May 15, 2021

47 tips for young product designers

Job interviews

1. Ditch the case study and show your core skill

Most of the case studies take 99% of the content, only to finally present a disappointing solution. Most of the interviewers don't care about case studies either.

Make it easier for interviewers to immediately understand your core skill-set: good at interviews, good at dissecting problem statements and putting simple solutions (wireframes), good at UI, good at Interaction design. In fact, write your core skill-set  upfront and use the portfolio to prove that you're good at it.

P.S. At UC, we'll ask you to do an assignment if we're not clear about your core skill-set from the portfolio.

2. Don't quote quotes

Don't quote quotes in your application. Or, really answer, "I want the recruiter to understand ________ about me with the quote I've put here."

3. Throw in a bonus with your application

Every person I gave this advice to cracked their interviews. At the time of application, do things others may not. Applying to an e-commerce company? Send along a document with a heuristic evaluation of their purchase journey flow that you experienced.

4. Even a thoughtfully written email is an eligible portfolio

Introduce yourself, tell your story, work that you'd want to do, and check if there's a fit. Being crystal clear about your capabilities, work, expectations increase your chances to that opportunity.

5. Creativity is a moat. Showcase it in your portfolio.

You're great at doing digital sketches? Great, show how you can bring that creativity to your work as well. Good recruiters look for folks who exhibit clear signs of a creative mind and apply it at work.

6. Don't be boring

Don't be boring at an interview or your application. ****Boring people can't design exciting stuff and typically don't tend to make a good team player.

7. Move away from the cookie-cutter portfolio template

As a designer we're supposed to design for our users. At the time of application, the recruiters are our users, correct? They're skimming through a lot of portfolios every day. What'd make them stop at your portfolio?

8. Open up

Interviews are the best opportunities to open up about what you're really passionate, excited about. What kind of work do you enjoy doing?

9. Learn to ask great questions in interviews

Avoid generic questions around design processes, the meaning of design, etc. Instead, ask questions about the last few projects the team has worked on. What kind of projects are you going to be working on if you were given the opportunity, etc.

10. Design fucking cool stuff. Everything else will follow.

We're all designers at the end of the day. We owe it to ourselves.

11. Don't show excitement to solve problems.

I don't know of a single designer who wakes up in the morning and tells themself, "Yayy, what a great morning to start solving problems!". Yet, 99 of 100 applicants write this as their introduction.

Try these instead:I like designing interfaces. Here's my portfolio.I enjoy solving user problems. Here are some user problems: how I solved them using copy, flow change, making the button bigger, etc.I like talking to people. Here's how I have used that skill to interview users.

Becoming better at work

12. Write. A lot.

13. At the end of every project write notes on what went good, what you want to do better in the coming projects - share it with your manager

14. Learn to use google sheets

Believe or not, the older you get in this field, more you'll find communicating, managing stuff better with sheets. Tip: Learn to convert most of your design use cases into truth-tables using google sheets as a starting point and share those in hand-offs.

15. Become great at designing interfaces

This is the absolute basic thing you'll be evaluated on in most small to medium sized teams.

16. Become efficient and productive to stay excited

Inefficiency leads to more working hours, leads to frustration, leads to frustration.

17. Overcome frustration by doing cool stuff you care about

Frustrated at work, with work? Force yourself to do cool stuff to vent out. I draw concept cars/ bikes in my notebook every time my team turns down my illustration idea. 😕

18. Seek feedback constantly on how you can improve your work.

Become a knowledge sucking machine and show that you're improving. Also, don't become a parasite either.

19. Work harder and smarter than everybody around you. It'll yield results.

20. Stay curious

Install and try out apps from Product Hunt, App store features. Note what you like, ideas you got, delete and try the next app.

21. At the end of the day, you'll be held accountable for design execution and not the process

22. Design and communicate using prototypes, motion

23. Create more time for design explorations. Improve your speed.

24. Nine of 10 times, you're as good as your last project

25. Don't take a generic design course

Most designers you want to be like, didn't take one.

26. Presentation is everything

A good presentation can save you 10s of meetings. Get good at it. Really really good.

27. Learn frameworks from engineering, and apply those in design

Re-usability, modular coding, APIs thinking gave us Design Systems, Style Guides. Read about these, apply in your design thinking. My favourite: DRY — Don't repeat yourself.

28. Simplify things

Before calling it a day, spend 30m to remove stuff from what and how much you designed.

29. Minimalism is often the best excuse to not design better

30. Sweat the details

Design less horizontally and more vertically.

31. Build core interests outside of work if you want to produce original and creative work

Design career

32. Become the +1 for your manager

Identify your manager's most significant pain points at work, understand how they think, what they expect, their body language and offer help. Solve the pain points proactively. This is one of the best ways to grow in your role and grow into your next.

33. Don't go out looking for career advice

Most are stories only stitched up in retrospect, including mine. Ask for frameworks, mental models, over answers. Instead, "Get better at Googling".

34. Look for companies where your contribution will create a vast delta

Evaluate design's role at a company. If it's one of the major influencing factors to move business numbers or make a significant differentiator, go for it. Not all companies will qualify this for design, evidently.

35. Specialist → generalist → specialist

If you want to become a generalist without being able to go hands-on good with at least one or more specialities, you'll not become a good leader, or manager. Specialise in something first.

36. More time ≠ better design

Two designers had four weeks to design one flow. Designer A designed one complete flow every week for 4 weeks, tested 4 times, and at the end had a refined, shippable version ready. Designer B created one entire flow at the end of 4 weeks. Don't be designer B.

37. Everything is an opportunity

If you're really excited and open-minded, even the Terms & condition page is a design opportunity. Don't be content too soon.

38. The first 5-6 years matter the most

Of course, there are exceptions — broadly, the first 5-6 years of work will fetch you the rest of the opportunities. Unpopular, but yeah - typically working your ass off for the first few years pays off.

Staying creative

39. Keep a notebook

To write ideas, thoughts, tasks, whatever. I always carry a pocket-size notebook and a pen. Sometimes, I write on the back of my phone case.

40. Clean your inspiration frequently

Visit your Dribbble, IG, Pinterest likes and saves once every week. Delete 10-20% of them that are just good, not great.

41. Practice your inspiration

Re-create at least 1-2 items from your saved inspiration list every week. It could be an app design, some blog ideas, writing inspiration, etc.

42. Learn to build stuff with code or no-code

A personal portfolio, a plug-in, a listicle website, NFTs. It's never been easier with the tools and YouTube available.

43. Talk aloud to yourself — a lot.

Talking to yourself, aloud, about an idea, something you plan on telling someone, etc. helps you edit, and refine your delivery at the time of actually speaking.

44. Learn how to write a script

Scripts are one of the best ways long-form content is consumed. I download transcripts of YouTube videos, movies and read them.

45. Read graphic novels

I personally am fond of anime, cyberpunk, and graphic novels in general. Is creatively very satisfying and highly recommend it.

46. Design a lot

It's the only way I know for becoming good.

47. Read the Encyclopedia or picture books

It's fascinating to see how they explain complex topics in simple language using graphic design, typography, images, etc. Something we try to do every day with app designs.

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