What I Learned as a Design Intern at Tesla and Uber

Michelle Chan
Sep 1, 2017 · 4 min read

Getting my first design internships were incredibly exciting. I spent a lot of time working on projects, crafting a portfolio, applying to companies, getting rejected from companies, and finally receiving some offers. Although I was certainly excited, I was also remarkably nervous. Partly because I had absolutely no idea what to expect as well as what they expected from me. Nonetheless, I’ve just completed my second design internship and wanted to share some lessons I’ve learned along the way.

  1. The design process is not as formulaic as school teaches it to be.

I was surprised to learn that there is no “perfect” design process, especially since I thought it was something we’re evaluated on during interviews. Truth be told: we’re all figuring it out as we go. The process you learn to adapt at one company could be totally different to another. Your process for one project could be different to another depending on the size of it and resources available. Don’t stress about having the “perfect” process — it’s not as cookie cutter as taught in school.

2. Any accidents in your designs can come off as inaccuracies (and vice versa).

Make sure your visuals are on point whenever presenting designs. If something is off, people may think your work is sloppy or that you just don’t care.

3. Use the tools that help you communicate your vision the best.

For some reason I used to think that I needed to know how to use every single design tool. There are a bajillion new tools coming out for designers whether you’re wireframing, designing, prototyping, etc. There’s absolutely no way or need to learn every single new tool that comes out. It’s like if programmers felt the need to be experts in every new language — not happening. I’ve come to realize that the purpose of these design tools are meant to help us communicate our vision to engineers and stakeholders and not to enable us to add yet another tool to our resume.

4. Imposter syndrome is a thing.

I certainly felt like an imposter at Tesla and Uber. I felt this way because I didn’t know for certain if I was doing things “correctly”, especially next to incredibly experienced designers. But I realized that no one knows exactly what they’re doing 100% of the way and that they’re probably learning along the way too.

I wanted to shed light on this because I think it’s one of those topics that people don’t talk too much about although it’s undoubtedly a common feeling based off of conversations I’ve had with other interns and full-time employees.

5. Whenever presenting at design crits, provide context and specify what kind of feedback you’re looking for.

I’ve sat in crits where people don’t provide context and subsequently are unable to provide quality feedback. Providing context will usually help out everyone in the room. You can tailor the amount of context you include by the level of familiarity your audience has. The more familiar your audience is, the less context you provide. The less familiar your audience is, the more context you should provide.

I’ve also sat it crits where people don’t know what kind of feedback they’re looking for and therefore people still can’t provide quality feedback. Bottomline: if you’re presenting at a design crit, know what kind of feedback you’re looking for.

6. Ask for tasks even if you think you’re unqualified.

I know I certainly felt silly for asking for more tasks but I’m glad I did. I learned that the worst thing they can say is “no”. But if they agree, then you get to do the thing you wanted and learn more!

7. The media exaggerates narratives.

Especially before starting at Uber, I was incredibly nervous after reading the dense string of never ending negative PR. Once there, my nerves immediately faded away. I personally didn’t experience a single ounce of frattiness or “bro-ness”. I absolutely enjoyed my time there; many of the other design and engineering interns I know also had a great time. Not to dismiss stories from media, I just don’t think they reflect the entire company.

8. Don’t take your job too seriously.

Have fun, make friends, get to know your coworkers—work will be more enjoyable that way.

9. Always strive to learn more.

Do I think I know everything after two internships? Certainly not! If anything, these internships have helped me realize the vast amount of knowledge that still needs to be learned — so much that I’ve overwhelmed myself. Stay humble, stay curious.

In conclusion, there’s still so much to learn! Shoutout to everyone I got the pleasure to work with at Tesla and Uber for some memorable summers.

Twitter: https://twitter.com/michellechanme