Startup Versus Enterprise Design

Entry categories Design
White, red, green abstract art by Social Cut, featured on Unsplash

One of the things I’ve been thinking about this week as I’m preparing for my upcoming UXPA Boston 2021 talk is this… What makes a successful Enterprise Designer? Is it different from a Startup designer?

Having done both, I figured I’d share my experience about the differences.

Startup Design

I started my career in a marketing startup some 20 years ago now. I’ve obviously grown as a designer since then, and while my experience may color my perception, I have noticed some stark differences.

  1. Wear way more hats – Due to lack of staffing, you may have to learn how to do design for flyers, microsites, social media, websites, motion, audio and more. This can make you a serious generalist.
  2. Project types are more varied – Jumping from project to project, with different styles, brands, and needs are the norm. If you get bored easily, this might sound great.
  3. Tooling and hardware are harder to come by – In my experience, getting an upgrade or better software was a constant challenge. If you like the newest stuff, that can occasionally be an issue, depending on the firm.
  4. More independence – For me, there were fewer levels of red tape to sift through, so I had a bit more autonomy. However, this also created a level of showboating and competition between designers. Also, everyone designed things differently. They stored them differently. And they named them differently…
  5. Career growth and pay was limited – If you’re one of a handful of designers, it may be very difficult to increase your position within the org. Same with pay.

Enterprise design

I’ve now been in an enterprise design team for the last 7 years and have noticed a few things that seem to make designers successful at their role.

  1. Specialization is more important – Knowing a unique aspect of design is critical to stand-out among the crowd. Generalization is typically less-well rewarded.
  2. Project types are more impactful – You may switch projects less, but sticking with a few different project over years really begins to highlight the impact you can make. Plus, your clients are often global ones, not just local ones.
  3. Tooling and hardware are easy to get, with a caveat – Because of IT and procurement, your options may be limited due to a totally different concern, security. Better make friends over there!
  4. More collaboration – What a designer may give up for autonomy, they can gain in collaboration. There is much higher quality design as an end result, but the process can be slower and more frustrating.
  5. Career growth is earned, not given – The best designers seem to pave their own path to leadership.

Where should I start?

This is up to you, but honestly, learning to work in a team and drive your own career seem to be strong reasons to start with Enterprise design. I personally prefer it, and find a strong unified team to be a very rewarding experience. Whatever you decide, good luck!