What I’ve Learned as an In-House Designer at a Tech Company

Heidi is a former free range creative. While we’ve managed to trick her into becoming an in-house graphic designer for Toggl, she is by no means tamed (nor fully house trained). Here’s a few things she has learned about working for a tech company.

1. It’s all about usability

millenium falcon wont work

Yep this sounds like I am going to emphasise how important my work is and how designers shape the world. But in fact it is the simple truth. I sincerely believe that the value of a product is in deep correlation with the design and usability. It doesn’t matter how useful the product is – if it is ugly, not cool and difficult to use, it’s not going to make it. However I admit that if something is beautiful and pleasant to use, it is also not going to make it if there is no use for it. 🙂 

2. Communication is key

no waste time talking

Over-communication is always better than under-communication. If you want to get things done and by done I mean doing them correctly, you need to communicate. The “lone genius” is a myth, and creativity isn’t an antisocial act. Talk to people, and talk a lot.

3. Keep it clean, keep it organised

this room is dirty

Another pervasive myth about creativity is it needs messy rooms buried under clutter, sticky notes, posters and sketches. Forget it. The inspiring and productive workspace is distraction-free. Clutter is a known source for stress. I try to keep my space as neat and tidy as possible. Laptop, monitor, keyboard, mouse, lamp, flower and a seashell [what the…? – ed.] – that’s all I need.

Organised workspace is a must, and this applies to both physical and virtual workspaces. I use labelling and a structured file system for all my projects. There are a lot of them, and I can’t afford to spend half a day on finding some PSD file form July 2014. To sum it up – a clean and organised workspace increases your productivity (and your peace of mind).

4. Set priorities and plan your work


Multitasking doesn’t work. Seriously, it just doesn’t. You can not deal with website design, app usability issues, marketing problems, sending stuff to developers and designing a new awesome poster, all at the same time. Learn to say “no” and plan your work. There are definitely things that need to be done ahead of others – send these to top of your list. Other tasks can easily wait till the next day or week. I use Todoist to plan my work and keep track of my to-do’s. And Toggl, of course, is a must-have tool for managing my time. And I’m not just saying that because I’m paid to do that.

Spend time away from the screen

Computers are essential in the work of designers, developers, product owners and so on. I love my computer and I enjoy using it all day long. However, I have noticed that staring the screen for too long can reduce your productivity and limit your imagination drastically. Also, doctors have been saying stuff about staring at bright screens for ages now.

I believe that stepping away from the screen activates some magical parts in our brain where the best ideas come from. This does not apply only on designers. Software developers, architects, project managers – we all need some creativity to solve everyday problems and sometimes standing up and walking around does the trick.

Advanced level thinkers go outside or create an “analog workspace”. This means that you can continue your work (at least in some parts), but you are not going to use any electronic devices. When you create something, you sometimes kinda need to touch it and feel it. It must be real. As a designer I use just something to write with and something to write on. I love and hate at the same time that there is no Command-Z, Command-F or delete in the analog workspace. You really need to think through your ideas and you cannot edit your every idea to perfection. This could be a bit difficult (at least at the beginning), but it has a lot of benefits.

Take brainstorming, for example. When I need to find a quick, yet awesome solution for some design issue I often try to do hardcore brainstorming. It’s not easy, but can be really effective. All you need to do is take about 10-15 minutes and draw (yes, draw) your ideas onto post-it’s – no matter how stupid or impossible your idea seems at that moment. Draw it on the paper and move on. Draw the next one – and the next one.

This isn’t about quality, it’s about quantity. Generate as much as you can, eliminate the impossbilities later, and see what sticks.

Something always does.

Are you a designer working for a single client? Tell freelancers how it works in the comments!

Do you like to work from home? Read our post on how to handle the home work environment.

By On February 9, 2015

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  3. @Chris – we’re sorry to hear you don’t like the new home page. But we would appreciate it if you could share your thoughts on if and how Toggl tutorials should be more prominent on our web.

    Currently we do have a knowledge base covering all of Toggl’s features here:

  4. Clearly you are only interested in people working at Toggl vs using Toggl. The video was totally useless and I wish I knew how Toggle works!!