Tips for onboarding new designers & researchers
5 minutes read
Product designers and researchers tend to think a lot about the onboarding experience for new users. How can we help new users quickly get up and running? How can a product or service provide value as early as possible? But how often do they think about the onboarding experience for new designers and researchers joining their organisation?
Just as a good onboarding experience can be critical for new users, a good onboarding experience can be equally critical for new designers and researchers. Not only is it important to set a good first impression, the better someone is onboarded, the sooner they can start adding value.
I’ve previously outlined some tips for how to improve your hiring process. As a follow up I thought it would be useful to share some tips for what happens after a new hire joins. Read on to find out how to improve the onboarding experience for new designers and researchers joining your organisation.
Invest in onboarding
Too many design and research teams simply don’t invest enough time and effort on their onboarding experience for new starters. This can often lead to an onboarding process that is unstructured, inefficient, and wildly different from person to person. Often new starters are left to struggle on their own and expected to seek out the information they need like some cruel game of treasure hunt.
Good onboarding takes time and effort. Invest in planning and then executing a good onboarding process, and that investment will soon pay off. New designers and researchers will be able to get up to speed more quickly and therefore start adding value more quickly.
Have a plan
It’s important to have an onboarding plan covering the first few days, weeks and even months. An improvised onboarding process might be the easy option, but it’s going to lead to an unstructured and inconsistent onboarding experience for new starters.
It’s useful to include weekly goals, activities and milestones for the first month, and then monthly goals, activities and milestones thereafter. Be realistic about what a new starter can achieve and don’t plan everything out in minute detail. No one wants an hour-by-hour breakdown of what they are expected to do during their first month in a role!
Cover the wider organisation, not just the immediate team
Too often onboarding doesn’t provide new starters with the broader context of an organisation. This can make it harder to connect their work with the bigger picture and to form contacts outside of their immediate team.
It’s therefore important that an onboarding process covers the wider organisation, not just the immediate team. Think about how to introduce someone to the various functions within the organisation, how to help them to put the various pieces of the organisational puzzle together and how best to introduce them to key contacts across the organisation.
Pair new starters with someone from outside their team
To ensure that new designers and researchers don’t get a purely design or research centric view of the organisation it’s a good idea to pair them up with someone from outside of their team, ideally even outside of their function. For example, if they work in a product team, perhaps you might pair them up with someone in finance.
Pairing new starters with someone from outside their team provides an additional channel for advice and information and is a great way for them to find out about different parts of the organisation. It also helps new starters to establish contacts and friendly faces outside of their team.
Utilise existing onboarding resources
All too often teams will create their own onboarding processes and resources, blissfully unaware that resources already exist within the organisation. Before creating your own onboarding resources it’s always worth finding out what resources already exist, and whether they can be repurposed.
Find out key information for new starters
How do you know what information is most important for new designers and researchers? A good first step is to ask current designers and researchers what they wished they’d known when they started. You can also ask other teams and functions what information they provide new starters with.
Document as much as you can
I know that no one enjoys writing internal documentation (at least I’m yet to meet a designer or researcher who does), but believe me, onboarding is much easier if you document as much as you can.
Improving your onboarding process can also be a good excuse to get your internal documentation in order. By documenting key information and processes, you can create resources that are not only useful for new starters, but for established designers and researchers as well. Rather than trying to capture everything that someone could possibly want to know, focus on the key information and think about the best format to use. For example, rather than written information, perhaps videos and presentations would be a better format to use.
Ask colleagues to schedule introductions
All too often a new starter will get introduced to a team, but not get a proper introduction to the individual members of a team. Getting to know someone is much more than knowing their name, so it’s a good idea to ask colleagues to set-up a one-to-one introduction with any new designer or researcher.
Ask everyone to schedule at least 30 minutes to introduce themself, and to get to know their new teammate a little better. Ideally this should be done in-person and should be instigated by the current team members as handing a new starter a list of people to introduce themself to can be quite intimidating.
Utilise progressive disclosure
Progressive disclose is a well-used UX design pattern. Interactive design foundation describes progressive disclosure as:
“Progressive disclosure is an interaction design pattern that sequences information and actions across several screens (e.g., a step-by-step signup flow). The purpose is to lower the chances that users will feel overwhelmed by what they encounter. By disclosing information progressively, interaction designers reveal only the essentials.”Interactive design foundation
Progressive disclosure not only works well for interfaces, it can work equally well for onboarding new designers and researchers. Rather than blasting new starters with a bewildering amount of information from day 1, it’s better to progressively disclose information so that they don’t become overwhelmed. For example, showing a new designer how Figma files are set-up within the team probably isn’t necessary on day 1, it’s something that can be left for later on.
It’s very important to regularly check-in with new designers and researchers in order to find out how they are doing and to answer any questions that they might have. This is doubly important when working remotely. I’d recommend checking in with new starters at least twice a day during their first week, and at least once a day during the next few weeks.
Get feedback for your onboarding process
Even if you have a really good onboarding process, there is always room for improvement. It’s important to ask new starters what their onboarding experience was like and how it can be improved. Find out what worked well, and what didn’t work so well. What important information wasn’t covered and which resources were most useful. It doesn’t take long for someone to become institutionalised, so be sure to get feedback towards the end of their onboarding experience.
If you’ve been at an organisation for a while, it can be difficult to remember what it was like as a new starter. Starting a new job, or a new role can be a very stressful time. Having a good onboarding process can certainly help alleviate some of that stress, but it’s also important to remind everyone that they should be considerate and empathetic towards new designers and researchers. Be realistic about what someone can do whilst they are learning the ropes, especially if they are working within a complex domain.
Just as a good onboarding experience can be critical for new users, a good onboarding experience can be equally critical for new designers and researchers. By following these tips you can improve the onboarding experience for designers and researchers joining your organisation, and ultimately help them to starting adding value as soon as possible.
- How to make a great onboarding process for new product designers (UX Planet)
- Successful Onboarding for New Hires in UX Roles (Nielsen Norman Group)
- How to improve your hiring process (UX for the Masses)