I recently started at one of the big tech companies as a product designer. I’ve been in the industry for 7 years and spend that whole time at startups and smaller agencies. When applying for this job, I found I had not done a great job of keeping my portfolio up to date. The last project I had to show was a print piece I did right before graduating from art school 4 years earlier. Not exactly the type of example employers are looking for.
With that in mind, and with an NDA keeping me from showing any of my recent work, I had to set out to showcase my skills with side projects that I worked on from ideation to completion. These were monumental projects that took the better part of a summer. Now that I’m settled into my new role, I want to be sure that I’m not caught off guard should I ever need to showcase my work again. Also, working in a large tech company is different from working at an agency. You focus on one thing and you get really good at solving those problems. The variety of clients just isn’t there anymore.
So I’ve set out to create more side work to keep my skills in problem-solving, product strategy, and visual design up to par. Some of these works will be complete projects that I’m continuing to build out and improve, like Flight Pro, and some are minor fixes that solve a particular itch or complaint I have with a certain product. All of them will cover the three points I just discussed. I’m committing to shipping at least one project a month for the next 5 months or so. I won’t always hit that mark, the holidays are coming up and I’m getting married in a few weeks, but I will continue to push forward and ship as often as I can.
Some of the projects I will be taking on include:
- IA, visual design changes to Audible
- Feature improvements for Vi running app
- Finishing Flight Pro
- Educational/interactive website based on The End of the World podcast
Flight Pro is a larger one, but I plan on shipping updates each month that covers a specific section of the project.
If you’re a product designer or want to become one, I would challenge you to do something similar. Pay attention in everyday life and find opportunities to improve, educate, and delight users and take notes. Think about how you’d build it if you were working at that company. And keep in mind that you don’t need to redesign an entire app and “make it your own” to show your product design skills. Oftentimes, it’s the small tweaks that fix a user problem that have the most impact.