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The Pros and Cons of Working With a Startup as a UX Designer

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March 1, 2021

When you work as a UX designer, you have options. You can work in-house or at home. You can work for a startup that no one’s heard of or a household name that even your grandmother would recognise.

There are tons of ways to make a living as a UX designer. But, with all of those choices, should you consider working at a startup?

If you want to know the pros and cons of working at a startup as a UX designer, keep on reading. In this post, we’ll give you a list of reasons to join a startup and a few things to consider before you sign on the dotted line.

1. The Benefits of Working at a Startup as a UX Designer

Here are the major advantages of working at a startup:

Creative Liberty

In a startup environment, you’re not just following a plan that someone else set. You’re starting from scratch, especially if you’re the lead UX designer or the only UXer at the company. The founders hired you to create a satisfying user experience for their target audience. Not only do you get creative license to design, but you also become the owner of that design.

An Opportunity to Grow as a UX Designer

When you work at a startup, you’ll stretch your design skills. You won’t just fall in line as you would if you joined an already-established UX design team. Instead, you’ll plot out a path. Startups push you to your innovative core, and that demand may cause you to expand your skill set. That’s a good thing.

Collaboration

At a startup, you’ll become part of a small but interdependent team. Every one of you will depend on each other to complete tasks. And sometimes, you’ll be asked to complete tasks that aren’t even in your job description as a UX designer. But the good side of this is that you’ll learn. By doing all sorts of duties at the startup, you’ll get versed in many areas, including sales, marketing, development, customer service, and much more. These are all marketable skills that can help you as you continue in your career.

Equity

One of the perks of working at a startup is that you’ll likely be offered equity. This type of offer is unique to working at a startup. You get to own a piece of the company. If you believe in the company and are confident that it will become the next big thing, owning equity (i.e. stock options) is a huge benefit.

A Unique Experience

There’s nothing quite like working at a startup. It’s often fun and unconventional. Your office may even have a ping pong table and a meditation room. But even if your startup doesn’t have those bells and whistles, most startups do offer casual work environments, free food, and other perks (like membership to a local gym). While this type of environment isn’t suitable for all personality types, it’s definitely a good fit for those who don’t like following the rules. If you prefer to take your own path, your path may lead to a startup.

Good for Entrepreneurs

Are you thinking about starting your own UX consultancy? What about freelancing as a UX designer? Before striking out on your own, it may be a good idea to work at a startup first. Here’s why: Working at a startup will prepare you for what it will be like to build your own business. It’s chaotic, risky, nerve-racking, exciting, and rewarding—and it’s an environment that you can’t quite imagine unless you’ve witnessed it up close. When you work at a startup, you’ll get a quick education in starting up your own business.

Networking

At a startup, you’ll work alongside many talented individuals. They’re fellow risk takers who will likely create their own startup in the future. You’ll get a chance to grow your professional network and even build lifelong friendships. Out of these relationships may come future opportunities to grow your career as a UX designer and eventually as a consultant, if you choose to go down that path.

No Micromanagement

You’ll be trusted to do your job without much supervision (because there aren’t enough people at a startup to supervise you). You’ll need to be disciplined to ensure that you meet your objectives on time and remain an asset to the startup.

2. The Drawbacks of Working at a Startup as a UX Designer

Here’s what you need to know before deciding to work at a startup.

Lower Salary as a UX designer

You may have equity but you won’t get much in terms of salary. Unlike older companies with an established and dependable stream of revenue, startups have limited budgets and must stick to that. You may not be paid what you’re worth at a startup, but the creative freedom, the equity, and the chance to work with a great group of people may be worth the dip in salary. Just be sure that you’re still able to cover your bills.

A Disorganised Mess

In a startup environment, nothing has been standardised. Everything is chaotic and all over the place, and this chaos may last for years until the company is able to stabilize and decide what works and what doesn’t. In the early years of a startup, you’ll have to deal with constant change in direction, processes, tools, founders, you name it. If you don’t do well in disorganised, amorphous environments, a startup is not the right place for you.

You’ll Wear Many Hats as a Startup UX Designer

This is both a pro and a con. When you work in a startup environment, you’ll be expected to do things outside of the scope of UX design—way outside. With such a small team, there’s simply not enough people to perform all of the tasks needed to make the startup successful, so you’ll have to take on multiple responsibilities outside of UX design.

Job Instability

Startups are risky ventures and nine out of 10 of them end in failure. You’ll have to be okay with living in a risky environment. You may never know if your job or the startup will be there next week. If you’re risk averse, a startup is definitely not the right environment for you.

Lots of Work

When working in a startup environment, you may be the only UX designer on staff. This means that the entire weight of the startup’s UX needs falls on you. And this translates to long hours that often bleed over on the weekend. Social life? What’s that? You’ll spend more time working at a startup than you would if you worked at an established company.

Increased Stress

Lower pay, more work, and no job stability can equal stress for certain personality types. Not everyone likes living on the edge. If you prefer stability, that’s okay, just know that a startup doesn’t offer that.

3. The Bottom Line for a UX Designer

Should UX designers work at a startup? Absolutely. Working at a startup can be rewarding in many ways. It gives you creative liberty and the ability to stretch yourself as a designer. But it may not be the right choice for every designer, including you. Weigh the above pros and cons to determine if the startup life is the right one for you.

Michael Wong
Founder of Designership & z0 Studio

Mizko, also known as Michael Wong, brings a 14-year track record as a Founder, Educator, Investor, and Designer. His career evolved from lead designer to freelancer, and ultimately to the owner of a successful agency, generating over $10M in revenue from Product (UX/UI) Design, Web Design, and No-code Development. His leadership at the agency contributed to the strategy and design for over 50 high-growth startups, aiding them in raising a combined total of over $400M+ in venture capital.

Notable projects include: Autotrader (Acquired. by eBay), PhoneWagon (Acquired by CallRails), Spaceship ($1B in managed funds), Archistar ($15M+ raised) and many more.

You can learn more about me on:
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