Five Tips for New Grad Designers
Candid advice based on my personal experiences and reflections
In 2018, I graduated from the Georgia Tech MS-HCI program and began my journey at Facebook as a Product Designer. It has already been two years since I started keeping myself busy practicing design. Time sure flies!
Recently, I was contacted by the program to share some advices for current and future students. Out of many advices I can think of, I picked the five most important and potentially helpful ones.
I’m really hoping that this article is a meaningful read for you. Here it goes…
- Think bigger about design and how you can contribute
- Find people who inspire you and learn from them
- Become an awesome team player
- Gathering of information is key in prioritizing your work effectively
- Advocate for yourself when you need to
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1. Think bigger about design and how you can contribute
Design is much more than pixels — you’ve probably heard this many times already. However, it might not fully resonate with you because at school, you’re constantly honing on your UI Design and Prototyping skills to showcase work for the upcoming internship or new grad roles. You might have even felt that visual representation of your skills could maximize your chances to successfully landing a job… which is why you might think it’s not true.
Once you start your first job and start to gain more experiences, you’ll begin to realize that visual and interaction design are indeed the foundation skills, but not the only ones to keep pushing on.
When it comes down to having conversations with teammates, listening in on various meetings and sprinting on stuff, you will gradually feel that there are just endless things to learn and expand upon outside of moving pixels. Some of the things that I’m personally working on are: knowing how to use and interpret data, driving product vision forward, managing multiple projects and understanding business.
The reason why I’m trying to expand my knowledge on these is not only because I’m truly sensing the need for them now, but also because I can somewhat foresee a future where this knowledge could come in handy (even now). From what I think, those are all necessary pointers within the design process which will present me with better directions in how I should approach the problems and how I can contribute even more productively to the team.
2. Find people who inspire you and learn from them
Over the course of my time at Facebook, I’ve come across many designers with different types of skill sets. What I’ve noticed is that each of them has their own unique way of approaching problems and the process of arriving at the solution. Working closely with them and watching how they work, truly inspired and motivated me at the same time.
Inside and outside of the company, try to find people that you think you can learn from by engaging in meaningful career conversations. Also, try to take closer look into their work and experiment with different strategies into your own work.
What helped me a lot so far in understanding what next steps to take for my growth was when I just spent time talking to people who I looked up to and thought I could learn from. Therefore, I tried to be very intentional in the questions I asked. Many were open to talking about their own experiences, struggles and challenges. Those conversations were all great learning experiences for me and opportunities to reflect back on my actions as well.
3. Become an awesome team player
In order to design and build great experiences, designers need to be awesome partners to other teammates who have the same goal. Therefore, it’s important to understand how you’d prefer to work with others and how others would like to partner with you.
The awesome thing about being a designer is that you get to work with many different teammates and stakeholders. This requires good amount of interpersonal skills which is an everlasting area of growth. The process of reconciling various opinions and feedback to be incorporated into a design is one of many things that you will need to do throughout your career. Therefore, learning how to become a great team player (in terms of your own strategy and tactics in doing so) is super important.
During the process of many collaborations, you might encounter frictions with other teammates which could be more frustrating than you think. When I first ran into this situation, I couldn’t hide my immediate feelings and reacted in the way that I should have avoided.
What I learned through those experiences was that going through those moments wisely by thinking twice before reacting, engaging in constructive feedback sessions and planning out meaningful next steps will continue to help you to become a more thoughtful partner down the road who can deal with those situations well. Frankly, it’s good for your own personal growth as well.
4. Gathering of information is key in prioritizing your work effectively
When it comes down to making an impact, execution is key. When it comes down to executing on your designs and unblocking other teammates, being able to prioritize work effectively is key.
Every half (6 months) at Facebook, I juggle around many different projects that sometimes require a decent amount of context switching. What I learned through my own success for the last two years of continuously delivering high impact was that I’m always trying to be more intentional about the approach I take for each of my projects.
For me, I always provide updates to my team on a daily or weekly basis — sometimes, even more granular than that. This helps me to be more transparent about what I’m going to be working on and to get input from others. On the other hand, I keep myself tapped into each of my partner engineers’ progress to make sure that there is not anything that is blocking their progress.
Over-communication has always helped me to understand who I needed to reach out to, where I should step in, what others were depending on me for, when I need to start/continue on projects and why I’m not pursuing certain things yet.
In parallel to these efforts, I have what it is called a “zero notification” habit. I never let any emails, notifications or chat go through me at the end of the day (or from time to time throughout the work hours) without me actually seeing them. This has helped me tremendously to be in-sync with things that are happening in real-time around me. I wouldn’t recommend this to everyone as there are different working styles but it’s just a natural behavior that I cherish a lot and have benefited from.
5. Advocate for yourself when you need to
One thing that I realized early on in my career was that I needed to be more proactive about advocating for myself. This means many things that includes: providing strong opinions for my design output, selling the hard work that I’ve done, seeking recognition and more.
Getting recognized by and cared for by others can make you feel good about yourself. But you can’t always expect others to know where you’re at. Therefore, it’s useful to sometimes push yourself to express your thoughts and ideas to people around you.
Actually, this was something that wasn’t easy at first for me, given that there are cultural differences. However, it’s something that I began pushing myself as a part of my unlocking my own career and personal growth opportunities.
True, there have been some awkward and uncomfortable moments but through experience, I’ve receive good learnings that I can iterate on. In the background though, I’m always trying to keep a positive mindset and be more optimistic which helps a lot in making up decisions to advocate for myself in different sets of situations.
Thanks for reading!