This past summer I was a product design intern at Facebook
Not long after finishing the spring semester at my school, Loyola University New Orleans, I started orientation and two weeks of training at the Facebook Menlo Park headquarters. This training is called Design Camp and it’s a program all new designers at Facebook, whether full-time or intern, participate in. Designers come from many different backgrounds, using different software and methods for their work. Design Camp is an opportunity to introduce us to how Facebook product designers work. We learned the principles, guidelines and philosophies of design at Facebook.
After Design Camp, I started a project that served to introduce me to the Facebook Interface Guidelines. This project was small in scope and didn’t involve a lot of product thinking, but did require my visual design skills.
My second project, bringing a new weather system to Facebook, required me to employ a wide range of skills. I was responsible for concept, product thinking and visual design: exploration through sketches, working with the research team and delivering final specs to engineers.
In my final week, I worked with the team that launched the Star Trek 50th Anniversary reactions and profile frames. I also worked on an intern hackathon project during the Intern Hackathon that happened in July.
I met regularly with and sat at a desk next to my intern manager, Perin, who provided feedback and support throughout all twelve weeks. My recruiter, Ryan, also met with me twice throughout the summer to make sure I was comfortable and that my goals for the summer were met. I sat amongst other product designers at Facebook, so it was easy to talk about our work and to have jovial design-geek conversations.
Twice during my internship, I received a performance review. For this review, a peer, my intern manager and my team manager provided feedback. Then, my intern manager met with me to deliver the feedback. The feedback was honest, which helped me understand my strengths and recognize my weaknesses. It surprised me how everyone picked up on what I can do well and that they recognized where I can improve. It’s great to have a sense of where I can grow and do better.
And after everything this summer, this is I learned:
💁 When presenting designs, tell don’t show
Prior to Facebook, my experience presenting work was from critique at school. In this setting, critique is free-flowing. It isn’t constrained by time and requirements. In a studio course, the class has over an hour of time and a professor is present to help direct discussion and feedback.
This experience is very different form presenting work at Facebook. In my role as an intern, there were two settings in which I would need to present my work: critique for my team and meetings for projects.
At the beginning of my internship, my meetings for projects were not as productive as they could be. I mistakenly treated these meetings like a critique at school. I would show and describe my designs, but that’s all I would do.
After receiving feedback from my manager, I realized I’m the designer in the room and I need to own the discussion of my work. In order to do this, I need to do more than just show work. I learned I need to also tell.
Talking about problems I’ve encountered tells others why I’ve employed certain solutions. Providing an overview of changes prompts discussion and tells others in the room what is different from last time. Specifying the feedback I need directs discussion and tells others how I’m blocked. Moreover, if I’m not specific about the feedback I need, people can get bogged down on the wrong details.
Ultimately, it’s my responsibility to define my agenda for the meeting. I don’t treat this as a formal agenda, but rather as a mental map of how the meeting will flow. The agenda should include problems I’ve encountered, changes to the designs, and feedback I need. The constraint of time emphasizes the importance of the agenda: meetings are generally 30 minutes long. If I put in the effort to make an agenda and stick to it, I’m able to accomplish everything we need to.
There are a few practices I found work for me:
- Use sticky notes. I write down meeting objectives and open issues on sticky notes. I put these right on my laptop next to my trackpad. This helps me reference the notes during the meeting. I’ve found if I write this down anywhere else, I don’t reference it.
- Use redlines. In Sketch, I include redlines next to each artboard. Because my notes are closer to the designs than they would be if elsewhere, others can reference what I’m talking about.
- Provide context. As the designer of the product, I see it a lot. I’m familiar with every aspect of the product thinking and visual execution. However, others involved with the product see the designs only a fews times each week. When preparing for meetings, I consider what context others will need and anticipate the questions or issues they might raise.
🌐 No decision is small
There are over one billion daily active users on Facebook. A poor decision will negatively impact the experience of using Facebook for millions of people. It’s my responsibility to make decisions using product thinking that is informed by data and validated by user research.
This summer, I worked with the research team to do user research on my designs. The goal of the study was to ensure the participants understood the product and that it met their expectations. After the study, the research team prescribed changes based off the participants feedback and I applied the changes to my designs. This study informed every decision I made. It helped make me confident that I employed the correct solutions.
⚒ I learned new design tools
Before this summer, I designed with Illustrator and Photoshop. At Facebook, the majority of the designers use Sketch. Today, I’m as comfortable with Sketch now as I was with Adobe products. I’ve developed methods for creating specs and for organizing files and different iterations. I memorized shortcuts and developed my abilities to use the unique features of Sketch, like symbols, slices and custom plugins, which help increase productivity.
I also gained experience with prototyping tools.
Prototyping — usually with either Origami Studio or Framer Studio — is an important step in the design process at Facebook. I learned both of these tools during my internship, but primarily used Framer. Prior to my internship, I worked only with code for prototypes. That’s a slow process! Learning Framer enabled me to iterate quickly. If I needed to make a change, it was easy to make the change in Sketch and import it to Framer.
📈 Scale is challenging
Designs need to function across many platforms and operating systems. Generally, it was straightforward to design for all platforms (in this case: web, iOS and Android). But in other cases, though, I had to make substantial changes to the design for a certain platform. This was especially true for Material Design.
I have to consider how my design will perform and appear in different languages; I have to consider if different cultures will need a different experience than others. Approximately 84.5% of daily active users are outside the US and Canada. My first project — which required me to constrain lengthy strings into a small space — was especially difficult. The designs looked okay in English, but break in another language, like German, for example.
✅ It’s important to prioritize
“You can work on a lot of projects and do average work, or you can work on one project and do awesome work.”
— Perin, my intern manager
I have a tendency to want to work on lots of projects. This summer, I was reminded how important it is to say no. I think my manager says it all!
🔭 Be Open and Bold
Surrounded by smart and talented people, it was easy to believe I was an imposter. That was detrimental: it kept me from going further. I would share work, but not early enough because I was afraid it wasn’t good enough yet. I would give feedback in critique, but I would speak last because I was afraid my ideas weren’t right. I didn’t share as many ideas, or ask as many questions as I could have.
I learned that imposter syndrome is a primarily sign of strength, not weakness. Feeling that I was an imposter stemmed from humility. Basic humility is a strength: it enables us to learn and admit when we are wrong. That is valuable. What I have to remember is to not let this humility work against me.
“Humility allows us to be vulnerable, admit when we are wrong, and see when we have an opportunity to learn from others. This is hugely valuable. But if you overplay that humility and it turns into being in a constant state of low-confidence, that’s not good for anyone.”
— Margaret Gould Stewart, from an AMA
I learned it’s important to be bold and open. So what does it mean to be open and bold? It means to share ideas, no matter how radical they are, to take feedback openly, to speak-up in critique, to ask questions, to be present, and to do the best you can, every day.
Ultimately, my internship at Facebook is one of the most valuable experiences I’ve had in my career. The knowledge I gained in design and professionalism is invaluable.
Thanks to my friends Rachel, Jon and Liam for editing. Special thanks to Cg Kendrick for helping me shape this story through her helpful feedback.