Just over a year ago I took my first steps into startup land. I was working as a receptionist at a co-working space in Amsterdam and started working in the evenings as a front-end developer for a small startup based in said co-working space. After two months of making crazy hours combining two jobs I quit my full-time job to become a freelance front-end developer and webdesigner. One of my clients was and still is the startup I first started working for, but now, it's my only client and am I working full time for them. Party with a Local, an app that connects people who want to party, was accepted into Techstars Connection. With this new opportunity, also my responsibilities changed and more and more I became the designer on the team. Right now, even my business card says 'Design'.
I am the only designer on the team and also, this is my first job as a designer. I did go to college and took some design courses, I did a lot of design for my side projects and side projects of my friends. But no 'real job' experience whatsoever. Talk about being thrown in the deep end.
Learning by doing
This is one of the things I've always been doing. Learning by starting something. Reading articles and listening to people who have been doing it for longer. I think this is especially important for a designer. Of course, there is a lot of theory that can be learned through official courses and studies, but in the end you have to practice and get some real experience. Working as a designer in a small team is perfect that way. You get total freedom to figure your shit out, which is great. And to be working with your newly acquired skill everyday makes you improve at a rate you won't believe was even possible.
But, also working in a small team has it's downsides. Everyone on the team has an opinion and that's great! But there will be times when your team does not agree with something. And a lot of times they are right. And that doesn't feel right. You're the designer, you should know! The hardest part is learning to deal with critique and responding in a decent way. This is something I'm struggling with but I'm very thankful for the opportunities I've gotten.