Photo: Marcos Mejia, Credit: Helena Price

Want to Grow as a Product Designer? Learn, Hustle and Adapt Says Facebook’s Marcos Mejia

Elegant Tools Feature Series: Marcos Mejia

Name: Marcos Mejia
Job: Product Designer
Joined Facebook: June 2014

Describe yourself in 10 words or less.

I have fun while building product with great people.

What do you like to do when you’re not working?

I tend to play video games when alone, but I enjoy spending time with friends and family the most.

Growing up, did you have a favorite toy, song or TV show?

I was addicted to Legos. I was so into them that I would forgo any other gifts I was given to get my hands on any minor Lego set.

What’s your favorite quote?

“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.” — Steve Jobs

Looking back on your career (or schooling), is there a learning experience, mentor, or previous job that played a key role in becoming a Product Designer?

My first job out of college was for a company called Livestream, which was a small tech startup in New York City focused on building a live streaming platform on the web. For small tech startups at the time, it was efficient to invest in designers that could wear as many hats as possible, and I had a basic understanding of HTML/CSS. I’m not going to make this a “should designers code?” kind of thing, but my first year at Livestream I grew as a product builder in more ways than I could ever imagine, especially since I had to learn and grow at a pace that I wasn’t quite ready for. By the end of my first year I had shipped production-ready products and learned to create Facebook page apps. By the next year I was skilled enough to build design toolkits and develop best practices for CSS/HTML while also designing for the new iPhone and iPad.

I still apply what I learned at Livestream in my work today, even though I am no longer pushing any code to production. Sometimes I step in to help debug UI issues in our products or help connect engineering and design through a common language.

I am forever grateful to have had the experience I had at Livestream, and I’ve maintained some of the habits I developed there to this day. I continue to constantly learn, hustle, and put myself in uncomfortable situations. The more you’re open to learning and growing, the more valuable you are to any company or team.

What’s the best part of working in Product Design? Why?

Solving complex problems for people and being able to bleed between roles. There is some specificity to the Product Designer role. But ultimately we utilize all means and skillsets to get the job done. This has allowed me to learn and grow from my peers, so that I can fill voids at all parts of a product cycle. Having been around for a long time as a product designer has enabled me to quickly see things from many angles. I can be thrown into any situation as a product designer and solve for it. I think this is pretty amazing, and I look forward to every one of the future situations I may face.

What’s the most challenging part of working in Product Design? How do you deal with these kinds of challenges?

In my opinion, the challenging parts of Product Design don’t quite have to do with the profession itself. It’s the situations that constantly surround and change the way we approach problems that can be challenging, as these are forever evolving for every business. For example, four years ago Facebook was a much smaller company. Being small allowed Product Design to move fast and collaborate with fewer people to get things done. As the company has grown, we’ve had to evolve a lot to accommodate the growing problems to solve and the amount of people it takes to support it.

The way I solve for this is not intentional at all. I think it’s more tied to relying on my self-awareness. I do tend to lean on my self-awareness a lot in order to notice the changes as they affect me or my team. This has allowed me to get ahead of change, adapt to what has been happening around me, and make sure I’m prepared to help my team and the people I design for as problems come my way. I’ve seen designers struggle when they rely too much on what has defined their careers in the past and are unwilling to change their habits to help themselves or their teams.

What makes a project compelling for you? Is it the subject, the people involved, the potential impact, or something else? Why?

Challenge and scope of problem are what drive me toward a project. Impact to me is the result of doing great work and solving problems for the people who use my designs, not something I feel anyone can predictably chase.

Why do I value challenge so much? Picking a problem that is nontrivial for me to solve gets me out of my comfort zone. When I’m out of my comfort zone, I’m learning new things, which is both exciting and a lot of times scary. Challenge is how I grow my core skill sets as a product designer, potentially enabling me to lead product in ways I haven’t before or build on ways to better communicate my ideas. In hindsight, one thing to note is that choosing a very challenging path also brings high-risk circumstances, but ultimately, the more you’re in those situations, the better you handle them over time.

I’m drawn to scope because of the people who use my products and the potential problems they face are extremely important to me and my work. I try to always approach these problems holistically, because I believe that limiting your execution to tactics without considering a large part of the product and end-to-end journey causes products to be hyper-fragmented, which ultimately causes confusion. This doesn’t mean that I am for slow product development cycles — I’m actually a fan of fast-paced environments — but I will always opt for a project that is trying to do the right things even if that means investing in longer-lasting frameworks to do so.

What do you do when you’re feeling tired or unproductive? What’s your go-to re-energizer?

I have a problem where I feel unproductive all the time. Maybe that’s my secret, just like when Bruce Banner tells Captain America how he becomes the Hulk whenever he wants: “That’s my secret, Captain. I’m always angry.” This feeling motivates me to seek advice from my peers all the time and also helps me shift my focus to help my team or my peers in other ways when I’m stuck or a little burnt out. I learned a long time ago that if I’m having trouble focusing, it helps to work on something completely different — I try to channel my energy to make myself useful in other ways. Things I tend to do that help re-energize usually take place outside of product: Graphic design asks like illustrations/glyphs, build on our team culture, help out designers on other projects, or proactively seek a gap to fill.