This is an adapted excerpt from the book.
What About The Other Design Books?
“First Designer In isn’t yet another design book, it’s a hyper-practical guide to all the non-design work the role entails.” Let’s dive into that a bit, shall we?
A solo UX designer looking for resources will likely find links to a few articles and a list of books about design craft or design management. However, there's very little available that can prepare them for the hard truths of bootstrapping to a completely new design function.
I wrote First Designer In to fill that gap. It does not aim to replace existing resources, but rather to complement them. Here’s how it all fits together.
The User Experience Team of One: A Research and Design Survival Guide
Written in 2013, this foundational book by Leah Buley offers efficient tactics to get design and research work done in the face of extreme resource constraints. As an FDI, you should absolutely read it. It addresses a lot of the design tactics which this book omits, because, well, Buley already wrote them. Where User Experience Team of One focuses on your survival as a solo designer, First Designer In strives to prevent you from having to be a solo designer forever.
Universal Methods of Design Expanded and Revised: 125 Ways to Research Complex Problems, Develop Innovative Ideas, and Design Effective Solutions
This is a massive desk reference of research methods by Bruce Hanington. You’ll recognize some of the same methods from User Experience Team of One. But do note these methods aren’t specifically tailored for solo designers, so before applying any of them, ask yourself: “How would Leah Buley chop this work in half?” Then do that.
The First 90 Days, Updated and Expanded: Proven Strategies for Getting Up to Speed Faster and Smarter
I’m an absolute fan of this book by Michael D. Watkins. It’s an industry agnostic guide to on-boarding yourself into a new role. The plan I lay out in Section Two is my own design-specific, start-up-centric interpretation of Watkins’ approach. The two plans differ in both pace and content. You can read First 90 Days if you get the chance, but if not—I’ve got you covered. Just know my version violates a number of Watkins’ rules in the name of speed.
Org Design for Design Orgs: Building and Managing In-House Design Teams
Another classic, written in 2016 by Peter Merholz and Kristin Skinner, this book brought an unprecedented level of clarity to the problem of how design teams work, the functions they contain, and how they change shape over time. As a solo designer, the contents of this book represent a future state for you. First Designer In aims to get you to that future. Org Design for Design Orgs is an excellent follow-up read.
Liftoff! Practical Design Leadership to Elevate Your Team, Your Organization, and You
This is the last book on the list, and the most recently published as well (2020). Chris Avore focuses on design leadership, positioning design within the company, and scaling an existing team. First Designer In starts earlier on in the design org’s life: at inception, although in Section Three, I will touch on some of the same topics.
Summing up, First Designer In is like if you speed up First 90 Days to triple-time and mix in the efficiencies of User Experience Team of One. Doing so will allow you to lay the foundations needed to tackle the work in Org Design for Design Orgs and LiftOff!