Feels like a magic: My design internship at MailChimp

Hi! I am Tian, a graduate student studying HCI Design at Indiana University. This summer I interned at MailChimp as a product designer. It has been such a wonderful learning opportunity for me and I can’t wait to share my experience with you.

This article is the first episode of this “Feel Like Magic” internship blog series. In this first one, I will highlight some main takeaways from this summer in three parts: MailChimp Culture, Design Reflections, and Talks with MailChimp Designers. Later, I will talk in depth about each part. Please stay tuned!

Ready? Go chimp! [|:{|)

#1 MailChimp Culture:

(A video Yvonne Lee and I made for our internship )

I feel very lucky to join MailChimp this summer when it’s growing so fast (we have about 800 employees right now) but still maintaining a super close and fun working culture. From a welcoming on-boarding to the farewell outing, I was constantly surprised by how much thoughtful efforts the culture team put in to make us feel valued as a family member (even only for three months), and always being encouraged to make my own impact. Following are some event highlights.

  1. Founder/Department Leads’ talk: These talks helped me to understand how MailChimpees work and communicate together from a systematic perspective.
  2. Fantastic swags and rainbow room: Their awesome swag is definitely one of the biggest motivations for me to work hard haha. So that I can get Chimp coins for some cool T-shirts/Freddies/hats while enjoying others’ envy.
  3. MCU: As interns, we had weekly MailChimp University courses, during which I learned various skills from personal branding to the financial plan.
  4. Super fun outings and activities: white water rafting, soccer ball games, drive-in movies, art festivals, jogging meetings on the beautiful beltline, pool games with a professional player, and so on!
  5. Ponce-leftover slack channel: It was a place where you know all the free food almost everyday as long as you are willing to wait until 1:30 pm, which is totally fine for me! It indeed was a genius idea to save food waste and bound employees together around a basic human need: delicious food!

#2 Design reflections

(A conceptual screen of my project)

MailChimp helps small business to grow their market. It’s indeed easy to use but not that quick. Now it takes at least 25 minutes to send out a campaign. Can we cut it down to 5 minutes? This is the project I was working on closely with my manager Jon Bell this summer.

I presented this project to MailChimp CEO and received very positive feedback. It has been prioritized in a new formed cross-functional team.

Here are some design takeaways and I will talk more about them later.

Critique and Communication:

  1. Present my work in a concise and engaging way to people from different areas. For example, how to present a giant user flow to stakeholders who know nothing about my project?
  2. Listen hard to understand what people are really critiquing for, instead of just what they are saying. Also, since designers often tend to provide solutions, how to digest and filter critiques is very important.
  3. Seek for feedbacks on small chunks of work more regularly instead of finishing a big chunk and redoing it.
  4. Ask a lot of clarifying questions before/during/after doing actual work. This helped a lot to make sure, as a team, we were on the same page.

Focus:

  1. For the user experience, design for the majority of users (the happy path) first, and then consider edge cases.
  2. For a specific interface, focus on what’s users primary goal on this page and remove all the unnecessary distractions.

Confidence:

  1. Have a strong opinion of my work and design decisions. As a junior designer, I like to say: Here are some options. Let’s ask users for their opinions. But it often turned out that users have no opinions neither. So it’s important to make the decisions for them when necessary and be ready to provide rationales for every detail.
  2. Design process often looks like shooting in the dark: nobody, even the CEO, knows what’s right and what’s wrong. As long as you are connecting all the dots from research and providing rationales, show confidence to the audience! How you feel about your design will influence the way they look at it.

#3 Talks with designers

(The designers/developers/researchers/CEO I talked with)

At the end of my internship, I talked to in total 24 MailChimp designers, design leads, and the CEO who was also a designer. I asked them :

1)How was it for you when you first started as a designer? What has changed for your over years? 2)What did you do to stay competitive in this industry? What makes you irreplaceable? 3) What do you think is the biggest gap between design interns and junior designers? What suggests you would give me to improve my hard/soft design skills in school? 4) Any helpful resources/books/websites you recommend?

I gained extremely insightful answers from everyone (some even spent two weeks putting together a doc full of links). I’d love to share these resources later once I finish organizing them.

Here are some high-level takeaways:

  1. The ability to open an engaging conversation, tell a story and provide rationale is more than crucial in a company.
  2. For junior product designers, craftsmanship is the basic skill you need to polish all the time. At the same time, try to learn more about integrating insights from business, technology, research, as well as data.
  3. Do more side projects in school, preferably within cross-functional teams. Find real users and spend time with them!

Heartfelt thanks to

My wonderful manager and teammate Jon Bell. Super supportive design team: Make Davis, Jacob Davidson, Gabe Will, Christina Lingga, Holly Tiwari, Matthew Pence, Sarah Shapiro, Oluwaseyi Amole, Sarah Lashinsky; Amazing intern parents: Jasmine Haugabrook and Mitch Cave; My lovely lovely intern fellows and everyone who makes MailChimp such a fun place to work!! I missed you all!!


Please stay tuned for the following blogs in this series where I will talk in depth about MailChimp Culture, Design Reflections, and Talks with MailChimp Designers.

If you have any question or suggestion, please reach out via email: doutian@iu.edu

More about my work at www.iamdoutian.com or find me on Linkedin.