What I Learned as a Design Intern in a Different Setting Insights from an engineer turned designer.

by Jenil G. September 19, 2017

The past year has been quite an exciting ride for me, from moving to New York, starting a master’s program at the School of Visual Arts, working on projects to build my portfolio, applying for internships, and finally getting a few offers. I was excited about interning in New York because I would get to work in a completely different work culture than my previous experiences in India. I would take up a new role solely as a designer instead of my previous experiences in design + front-end development. I would get an opportunity to experience and understand the day in a life of a Designer (or Product Designer, Interaction Designer, UX Designer, or whatever).

I spent my summer at a not-so-small start-up called Mark43. Now this is the interesting part of the journey: guess what the company does? Here is what they say they do:

Mark43 is reinventing public safety software applications from the ground up, delivering unparalleled data integration and efficiency gains to first responders.

Or, in simpler terms, they make software for cops.

Mark43's Computer Aided Dispatch

So here’s what I learnt:

Being an engineer makes you a way better designer

This doesn’t mean if you aren’t an engineer, you are bad at design. I think it gives you an advantage by being able to better understand the product. Good designers and good developers actually have a lot in common. I wrote an article about being a unicorn designer previously where I mentioned the benefits of being a designer with the ability to code. Like John Maeda said in an article:

“When you can do both, you can do things that no one else can do”

Data-driven only design is a lie

When I was working at BookMyShow, we recorded a traffic milestone of hitting 30 million users per month. When you have so much traffic, testing out a feature with an A/B test is really helpful, but there are downsides too. Numbers and metrics can look good on paper, but they don’t necessarily speak to your users’ emotions about your brand and image. It was a totally different story at Mark43, the volume was really low, so A/B testing a feature was not an option. That’s when user research came in really handy. And remember, your ideas are just your own assumptions. Therefore, all assumptions should be tested.

Design is the easy part

When I got my first internship project I was so excited, I fired up Sketch and started working on it in full swing. Just a week in, I had my first design critique and I presented my designs. They assured me my designs weren’t bad or wrong, but I was asked to take a step back and think about the bigger picture. How does this feature fit into the entire product? I was encouraged to conduct initial research that maybe the product manager wasn’t able to provide. You need to be a product designer and not a visual designer because design isn’t about how things look. Remember Steve Jobs?

Learn-Design-Show-Repeat

One thing that I loved and took away from my internship is the value of design critiques. A design crit is your first audience and it’s important to give them context, and clearly define your problem and audience. Ultimately, know what kind of feedback you’re looking for and make it clear during the presentation.

Know when to relax

I have worked in relatively smaller design setups in my previous experiences and that means fewer designers and more work was often the case. But at Mark43 it was a different story, there were 8 members in the design team, which balanced out our workload. So make sure you have fun, make friends, get to know your coworkers — work will be more enjoyable that way.

Atom Mark43 UI theme

In conclusion, I’d like to mention that I completed my project before the anticipated date and did have some time to get my hands on code. It was difficult to say goodbye to all the awesome people and my team, but as a thank you and parting gift, I created this Atom theme called Atom Mark43 UI, which I am sure that are going to love using.

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