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Design Career Panel Wrap Up - How to Get In? How to Grow?

While a Design Professional has secured a place among the C-Level suite of a company, many professionals are still confused on the career path of a designer. With this blog post, we manage to bust a few myths and hopefully provide clarity to design enthusiasts on securing a place in the boardroom of your organization.  We hosted Shayak Sen, Head of Design at Meesho, Stu Smith, Staff Product Designer at Atlassian, Vasudha Chandak, UX Consultant and Recruiter and Ramesh Kozhissery, Director of Design at Walmart Labs for a panel discussion  moderated by Karthi Subbaraman, Founder of Xperian as part of the Product Leadership Festival – Design edition. The discussion was centred around breaking into the field of design and growing a career in this emerging field. Here a few excerpts from this insightful session!

Karthi Subbaraman: What can we expect in a typical design career path?

Ramesh Kozhissery: I would consider a design career path as a fascinating one and I wouldn’t say that it’s linear. It has a lot of twists and turns. This is because we have folks who have moved into a design from various disciplines. From Engineering, Arts and Finance, we have folks from everywhere. So that’s the first area of introspection- whether you should move into design or not. Most of us start off as creators and when you excel in your craft, you start to learn the nativities of design and before you know it, you’re a professional designer.

Shayak Sen: In a design career, you’re constantly learning and when you learn fast enough, you have an opportunity to define the way this function is going to evolve. For example, we’re talking about Design Ops, Design Systems, Evolutionary Design, etc.,. I think that’s one of the many takeaways from a design career.

Karthi: What does it mean to “get on the right foot” in a design career?

Vasudha Chandak: People come to design from all kinds of backgrounds so there’s no one-size-fits-all answer. My recommendation would be to take a step back and try to figure out what area of design interests you. Design can be overwhelming as it has many verticals. Figure out if you’re interested in Visual Design, UX or Marketing Design. Once you understand these verticals, it becomes that much easier to dive deep. Start working on side projects, iterate on it, read case studies by fellow designers and get feedback. There are so many virtual meetups happening within the design community, register for these seminars and sign up for portfolio workshops. It’s important to have a curiosity to learn.


Karthi: What conscious choice should you make to skyrocket your design career?

Shayak: For early-stage designers, it’s important to have a voice for design because you have to articulate your design to a lot of stakeholders. If you’re going to work for a startup, look up to your leadership team. They’re going to teach you to have a strong voice for design. 

Ramesh: In the initial phase of your career, it’s important to focus on the craft. Make sure you’re learning and you’re able to execute. Be open-minded and open to learn and adapt as it’s an ever-changing field. 

Karthi: What are the highs and lows one must be aware of in a design career path? 

Stu: I’ve learned a lot of things through learning by failing and developing resilience in those moments. A lot of designers would relate to that. You try a lot of things early and you can fall on your face. You can ship a project but it doesn’t have a business impact you thought it would have. These are a few lows for a designer. It doesn’t mean you’re bad at the job, it’s just a part of getting better. The highs can be really amazing when the thing I’ve designed is shipped and is in production and goes out for the world to see. Few things feel as good as that.


Karthi: What would you advise folks moving from Graphic Design to User Experience?

Stu: I started off by doing T-shirt design, Branding and Logo Design in a design studio I was running. After some time, clients started coming in for websites. So, I kinda eased into the UI/UX space and in the last 10 years, I’ve grown into being  a Product Designer. I really wish I had someone sit me down and explain how Graphic Design was different from Product Design. My advice would be- Anyone can do it, it’s totally possible with the amazing resources you have out there. So, leverage these resources and make the transition.

Karthi: Self-taught Designer vs University graduate. How does hiring differ?
Vasudha: For self-taught designers, side projects are a must to stand out from the crowd. You have to show that you’re self-motivated to get your word out. When hiring managers are scanning portfolios, they’re looking for something that can stand out. Before applying, read about the company and make changes based on the company. If you’re a Product Designer, it doesn’t make sense to have some creative design in your portfolio. Any hiring manager has 2-3 seconds to scan through your portfolio. So, your portfolio is your product which you’re designing for the end user who happens to be the hiring manager. If you have this knack, you’re way ahead of the curve and your chances of getting a call back from the company increases manifold. 

Karthi: How do you move from an Individual Contributor to a Design Leader? How do you handle teams and adapt?
Ramesh: Whether you’re an executive or a manager, you should be true to your roots in design. As you move up the ladder, it becomes easy for you to lose touch with design and that shouldn’t happen. It’s akin to an orchestrator; he/she does not play an instrument but your job is to make sure the orchestra performs well. Your responsibility is to provide guidance as people execute things. Start doing all these things and then you’ll know if you’re better off as an Individual Contributor or a Team Leader. 

Karthi: How are things changing with the pandemic? 
Stu: At Atlassian, we were already remote before the pandemic with just 60 out of 220 working out of an office. We had our remote working processes already. For teams forced to work remotely, it’s all about adopting a few best practices to mimic the collaboration that would usually happen while working out of an office. For us, we’re using Figma to collaborate and Miro to ideate new designs. Finding the right collaboration tools and leveraging them is key.

Thank you Ramesh, Shayak, Vasudha, Stu and Karthi for sharing your valuable insights on breaking into a career in design and growing from there. 
Check out the International Certification in User Experience Flex (ICUX Flex) program here: International Certification in User Experience Flex