DocuSign Product Design Internship Summer 2016
What I did during my first tech internship
During the summer of 2016, I interned at Docusign as a UX researcher in San Francisco for 3–4 months (read more about how I got my first tech internship here).
Because it was my first internship as well as the company’s first formal internship program, the opportunities to learn and explore were huge to the point where I didn’t even know what to do first! Overall, I used my time to meet new people, understand the company through weekly meetings and events and learn new skills from the projects I worked on.
Who/What is DocuSign?
Docusign is a startup mainly located in San Francisco and Seattle with offices in other parts of the world that provide electric signature technology and digital transaction management services to make electronic exchanges of contracts and signing documents fast and easy. DocuSign works primarily with enterprise companies and businesses to send, sign and manage documents using authentication services, user identity management and workflow automation.
Docusign’s primary goal is to be the most reliable and trustworthy product and through a variety of different facets, ranging from sales, marketing, research and design to the engineering, are in the process of making their product friendlier and practical for a variety of users and situations.
I worked mainly in the research team (later becoming the CX team) with some cross collaboration from different design teams. I had the opportunity to work with Aviva Rosenstein, who leads the research team and was previously head of research at SalesForce. Aviva was an amazing mentor in that she wasn’t afraid to give me critical feedback. She was determined to help me succeed and learn from my mistakes. My time with Aviva was short as she had to take a leave of absence in the middle of my internship, but luckily I received amazing guidance and support from my other manager and co-workers on the research team.
The research team was SMALL; there was only one team in comparison to the design teams and in the beginning, there were only 5 people (including myself) in addition to 4 more people joining during the summer.
What did I do?
During the time I was at Docusign, they were and ARE in process of awesome changes, such as consistently innovating their business model, meeting un-met needs in the different markets, diversifying their product to do more things in relation to documents (i.e. payments feature) and constructing their office space to be even more open for collaboration.
With the help of my mentor, stakeholders and designers, I led and conducted a benchmark study to compare Docusign’s usability with competitors to understand how first time users used these products. To have a better understanding on how to conduct a benchmark (it was my first time!), I sat in on my co-worker’s (Mike Melton’s) interview sessions to observe how users interacted with a part of DocuSign’s website he was doing a benchmark on.
The goal of my research was to identity problems with sending and signing experiences of Docusign and propose solutions that ultimately make the product more intuitive and friendly for first time users with no experience sending/signing documents online. In my study, I chose metrics which would lead me to interesting insights and pain points of the people I observed. Alongside the quantitative data, I gathered qualitative data after the formal usability sessions to validate users processes and workflow during the studies. After conducting all of the sessions, I synthesized data and gathered opportunities which guided me to create my design recommendations and report for my stakeholders.
I worked on another project with two UX design interns to re-design the way company metrics were presented inside the company to engage employees to work harder and meet company goals and encourage employee engagement globally. The problem with the current presentation of metrics was the stagnant visuals and locations to where employees would see them (low traffic places). We conducted interviews and validated our main assumption that employees wanted to see the changes they were making in the company. We generated ideas on how we could present data in a way that allowed employees to connect with one another, as well as created wire frames and prototypes.
Because DocuSign is a mid-sized company, people often had a say in the decisions that were being made and the features that people were working on all have an impact to the whole product.
It didn’t just feel like my project, it felt like everyone’s.
I felt like my opinions and work I did in the company were valued by not just my team, but the teams I was working with and even the teams I wasn’t working with.
The Company Itself
Because there was a multitude of different product teams, we had our own floor which provided lots of open space to collaborate as well as small to big rooms for meetings. From the beginning to almost the end of my internship, the floor was being renovated for a bigger space and more rooms.
I went to at least one meeting every week. This ranged from company meetings, project meetings, design critiques, bi-weekly meetings with my team, or one-on-ones with my mentor.
I didn’t understand scheduling my own meetings until the first week of my internship where my manager gave me advice to introduce myself to employees on the floor to learn skills beyond design. After that, it became a habit for me to schedule a meetings with co-workers on a weekly basis to get to know them and learn something new about themselves and their work.
Most of the big meetings would be scheduled in the morning with very few scheduled after lunch to 4pm.
Going to meetings give me insight to lots of things, such as what the company was currently doing, and next steps. Scheduling meetings opened the opportunity to meet new people and be in control of what I wanted to learn.
Every week, there was a design critique where all the designers gather and some designers present what they are working on. It was our job to give feedback on the interactions between screen flows as well as the UI elements. There was lots of collaboration between teams, so consistency amongst the designs was critical. I learned a lot from seeing my peers present their designs in that transparency was important to create a streamlined product.
We were all working on the same product, so we needed to see each part of it in order to create an cohesive experience.
The design critique is a way for all of the designers to give constructive criticism, make sure there is consistency and for project managers to understand what each person is doing and guide the teams towards the outcome by coordinating meetings and deadlines.
What I liked about the company was that they really value work-life balance. People can come in where ever they want and leave (as long they attend meetings and finish work), but most people come in at 9am and leave at 5pm. There is barely anyone before or after those times because one time I came to work at 6am (I was an early bird at the time) and the only person I saw was re-stocking the kitchen. I also stayed after 5pm to finish work one time and by 6pm, almost everyone was gone!
FOOD. That’s all I can say. On every floor of the building, there would be a kitchen with regularly stocked food, snacks and drinks. Monday and Wednesday’s would be catered lunch days (our floor only!!) and Friday morning was bagel and Krispy Kreme doughnut day. There are also monthly events with different kinds of food. On other days, I would sometimes go out with some of the designers and get lunch together. It was a great way to bond more with my co-workers!
I didn’t do a lot of grocery shopping in those 3 months because I almost always had breakfast and/or lunch at work for FREE.
Our internship program had a weekly speaker series where a speaker from a very high position in the company would tell their story and what they do at the company. It was very inspiring to hear some of the people talk about what they do and how they aim to empower people from a wide range of different backgrounds. They also hosted happy hours for the interns and a baseball game.
It would have been nice to have more recreational events such as exploring SF on the weekend and being able to connect with the other interns. Because all the interns are located on different floors, I felt isolated from other interns besides the ones on my floor. At the same time, you felt more like an employee in that you interacted more with co-workers on a day to day basis.
Events that included people on the product floor included the product development bootcamp where I spent 3 days with new hires and a few other interns bonding, learning about product and volunteering at a food bank. It was a really immersive experience to learn about the whole history of the product for 2 days straight.
There was a team offsite where I went to the SF MoMa with the whole design team to see a graphic design exhibit and that was really fun!
In the End…
Towards the end of my internship, my manager took my team to a michelin star restaurant to celebrate my departure and welcome a new member to the team, which I thought was very bittersweet. This would be one of the last times I spend with everyone and I was going to miss working with them a lot.
I didn’t feel like an intern; I felt like part of a family.
On my last day, interns are supposed to present all the work they did over the summer. I presented my projects to the research/design teams prior, so I aimed to present more about my overall experience and key takeaways. As I was presenting and got to my project slide, I began to cry. Almost everyone I got to know and create relationships with were in the room and it just made everything harder to bear because I was really going to miss them. The thought of crying never came into mind but I think deep down in my heart, I didn’t feel ready to leave. Some of my co-workers expected this to happen and showered me with tissues and hugs, which made me cry even more. Everyone on the product team was very kind, nurturing and guiding me throughout the internship.
What did I learn ?
I didn’t know what to do right away. I learned through guidance and by doing.
The company culture
Docusign really emphasizes collaboration and team bonding where teams will have offsites and hackathons. The environment is very open where co-workers are able to collaborate with each other on solo projects or projects that related to the company. There is definitely a difference in creating a product when you have teammates who you can trust and count on. People take their work seriously and I could see the passion people have for the company and the work they do.
My co-workers really cared about the projects I was working on and it felt great to be able to talk to them, whether it was the head of UX (Sean McLeary) or an engineer (my pal William W) about what I was doing. They seemed truly interested and were willing to do what they could to help out. I felt like I could always talk to my co-workers, whether it was for feedback or even random things.
My manager told me to learn how the company works from not a just design perspective, but from a business one. Whenever there was a meeting, I would always do my best to ask questions to gain insights on what was going on with the company and what direction they were going in (how is DocuSign growing in comparison to other companies?).
I learned how to communicate with people and be more confident.
Overall, I learned to keep my mind open to learning about the design industry and how I can become a better designer for myself and others.
Deep understanding of UX research
I learned about different aspects of UX research and conducting different types of studies. Working as just a UX researcher was definitely different from a UX designer because I focused primarily on research and had very little contact with designing features of the product. I would say it was great to see design from just a researcher perspective, but I definitely missed the whole design process and the constructing and implementation aspect of creating the product.
Overall the researchers observe and provide valuable insights to how people use the product, but are not a part of physically designing the product itself. Because I was a researcher, I definitely aimed to immerse myself in understanding how to conduct usability studies, understanding human behavior and synthesizing data. I believe the knowledge I learned from being an UX researcher has helped me become more thoughtful in understanding my users and the struggles they go through in order to pinpoint the right problem before designing the idea/product.
It’s okay to make mistakes
Because I was intern, I wasn’t expected to know everything about research, so I was bound to make a few mistakes during the process. Whenever I thought I made a mistake, I made sure to ask for help because I wouldn’t learn if I just tried to figure it myself or hide it. Being transparent about my mistakes was important as I learned more from them and with the help of my co-workers, we could solve it faster in order to move on .
Work isn’t school
During the first week of my internship, I expected my mentor to guide me every step of the way of my project, but this wasn’t the case. When she realized I was expecting her directions, she firmly told me “work isn’t school”. To me, this was mind blowing. I was so used being given directions, I realized that in the real world, you are on your own. It was up to me to make plans and deadlines. Even an intern, I was treated like any other full time employee with competitive salary and benefits.
You are on your own, but that doesn’t mean you can’t ask for help or guidance.
Because work wasn’t school, I didn’t have any expectations placed on me to how I got work done. I just had to get it done. I created my own expectations to manage my time, meet my deadlines and execute my own project.
Tips to be a Successful Intern
Be self motivated
Because I realized I wouldn’t be given directions on how to execute my project, I learned to be self driven by planning out steps to my project as well as what things I wanted to learn throughout my internship. This gave me the motivation to embrace the work I was doing and to be open to new opportunities.
I learned how to be a catalyst in opening opportunities, rather than waiting passively for opportunities to land in my lap.
Embrace the project and spread the importance
I was in charge of driving the growth of my project, but I didn’t know how to necessarily do that until my mentor emphasized company engagement and to inform the company of my project. How could I get people on board with my project and what I was doing? How was it important to them? Why should they care? I learned to embrace my project (why was it important to me and the company) but I wanted to be able to convey that feeling to others and give them the opportunity of contributing and encouraging cross collaboration to inform new ideas/insights.
Keeping constant communication with my team and other employees regarding the transparency of my project was important because they wanted to see my progress and growth. They would also use the information I collected to help them with their projects and overall shipment so it was valuable for them as well.
It was also really important to send my stakeholders weekly reports of my progress who were busy due to the nature of their jobs to make sure they were aware of my project and prevent any misunderstandings.
I was truly interested to know why DocuSign was successful and one of the reasons goes back to the company culture where people are invested in helping others and working together to create an amazing product.
I learned so much from the people I talked to and have used their advice during and after my internship. I still remember the insightful advice Christian Marek, a co-worker I really look up to, gave me in that I should write weekly progress reports to my team in order to track of all the things I did, learned and what I should do the following week. This method really helped me manage and meet my goals, reflect on my progress and helped my team keep track of what I was doing throughout the week and monitor my performance.
I DEFINITELY would not have learned as much as I did or produced meaningful work without all of the people I met at DocuSign. Thank you everyone for making my first internship experience one to remember!!!
If you have any questions about design, message me on LinkedIn and I’ll write about it!
To help you get started on owning your design career, here are some amazing tools from Rookieup, a site I used to get mentorship from senior designers:
- Build a portfolio with help from an experienced designer
- Essential tools to strengthen and build your portfolio
- Take control of your time and career by becoming a freelancer
- Tips and tricks to get an amazing design job