Summer of Design

Reflections from my first design internship

This summer, I had the pleasure of working at Elucidata as a design intern. The first time is always special, this was my first industry experience, and I couldn’t have asked for anything better. I had an amazing summer learning new stuff, and would love to share how I ended up there and what I learned from it!

Getting there

I started looking for a summer internship in early April. I was aiming for a start-up company, majorly because of two reasons — Firstly, it was my first industry exposure (I had no industry experience of design before this, all experience that I had was creating posters for college clubs and events) where I was aiming to discover how creatives operate in the corporate world and secondly, given my no-design experience profile, it was highly unlikely that a hot-shot tech company will take a bet on me (given my non-design education). There are probably a few general drawbacks when working for a new start-up versus a more established company; these likely include an experience that may not speak as loudly on a resume at face value. However, I knew I wanted to learn and need to start somewhere — rather than focusing on a known name, I instead looked for passionate people. 
I sent my resume to almost 20–25 startups but with no success. One day, while scrolling through Zuck’s Wild World of Content, I came across a post by Niranjan (UI/UX designer at Elucidata who ended up being my mentor during the internship) looking for a design intern at Elucidata, I immediately applied and got a call next day.

Elucidata is an early age start-up that enables scientists & researchers to make sense of complex data sets with analysis and interpretation to find the next generation cures for diseases.

The first conversation I had, was with Niranjan; it was general talk that revolved around my design background and my portfolio. Next week, I had a 20-minute long interview with HR. She scheduled a technical interview the next day. The technical interview was my favorite part of the whole hiring phase. It lasted around 45 minutes, and we talked about almost everything from serif and sans-serif fonts to my WhatsApp redesign concept, from Don Norman to cognitive science. At the end of the interview, Niranjan was reasonably satisfied with me and awarded me a Dribbble invite.

Finally got invited to Dribbble!

I had another interview with Anuj (Product Manager at Elucidata) a few days later. I’d like to share an amusing incident that happened during that conversation. Anuj asked me if I was designing Facebook for old people, what exactly would I be taking care of. I talked about the stuff like how we need to take care of color since color blindness is a major problem among elderly and how they have arthritis, so we need to use voice interface, etc. After I had finished, Anuj gently asked me “Abhishek, Do you think we should increase the font size?” Then it struck, oh accessibility hero, you missed an essential point. I felt so stupid at that point of time. This is what happens during interviews to us, we go overboard in showing off our skills and tend to overlook the obvious. Anyway, after a series of three interviews, I finally got the offer.

The daily routine

Elucidata’s office is in Shahpur Jat, Near Hauz Khas, New Delhi. Almost 32km from my home, it takes 1.5–2 hrs to travel either side by public transport. The work timings were somewhat harsh for a 19-year-old college student, 9 AM sharp to 8 PM with alternate Saturdays off. Till I came in here, I thought getting this intern would be an achievement, but after the first day, I realised completing this internship would probably be bigger than getting in. 11 hours of work with 3–4 hours of travel for ten weeks, oh boy! My typical daily routine was as hectic as any person working a full-time job. But since, I was doing what I love, not even once I had to force myself to go to work. It was all natural, there was a sense of satisfaction in waking up at 6 and pushing yourself upto 12 in the midnight.

Do what you love, love what you do.

The project

This sketch file was my home for 10 weeks

I worked on creating a product design system exclusively for the products and brand of Elucidata. In most of the companies, it’s rare that interns work on anything more than grunt work. But here’s where Elucidata distinguishes itself, I was given to work on a project that would actually be used and will make it to production.

Elucidata works with scientists, researchers and pharmaceutical companies to ease the drug discovery process by providing technical and data science solutions. So a visual language was much needed to help create a uniform external and internal communication. A visual language refers to a set of rules that allows one to design products in a consistent, scalable and repeatable way. A solid visual language makes a powerful impression with your audience. It provides a unique but consistent look and feels to the products. Google has its language, Material Design. Microsoft recently released fluent design.

Choices for design aspects such as typography, color schemes, shapes, spacing or layouts were laid down, and then each object was created based on these decisions. Throughout the ten weeks; I researched, did user interviews, made wireframes, designed the UI elements and finally coded a CSS library so that the developers can easily incorporate the visual language into their projects. I also developed a static website to host the live preview and markups of the CSS library with the document of the visual language(like the one you have for Bootstrap or any other CSS framework)

I wrote a blog about the whole process of designing the language; it should be up anytime soon on Elucidata. Keep an eye out for it, ;)

Apart from the visual language, I also worked on the design of visiting cards, letterhead, powerpoint template and email design.

Learnings

The first shock that I experienced after coming here was the design toolkit. In Elucidata, we use Sketch and Figma for designing and Invision for prototyping. I am an Adobe fanboy and have been using Photoshop since 2012. Heck, I even made UI mocks in photoshop. I had to shift to Sketch and Figma and ditch my childhood love. Being a young startup, it’s understandable that they can’t afford Adobe’s Creative Suite.

I struggled a bit with Sketch for a day or two, but when I picked up the pace. Oh Boy! I realized how powerful the tool is. I immediately fell in love with it. It has been three months since I started using Sketch and now I don’t even feel like opening photoshop.

In addition to these design tools, I also learned how to use Trello, Jira and Google calendar for enhanced productivity and better management. Another amazing thing I found out during my time at Elucidata was SASS, Syntactically Awesome Style Sheets. I call it CSS on steroids, it’s magical and has everything which CSS is missing. Mixins, Variables, Conditional statements, classes, everything. The entire visual language CSS library I wrote was written in SASS.

I learned few important things about user experience as well. Niranjan forced me to answer the “Why” behind every decision I made. “Why is the submit button on the left and not right?” “Why is there a button to close when there’s already a close icon” He also repeatedly asked me to think of multiple solutions rather than sticking to one. This helped me to think of a broader picture and learn a thing or two about user experience and overall design in general.

In Elucidata, we had weekly presentations by the team members to enlighten the colleagues about what they’re working on. Since it is a small family consisting of developers, designers, researchers coming from a varied educational background, not everyone has the same biological expertise. Hence some of the employees used to present on basic biology topics so that everyone in the team has an idea of what exactly we’re working on. I learned about human body metabolism, CRISPR technique, FLUX experiments, macrophages and NA Correction. In addition to these presentations, we had weekly Frontend meetups, where we used to sit for an hour or two, to discuss front-end development topics. These meet ups started in my last month, so I could attend only a few, but I learned about GULP and Javascript Array Methods. I even had an opportunity to present in one of the meetups where I talked about SASS.

The Company Culture

The thing I loved about Elucidata was the attitude of people towards their work. They are highly motivated and truly enjoy what they are doing. It was incredible to see people like Shashank ☕️ and Raghav completely absorbed in their work and loving every bit of it.

We had a tradition of Monday meetings, which is called Shuruwat-e-hafta (cool name, I know). It is a company wide meeting where all the employees discuss what they are working on and how they plan to spend the coming week This exercise provides a sense of working together as a family and building something.

Another thing I loved about the culture there was the comfy atmosphere. People are always ready to help you, irrespective of how busy they are. I approached many people around with my silly doubts, and no one turned down my request. The people here are ready to go an extra mile to help each other.

Some other perks I enjoyed while working in Elucidata

  • There are no restrictions on the internet, you’re free to browse anything.
  • Since it was a startup, there was no dress code. I was not forced to wear formals and could enjoy working in a t-shirt!
  • In case you are feeling stressed, you can go take in a nap. Yes, in the office itself!

Ending Notes

The Hakunamadata Team ❤️ (I’m at the extreme right)

All in all, this summer has, by far, been the most productive vacation of my college life and working at Elucidata alongside the most passionate people I’ve ever met is something I’ll certainly miss. Thanks to the entire team (shout out to Niranjan! 💯) for having and looking after me. I’ll miss your company and the company ;)