You've Graduated... Part Four

October 17, 2016 •  design

This is the last part of my four-part graduation series which I started earlier this month. If you haven’t already, read the first, second, and third parts.

By this time you should have a good understanding of what you should be doing and what most people are looking for out of a junior Designer. I’m going to describe what you should be expecting when you arrive at your first job and what to do for the first couple of weeks.

The information in this post is highly biased towards a larger company. I did this because I want most Junior Designers to find a position in one as their first job if possible. If you are starting in a smaller company, you will have to filter a bit of this post.


The Circles of Impact

At Shopify we have a concept called circles of impact. It’s a little managementese, try to ignore that, but it’s a term we use to describe how you affect those around you. As a student, you are a party of one. Even group projects in educational systems don’t properly prepare you for the circles of impact you’re going to be a part of when you reach a company.

For example, at Shopify, any Designer is part of the following circles:

  • The feature/product/project team you’re assigned to
  • Your department
  • Product Designers in your office
  • Designers (inclusive of communications/marketing Designers) in your office
  • Product Designers across all offices
  • Designers across all offices
  • The User Experience team (made up of FEDs, User Researchers, Content, etc.)

Many junior Designers have a habit of only focusing on one circle–their own. While this may work for some time, ultimately, you will be judged on how well you work within an organization so focus on increasing your value to your outer circles.

As you become more confident in your skills, you’ll find that you can extend even further. This is generally the path to being recognized as a leader in most organizations. The more confident and skillful you become, the more circles in which you get recognized for what you do.

Your First Week

Spend some time outlining your organization’s circles of impact and getting to know the people within that. This will help you give you a good footing on the type of people you’ll be working with on a day to day basis. Outside of design, these following disciplines exist:

  • Your Manager
 How will they track your growth? Can they provide guidance on your career? What are their expectations of you? What are your expectations of them?
  • Engineers/back-end developers
 How do they organize the project? How do they prioritize bugs vs. new features? How can you better explain to them what you want prior to delivering so you don’t work in a staggered approach and waste time?
  • FEDs/front-end developers
 What type of units are they working in and how do they want this represented in your files? The likelihood is your FED is your second-hand, so smooth over any potential communication issues prior to getting your hands dirty.
  • Project managers
 What type of timeline are you working on? What is expected out of you? How can you work faster within the environment you’re in so they don’t feel like they’re waiting on you?
  • Product managers
 How can they help you push your vision and what role do they play on the team? Product Managers work differently depending on the company you’re at. For a good introduction, check out Brandon Chu’s Medium articles.[1]
  • Upstream/downstream stakeholders for your particular project
 Who is affected by the project you’re working on (downstream)? Who do you need to get approval from (upstream)? How often do you need to check-in with all of them?

There may be other specialized roles at your company that I don’t particularly know of. If that’s the case, you’ll have to figure out what the best questions to ask are. There are always questions. Find them.

Perfecting Communication

I’ve said it about three times now but it bears repeating: communication is the most important part of your role. This will be the most important skill you’ll learn throughout your entire life, and I say that, because I learned this lesson the hard way.

You should be able to explain what’s going on in your head. You can practice this through writing and explaining to yourself simple things like, “What will I buy at the grocery store?” or “What happened at work today?” You can also explain to yourself what you’re learning on a day-to-day basis, but you don’t particularly need to feel pressured to publish it.

A good example is Reddit’s ELI5 sub-reddit. The acronym stands for Explain It Like I’m Five, which is a great target to aim for. You should be able to explain any complex problem or solution to any teammate at any time in a way that makes sense to them. They cannot help you if you cannot explain it well.

More tips:

  • Stop using words that don’t matter.
 Brevity is important, pretentiousness is not. Simple Grade 5 level English is fine.
  • Don’t use metaphors that don’t make sense. Not everything needs a metaphor. In fact, most things can be explained metaphor-free.
  • Take it easy on those acronyms. Acronyms are meant to speed things up but actually make things slower because you have to teach every single person you meet what they mean. Tribal knowledge can be as dangerous as it is helpful.
  • Read up on different personality types.
 Myer Briggs is a good place to start but there are other personality frameworks that can explain how different people react to different types of information.
  • Understand how to navigate hard conversations. This is a skill you’ll practice; “Crucial Conversations” by Kerry Patterson will help you get a jump-start.[2]
  • Learn how to deal with feedback.
 I’ve already written about this. This will be something you deal with for the rest of your career. Find opportunities to practice this.

Balancing Datapoints and Your Wishes

Design is a career in which you can design the future within reason. You cannot always have your way and it’s unlikely, as a junior, that you will. Nothing in the field is black/white or right/wrong. There is just right, for now, in this context.

There are many datapoints you will come across in your assignments and projects. Datapoints doesn’t refer to just things that deal with our traditional idea of what data is (numbers and metrics). Data can also be qualitative (opinions from users), your exec’s mandates on where the business is going (business strategy), or even your personal subjective wants based on your research (don’t mistake this for ego). You should not build anything while only looking at one datapoint.

Keep yourself open to solutions and focus on the problem.

Good Luck!

This concludes my graduation series. Good luck with the start of your career, Design is a fantastic industry to build a life in. If this was helpful to you, please share these articles with your fellow classmates or tweet me love notes.


↩︎ [1] Brandon is a PM at Shopify and has written several great articles↗︎ about Product Management worth looking into

↩︎ [2] Kerry Patterson, Crucial Conversations↗︎, 2011

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