How to draw an owl

Product Design Junior Vs Senior — what do we lack?

This article is my reflection on T3(Top3)B3(Bottom3) evaluation after 6 weeks doing product design at Uber. The “T3” means the 3 most outstanding abilities, while “B3” means the aspects for more efforts to improve. The interns receive T3B3 evaluations from their mentors at the mid-point and the end of their internships. Based on the reflection, I start to understand more deeply about some of the most critical abilities that junior designers are lacking compared to a senior.

If you only want to see the conclusion and highlights, just jump over to — “What should junior designers do to grow up fast?”

T3B3 evaluation

It always feels good when some of your abilities have been recognized. I really appreciate my mentor Adnan in that he went over the T3B3 evaluation that he was going to give me, and ask me if I had any opinions on any of them. After discussion, he gave me the final version of my mid-point T3B3.

T’s

T1: Quick Study: Quickly dived into rich prototyping and learned new tools such as Principle, Framer, which he has used throughout his intern project, and actively learns new skills when he has downtime.

T2: Proactive and eager to take on new challenges

Has pro-actively taken on new projects beyond his intern project. Quick ran with smaller projects like Driver Showcase, Bliss profiles, created a new R2D logo, and showing progress on major projects.

T3: Out of the box product and experience insights

He comes up with creative and out of the box product insights — that we sometimes have to scope down due to team/org constraints. He shouldn’t be discouraged by this — keep proposing them.

B’s

NOTE: B’s are not necessarily flaws or big problems, but often-times opportunities to develop and improve. Have already seen him make progress on these as internship has gone on:

B1: Creative exploration: Want to see him better execute on doing wider range of upfront explorations to explore problem space, rather than jumping to a few solutions.

B2: Clarity and Complexity in presentation: Develop ability to better contextualize, lay out, structure, and present design options and flows in ways that are clearly understood by others (both in slide deck form and informally). Put yourself in the shoes of others and ask — is this clear?

B3: Developing self-sufficiency and ability to refine:

He is working on a fairly self contained project without a lot of voices of feedback — he does well with quick daily feedback, but I would like him to better develop the ability to refine his own work if he’s getting more sporadic feedback. Would a project stall if he only got 2x a week feedback (fairly common full time employee cadence)? I’m not entirely sure.

Reflection as a junior

Apart from noticing the aspects I could improve on, we could take a peek on the criteria that a senior designer have in mind for design capability.

For junior designers who just step into the industry, I strongly believe many of us has some strong design skills in certain aspects, together with passion in contributing to great products, and eagerness to become more professional. However, practicing design in large corporations is much different from doing school projects in terms of the process and ideation scopes.

My mentor did not give me very specific evaluation regarding design skills. It does not mean that design skills is totally ignored, but that good visual design/prototyping skills are not necessarily the key of a good design solution. According to Xiaoxue, a product designer in Uber,

“In Tech companies like Google or Uber or Facebook , there are already existing UI kits and design guidelines, which leaves only a little room for designers to showcase their design skills in most inner projects. Under this circumstance, user experience has become the more critical problem for designers to tackle. Thus, a product designer’s value is recognized more by his/her ability to leverage user experience and improve product value from a business perspective.”

In terms of designing for business, extra value is a significant scope to take into consideration. It is not that it sounds good to say I have this business thinking in mind. There are many design options that could work for a certain project goal, yet extra value is what makes the best proposal stand out, and also a strong rationale when communicating with engineers and PMs. Keep in mind the questions that PMs always ask, like “what extra value do you provide with this option?”, “does it hurt the performance of a feature that is currently working well?”; also from the engineers’ side, “what is the extra value of this design that is worthy of much more efforts in building a new module, instead of just applying the existing one?”

What should junior designers do to grow up fast?

1.Holistic view of projects

When exploring various design options, do not only think from our own perspectives. Instead, also put yourselves in other’s shoes. in other words, think like a product manager, think like an engineer, think from the perspectives of all the other relevant teams.

2.Contextualization of the deliverables

At different stages of a project, understand what fidelity should the presentation be in. Should the design options be in wireframes, hi-fi static mockups, or interactive prototypes? How much efforts should I put into toning the presentation slides? Especially at the initial exploring stage of a project, it is smart to explore wider range of options, instead of wasting large chunks of time on visual effect or even animations.

3.The ability to communicate efficiently wherever and whenever

At school, we most likely will not start to comb through all the works we have done for a project until the mid-term or final presentation date is approaching. While at work, 90% of the communication about projects happen without a fully-prepared presentation. Since the engineers, product managers, designers and operations are seated very close to each other within a team, it is convenient to just walk over to the another team member and communicate. Smooth work-related communications are just not going to happen without a good understanding of the works we are doing, and readiness to get key points through efficiently within only a couple of minutes.

4.The ability to constantly iterate projects individually

It is not realistic to get feedbacks all the time. We need to improve the ability to constantly criticize design works by ourselves from different perspectives, thus we can handle more complex projects in the future.

5.Ability to apply more frameworks/scopes/perspectives of thinking

Why is the click-through rate so low for this button? Is the hierarchy clear on this screen? What layout could fit the current info arch better? Is there other ways to organize the information other than the current info arch? There are so many scopes in product thinking that, when you feel stuck sometimes, thinking from a different angle may lead you to some previously ignored issues.

6.Proactivity to learn and reflect and reach out to co-workers

This is probably the most straightforward suggestion I could think of. Take on challenging tasks and try to accomplish more within the same amount of time without sacrificing quality. When you have questions or new ideas for projects, do not hesitate to reach out to the people who are strong in these fields. Thanks to Maria who helped me a lot in carrying out usability testings, I really started to understand what is mentioned in the book “How Google works” by Eric and Jonathan, that Smart Creatives love to put efforts into something they recognize as being worthwhile to try out, even though there might not be any instant profit for themselves. Taking risks, contributing more efforts, This is how we grow and how creative organizations grow.

Thanks for reading.


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