Onboarding your first design hire

I often get asked about how to successfully onboard new hire designers at small startups. Not all companies are able to hire experienced design talent as their first design hire, so often their first designer is someone still building experience within their industry. It's important that they know what's expected of them, how and when to challenge institutional knowledge and that they are given an opportunity to insert themselves into the product development workflow. These are a few tips I've put together as pointers to people hiring their first designer.

Assign someone as their buddy they can ask lots of questions to. Get the buddy to check in with them throughout the first week.

Introduce them to the team! It’s amazing how many times this isn’t done. In person is great, email/slack if that can’t be done.

Schedule a lunch or breakfast early on, it's a great chance to chat casually to coworkers.

If not already covered in the hiring process: in the short-mid term what does success look like for their role? What’s expected of them and when.

Allow a couple of days to settle in without much to do. If possible don’t give them anything too time sensitive to start with.

This applies to anyone new, but when bringing a designer into a meeting remember to set the context for the discussion. It's easy to forget all the conversations and decisions that were made previously to bring you to that point. Nothing is worse than a new employee brimming with enthusiasm getting all of their suggestions shot down with 'we've tried that before'.

Some local information is great to share, particularly if people are new to the area. Where to get lunch, where the team goes for drinks etc.

Provide introductions to key people, maybe with some time on their calendar to chat once settled. This can be an invaluable opportunity to find out about processes, light product education and future company direction.

Show them where current design work lives that they’ll need to reference. Allow time to study any previous research efforts, conversations or concepts that will impact their work. Customer research recordings or documents can be really helpful to get new designers up to speed if available.

If possible, for a first project ideally start out with something conceptual that will benefit from a beginners mind rather than shipping production work straight away. After that, move on to working on something small to get them to start shipping work and pairing with an engineer or two.

Promote building relationships early. Suggest weekly office hours with product management, designers and engineers. When design as a discipline is new to a company they need to work hard to demystify what design actually is to many people, regularly casual meetings and conversations help establish what a designer does, and how far it impacts product development.