This is an adapted excerpt from the book.
I Suppose I Should Introduce Myself
Hi, I’m Tara, and I wrote First Designer In. If you’re wondering why I did so - below is a summary loosely lifted from the book itself.
Design Founder vs. Founding Designer
For many people, the phrase “first designer in” conjures up images of Silicon Valley startups. While that’s not always the case, it is often true. My own career path began as a startup founder. Technically, that made me the first designer in, but as a company founder, I had much more to contend with than building a single function. The broad business perspective I gained as a founder has served as the foundation off of which I’ve built an entire FDI career.
You don’t need to have been an entrepreneur to be a good first designer, though there are certain skill sets that overlap in both roles:
- being comfortable with ambiguity
- managing many personalities
- balancing user needs with business needs
- being able to do many things all at once—nearly all of them challenging
The Core Difference
Aside from the obvious “founders own the company and the first designer doesn’t” there’s another core difference - resources.
There are a bazillion books, courses and resources available about being a startup founder, or a designer. There's hardly any of that support for founding designers. So when I made the switch from running my own company to running a team inside someone else’s, I was unprepared for the contorted challenges of that new role. I quickly bagged a collection of “lessons learned,” which we all know is a startup euphemism for “embarrassing failures you’ve sworn to never make again.”
It was brutal.
At this point in my career, that bag of lessons learned is bulging. Before I jump into another role*, I’ve chosen to pause and to compile the knowledge I’ve accumulated into this book. It represents the lessons I’ve personally learned over the past dozen or so years, as well as those of my many silent peers.
I hope that by passing these learnings on, the next generation of designers will be able to go further, and faster, than I ever could.
* I’m probably not going to do that anytime soon. I’ve found other ways to support designers at startups that allows me to do other things as well. Ya know, like write books and whatnot. 🤓