Insights after graduation to Lead designer for a 50+ employee company in 18 months
It was a Friday in March, 2015. I had all my belongings in two blue, large IKEA bags and was ready to move. I was tired because I just graduated from Hyper Island as an Interactive Art Director three hours earlier. The plane to London left in 14 hours. I had no place to stay there but I was certain it would work out somehow (it did, in the end). I was starting my first job coming Monday. I had received an opportunity to start as a user interface and user experience designer at a small tech startup in London. I was beyond excited.
Now, more than three years later, I’ve seen thousands of customers, hundreds of employees, hundreds of used and unused features designed, an insane amount of transactions and interactions on the platform made — and a company grown at a great pace where I’ve had a lot of insights after a journey like this. Here’s three of them.
1. Somehow, it all works out well in the end.
During my four years at university, I was always a bit worried about what I’d do after school was finished. I was looking at famous designers and seeing their perfect designs, not having in mind that they have years of experience and a great team with them. My concerns for finding a job grew since my confidence declined after browsing too much online. I then found a job through one message through a designer at the design forum Dribbble. A Skype call later and I was on my way to London for a job. Somehow, it all worked out well in the end.
During the last weeks in Sweden, I was incredibly worried about where and how I’d stay in London; where’s the nice areas that’d suit me, what is a good price to pay, how do I find a place, etc. I did almost sleep outside for a night, stayed at my parents room in a hotel one night and slept on a friends sofa for a night. A single message in a Facebook group “Swedes in London” later and I had a great place to stay, in a perfect neighbourhood. Somehow, it all worked out well in the end.
During the first weeks at my new job, I was intensely worried about delivering enough to justify my salary and place. I had no prior experience to a serious full-time job as a designer, but in the end, doing the most of my capabilities, this was not a problem either. I made enough to have justified my place and to go from an intern position to lead the design after years of constantly caring for what I put out. Somehow, it all worked out well in the end.
These three key points makes it sound like I have a bad case of anxiety issues… which isn’t necessarily the case, just a regular concern about where my life will take me, or rather, where I’ll take my life. And these three concerns about the future is a reference for me for life going forward: it all works out well in the end. Somehow you already know where you’ll go, it’s just a matter of time and events that’ll lead you there (similar quote to what Steve Jobs said here).
2. People first — and production will follow
My first day at my new job was interesting. I was in battle mode, ready to sit down and start drawing icons and wireframes instantly, in an attempt to prove I was worthy of the internship.
I entered the office, and our head of development - a nice Italian guy - sat me down and asked “Ciao signore, what do you want to learn here, eh?” Baffled by the focus on me, and not on setting me up and putting me to work put me off-balance - but off-balance into a new direction: focus on you and your co-workers, aim to grow with them through your skills and absorb skills through them and you’ll grow infinitely faster and bigger as a person. As a concrete example, he was interested in building a design pattern library in code, which I honestly hadn’t heard of, which set the course for me to think even more of the developers: build reusable user interface components to speed up the process and in the end the usability of the product with a coherent design language.
Now, three years down the road, this has rewarded me a lot of saved time since I produce from a component library, rather than a unique, new component for each new task. For a lot of new features, the wireframe stage isn’t even necessary since the components are already designed and coded. All this came from him focusing on what I wanted to learn, through him. People came first, not production — but production followed afterwards, even greater than if I had focused on that from the start.
3. Be ready for change
Work at a company. Explore things there. Build something. Learn something new. New people join the company. Someone who’s a foundation to the company leaves. Change company structure. Change company product. Change company focus. Change role. Change software. Change design language. Change brand. Change city. Change country. Change city again. And again.
All of this has happened during my time at the job. Be ready for change at all times. See it as something constantly changing, forever flowing. From all the things that have changed throughout the past three years, it all have been for the better (even if it didn’t feel like it when the change was ongoing).
I might change the two chapters above — but this third point will last forever. 🙏🏼