Learnings of an intern — Factual

Reflection on my internship at Factual as an interaction designer

Overview

For 4 months, I had the amazing opportunity to intern at Factual, a location data startup, as an interaction designer. During my internship, I worked on new and existing interfaces, scattered across different stages of development and fidelity. In addition to the range of work, I also got to collaborate with people outside of design, such as engineers, project managers, and business administrators.

Within the first few days on the job, I learned just how complex design for data and business-centric products can be. Not only was location data such a nuanced field to design for, but the ecosystems across different businesses made my head spin for days. Because of these intricacies, I learned how vital it is to proactively seek out feedback and include stakeholders in the design process.

Problem

One of my main projects was to improve the company’s data search interface called Places Previewer (process also on my website). It allows anyone to search up a single or series of locations with their attached information. Taking on this project, I was challenged on three fronts:

  1. The complexities of designing for search for a wide range of users
  2. Incorporating UX patterns that are acceptable across different personas and technical literacies
  3. The responsibilities of leading a project

I felt overwhelmed in the beginning. Fortunately, Lawrence, my mentor and design colleague, helped me step through and figure out the right approach to overcome these challenges. The two actions I took were to gather feedback quickly and include stakeholders throughout the design process.

Action

Test and test quick

One of the ways to gather feedback was to show concepts and test them with users. Because my product touches a wide range of people, I made sure to test and gather feedback from people with different levels of data complexity. One of the main methods Lawrence and I agreed to use was guerrilla testing, quick sessions where participants walk through a series of prototypes to see how close the designs matched with their expectations.

At first I felt a bit shy and awkward stopping people during lunch or asking them to participate in tests. However, after a few tries, I learned to quickly communicate what my project is about, which better convinced people to help me. I also became more comfortable asking for help.

While it’s beneficial to test and iterate jointly, I learned that there’s a point when testing becomes less useful and slows down the design process. The concept of diminished return from testing is a point when you, the designer, have enough feedback to inform design decisions, and conducting more tests actually takes up time that should be allocated to refinement. At this point, I had enough evidence that pointed towards a design direction, so I started proposing features to my stakeholders.

Including stakeholders early

Another lesson I learned was to proactively meet up with stakeholders throughout the design process. This meant actively blocking out time with engineers, PMs, and administrators to meet with me and provide feedback on my proposals. Again, this was scary at first. I felt that I was bothering people with my small intern project. However, after taking that first step in blocking out a meeting time, I learned that people were genuinely interested in my project. The more I met and included others in my design process, the more I understood how to address design and development constraints and incorporate them into my proposals.

Impact

After months of iteration and communication, the redesigned Places Previewer is now being built for internal testing. Because I was able to quickly explore different edge cases and get different stakeholder buy-ins, my proposed solution reached a point where the company felt confident in the redesign’s impact on current and future customers.

During this process, I was able to overcome my initial challenges by being proactive in testing solutions, gathering feedback, and including different stakeholders. This project not only refined my skills in identifying insights and conducting user testing, but most importantly taught me how to be an effective project lead in pushing projects from concept to development.