In May 2016, I started orientation and training at the Facebook headquarters in Menlo Park, California. It was the beginning of a fantastic 12 weeks as a Product Design Intern. The training—called “Design Camp”—was a program for all designers at Facebook. Designers have many backgrounds, using different software and methods. Design Camp was an opportunity to introduce us to product design at Facebook. We rapidly learned and practiced new principles, guidelines, philosophies and tools.
After Design Camp, I started a project that served to introduce me to the Facebook Interface Guidelines (FIG). This project was small in scope and did not involve a lot of product thinking, but did require my visual design skills and helped me learn FIG.
My second project, brought a new weather system to Facebook and required me to employ a wide range of skills. I was responsible for product thinking, visual design and interaction design. I explored multiple options through sketches and wireframes, collaborated with the research team to test prototypes, and delivered specs to the engineers who would implement the final product.
In my final week, I worked with the team who launched the Star Trek 50th Anniversary reactions and profile frames. This was a fun little project my manager fit in as a bonus.
Supported throughout my internship with peers and managers, I was set on a good path from the beginning.
My intern manager provided weekly feedback and design support when required. My recruiter met with me twice, asking if I was comfortable on my team and if my goals were on track. I sat nearby other product designers, making it easy to collaborate on our work. The other designers respected my work and my opinions and I always felt like a valued, full member of the team; not once did I feel like an intern.
I also received two performance reviews: one at 6 weeks and another at 12 weeks. For the reviews, three people provided feedback on my performance: a peer, my intern manager and my team manager. The feedback was honest and helpful, enabling me to understand my strengths and recognize my weaknesses. It was rewarding to have a sense of how I can grow as a designer.
Between my projects and the people I worked with, I learned a lot this past summer. Some of these lessons stand out from the others and I’d like to share them with you.
Tell a Story in Design Presentations
Prior to Facebook, my experience presenting work was from critique at school. In this setting, critique was free-flowing. It was not constrained by time and requirements. In a studio course at school, the class had over an hour for critique and a professor was present to help direct discussion and feedback.
This critique setting was significantly different from work critique. In my role as an intern, there were two settings I presented my work: critique with my team and meetings with project stakeholders.
At the beginning of my internship, my meetings with stakeholders were not as productive as they could be. I mistakenly treated these meetings like a critique at school. I would show mockups to the stakeholders and describe the visuals, assuming that was all I needed to do.
After receiving feedback from my manager, I learned I need to own the discussion of my work. As the designer, I see the product a lot. I’m familiar with every aspect my product thinking and visual execution.
However, others involved with the product see the designs only a few times each week and don’t have the same context. In order to start a discussion, I needed to do more than simply show mockups. I had to tell a story.
The story often included:
- New/old problems
- Solutions to the problems
- Sharing necessary context
- Establishing all blockers
- Asking for specific feedback
When I told a story about my designs, I set the path for a productive discussion. Tell stories did take some planning, however. There are a few practices I found work for me:
First, I wrote down meeting objectives and open issues on sticky notes. I put these right on my laptop next to my trackpad. This helped me reference the notes during the meeting. I found if I wrote this down elsewhere, I would not remember to reference it.
Second, I included redlines next to each mockup to point out interactions and demonstrate flows.
Finally, I considered what information stakeholders would need to understand the context of the design. I also tried my best to anticipate answers to questions people might ask.
When I applied these practices and told a story about my work in meetings, I noticed productivity go up. We quickly solved problems and finished with a clear path forward.
Design for Others
There are over one billion daily active users on Facebook. A poor decision will negatively impact the experience of using Facebook for millions of people. It’s my responsibility to make decisions using product thinking that is informed by data and validated by user research.
Designs need to function across many platforms and operating systems. Generally, it was straightforward to design for all platforms (in this case: web, iOS and Android). But in other cases, though, I had to make substantial changes to the design for a certain platform. This was especially true for Material Design.
I have to consider how my design will perform and appear in different languages; I have to consider if different cultures will need a different experience than others. Approximately 84.5% of daily active users are outside the US and Canada. My first project—which required me to constrain lengthy strings into a small space—was especially difficult. The designs worked in English, but not in other languages (like German).
This summer, I worked with the research team to do user research on my designs. The goal of the study was to ensure the participants understood the product and that it met their expectations. After the study, the research team prescribed changes based off the participants feedback and I applied the changes to my designs. This study informed every decision I made. It helped make me confident that I employed the correct solutions.
Learn New Tools
Today, I’m as comfortable with Sketch as I was with Adobe products. I’ve developed methods for creating specs and for organizing files and different iterations. I memorized shortcuts and developed my abilities to use the unique features of Sketch, like symbols, slices and custom plugins, which help increase productivity.
I also gained experience with new prototyping tools. Prototyping is an important step in the design process at Facebook. I learned both Origami and Framer during my internship, but primarily used Framer.
Prior to my internship, I “designed” prototypes with code using React. That’s a slow process! Learning Framer enabled me to iterate quickly. If I needed to make a change, it was much easier.
I have a tendency to want to work on lots of projects. This summer, I was reminded how important it is to say no. I think my manager said it all.
“You can work on a lot of projects and do average work, or you can work on one project and do awesome work.” My intern manager
Finally, as I was surrounded by smart and talented people, it was easy to believe I did not fit in. That was detrimental: it kept me from going further. I would share work, but not early enough because I was afraid it was not good enough. I would give feedback in critique, but I would speak last because I was afraid my ideas were incorrect. I did not share as many ideas, or ask as many questions as I could have.
By the end of the summer, I learned imposter syndrome is a sign of strength, not weakness. Feeling like an imposter stems from humility and basic humility is a strength: it enables us to learn and admit when we are wrong. That is incredibly valuable! What I have to remember is to not let this humility work against me.
“Humility allows us to be vulnerable, admit when we are wrong, and see when we have an opportunity to learn from others. This is hugely valuable. But if you overplay that humility and it turns into being in a constant state of low-confidence, that’s not good for anyone.” Margaret Gould Stewart, from an AMA
It is important to be bold: share ideas, no matter how radical they are, take feedback openly, speak-up in critique, ask questions, be present, and do the best you can, every day.
Ultimately, my internship at Facebook was one of the most valuable experiences I had in my career. The knowledge I gained in design and professionalism is invaluable.
Thanks to my friends Cg, Rachel, Jon and Liam for editing. This post originally appeared in HH Design on Medium. HH Design is a community around design in the context of technology. On June 16, 2018, I edited the original post with some improvements.