the only designer

Managing Large Projects When You’re the Only Designer on the Team

Every project we kick off at Revelry is worked over a series of one week sprints. And typically, the team that works on the project consists of around 3-5 Revelers. That means it’s normally the case that I’m the only designer on the project team.

I’m pretty lucky to work with a larger overall company that includes a larger design team (PS, we’re hiring), so I can count on them for a second eye. But if you’re working on a small startup and you’re the only designer there, have no fear. It can get overwhelming, but I’m here to help.

How to manage large projects when you’re the only designer on the team

  • Prepare yourself for the week: Taking it one day at a time
  • Checklists and expectations
  • Set up for an easy hand-off from designer to designer
  • Avoid UX blind spots
  • Bonus Tips


How to prepare yourself for the week as the only designer on the team

When you’re the only designer on a project, it’s daunting to prepare. Especially first thing Monday morning. Before freaking out about the week ahead of you, take a few steps back: Remember to take it one day at a time, and breathe. Once you get the hang of it, it gets easier over time.

If you can, request that you’re assigned full-time on that one project every week. There’s a lot to get done, and only one of you. This applies even if you’re the only designer in the whole company. Demand focus, so that all of the jobs-to-be-done are segregated into projects.

The designer has to keep track of all the tickets that the developers are working on and be ready to perform a design pass on them. Then there’s design bug tickets and working on any larger UX overhauls. This work will stack up and get overwhelming, so your focus is important.

Checklists are everything

The best and most productive thing you can do first thing on Monday morning is start creating a checklist. Grab all of the items you need to keep track of or claim for this current week. That way you’ll have an overview of every ticket, every task. And it feels good to get it recorded – whether you’ve got it down on paper or on your favorite checklist app. Checking them off one-by-one is very mentally rewarding!

Set expectations with your client

Getting on the same page with your client is key. Your client for this particular project might be a coworker or an external product owner, but either way: get synced. Sync with your client and go through each feature. Discuss what takes priority over others.

Make sure they understand that some features may be larger than others, and the more that’s expected from you will take more time. Once the both of you set realistic goals, it’s easier to move forward with weekly sprint preparation.

How to prepare an easy hand-off from designer to designer

Pulling in a second designer, if the project is very large, is a great idea. Recently, I was handling a huge project as the only designer, and wrangling 8 developers’ tickets once a week. Pulling in a second designer lifted some of the weight off my shoulders, and we were able to divvy up the tickets.

The onboarding process took a little longer, since there was so much to go over, but it was all worth it in the end. Don’t skip this process because you think you don’t have enough time. I know I was relieved to get some help, but I needed to prepare quite a bit in order to get my design partner up-to-date.

Show the app or the project itself in its current state. Identify all of the tickets that will need design attention. Here’s where that list comes in again. Make a list of every piece of information you need to share, and identify some small tickets that your teammate can get started on. A smaller ticket will help demonstrate how the product is set up.

Then, sync up again and show each userflow within the app, a little at a time so it’s not too overwhelming.

Be available to answer any questions and give clarification.

Avoiding UX blind spots

After working on a project for a really long time, there are always some UX blind spots that anyone could miss. Getting a second eye, especially on large projects, is a good approach to take. If you’re the only designer, rely on your project manager, product manager, or other internal stakeholder. The PM knows the product and they know the goals, so even a simple five-minute conversation or a quick sketch will help you make sure you’re on the right track.

If you’ve participated in the user research, you’re that much further ahead. Be sure to speak up so that you’re involved in that collaboration. Study how customers use the product and identify pain points. It’s important to have more than one person analyzing how the user interacts with the app. Your team should be able to compare notes and discuss among yourselves after user observation.

The more information you can obtain, the better, so that way your chances of getting the UX right the first time is greater.

Other important tips when you’re the only designer

Don’t let the team rely on you as “the one with the right design answer.” There are always going to be a lot of key players involved in your projects. All aspects of the app need to be taken into consideration, and all opinions need to be welcome.

Practicing pairing helps make sure the team doesn’t lean on one person’s point of view. I pair with the product manager to come up with solutions. I also pair with the developers, so that the implementation hand-off is smooth.

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