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5 Mistakes I Made During My Product Design Internship

This past summer, I interned as a Product Designer at M1 Finance, a finance and investment company located in Chicago, IL. During the internship, I worked with 7 other interns to improve the M1 Finance dividend experience. It was a great experience, but I made more mistakes than I could have possibly imagined. I went into the internship with the goals of improving my visual design, interaction design, and my collaboration skills. And it is safe to say that I did not truly understand these 3 skillsets. While I now have a more realistic understanding of the 3, I still have a ways to go.

I realized that product design is not all sunshine and rainbows, especially when you’re self-taught. I had unrealistic expectations because of how product design is portrayed on LinkedIn and Youtube. There is a lot of talk about the positive side of things, but not enough information about the hardships and failures. Because of that, I'm writing about my failures as a Product Design Intern. While I made many mistakes, there was a lesson learned from each of them.

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I Misunderstood the Relationship Between Engineering and Design

Before this internship, I did not know I’d meet with engineers on the regular basis. Heck, I didn’t even know we’d be on the same team. I thought I’d design the solution, and they’d build it when I was done. I’m glad I was wrong. Working with software engineers was my favorite part of this internship. With true confidence, I can say that working with them made me a better designer. The engineers on my team did something that I was not prepared for: they constantly questioned me. At first, I thought that it was kind of annoying, and it kind of gave me imposter syndrome at first. Then I realized it was an opportunity for me to improve as a designer. They kept me on my toes. I had to be intentional and detail-oriented with my design decisions. Aside from that, they always had good ideas and provided feedback when I needed it. The relationship between design and engineering is more than meets the eye.

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My Product Manager and I Should Have Been Better Partners

The importance of a product designer’s relationship with their product manager is not emphasized enough. When a product designer and a product manager are on the same page, the team functions at its highest capability, I’ve seen this with my own two eyes when shadowing my manager. When a product designer and a product manager, aren’t on the same page, confusion and miscommunication. I’ve experienced this first hand.

My product manager and I didn’t have much of a partnership. It just felt like we were members of the same team at times. To improve our relationship, we could have met regularly, and more consistently to make sure that we were on the same page and saw eye to eye. This is something I'm eager to improve in the future.

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I Didn't Consider Constraints Before Jumping Into Figma

My team and I came up with a cool solution that would solve 2 out of the 3 problems that we were responsible for solving. We were planning on creating a stepper feature that would show the status of a dividend throughout its lifetime. So what do I do? Jump right into Figma and design a stepper flow. It was beautiful. Until 2 days later, when I learned that it wasn’t feasible. Because of backend constraints, we couldn’t get the exact date that a dividend was earned, so we couldn’t show the status. The next time my team and I get a bright idea, I’ll be sure to seek the council of a backend engineer. But man…that stepper feature was genius.

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I Neglected the Importance of Interaction Design and Faced the Consequences 

There were a few times when I felt that I did not take everything into consideration when I should. I overlooked some things. Engineers would ask me about a screen that I didn’t; know I had to design. An example of this would be when an engineer asked me where’s the loading screen and an empty state. There wasn’t one, so I had to go back and design them. When designing screens, I tend to get my head stuck in the clouds sometimes. I thought about the big picture, but not the screen-by-screen interactions. What happens when a user clicks this? What if a user wants to view information from a certain time frame? Instead of creating user flows and task flows, I found "✨ documentation ✨" to be more effective. Writing out each interaction and use case helped me convey the interaction design. Engineers found this to be useful as well.

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I Didn’t Communicate With My Team and Update Them As Much As I Should Have, Which Complicated Things

My team had standups almost every day, so any miscommunication regarding design was my fault. Sometimes the web engineers would want me to check their progress, so I'd go ahead and update them on my progress as well. I'm not sure why I did this, but since I told them, I'd just forget about updating the rest of the team during standup. Horrible decision-making. This persisted until I made a mistake so...careless.

In short, I told the iOS engineer about an update in the design but forgot to update the web engineers and the Android engineer. This would cause the product to be inconsistent across platforms, which is not good practice. Eventually, I had to deal with 4 unhappy engineers, and I wouldn't wish that on my worst enemy. Standups were created for a reason. Use them and update your team as much as possible. I know I will.

The Sleeper Has Awakened.

I love talking and learning from other professionals and design wizards. If you ever need an extra party member, just send me an email or dm!

brandonhollins4@gmail.com