How To Stay Sane as a Solo UI AND UX Designer

Let’s face it – there’s a number of us out there that can’t fit just one design role at work. If you’re at a company that puts less emphasis on design, chances are you may be the one (or few) designers working on any and all given tasks.

For my company, each project only has one dedicated designer. If it’s a new project starting from scratch, you’ll have to be in charge of doing the research, site mapping, wire framing, prototyping, AND guiding the development team towards implementation. That’s a lot of hats, and a huge reason companies with more resources are willing to split up these tasks amongst a number of designers.

But many of us aren’t that lucky, and will have to do everything ourselves as thoroughly and efficiently as possible.

Here are tips and ideas to help you be the best designer you can be when you’ve got the whole process to juggle.

#1 Learn to manage your time beyond your habits

For a great list of time management skills, check out our other article 10 Easy Techniques to Manipulate and Manage Your Time as a Designer.

This may seem obvious, but it is the biggest hurdle to overcome when faced with a huge project ahead. If you’re used to being one cog in the wheel, you’ll quickly have to readjust how you delegate your time, mentally and physically.

If you’re already used to being a lone-wolf designer, there are always ways to improve our self-regulation skills. Keeping on top of things is always crucial, and if you start a project with good habits, chances are you’ll save yourself some headache down the line if (or when) things get rough.

#2 Partner up with your PM as much as possible

This was extremely crucial for me when as the only designer on my projects. Hopefully you have a great relationship with your PM, which will make this process easy. If you don’t, do your best to simply consider them as another pair of eyes to review the logic of your work. If they are lacking in time management or organizational skills, make sure you have your own work structure to keep on track. 

The second half of this is – don’t be afraid to pick up PM skills and responsibilities.

You may be thinking – but wait, I’m already doing ALL the research and ALL the design! How will I ever find time for that?

The short answer is, if you can keep in touch with the overall structure and performance of the project just as well as the PM, you will be better suited for fires that come up if your PM is lacking – or, if someone else needs to handle client communication, development misunderstandings, and everything in between. Designers are essentially the middle-man of this process after all, and the mastermind behind how the product operates.

Best case scenario – your PM will do their job well, so you can do yours well (or even better)

#3 Make Yourself Fall in Love With the Research

I’ve never considered myself a logic-oriented person, so work that revolved around analytics and raw data simply never appealed to me. It wasn’t until I saw the impact that meaningful research has on my approach to design that I became interested in being more involved with it.

If your company likes to cut corners when it comes to the research portion of design, do your best to incorporate as much as the process as possible. Designing in a vacuum, only surrounded by the experience of yourself (and the people around you) is the riskiest way to make the best product. Even clients/stakeholders,  who have a target or end user in mind, don’t REALLY know what their product needs to be the most engaging, efficient, or other attribute they have in mind. Your job, as a designer, is to find that path – and a strong, healthy UX process has shown again and again that it can make a difference.

#4 Be OK With Cutting Some Corners

Wait, you literally just said to do as much of the process as possible!

I did. But this does not mean you will ALWAYS get a chance to follow every step 100% of the time.

The reality of design is that workflows are messy. Even though Agile (a popular method) can be efficient, things will not always go to plan. Clients with suddenly change their mind. Developers will have their own opinions. A workflow you thought worked so well is completely ignored by the user. And now suddenly, you’re a sprint behind.

Each project is unique, and sometimes you’ll just have to skip a step or go back a few, and that’s alright. 

Another example is a client who only wants a POC (proof of concept) before deciding to invest deeper in an idea. In this scenario, time and money are likely limited, and your role as a designer may be to just splash something out quickly to get the feel of things. It may not be perfect, it may even make sense if the user wants to scale out their concept – but that’s just the nature of some projects.

In time, you’ll get a feel when some popular UX methods aren’t right or necessary for the task at hand

So overall, don’t feel you need to, let’s say, make personas because that’s simply what you SHOULD do in whatever stage of the project you’re in. Use your intuition and experience, within the context of the project, to empower your choices.

#5 Get as many eyes (and ears) on your work as possible

If you’re the only designer on your team, you may only have a number of developers as well – and perhaps one PM. 

Whatever your situation, you might feel that you are designing within a vacuum despite your best efforts, or wishes. If you also don’t have access to end-users, your next bet is to work through your ideas with as many peers as possible.

I’m not necessarily suggesting you talk to people outside your work, especially since many projects may be under NDA. But within your team, utilize your developers and PM as much as possible, as they have just as valuable opinions as fellow designers. And even better, if you have more designers in your workplace split up in other teams, try to organize pair design or review sessions.

In my experience, everyone has something valuable to contribute. Even if their thoughts aren’t 100% practical to implement, at least you can gather outside opinions of your work. The way people think and react to designs can be valuable to assess, regardless of their familiarity.

#6 don't forget to slow down and breath

I think this is for everyone out there that is exists within a tornado of work.

Even if you apply everything above, you will still work at a loss if you don’t take some time to reflect and – get this – completely step away from the work now and then. Sometimes the best ideas and energy come from revitalizing ourselves in other activities. For some this may be mental exercises, others physical. Maybe others get their inspiration kick-started by working on completely different design tasks.

Whatever it is, make sure you take the time to refresh yourself and center your gravity. It can be hectic being a solo designer, but don’t worry – you got this.

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