7 Things I’ve Learned Designing for 7 Companies* This Summer
This summer I worked as an design intern @DesaiAccelerate in downtown Ann Arbor, MI. Desai Accelerator is a 16-week long program funded through the Ross School of Business and the College of Engineering at The University of Michigan. Desai Accelerator takes a founder-friendly approach that provides resources (7 amazing interns!!) and mentorship for 6 tech-enabled start ups. The 6 companies in the 2016 Cohort are Ash & Anvil, Gaudium, Jamhawk, MySwimPro, Roomations, and Sultant. Each one unique in industry and product.
*You may be confused. Why did I say 7 companies? Because not only did I work with all 6 start ups in the accelerator, I also did projects for Desai as well.
What I have learned:
1. Each company has very different expectations on how they would like to see an the execution of a design. Some companies like to see progress every step of the way, from the first line drawn in Illustrator to full scale wire frame. In those cases, I had to learn to check which pictures to use and what fonts were acceptable. On the other extreme, full design power — owning the project from start to finish. Important decisions like color schemes and graphics were left to my devices. In some cases that was very exciting and other times it was very overwhelming. Most importantly, I learned it was important to communicate about these expectations right at the beginning.
2. It’s about the brand, not the product! Brand is key to the success of these start ups and so much of that is dependent on the designs they implement. For example, when I was working on the pitch decks with each company, it was important for me to take time to understand the company’s brands — whether their company tends to be bright and playful, modern and sleek, bold and powerful, etc. Even though as a designer I have my own personal style and way I like to do things. I had to challenge myself to adapt to those around me when doing work for them.
3. There’s no such thing as a finished product, only products that are ready to go out into the wild. (thanks Matt Dunaj for the quote) After that its all about taking in feedback and continuing to make the work better. There are almost always adjustments that need to be made, details that were looked over initially (hoverables!!), and features to be added.
4. Collaborating on design projects is hard! There is no way to deny it and there is no way to make it sound better then it is. Everyone executes on assignments and envisions final products differently. While there is something beautiful about that, it helps and hinders creativity. I’m not always right and accepting that what looks good to me doesn’t always look good to others was something hard to understand as a first time designer. It was important to pick my battles this summer.
5. Being confident in my design choices. Confidence is key. I had to learn to trust my decisions. The more skeptical I was about my work, the more the people were wary to use it. ‘Nuff said.
6. People are stubborn. I have met some really strong opinionated people this summer who have made it clear to me that they do not believe that I can be a designer and a programmer. While I understand the importance of specializing, I have spent the entire summer contemplating the differences of being a jack of all trades vs a master of one trade and I am just not convinced yet. I can’t imagine a life of just doing design. I’m far too stir crazy for that. Working for 7 companies has helped me realize that the next company I work at better allow me to wear many hats and challenge myself to learn many things the way this summer has.
7. To have fun! Anyone who knows me, would know that when I do work I get really focused and serious. I’m good about honing in on the what I need to do and staying relatively undistracted by my surroundings. Working in an open space with vivacious, outgoing people has definitely challenged that. I’m so used to being in a library studying for exams where distractions are frowned upon, I had to realize not everything has to be so serious. It’s good to lift my head from my laptop, chat about the Bachelorette, grab lunch with coworkers, and learn more about the people I see every day.
The experiences I’ve had this summer are unparalleled to any I could have imagined. I’ve learned so much more beyond design, but also a lot about myself and my career. Most of all, I’m grateful for the people I have met and wish them all the best of luck on their endeavors.