Lessons from my first few months as a Product Designer
Get out of your comfort zone — and get used to it
After transitioning from Physics to Economics and from Economics to Design I managed to land my very first job as a Junior Product Designer in a medium-sized bank in Brazil.
I’ve been learning new things every single day and would like now to share what I feel are the most important lessons so far.
Get out of your comfort zone — and get used to it
You will constantly face situations into which you’ll feel a little uncomfortable, and the sooner you learn to embrace this feeling as something natural, the better for you — as a person and as a professional.
I believe there is no personal nor professional growth inside your comfort zone, so leave it at the door.
In my case in particular, I feel uncomfortable because I'm new to the design mindset of solving problems, to the design industry, to the design community, to design tools, to the corporative environment and a lot more.
By embracing this feeling as something natural and utterly necessary to the growth process, I can more easily focus on my job and avoid being paralyzed by fear or insecurities.
You can learn from anyone
If you actually pay attention to your surroundings you can learn a lot. I’m surrounded by people who know way more than I do and have way more experience than I do.
I’m not only talking about designers but all other kinds of professionals: managers, business people, HR, developers.
I learned a lot about design when I did my first hand-off to my fellow front-end developers.
As we talked about the particular piece I was delivering to them and as they asked a lot of questions about components, interactions and such, I was actually paying a lot of attention, taking notes and consequently learning.
Learning how to make my next hand-off way smoother for them (and for myself), about scenarios I didn’t think through well enough and thinks I did wrong.
This should prove my point: you can learn how to be a better designer from non-designers in your company.
By the way, who said design is the only useful thing you can learn in the work environment? You can learn how to manage people with managers,
how to manage crisis with business people, how to prioritize work and how to deal with pressure and how to align stakeholder’s expectations with your Product Owner.
You can learn valuable skills and lessons from initially unexpected sources. Open your mind to other opinions, and every conversation can be fruitful.
Deeply understand the product you are designing
I know, designing interfaces can be pretty fun. But I believe they are nothing but the manifestation of your design process: they should be the reflection of your thoughts and accumulated knowledge on the business, the product, and the user.
Thus, before jumping to Sketch (or whatever the cool kids are using right now), you should probably study the product and the business that supports it.
Before even touching a design tool I would talk to other Designers, Product Owners and business people to try to understand how the product works.
These are a few questions I tried to answer: how the business behind it works? What has been done in the recent past? What the road map looks like? What data about this product do we have? What data about user behavior do we have? What are the main obstacles the team is facing? What are the technological constraints? Who are the stakeholders? Who do I report to? The list goes on.
How can you solve problems you don’t even understand?
Your deadlines won’t wait for you to understand how complex bank products work — especially if you are not familiar with financial operations. But do your homework because there is no problem solving if you don’t understand why it’s a problem in the first place.
Don’t worry though, you don’t have to figure it all out yourself. Many people in your company have that knowledge already. Don’t be afraid to ask them to clarify things to you.
Share the work you are doing
Not being afraid of sharing your work — especially at early stages — is critically important. Other people can provide great insights and feedback. Being open to critics helps to keep your work on track and it’s a fantastic way to identify and learn from your mistakes.
Yes, you will make mistakes and that's just how life works. It's not wise — nor recommended — to hide your work hoping to hide from the fact that you will fail from time to time.
I would argue this is especially important for junior designers. By asking senior designers to provide feedback one could reverse engineer their thought process, and learn a lot about design and decision making in the real world.
Don't hold yourself back nor don't delay your professional growth because you are afraid of getting hurt. Face your flaws, learn as much as possible with them and move on.
If you are having troubles with something, be honest about it and let your peers know. They will help you and appreciate your courage and transparency. Do not put your work in a black box. The sooner you learn how to take criticism the better.
It’s easy to get lost and overwhelmed for a while after joining a company — specially if it’s your first job. I know I did. There is so much to learn, so many new things to keep track of and so much to do. The deadlines, of course, are ruthless and you are expected to deliver.
But keep calm and don’t panic.
Don’t forget to work on improving yourself as a person and as a professional.
Keep learning. Keep studying. Find time to read articles and books, to listen to podcasts or to watch videos. Find time to keep up with the news from the design community and to work on personal projects. This is a fast pacing industry and it's important you don’t fall behind.
Do other stuff you like
As a junior designer just breaking in the industry you want to show work and be and be extra helpful. You want to show to your coworkers you are a hard working employee and that you are willing to run the extra mile.
In my case, I believe it's also a way to show how grateful I am for this opportunity I was given. It’s great you are happy at work but remember to do what is important for you in your spare time.
Read a book, play video games, make some drawings or try to relax by watching TV. Whatever makes you happy. Do not let yourself drown in work.
Keeping a healthy life and mind is way better for you (and consequently for your work) in the long run.
The life-work balance is important and as someone starting your career you don’t want to take the wrong path and suffer down the road because you worked way, way too much.
Take a deep breath and enjoy the journey you just started.