We all want our new hires to feel welcome, comfortable and able to contribute as quickly as possible. A good onboarding program can help get your new hire gets to that state. Onboarding usually includes tasks they need to complete and knowledge they need to learn. Designers use a lot of specialized tools, so they have some specific needs to have a successful onboarding.
This article is based on my experiences onboarding a few new hires and starting a new job recently. It covers getting designers up to speed on the design team, your HR / People / etc. department should have structure for onboarding people to the company.
Overall I’ve found there are two parts to preparing onboarding. The first is the research, which is collecting everything the new hire will need, and need to know. Then, once you have that, actually planning tasks and learning. Finally, you’ll also need to select a buddy.
You’ll need to know what else is already planned for the new hire. Then, you’ll need to understand what the stakeholders are hoping for. Take some time to do an audit of your own tools and processes. Finally, create a journey map to understand what the hire is doing, thinking, and feeling.
1. Know What is Already Planned
You want to have a holistic view of your new hire’s onboarding, so you can know what areas you need to cover. Conduct some research to find out what your company already has planned. Consider talking to the following people:
- HR partners for your team or organization
- Recently hired designers at your company
- Design Ops, if you have them
- The new hire’s manager, if it’s not you
Usually HR will have a lot of tasks planned (as will design ops). There’s always a number of legal or tax forms to fill out. Some tech companies have a week of talks about the company and its industry.
Even if much of the work is covered by HR and design ops there are usually tools and processes that are specific to your team or product.
2. Understand Everyone’s Idea of Success
The designer will be working with people, so you want to understand what these stakeholders hope for. Talking to the product manager, engineering manager and other designers may reveal very different goals for the new hire.
We discovered the following ideas of success:
- The design team members’ successes were around the new hire contributing to crits, being knowledgable about the user, and contributing individual work
- The engineering team lead’s success was the designer contributing design work as quickly as possible
- The design manager’s success was making sure they understood our design patterns, knew our policies, and felt included
- HR’s success was making sure they understood our policies, benefits and rights
3. Track Artifacts and Processes
Start to research the artifacts and tools they’ll be using. A good way to figure this out is to document everything you use and refer to while working. For us, this included some of the following:
- Software (design software like Sketch, prototyping software like Framer, task tracking like Trello, communication tools)
- Files (Sketch Libraries, Template files)
- Documentation (Design systems, processes, policies, principles, personality etc)
- User Research (Personas, any recent research)
4. Create a Journey Map
You’re basically designing a new hire’s experience, so design tools are useful! A journey map gave us a holistic view of the new hire’s tasks and feelings.
We found two main areas to plan for, knowledge (industry, company processes etc) and social (making sure they felt comfortable on the team). This confirmed the importance of existing practices (sending excited gif laden emails when an offer is made) and plan some new ones (a mini progress report to let them know if they’re on the right track).
Now that you have the right contact, you’ll start thinking about what tasks the hire needs to do. Then you’ll need to plan learning and social events to help them feel comfortable and up to speed. Make sure they have some feedback sessions planned so they know they’re on the right track. Once you have all of this, sequence it into a logical order based on the hire’s journey map.
1. Create a Task List
New hires have a lot of basic tasks to do on their own. Plan and document as. any as you can think of. The documentation could just be a list of tasks on a wiki page, or it could be something like a collection of JIRA tickets.
You can include some of the following tasks:
- Getting any tools and software that can’t be pre-installed. Do they have to request software from IT, or expense it?
- Getting software set up. For example, If your sketch libraries are in Dropbox provide them with a link and an explanation of how they are set up
- Reading process or policy docs. It’s also nice to throw in any HR reminders here like signing up for benefits
2. Plan Learning Events
Context is important for new hires to be able to do their job. Designers need to know about the company and the industry it’s in, but they also need detailed information about the users, design processes and tools.
We tried to set up 1:1s with different designers on the team to cover different areas. This gave them a chance to meet people and learn important information. Some examples of these are the following
- Meet with Shamika, senior product designer, to learn about our design system, where to find it, and how to get a copy of the sketch file we use
- Meet with James, user researcher, to learn about our personas and important past research
- Meet with Duong, director of product design, to learn about the vision for the UX team
- Meet with Sally, product manager, to learn about how design and product work together
- Meet with Ahmed, researcher, to learn about our research processes and how research works with design
- Meet with Em, senior product designer, to learn about our design processes and the tools we use
- Meet with Jenny, data scientist, to learn about how to work with data and data scientists
Another quick way for new hires to learn about processes is by experiencing them. Pair designing allows a new designer to contribute and see the full design process in a safe way. It’s similar to an onboarding technique for engineers called Pair Programming.
3. Plan social events
The most common feedback that I received from new designers was that social events were some of the most helpful tasks. Don’t underestimate the value of having opportunities to get to know and feel comfortable with each other. Consider some of the following events:
- After work drinks
- Team lunches
- Team building activity
4. Plan Points of Feedback
Expectations and benchmarks are different at every company. Learning how to evaluate yourself against them at a new job is tough. Mini reviews or retros can help set expectations. An easy way to do this is to have a “start, stop, continue” meeting after 30 and 90 days. In this meeting you talk about tasks, behaviours and anything else that should be started, stopped or continued. For instance,
Start: Designing on your own
Stop: Asking for permission. Rushing through work without proofreading
Continue: Asking great questions
5. Sequence everything in a logical way
Take the journey map that you created and think about when tasks and learnings should occur. Include the social events, and make sure the new hire is meeting all of the people they should know . Add any important milestones or meetings to their calendar.
Assign a Buddy
A good buddy can make up for a lot of other onboarding troubles. As a dedicated person they are a flexible resource who can answer questions, model behaviour, and make sure the new hire feels included. They should help with the following tasks:
- Giving the new hire a tour of the office
- Introducing the new hire to different people. This can be potential team mates, or other interesting people at the company
- Checking in with the new hire at the start and end of every day to answer questions
- Asking questions like “What do you need?” or “How can I help?”
- Inviting the new hire to lunch until they have made friends
- Checking the new hire’s calendar to make sure it has all of the important meetings on it
In terms of choosing someone to be a buddy, try to find someone who meets the following needs:
- A peer in a similar role who will understand technical questions and be able to explain the details of working at the company
- Has been at the company for long enough to understand the written policy and unwritten norms
- Is excited about being a buddy and has the time to support the new hire
Designing an onboarding process is like designing anything else, it can always be better. We always ask the new hire what else would have helped after they have been at the company for a few weeks.
There’s no right way to on-board a new designer, and every company is different. Feel free to pick and choose from this list. If you’ve recently joined a new company and they did something great, post a response with what it was.