I joined the Fresh Tilled Soil team this summer after completing the Apprenticeship in User Experience (AUX) program. We take onboarding pretty seriously around here – at the time of my hire, the operations team just finished crafting an 8-week onboarding plan for Experience Designers to bring both junior and senior designers up-to-speed on Fresh Tilled Soil’s design approach. Now that I’m four months into life at Fresh Tilled Soil, here are some of the highlights of my onboarding.
For all Experience Designers, onboarding begins with an immersion into UX and “Design Thinking” principles and practices. Depending on your current level of experience, you may find that the first few weeks cover familiar subjects. We then review the product and business strategy tools and processes used at Fresh Tilled Soil throughout client engagements. From there, we spend a critical week focused on working with developers to ensure our teams work together seamlessly throughout every engagement. Weeks six and seven are spent diving into visual design principles, focusing on our approach, tools, best-practices, and guiding principles. Finally, we cover teams and presenting in week eight to develop skills for effective, authentic, and impactful communication.
For the duration of onboarding, I was paired with a mentor, Jenna Bantjes, who is a seasoned and talented Experience Designer here. We explored the themes outlined above by reading articles, picking coworkers’ brains, and utilizing tools. Jenna and I met regularly to discuss and ask questions about the weekly topics and added additional articles and resources along the way.
While you can view the entire 8-week onboarding program, I wanted to pull out some highlights from each week based on my experience:
Week 1: Fundamentals of User Experience Design
“The Web’s Grain” by Frank Chimero was a game changer for me. A highly recommended read to get a fresh perspective on digital spaces and a reminder of how easily we constrain ourselves.
Week 2: Strategy Overview
A product roadmapping workshop with our Chief Product Strategist, Evan Ryan, was a great introduction to a longterm perspective for products. It has been great to have a solid framework and see it applied to each client in different ways since.
Week 3: Research & Personas
It’s important to remember that user research doesn’t have to always take the form of an interview. A slide deck from Saloni Borar, a former graduate intern here, reminded me that if it’s relevant for the project, push for ethnographies or contextual inquiry as a research method.
Week 4: Information Architecture & Content Strategy
Reading “Object-Oriented UX” by Sophia Voychehovski was great for both Jenna and I because we were able to use and iterate on Voychehovski’s process for a client. By deconstructing objects and defining core content, we were able to reimagine our client’s homepage and Information Architecture.
Week 5: Working with Developers
For me, the most effective way of understanding some of the frustrations of a developer was (duh) to be put in their shoes. As a newbie even to the most basic programming languages, attempting to build a website without a UI kit was painful enough to never wish that upon any developer. As a result, I will approach each step in a project by making sure my developer counterpart feels equipped with what he or she needs.
Week 6 & 7: Visual Design
While not explicitly about visual design, the best conversations I had about design were with an Experience Designer and Developer about our process and touchpoints along the way to keep things running as efficiently as possible. We strive to knock down any silos here at Fresh Tilled Soil and it’s been great to be part of a team that is so welcoming of new ideas.
Week 8: Presenting, Teams, & Communication
Jenna and I added a post titled, “Making design critiques count” by Clark Wimberly to the readings. As all art school students know too well, critiques can be brutal. However, creating the right environment can ensure effective and productive critiques. Wimberly provides some great tips to make it happen.
An important point to make is that I had also completed the AUX program a month prior to starting, so I already had several months to get to know the team, the company culture, and design processes (essentially onboarding without knowing it). The scheduled meetups with people in different roles was helpful to ensure I wasn’t leaving any stone unturned, but will be immensely more useful for a newcomer to start conversations with team members.
If I could make one improvement to the onboarding program, I would add in design challenges throughout the 8 weeks (just as the apprenticeship program does). As much research and brain picking as I did, nothing proves to be as good a learning opportunity as doing. The operations team is working on incorporating this feedback for future newbies to come! No one gets it perfect the first time around, and being able to make revisions to onboarding and finding better ways to learn was a testament to Fresh Tilled Soil’s company culture of iteration and continual improvement. My onboarding experience was further proof of Fresh Tilled Soil’s commitment to equipping me with the right tools, support, and relationships I need to make myself a better designer as well as a strong team member.