User experience designers are in high demand at both startups and big companies alike, with both organization types seeking creative, critical, and technically skilled designers to bolster the user experience of their products and give them a competitive advantage. But the roles and responsibilities of UX designers can greatly differ depending on where they work, and the experience of a UX designer working for a startup could be a world away from someone nestled in a design team at a Google or Facebook.

Product designer, Avinash Parida has worked at startups like Mygola and Inflection and corporations like LinkedIn and Facebook. Having experienced both sides of the coin, he shares insights into his experience working as a UX and product designer at both kinds of companies and offers valuable tips on getting a foot in the door.

You’ve worked at both startups and some of the world’s biggest companies. How would you say UX design roles differ between the two?

A startup generally looks for someone who is passionate about the design opportunity, is really good at hard skills, and is really good at communication. A lot of times big companies look for senior roles…[someone who has] more experience to bring to the table. Depending on which stage a startup is in, a lot of times [I’ve had a] startup experience where I was the only designer, and that brings its own challenges because you have to be really good at learning a lot by yourself.

At a startup…[things are] really fast-paced. You are not refining the product as much as you would do in a big company. Having worked at LinkedIn and Facebook, I feel like the overall structure for bigger companies is very similar—your decision-making needs to be spot on, especially when designing in a space of millions of users—you really have to be decision-focused and opinionated at the same time. You get everything in terms of resources, which you don’t at a startup where you have to wear multiple hats. [The big companies] give you a lot of time and resources to focus, but it comes with a trade-off. In a bigger environment, you only work on a smaller piece of the puzzle, whereas in a startup, you own the whole area.

Based on your experience, what traits or skills do startups look for when they’re hiring their first UX designers?

The general rule of thumb [for startups is to hire] someone who can wear multiple hats, who has good hard skills, such as visual design, who can do iconography themselves, or actually have an understanding of what kind of visual language they want to go for. At the same time, [being able to do] traction design, making prototypes, and being able to share those concept mockups, and prototypes in real-time with stakeholders [is important]. It’s a lot of decision-making, but at the same time, you have to educate [others].

What about at big companies like LinkedIn and Facebook? What advice do you have for newcomers hoping to get hired?

The overall interview process was always around presenting your portfolio. It’s one of the pieces which has a great impact on the people looking at your work because that’s kind of who you are and you can show more than what you can actually say in person. Other things that big companies look for are whether you’re a good team player and [how good you are at] collaboration and communication.  

It’s also important to [show how you] use data, how you measure success in your designs, how you go about showing that there is value in what you’re trying to propose. Facebook, for example, has a design system, which helps to reduce redundancy of code, but also redundancy of making the same kind of designs again and again. So, you need to be able to use some of these design systems, but also know when you need to go and create a new design pattern.

So, [I would recommend] having a great portfolio to speak for your work in the past, being a good collaborator and communicator, and showing areas where you have taken research into the picture and made design decisions based on data.

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