two team members
Illustrations Open Peeps by Pablo Stanley

I was a junior UX designer, and I had a horrible feeling that I didn’t understand some stuff and did not know what to ask to bridge this gap. Moreover, my lack of experience caused me to make many mistakes. One of the things that helped me at that moment was a conversation I had with a senior designer on my team. It was evident to him that something was not going well, so he explained to me the things I was missing.

Therefore, I created an onboarding process that I use when I start a new job. I will share my perspective on what is essential for a new designer who is starting a new position in this post.

My experience comes from product companies, but I imagine that designers who work in agencies will also find it useful. Let’s be clear that every company is different, so there is no one onboarding process that can be used for all design roles. The onboarding process will need to be customized to meet the specific needs.

The article will be divided into several topics to explain what a new designer should know from various perspectives. You will find a checklist at the end of the article that can be used when creating your onboarding processes.

Hopefully, the information contained in this post will assist managers in creating an effective onboarding process for new team members and also for designers that are starting a new role.

Why we need an onboarding process

A clear onboarding process is critical for a designer’s success. By ensuring that the new employee is informed and aligned with all the aspects they need to know from the moment they begin a new job, they will be more satisfied and offer better results because they will understand many things before designing. Additionally, a clear onboarding flow gives the impression that someone cares for them and wants them to succeed.

The employee onboarding experience does not simply give the new hire an onboarding box and explain who the users are and what they need. Although it is evident that these topics are essential to explain to a new member, they are not sufficient.

It is also essential that the new hire is aware of the agile methodology, how sprints work, how we communicate with developers, what the company’s goals are, what programs we use, and important HR information, such as the day off sick leave policy. All these topics should be addressed during the onboarding process since they will reduce future questions and let new contributors feel comfortable working on the product. The product designer will also be sure they are aligned, understand what they need to do, and know the environment they are joining.

The office

It is essential to provide some basic information about the office and its culture.

  • Office location
    Since the CoronaVirus, most of us work from home (I hope working from home will become the norm). If the new employee needs to go to the office for the first time, you can give them directions and instruct them on how to get there efficiently. If the new employee brings a car, it is a good idea to show them where the car can be parked. In some companies, some workers live close to each other, coming together to the office in the morning. It may also be valuable information for them.
  • What do we have in the office?
    Although it may seem obvious, you should describe where they can find the basic things like the restroom, lunchroom, or meeting room. At that moment you can show for example how to reserve a meeting room or explain about the ticket restaurant and how to use it.
  • Ceremony in the company
    Another thing to mention is that there are some ceremonies within the company; for instance, a special cake is shared when someone in the office celebrates a birthday.

People the new member should know

In every organization, we come into contact with different people, some with whom we interact daily, others once a month. In this situation, I recommend introducing the new employee to the people they need to know and explaining their role within the company.
That way, when the new member needs some information, they will know who to contact. For example, if the new designer experiences problems with their computer, they will know to contact the IT department for assistance.

Please be aware that not everyone will be familiar with every position on the team. Designers from small companies may not be familiar with the duties of certain employees, for example, knowing the difference between a product manager and a product owner. Consider spending time with the new product designer to clarify and align them with this information if this is the case.

Some team member that the new designer should meet:

  • Office manager
  • HR manager
  • Product manager
  • Product owner
  • QA tester
  • Developers
  • All the design team members
  • People from the IT department
Comic of the Design team lead ask the new designer, “Have you talked to our office manager?” and the new designer asks, “I’m sorry, but what does the office manager do?”
Illustrations Open Peeps by Pablo Stanley

The company

A funny thing I have noticed in many companies is that people work there without knowing what the company does or why it exists. Many people want to wake up in the morning and work on something that makes a difference, rather than only for money.

For this reason, it is important to explain the mission of the company so that new team members can understand what purpose we design for and why we are here.

In addition, it is necessary to explain:

  • Company size: Is it a company with 50 employees, 1000 or maybe 10,000 employees?
  • The company’s office locations
    Where are the company’s offices located around the world, and what is the principal focus of each office? For example, some offices are primarily responsible for sales.
  • The different departments and their responsibility
    Human resources, Finance, design, customer success, sales, and development.
  • What products the company develops
    Is the company developing one product, two products, or a few products? Also, explain from a business perspective why the company develops them and its value proposition.
  • The company values
    What the company believes and what its core values are.
  • The company culture
    What is important to the company culture in terms of behavior and characteristics

Please consider that this part differs from company to company, especially if we talk about a large company vs. a small company.

Lastly, it is important to explain the goals of the company during the recruitment process, and not only after the designer starts working. Surely you do not want to work with a designer who does not believe in the mission of your company.

The programs we use

We all know this story: we start working for a company, and we have to set up the computers, but no one takes full responsibility for explaining what programs we use and who gives us access. For each new member, this story is very uncomfortable.
The new product designer needs to know these points, and you should take responsibility for them:

  • Install the programs in advance
    Provide the IT team with a list of the programs the designer should have on his computer and ask them to install and give them permission to use them. You will make the designer feel like someone cares for them if you do this. Some people are shy to ask for help, so provide them with the list of programs and ask them to let you know if any of them don’t work.
    One more thing, you should also mention the password policy. It is a separate issue, so make sure to cover it as well.
  • Basic programs
    We should explain what programs we use in the team and their main features to the new member. Do we use Google workspace or Microsoft 365, for example? What are our communication programs Slack, Zoom?
    I guess you ask yourself what main features I should show to the new member, all of the people know how to send an email.
    It’s true, but there are some features that young UX designers or designers who have not worked in a large company may not be familiar with, such as how to locate an open slot on the calendar.
  • Task management tools
    Describe the team’s programs for task management such as Notion, Jira Monday, Trello, and Click Up. Be aware that not all employees come from the same companies, and some may not understand the purpose of these software programs or how to use them. Therefore, make sure that the new member is familiar with the purpose and use of these programs.
  • Design programs
    Explain to the new member what design program we use, such as Figma, Sketch, or Adobe XD. Apart from these programs, we can also introduce supporting programs like Miro or Figjam. Despite the fact that this part is more than obvious, I will suggest showing the new member the basic features they must know, including auto layout, symbols, and other important features. If you detect a lack of knowledge, please provide videos describing these features. There are many free resources available on YouTube, and you can use them.

The product

This is the heart of all this article, and in this section, I will elaborate on how to onboard the new member so they will be able to understand all aspects of the product.

In this instance, we want the new designer to be familiar with the product, our working methodology, release cycles, and our KPI metrics that will measure success.

  • The product domain
    In the first place, we must explain what kind of domain we work in. In some cases, domains are easy to understand; for instance, if our product is an e-commerce selling T-shirts, it is easy to explain since most people today purchase products through the Internet, so they are familiar with its concept. Furthermore, some domains are unfamiliar to most people.
    If that is the case, it is important to explain the field to the new member to understand and feel confident with it. If you do not do this, the designer will not be able to work on the product.
    For example, if the product is a tool for developers, you should explain to the new designer what the product is, why developers require it, and how it solves a problem. Additionally, you may provide a small dictionary with some of the most important terms that they need to know (for example, merge, conflict, pull request) and a list of articles and videos that provide them with a basic understanding.
  • The users
    Every designer must know the user to be able to empathize with them, understand their needs and their pain points.
    I recommend showing the new designer the user persona you created, asking them to read it, and asking them if there is anything they do not understand. Also, it will be useful to show the new member the user journey. This will allow them to fully understand the processes that the user performs within the app. In the event that you have interviewed users, you might share this interview with the new member and ask them to view it, and if you plan to talk to some users, you might ask them to join you.
  • The product
    In my opinion, every product designer should have a complete understanding of the app they work on. A designer who can work on and control the product will have a better grasp of the design.
    To understand the app completely, you can begin by showing the designer the software and its basic functionality. While you can do it yourself, it would be more effective if you provided some videos with the information. Next, give the new designer access to the app and ask them to experiment with it. It will be good for the designer to experience the user onboarding process of the product so they can feel the app like a new user. Further, you should include details, such as: what operating systems the product supports (iOS, Android, etc…) or which apps can be integrated into it.
  • Product culture and methodology
    You wish to explain to the new member the methodological approach used by the team when developing the product.
    Various organizations have adopted agile methodologies with sprints, and others have adopted kanban. All of this is important to discuss, but here is the opportunity to highlight a few other topics.
    It is also important to outline the release cycle, our QA process, and the level of the product’s quality (Do we need to cover and test all the edge cases? ), and how we document the product’s information. Furthermore, it would be helpful to describe the product team culture in more detail. Do we work in a squad, for example? Does the team hold retrospective meetings? How the team measures product success (key performance indicators used by the team?). In this article, I mentioned that not all designers are familiar with these ideas, so when explaining, for example, if the team holds retrospective meetings, you should make sure the new member understands the purpose of these sessions.
  • Design
    It is essential to explain to the new member the various topics concerning the product design. You may begin by introducing the designer to the Design System with all the necessary information that they require to understand, including the icon set and where to find the documentation of all app information. Please describe how the files should be organized within Figma and how they should be documented. This will save time for future questions.
    Last but not least, show and explain the ux design process and the principles behind the product to the designer. The product principles will help them understand the standards they should follow when designing.
Comic of a developer asks the new designer, “We’re having a retrospective today.” The new designer asks, “Sorry, what’s a retrospective?”
Illustrations Open Peeps by Pablo Stanley

More things

In addition to all I wrote above, I will add some general things that you can use to give the new member a great onboarding experience.

  • Encourage the new member to ask questions
    In order to have a successful onboarding process, it is essential to ask questions. However, some people are shy or think they will look stupid if they ask. For this reason, ask the designer to tell you everything they do not understand about the company, the processes, the product, or the programs they need to use. Also, they can write everything that they do not understand and review with you, so they will be able to ask more questions at once.
  • One-on-one
    Describe for the new employee what one-on-one meetings are and why they are necessary.
  • Employee evaluation
    Explain to the new member what will be measured, the method of receiving feedback, and how often it will occur.
  • Establish a real relationship
    It would be best to get to know him better and ask him questions about his life, where they come from, and what they like to do. In this way, you will be able to understand them better and be able to create effective relationships and support them.

As I mentioned in this article, here is a checklist you can use to help you onboard a new product designer.

I hope this article will help you. Feel free to share it with your friends or team members, and if you have any questions, feel free to share them with me.

How to make a great onboarding process for new product designers was originally published in UX Planet on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.