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8px Magazine

Beyond the PX: In Conversation with Darshan Gajara, Senior Product Designer at GraphCMS

Welcome to the #IndianDesigner conversation series in the 8px magazine.
This is the Sixth interview with Berlin-based senior product designer, Darshan Gajara.

Darshan is an internet-made designer and strongly believe in giving back to the internet. In the past, he has worked as an independent Product Design Consultant for 5+ years, clients including- startups and established businesses from the US, UK, UAE, Canada and India. He’s currently leading product design at GraphCMS, Berlin.

Enjoy, and see you next time :)

Can you explain briefly who GraphCMS are and what they do?

GraphCMS is a GraphQL native headless CMS company. Our product helps enterprises and SMB to deliver structured content at scale with a lot of flexibility and powerful performance.

We’re a fully remote company with 25 odd people spread over 5 continents. We also have two small offices in Berlin and Giessen in Germany.

What has been your design journey up until now?

I’ve learned design from the internet and through deliberate practice and strongly believe in giving back to the community. That’s the reason why I started Product Disrupt — my side-project to help others learn product design.

I’ve got 8 years of experience working with companies of all sizes. I’ve also worked as an independent consultant for about 3 years.

During this time, I had the opportunity to work with clients and brands in different domains in countries like India, the US, UK, UAE, Canada & Australia. It helped me understand the business of creativity and consistently improve in delivering end-to-end product solutions.

A few months ago I joined GraphCMS in Berlin as their first product designer. The opportunity is quite exciting as I’m getting to build the design culture in the company, set up the design process and also work on our design system. We’re an early-stage startup and seeing good growth in recent times. It’s an exciting time to be at GraphCMS.

And oh, I also hold a degree in computer engineering. Not that it has helped me in landing any job. The only benefit I’ve had with it so far is in obtaining a blue card in Germany :)

What does your typical morning look like?

Since our company is completely remote with an office here in Berlin, I can work both from home and from the office. So I like to mix it up.

When I go to the office, my day starts with the Berlin Briefing podcast on my way to the office. I listen to this podcast every weekday to keep up with what’s happening in the city.

I take a tram to the office with 25–30 minutes of commute. So I can finish the podcast episode and also check Twitter and other messages on my phone.

After I reach the office around 10 am, I make myself a coffee and catch up with Slack, Linear and Figma comments. We’ve our daily standup at 11:30 am, before that, I would make a list of things that I need to work on during that day.

When I’m working from home, I listen to the Berlin Briefing podcast while having my breakfast, mostly muesli with extra chocolate. Home or office, I never miss the morning podcast.

It’s followed by the same drill of catching up and preparing for the day.

What does your design/dev tool stack look like?

Here are the tools that I’m using these days:

- Pen & paper — Sketching out ideas and taking notes

- Figma— All things design

- Principle — UI animation

- Notion— Writing and organizing

- Linear— Projects, tasks and tracking

- Miro— White-boarding

- Visual Studio Code — Occasional coding, mostly for Product Disrupt

- GitHub— Design review and quality assurance

- Slack — Communicating with the team

- Mailblast — Sending the Product Disrupt newsletter

Do you have any design hacks?

I rarely start any design project with a blank canvas. A blank canvas can be scary and a real roadblock. Instead, I prefer to start a project with a skeleton of sorts. If it’s a new screen for an existing project, I’ll start with the most relatable screen and if it’s a new project, I’ll start with a screen from a UI kit or some of my older projects.

Not sure if you’ll call this a hack or a part of my process. It just helps in getting things going for me.

Do you find it hard to define what you do to your friends?

When I started out in design, most of my friends were engineers since I went to an engineering college. They never really understood what I did at work as a designer.

My family still doesn’t quite know what I do for work. They can’t tell a product designer from a fashion designer. So I tell them I just make stuff on the internet. It’s funny but with no fault of theirs.

How do you design ‘for the future’?

I’m usually designing for the current problem I’ve got at hand. While keeping some room for scalability.

“Is this design future-proof?” — that isn’t a common question we find asking ourselves. Because things change with time and we can’t possibly design for all the future scenarios. But it doesn’t hurt in the digital world since a digital product is an ever-evolving piece of work.

Though having experience working on a lot of products and using them on a daily basis, we can get a fair idea of how things could evolve over time. Hence, we can pass the basic scalability test and get the fundamentals right.

What drew you to working in this area?

I’ve been creating content for over 8 years now and I’ve used a lot of tools to do the same. So naturally, I was drawn towards creating a product that helps individuals and companies create and publish content.

The headless CMS market is also an interesting space — it’s not quite established like the traditional CMS but shows a lot of early adoption and potential.

What’s your team dynamic?

We’re a small company of just about 25 people with 3 members in the product team — product designer, product manager and our CEO.

I work very closely with our CEO and product manager on the product and design-related tasks. We take full ownership of our work and function independently.

We do have a plan to grow our team with 3–4 new members this year. Keep an eye on our careers page if you’re interested in joining us.

What’re your thoughts on burnout?

Burnout is a real thing. But the problem with burnout is that it usually takes the third person to tell you about it. It’s not easy to identify whether you’re heading towards it.

Taking a break always helps. I prefer taking smaller breaks every 3–4 months rather than exhausting all our vacation days at the end of the year. It gets my creative juices flowing and keeps me sane.

But if a designer willingly wants to spend extra time on their work, then who am I to stop them?

It’s understandable to burn the midnight oil when you’re starting out or learning a new skill but as you gain experience, it’s natural to maintain a balance between the work and personal life.

What advice would you give for designers looking to kickstart their career?

Don’t give up when things are difficult. Live through it and stay consistent. Talent can only give us a head start but it’s the consistency that helps us grow and puts us ahead of the others. I’ve abided by this learning since the time I started working and have reaped the rewards of it. I don’t see why this won’t work for you.

There are ample opportunities out there for designers of all levels. It seems like design has finally got its seat at the table and most startups and established companies want a designer on their team.

The surge in creator tools has also made it easier than ever for anyone to start their own product and become a maker.

I also made a typography poster of this quote which is now available as a digital print. You could get it from Gumroad. And use the code ‘8px’ to get 20% off.

I thank Darshan on behalf of the readers of 8px for being a part of this series and sharing his inspiring insights. Thank you for reading, hope you enjoyed it

Until next time 👋

Follow 8px Magazine for all future articles & interviews.

A selection of our other interviews:

About the author:

Shivam Dewan is a product designer based in New Delhi, India.
Remote worker by day, Flaneur by night. Feel free to reach out to him over Twitter @theshivamdewan.

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Life, by designers.

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