After successfully wrapping up my first week at a software start-up, I wanted to briefly reflect and share some insights gained while diving into the fire and making some progress as a new designer on this small but passionate team. 

** Start with the product, to understand the customer and the business: The product is the central tangible embodiment of various aspects of the company like the brand, technology, value prop, founders’ vision and philosophy, etc. As Jony Ive said in a recent TIME magazine interview, you’ve got to deeply understand the product’s purpose and construction to design well for it. And the product is that gateway to the path of understanding the customer (needs & goals) and the business (revenue model, roadmap and strategy). Also, as a device to help mitigate the tremendous “fire hydrant” flow of information, the “Product / Customer / Business” model keeps your focus on what is most important, helping to filter / triage data streams accordingly, so you can preserve your sanity too ;-) 
** The product is a system, so don’t chase Band-Aids: It’s important to realize that any product has multiple parts that coalesce into a “customer experience” that the intended target needs to engage with at various levels. All those pieces simply must come together in a cohesive, coordinated, disciplined, consistent manner particularly if there’s a website, email, desktop app, and other components across platforms and devices. Indeed, the product is a system of elements at the front-end UI level, as well as the back-end data services level. Chasing isolated Band-Aid improvements for immediate releases only perpetuates a vicious cycle of broken UX rife with inconsistency, and doesn’t support a systematic approach of defining a language and patternized model. 
** “Design is code”: This phrase came up the other day over lunch, which I think nicely captures the spirit of the symbiotic relationship between engineers and designers working together. Indeed, a well-formed, good product cannot exist without one or the other—gotta have both! The design informs the code to be delivered to users, and thus their experience and outcome of that. Also this highlights the partnership aspect of being part of a team that respects and values design as integral, not simply a hasty after-thought.