Learnings at Unacademy

In October 2020 I wrapped up my design internship at Unacademy. I have been working right from my 1st year at college but everything I did earlier was a bit too trivial and lacked scale at all levels. So this was kind of my first proper contribution at a place that won't shut down. Although whatever I did earlier has helped me to frame my thinking, here is a list of things I learned this time that shall help you if you are at a similar point in your career:

  • Know your manager. Ask all kinds of questions you need to ask, non-design related as well. Get very comfortable with at least one person in the team.

  • Ask to be included in handoffs and PM reviews early on to observe what kind of conversation happens. You most probably won't be assigned a project on day 1. Use it to study their component libraries, workflow, tools, whatever. See how your team prepares their files. Ask people if you can observe while they work. Start some 1-on-1's to know their general process and introduce yourself. Reduce your anxiety.

  • Design less, iterate more. Design-focused organizations have some structure in place to optimize speed. It can be a DLS or just a library of components. USE IT. Create a mini system for yourself first. Then try various combinations using that. Explore the breadth of the solutions space before going in-depth. Don't marry your first idea.

  • On a different note, your manager/team might be expecting to see innovation. I did this conversation very late but getting clarity on to what extent do you get to break their design, principles, and consistency will be a good thing. Explore new ideas, they might not always go through reviews, but everyone wants to see it on your canvas as a newbie. Plus you might just impress yourself.

  • Your mess is your mess, give others a clean document. Investing a minute to arrange your file goes a long way. Keep transferring your progress to different pages or sections. This helps everyone.

  • Data points. Ask this question. Have clarity beforehand if 'x' is stored or not on the dev side. Will help you be more logistic while designing anything dynamic.

  • If you come from an engineering background don't bother about the engineering in your design internship that much. People who are an intersection of code and design often default to designing what "they think is codable". Hence don't constraint your creativity, the engineering team is as efficient as you are. If it makes sense it will be made. That's a battle for your PM to fight.

  • Do your research. Seek inspirations. Use Dribbble or Behance. Go through the archived work done in the past. Ask if anyone is free to brainstorm with you. Find all the information you need to do the best of your work confidently.

  • Think in terms of interaction. Always focus on what comes next. Your current design should support what comes after it without a thought. Have a story in your head before having screens on your canvas.

  • TAKE NOTES ON THE SIDE. You'll forget why 'x' was done by end of the 8th-9th iteration. You can forget things, so save your progress.

  • Learn all the new shortcuts you can. Optimize your design workflow. Learn to create things quickly.

  • Startups largely run on PRDs. Which comes to you as a designer to design with. I'll say be smart while studying it. It's not your textbook with correct answers. It's a brief of what is required, treat it like a brief.

  • Manage yourself. That "+3 years of experience" even for junior roles literally means this. No-one has time to spoon-feed you. Observer and adapt. Manage your work and communication. Learn the company's back and forth. Inform if you are AFK, set an isolated deadline for yourself, send small reports of what you did today to your manager. Over-communicate until you are asked to under-communicate.

  • Give velocity to your feedback loops. Your feedback sessions need to be progressive. Meetings should always reach a conclusion. My projects got delayed because I wasn't monitoring this. Have your PM in sync and ask them to make time for you. Seek help from your manager to accelerate this. As an intern you might not have much power here, try anyway.

  • Ask the silliest questions. I miss this advice often myself. I default to saying 'yeah got it' even when I don't completely get it thinking I'll google it up later. Asking people to elaborate on sentences and acronyms then and there is always a good idea. Seek clarity.

  • Proactively inform whenever you are free. DO MORE! If they'll hire you full-time is uncertain, doing more means more work to show on your portfolio in case things go wrong. Ask yourself why you are here doing what you are doing. Placing yourself in a good situation is always your job.

  • Talking about full-time, PPO is a major concern. The company may or may not be looking forward to turning their interns full-time. Often this is performance-based. Having a conversation with your manager to know what is expected from you to land a PPO will help you keep your output in check. That been said, this question might not get answered that clearly always, so pick signals.

  • Participate with the team. Games or work. Someone said as an answer to one of my questions "No matter how good case studies or articles a person writes if they aren't able to collaborate at levels then it doesn't work". It's a team sport where your individual skills are as much important. But don't make it all about yourself. No one likes that. Listen, and participate to add value.

  • Learn to be less personal about your work. Sometimes you'll create shit. And people around you will be too nice to call it shit. Learn to let go of what's not good enough and focus on creating something better next. No matter how much time your previous work took. Refine your quality.

  • Getting mature as a designer is as important as getting good at design. My internship was virtual so the only point of constant reference was Slack. But I learned how the organization functions by observing the conversations on all channels. From the Product Teams to HRs to Educators. People are different, their issues are different, they communicate their issues differently. So observe.

  • Lastly, for all your questions there is always an answer. Sometimes questions will lead to some difficult (not bad) conversations. Always ask and get your answers.

Culture 🎎

Unacademy has been a great experience for me. The design team is a set of high skilled no flex individuals and it was getting even better when I left. Have always been impressed by the HR team especially and all the things they were doing to keep work easy for everyone. The organization does invest a lot in its people. Thanks to Richard Rufus for helping me through the time when every other organization was receding offers. And Prithvi Ravi for teaching me that I can press control to resize frames without resizing content. And also for teaching a lot of other things.

Thanks for your time.

Best, @divyakant360