"Treat starting a new job like a Design Project"
As with most things in my life, I approach them from a design perspective. This means treating your first 100 days like a design project.
Break the first 100 days of your new job down to essentially 3 × 33-day sprints:
- Sprint 1: Discovery – 0–33 days
- Sprint 3: Quick wins – 33–66 days
- Sprint 4: Establishing trust – 66–100 days
First 33 days = Discovery
Your first goal when starting a new job should be to learn as much as possible about the users and the product. This means conducting user interviews, reviewing past research, familiarizing yourself with the product, and understanding the company’s design philosophy.
Like a good designer, you should take an active role in your learning. Don’t just wait for your manager or team to provide you with information – you need to seek it out. Create a ‘learning backlog’ of questions you want answered and topics you want to explore.
Then, devise a plan for how you will learn what you need to know. This might involve reading documents, trying out the product, and talking to people. In particular, aim to interview as many people as possible. This will help you uncover unknowns and build relationships with key stakeholders.
Build a Learning Backlog
Ideally, within your first two weeks, construct a ‘Learning Backlog’.
This Learning Backlog is exactly what it sounds like — an inventory of knowledge, skills, or insights you need to acquire to thrive in your role as a UX designer.
You can create this using a simple mind map or a brainstorming session on a collaborative platform like Miro, or it can be more structured according to your preference.
These trigger questions have proven to be effective to build and prioritize your learning backlog:
- What skills or knowledge do you need to acquire or refine?
- Why is this knowledge or these skills crucial for your role as a UX designer? (if not, don’t chase it)
- Who could be your source for this knowledge or skill development? This could include colleagues, online resources, or industry experts.
- How do you plan to acquire this knowledge? This could be through reading, attending workshops, one-on-one sessions, or online courses.
- By doing this, you create a clear roadmap for your learning journey in the initial phase of your new role, ensuring you can hit the ground running and start making meaningful contributions as quickly as possible.
There are several approaches you can take to acquire the learning you need:
- Review key documents — for example, the company’s design guidelines or user research.
- Use the product — spend time exploring the product, its interfaces, and any user feedback that’s available.
- Speak with colleagues — schedule meetings to discuss particular topics.
However, one of your key goals during the first 33 days should be to engage with as many team members as possible. Why is this so critical?
There are two primary reasons:
- Your knowledge inventory identifies only what you know you don’t know — not the things you aren’t aware you don’t know.
- You need to start forging effective relationships with key colleagues.
Therefore, in your first few weeks, make an effort to engage with as many people as possible. When meeting them, have a set of questions ready that you ask everyone — for example, “What do you see as the biggest challenges for a UX designer here?” or “What do you believe are the strongest aspects of our current user experience?” These questions will help you identify common patterns as well as points of disagreement or confusion.
Your aim here is to actively uncover critical information you aren’t aware you’re missing (unknown unknowns), while simultaneously introducing yourself and beginning to build rapport with your new colleagues.
And remember, these aren’t formal interviews — think of them as ‘design chats’ or ‘coffee catchups.’
Have a situational conversation
Finally, at the end of the first 33 days, aim to have a ‘situational conversation’ with your manager and key stakeholders. Share what you’ve learned and see if their observations align with yours.
This is a great opportunity to get feedback and adjust before you begin to hit the ground running.
33-66 days = Quick Wins
Regardless of your experience, remember that you're still being evaluated.
Regardless of your experience, remember that you’re still being evaluated.
You made it through the interview process and landed your job – but your managers are still determining whether they made the right choice — now’s the time to confirm they did!
This will be the first time you really start to put your UX skills into action.
It’s vital to start this phase as soon as feasible, but not at the expense of the valuable insights and understanding you’ve gained during your initial weeks.
A common pitfall for new UX designers is to assume they’ve completely grasped the user’s needs and the product’s context — they dive right into designing from day one, which often leads to misguided solutions.
Just as we conduct user research and prototype testing to ensure we fully comprehend the user’s needs and are addressing them in the most effective way, the same approach applies here.
The 33-day mark is usually a good balance between learning and putting those insights into action. With this in mind, during your first 33 days and in your discovery phase, you need to identify potential quick wins: tasks or improvements that you can implement in no more than a couple of weeks.
They should be achievable yet significant enough to create an impact — securing a quick win on a non-priority issue or a non-problem doesn’t add much value.
Don’t take on anything too challenging at this stage – you want to show that you can deliver results quickly and effectively. These early successes will help you establish credibility and rapport within the organization.
As you work on these quick wins, make sure to keep communicating with your manager and stakeholders. Ensure that you’re meeting their expectations and that they’re aware of your progress.
66–100 days = Establishing Trust
The final 33 days are primarily devoted to leveraging the credibility and rapport you’ve created through your initial achievements and transforming it into trust.
- Credibility and rapport are vital cornerstones for building trust.
- You need to demonstrate to others that you’re skilled and capable of fulfilling the UX design role.
- Consistency is another key aspect of establishing credibility — when you commit to a task, others should be confident that you’ll deliver. That’s why scoring quick wins is so important.
- Finally, to earn trust, you also need to have a good rapport with your colleagues. Trust is rarely given to those we don’t know well.
It’s common to discover larger and potentially more critical issues early on in your first 100 days, but it’s crucial that you resist addressing them until this stage — why?
Because you’ll be more successful in:
- securing buy-in, and
- obtaining resources and empowerment to tackle them, once you’ve built this level of trust.
Lastly, it’s important that during this time, you also start devising a plan for the next 100 days and beyond.