For 3 months, I had the surreal opportunity to intern at Google as a UX/UI intern. Not only did I get to be a part of Google’s exciting design culture, but I also got to experience the beautiful scapes of Manhattan for the first time.
Yes, everything you might have read or heard about interning at Google is true, from the great food to the amazingly talented colleagues to the beautiful offices. It really was like being in Disneyland everyday. But what made my experience extra special was the amazing design community I got to be a part of. So, I’m writing this post to reflect on four things I’ve learned during my summer internship.
Look both near and long term
It is vital to have both near term impact and long term vision in mind when designing. This is because sometimes the best user experience might be the most technically challenging or resource intensive to accomplish. Now, this is by no means saying that you shouldn’t prioritize the user’s needs. However, you also should strive to strike a balance between vision and feasibility. What would a solution look like tomorrow, next month, next year, and so on? Doing so not only helps get buy-in from different stakeholders, but also helps us build a more convincing story.
Tell a clear and concise story
As students, we fall into the habit of prioritizing visual polish over the flow of our presentation. What I’ve learned is how important storytelling is, especially in a place where everyone is amazing at making polished work. Clearly communicating your journey captures people’s attention, makes your problem clear, and makes your solutions obvious.
The simplest story works best, and it involves clearly stating the problem, the action you took to solve / scope it out, the results from your actions, and the impact of your results (did it solve the problem?). Following this format forces you to simplify your thinking and get to the core of your project. It forces you to distill, because it’s not about communicating the nitty-gritty details but the thought that guided your decision making process, which highlights your problem solving skills.
Seek out help
Being unafraid to ask questions is critical in helping you design effectively, especially when the problems you solve become more and more ambiguous. Since it will be up to you to scope and figure out the best approach to tackling a design or user problem, actively involving different people across the organization not only equips you with context and insights, but also helps you better understand the needs of both your users and organization.
In the beginning, it might be scary to ask for help, especially when everyone’s schedule looks so packed and busy. However, after getting used to pinging other people or shooting emails, you slowly become less afraid to reach out. The key is to be direct with what you need from others and to respect their time. The worse case is that your message goes unanswered, but usually anyone in a healthy organization is more than happy to help you out!
Embracing mistakes might be something you’ve heard over and over again, but it is easily forgotten when you’re so focused on trying to deliver. You have to accept that you don’t have all the answers. It’s not expected of you to nail the solution on your first few tries, in fact it is almost impossible. The point is to learn more about your users and the problem you’re solving — and eliminate ways that didn’t work while learning from what did. If you can deconstruct the negative feedback, from both users or managers, you can uncover better ways of creating. Maybe you can loop in stakeholders earlier in the process, or collaborate with engineers more often, or frame studies differently. No one is the perfect designer, but reflecting on what worked and what didn’t can help you be more effective in the future, and shows your willingness to try things out of your comfort zone.
Interning at Google has taught me that it takes more than pixel perfection to be an effective designer. I’ve learned the importance of storytelling and clearly communicating my design process, especially in an environment where ideas are key and opportunities to explore are encouraged. These are skills that I will continue developing as I grow in both design and leadership roles in my career, and hopefully you consider as well!