Can I tell you about a time that I felt absolutely terrified?
I know. Most people want to hear a story about fearlessness, overcoming fear, being bold but here I am, about to share a snippet of a personal conversation that happened just over a year ago with my then Design Lead. It went something like this: “Kasia, let’s talk about what your next steps are as a Graphic Designer.” Silence. “Carla, I think I want to transition to more of the digital side..UX if you will…I think…I think I want to be a Product Designer.” More silence.
I know. Maybe not the most dramatic. To be honest, there weren’t even tears. But what this conversation does reveal, is that being completely honest with where I wanted my career path to go ended up being pretty scary to admit, let alone say out loud. I guess you could say it was a mix of fear, self-doubt and a touch of ego that was certainly holding me back. At the time of this conversation I had been working as a Graphic Designer for almost five years. Although I was satisfied with what I had accomplished, I was increasingly noticing that something didn’t feel quite right. I knew I wanted to shift my design thinking a little, tackle more research-heavy projects, be challenged in a different design capacity. Yet what held me back was a nagging worry that being a Product Designer would strip every form of my creativity and personal self-expression. That it was maybe too techy. Too data driven. Too boring. This was the internal debate: “Will I no longer produce the creative, inspiring work that I do love… but am getting a bit restless in?” “Am I ready to give up a career path that I feel like I can possibly flourish in, for something that I may…well..suck at?”
A brief career timeline if you will
So you ask, how did I get here? Prior to my life at Everlane I worked as a Graphic Designer for two years in Toronto. During this time I had the opportunity to take a part-time evening course on User Experience Design at BrainStation’s Toronto campus. This was my first introduction to this new side of digital design that I quickly learnt was everything beyond just pure visuals. It was almost the opposite to everything I was taught in traditional design school. The program curriculum covered everything from user personas, user flows, journey maps, conducting research, human behavior, UI design, and presentation skills. I loved every minute of it and completed the program feeling that at some point, when I was ready, I’d take the plunge and transition to the Product side.
But when I was looking at the next step in my career and all in seriousness placing all of my efforts into moving out of Toronto, an opportunity came up to work on the Creative team at Everlane, out here in San Francisco. It’s safe to say that this was truly my dream job and I was prepared to work harder than ever to land it. At the time, Everlane was just making traction in the retail space and quickly became one of my go-to’s for design and branding inspiration. It made me fall in love with being a Graphic Designer because it showed me that good, thoughtful design could change how you feel and truly embrace a brand. I felt like it’s company mission and values seeped through their creative campaigns and I wanted, needed to be a part of it.
Landing at Everlane felt like a dream. I was hired to work on their Creative Team as a Graphic Designer with a focus to work on both print and digital branding creative. During this time I had the opportunity to work closely with an amazing group of copywriters, designers, and producers to execute new product launch campaigns. The projects ranged from small printed pieces for marketing events to launch digital landing page creative. Focusing on a wide range of design projects allowed me to hone in on multiple skill-sets that I feel have now become instrumental to my career even as a Product Designer. But after about 1.5 years and many hours of design work, that feeling of wondering where my career was going slowly started to resurface. But this time, I knew, I was truly ready to do something about it. I just needed to align my thoughts to get there.
Here’s what I knew: that I held an endless curiosity for how something was built beyond what I could always see in front of me. That I wanted my designs to come alive in a way I felt wasn’t always available with traditional graphic design. I was, and still am, deeply fascinated by human behaviour, connections, and emotions. I wanted to understand how good design could change people’s lives and how technology can help them live with more happiness, contentment, and ease. Finally, there was a constant questioning of how I could measure success. I felt like I wanted to know how my designs were performing and where there could be room for pivots, based on the results. The more I tuned into these thought patterns the more apparent it became that Product Design was the right move.
This is where that very honest 1:1 conversation with Carla comes in. Fortunately what resulted was nothing but overwhelming support from the leadership at Everlane.The first step would be to enroll and complete a 12-week part-time Front-End Web Development course at General Assembly.* This would teach me the fundamentals of basic programming and eventually build the confidence I felt I was lacking to work closely with Engineers. And bonus: I discovered that I also love to code.
Within three months I would transition to a Digital Product Designer on the Technology team, also known as EPD (stands for Engineering, Product and Design). And yes, this time there were tears, but only the good kind.
So far so good, actually pretty great!
It’s now been five months, going on six and I’ve never been happier, more challenged, inspired, and ultimately very creatively fulfilled as a Digital Product Designer. My team, EPD (Engineering, Product, and Design) is a beautiful mix of Engineers, Product Managers, and Digital Designers. We are the team behind every omni-channel technology touchpoint at Everlane. Our work ranges across everything from the digital products you interact with at our physical locations to those you see and use on our .com site. We are a team that embraces constraints, are fueled to produce pixel perfection, and are constantly striving to build products that are intuitive, best-in-class digital experiences for our customers. (Shameless plug: yes, all your dreams have come true, we are very much hiring).
Embrace your career like a researcher
Yes, I am aware that my situation and career transition may have happened within unique circumstances and internal opportunities and career shifts are not always available. I do consider myself very fortunate that I had the opportunity to have multiple senior leadership at Everlane acting as constant cheerleaders for this next step in my career path and continue to do so now. But what I can say is this: embrace your career path like a researcher. Look for unique patterns in what excites you, what makes you curious, what fuels you with creativity, and what products make you feel something and hungry for more. Embrace those moments and generate ideas to what could be the right next steps. Find a small group of managers and mentors to help you write down what are attainable, actionable goals and define what the steps are to get there. Always work towards a clear measure of success. Develop those skills over time through practice. Expand that thinking, stretch your abilities and don’t hesitate to ask for feedback along the way. Lastly, never be afraid to be honest and open about where your interests are. The sooner you’re able to define what type of designer you want to be, the easier it becomes to focus on the skills and projects that energize you the most.
*Studying a front-end web development course is not essential to becoming a product designer. Many of my design mentors have zero coding skills and continue to flourish in their careers. I simply felt, along with the leadership at Everlane, that it would build additional design skills and ultimately the confidence to work within a more technical role.