The only brand designer
Series of tips on being the only brand, communications, visual, or business designer at a startup (or whatever other name you have been given, perhaps unicorn of all things visual). The intention is not to discourage, or persuade, anyone from being the only designer. But, instead, give insight as to what it’s like from those who have lived it, or are currently living it.
One of the first things you learn about branding is the importance of being consistent with your brand’s look and feel. However, often times when you are the only designer, especially at an early stage startup, there is no brand. It is up to you to figure out the brand guidelines while working on multiple projects – which means you end up figuring out the brand look and feel while shipping landing pages, emails, stickers, one sheeters, presentation decks, etc…so brand consistency goes out the door.
Design with Ambiguity
When working at a startup change happens fast. Disruption and chaos are common. Therefore, often times, you have to design not knowing what the ultimate goal really is, or what your stakeholders want because they themselves don’t know.
Be Adaptable
Be prepared to take on many challenges with a positive attitude. Things are constantly changing day to day -team structures, management, deadlines, priorities, etc. If you can’t adapt to the constant changing environment then it’s probably best to find a more stable job.
design with data in mind
If you have research and data to back up your design decisions it will be much easier to sell in your designs to stakeholders who are not designers. Prove that design can move the needle. Design is not just about making things pretty but about evoking emotion. Use data to find insights on how  to influence users to take an important action in your product.
Nothing is Permanent
Company goals in a startup often change. Your designs will need to pivot with them, to reflect the current objectives of the marketing or sales teams. Designs will always be modified in order to attract new users, increase sign ups and downloads, and so on, so don’t get attached. You might do ten or more variations of one email, landing page, one sheeter, or ebook design. There’s always room for improvement.
Due now
Similar to agency life everything seems to be due now. The main difference in a startup is that you are the only designer to make it happen. As the only designer you have to manage your own timelines & balance conflicting priorities. Be sure to ask stakeholders for their quarterly goals so you can plan ahead.
proceed with caution
Being the only designer means not having other designers to run your ideas by or do a design critique and get feedback. Find a group outside of work whom you can talk about design and share ideas. It’s important to stay surrounded by other designers who can provide you with honest feedback and whom you can learn from.
automate, delegate, eliminate
Since you are your own project manager ask yourself every day what can you automate, delegate or eliminate. Realistically, as the only designer, there won’t be much you can delegate. So, what can you automate and/or eliminate? Try to automate as much production work as possible and eliminate tasks that don’t help accomplish company goals.
Having a project manager at a startup is a luxury. For the most part you are expected to manage your own projects from beginning to end. Including setting up reviews, making timelines, and figuring out the project scope.
Be Scrappy
There might no budget for an expensive photo or video shoot so figure out a way to do it yourself. This might mean using stock, taking a video or photo class, or watching tutorials on how to complete a certain task.

Want to get in touch or share a tip?

Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.