A day in the life of a junior UX designer at a digital agency and what they should be doing


I want to share with you what a typical day at a digital agency looks like for a junior UX designer and what they should be doing from a team manager’s perspective. I am fortunate to have been a UX designer for two digital agencies and now lead a team in a product company as a UX manager. As a team manager, I am partly responsible developing my UX designers’ skills and each day feeds into a particular career goal that we would have established upfront when they started.

My own experience starting as a junior UX designer for a small local digital agency was not as supportive as that. Later when I moved to a global agency, I had more help and a larger team to bounce ideas off. Let’s explore some external factors that can influence what a junior UX designer role might look like.

What influences a junior UX designer’s day
Firstly, the size of the company you join will influence what you do everyday. I was the only UX designer in a team of six comprising of the CEO, a co-founder, a project manager, and two part-time developers. My role took on many hats and responsibilities to the point that I was more of a digital designer doing both the UX and UI work. Over time, we rapidly added more team members and by the time I left, we had a total head count of 30. Moving to a bigger agency meant working with other designers whom I could bounce ideas off, more structure organizationally, and it also meant I could focus on solely UX activities.

Secondly, the size of the clients and project budget will influence what you do daily. Small agencies do not typically get huge contracts from big-name clients so most of the projects you start on will usually have a small budget and require quick turnaround. It’s important to point out that small project budgets influence the tools you can use on the job and the design process you employ. You have to be scrappier to deliver good work, withstand deadline pressure, and take on tasks that are not in your job description. So your typical day might look vastly different from a junior UX designer who started at a global digital agency with a larger headcount, and larger project budgets.

Thirdly, the UX maturity of the organization will influence what you do and how you deliver your work. By UX maturity, I am referring to how much the leadership has bought into delivering client projects that have a human-centered design approach to them. If a company understands the need for UX design in its development process and its ROI on the business, then a junior UX designer is more likely to have the time and money to do their UX practices properly. If not, you may have to employ a leaner version of a UX process.

Now let’s look at what a typical day for a junior designer in a digital agency looks like.

A day in the life of a junior UX designer at a digital agency

8:00 am

Commute to work on the train/taxi and try to avoid heavy early morning traffic.

8:30 am

In the office, drink coffee while reading emails and catching up with team members. Sometimes we would have breakfast at a small coffee shop across from our office. On Fridays, we get treated to an in-office breakfast bought by the company. Yay!!
Manager tip: Intentionally spend time with your teammates. This will help develop an easier and more amicable working relationship on projects.

9:00 am

Team meeting on work currently in progress, new work that just came in, and any enhancements on launched projects. If any project is late, we make sure to communicate with the client the expected delivery date. Daily meetings are run by a scrum master who keeps track of all projects.

Manager Tip: Project allocation is done by managers or scrum master so you only need to worry about estimating your delivery timelines. Make a prioritized to-do list of specifically what you will be doing that day so that you don’t get overwhelmed or distracted during the day. A sense of accomplishment will also come with ticking things off the list and help generate momentum to knock off more work.

10:00 am – 12:00 pm

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Each day is slightly different depending on what is being worked on. However in most cases, iterating on designs, setting up surveys, gathering data, and attending client meetings. Mornings usually have the most meetings.
Manager Tip: Set up Google Calendar to notify you of upcoming meetings ten minutes before so that you are never late. For small agencies data can come from the client, Google Analytics tracking on existing sites (to understand current conversion rates and user behavior), and testing with users provided by external recruitment companies (to get qualitative feedback).



12:00 pm
Lunchtime for an hour. It is great chance to eat something, go for a walk, and take in some fresh air. At the second agency I joined there was a food cafeteria so one could get free food and sometimes you could buy food.

Manager Tip: Free food is a super common perk at design agencies. Really helps out junior UX designer who are looking to save money on lunches.



1:00 pm5:00 pm

Afternoons are great for uninterrupted focus time, design workshops, and reviews/critiques of client projects with developers, project managers, and the CEO. For team workshops, we use whiteboarding to generate ideas or map out sitemaps of proposed sites. Because it’s a digital agency, a lot of the work is responsive web design and sitemaps are a common deliverable. Sitemaps help developers think about the architectural framework for the site at an early stage. Some work is research based and delivered as presentation slides while wireframes and prototypes can be presented on a shareable URL link.

Manager Tip: Most juniors get anxious presenting/speaking to the team or client. The feeling is normal and does reduce the more practice you get. Very rarely will a junior designer be left unsupervised or unsupported. Usually junior will shadow senior designers to upskill more rapidly. The open plan setup of most agencies allow for easier collaboration and mentorship. Each project will require cross-function collaboration to deliver great work. Always ask questions and develop the ability to ask for help when you get stuck. No one is going to ridicule you for asking. It is more important for the business that no one gets stuck and we can launch a project on time.

3:30 pm

Mid-afternoon snack/ tea break to keep your energy up and take a break from the screen.

Manager Tip: There will be times when there is free time between projects. Use this time to do an online course to improve one or more of your on-the-job skills. This could be a software tool, communication skill, presentation skill, or even writing-related. Always put your hand up to help team members if you find yourself available and free.

5:30 pm

Commute home

Overtime

Sometimes overtime is needed to do non-billable work like creating client pitches for new contracts. Because this is a vital part of the business in generating revenue and growth, it is prioritized at certain times of the year depending on the agency size. You may help with proof-reading or the design of the final pitch deck. Employees are paid for overtime, get dinner, and may also get a travel allowance for commuting home at night. Working on client pitches can be fun and a bonding time as most of the team will also be present.

Outside the office

Team socials are held quarterly or at the end of the year. Flexi-time is a big thing in digital agencies meaning that you can come in early and leave early if you fulfill your 8 working hours. Or you might want to start a bit later in the morning, however, your start time will be determined by when your first meeting is going to be.

One can also attend meetups, trainings, and conferences during the year where you can network with other designers in the industry. Your company can pay for these as it’s part of your career development unless if there is no budget for it. Make sure to ask during interviews whether the budget is allocated to staff development.

In conclusion

Being a UX designer in the design field is lots of fun and hard work. As a junior designer, you do not need to feel anxious about knowing what to do or how to do it because you are starting a new role. Team leads and project managers will give you guidance and support through projects. There is a lot of room for growth and your goal should be to learn like a sponge.

Make sure you ask in interviews about the size of the team, budget for design tools, flexi-time, career development, and mentorship.

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Calvin Pedzai

Analytical problem solver who enjoys crafting experiences and currently is the Senior UX designer at an awarding winning agency.