Learnings from my summer internship in New York.

Over summer 2019, I got the opportunity to intern in New York as a UX designer at Roomster, a platform that helps in finding great places & people to share a home with. The experience was nothing less than an invaluable crash course in design, systems thinking and workflow management. Working with a great set of people from design, engineering, marketing and management helped me learn and strengthen a lot of skills which would prove valuable in my journey. In the article, with the learnings, I have also included links that I found useful in the process.

1. Empathy is the holy grail of UX. (and across all design fields)

The first goal I was given when I joined was to complete a set of tasks (usability testing) on paper prototypes, and talk out my thought process while I do so. Being put in the user’s shoes— No better way to gain empathy. The screens were of a new version of the product. I had never seen them before. This small exercise helped the design team (of which I was now a part of) understand how real users would interact with the product better, and uncover many areas where the product could be refined. Understanding the user is the (only) way to be a designer.

One thing I strongly believe in is that

2. Constantly critique yourself.

Importance of self-critique cannot be overstated. What I do to constantly refine my work even after user research is that after completing a set of wireframes that relate to a task, I shut down the designer in me, adopt a picky personality, and go through the flow and complete the task, with an underlying agenda of proving the “designer” wrong. Challenging your own work is extremely insightful and helps you understand your biases and assumptions. This approach helped me make meetings and discussions with my team members more productive, by allowing more time for discussing refinements and exploring options, rather than basics I could figure out myself as a designer. This approach can be applied to other aspects of life too, and not just to design.

3. Involving all stakeholders for critique sessions in the early stages of design can save a lot of future time and effort.

Wireframes for crit sessions. The physical prints helped us post comments(using sticky notes), discuss effectively, and understand better as different people and teams went over the designs.

The wireframing stage required a lot of decisions to be made, relating to design, engineering, and business. At this stage, continuous collaboration and critique sessions with the respective teams to align the goals and design outcome became extremely important. Their perspective and feedback helped us put the design into context, and see how small design decisions affect the bigger picture.

4. Explore. A design is final only till someone comes up with a better one.

During this process, the wireframes iterated quite a few times, but each iteration was a step closer to the goal. The design process is chaotic. A good solution requires a lot of research and work. But the best part is that the “perfect” solution does not exist, only good ones do, and they can be made better. It is wrong to think a solution is final. It's final only till someone comes with a better solution. Don't be afraid to explore options, in wireframing, UI design, motion design, or at any stage.

5. Ask Questions. Clarity on the problem you are trying to solves determines how well you solve it.

Another rule of design is that you can't solve something you don't properly understand. That is why as a designer, one needs to question everything. My mentor always encouraged me to ask questions, no matter how small or big they might be, not only to her but to other teams as well.

On various instances, we also conducted informal usability tests and feedback sessions in breaks, over the coffee machine, or while having lunch. I realized they are fast, give good data, take less time, and help move forward with informed design decisions.

6. Plan ahead and discuss your approach.

While working in teams, I found it effective to briefly discuss the work and my approach to it with other team members. Not only did it help maintain consistency and optimize workflow as a team, but it also acted as a great source of learning, drawing on other people’s experiences and approach to design. It also brought the team closer, and helped us work as a single design team versus individual designers working in a team.

7. Use symbols to make things (very) efficient, but do not let them limit your thought process as a designer.

Once the wireframes were finalised, we moved to UI stage. Since the product was new, this stage did not mean designing additional screens for an existing application, but making a completely new app with learnings from the current one. We built a design system, and extensively used components to achieve efficiency. Quite a few times though, I felt restricted by these symbols in designing something new which I felt might be better, and was at crossroads on how to proceed. My mentor always encouraged me to explore, and break the consistency if needed. Symbols and components should not restrict the natural thought process, but support it.

8. Design for emotions.

An important fact that we as designers need to understand is that designing for efficiency is good, but you can never overlook the importance emotions play in user experience. A user will always feel something while interacting with your product, whether you account for it or not. It is our role as designers to guide the emotional journey too along with the functional journey. The understanding of color, form, composition, heuristics, and laws of UX play a vital role in achieving a good user experience, and one should use them consciously.

9. Innovate: not only in what you do, but also on how you do it.

As designers, we aim to design something better, something new, something elegant. But we should not be restricted to it. A large part of designing, especially when working in teams in a professional setting, is how systematically you achieve it. The workflow to achieve a set target is a system in itself, and like all systems, it can be refined. During my internship, our team consistently refined the workflow, for internal efficiency, and to best suit development needs.

10. Build Systems that build products.

One thought process I refined during the internship, is how to think broader than the current objective. The design process is never-ending, and a product keeps improving with changing needs and technology. It becomes important to be flexible enough for future goals, while delivering a concrete product that excellently serves the current needs. During the internship, I also worked on building a design system and a sketch component library from scratch that supports future goals, scalability, and responsiveness. While working with symbols, our workflow as a team became fast, efficient, and consistent. Systems thinking played a crucial part in this journey, and collaborating with my team members, engineers, and managers helped me understand how my current decisions affect the future goals of the product. While working on the design system, it proved to be crucial to understand this perspective, and account for this interdependence.

11. Explore Sketch Plugins. Age of repetitive work is over.

With the increasing importance of design in technology, there is also an abundance of tools to help in the process. I learned a lot from my mentor about using tools and plugins I didn't know existed. I grew from using 3 standard plugins to around 10 in daily work. I was surprised how easy the plugins like Anima made getting things done. The general view I have adopted now is: If the work is not an , there is a plugin for it. As a designer, It's in our best interest to stay updated with these plugins to help with our goals, and if one doesn't exist, you can always make one. (and help others facing the same challenge)

12. Make a component library yourself.

Building a design system was a great learning experience on various levels. Apart from incorporating the business, development, and design goals in a system, using the atomic design system to build a component library helped me realize the true power of nested components in a sketch library, and how an efficient system expedites workflow. I believe every young designer working with sketch should make a small component library themselves, as the learnings would speed up a few things for sure.

13. Have fun while doing it.

Design is chaotic, and the journey has its highs and lows. The important thing is to enjoy the journey, maintain a thirst for knowledge, and constantly grow as a designer. My experience working with some amazing people at Roomster was filled with learning and growth, and I enjoyed every bit of it. The experience has helped me evolve both as a person and a designer, and acted as a stepping stone for the journey ahead.

Designer | Storyteller | UX Designer at Emmersion.ai | Linkedin — https://www.linkedin.com/in/shashank-jain93/

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