So you decided to become a Product Designer, now what?
Written by Aileen Barrameda, in collaboration with Design Associates Yuhui Mao and Jun Ye. The original article can be found on: https://medium.com/yahoo-design/so-you-decided-to-become-a-product-designer-now-what-2455d27592ee
Design is one of the many non-linear career paths you can take that provides opportunities to blend all of your unique skills into a very valuable and fulfilling role. If you ask a seasoned designer how they got into their careers, it’s most likely split between two general groups. One side comes from a more “traditional” route, where they studied specific programs in college or deepened their knowledge in post grad. On the other hand, some have come from more fluid environments that involve a blend of being self-taught and gaining experience at places where they could wear many hats or be trusted with their talent. No matter where one starts, the ultimate question asked at the beginning of their career is “What should I look for when starting my experience as a UX/Product Designer?”
Yahoo’s holistic approach
Yahoo’s Design Associate Program (DAP) executes the answers to this question by creating a holistic environment that nurtures an aspiring Product Designer’s career. DAP isn’t just based on giving real-world experience to rising designers. It cultivates design excellence through collaboration, community, and knowledge sharing. The Design Associates (DAs) is a small, select group of designers who work on challenging problems and are supported by an exceptional group of peers, rich developmental resources, mentors and coaches, and have access to thought leaders and executives. When all of our products and teams work in unison to serve customer needs and pain points, we bring more value to their lives and our own. Each Yahoo employee plays a part in our success.
“I think one of the cultures that our design team has is to adopt the culture of curiosity because curiosity drives creativity and that really comes out in the products that we make. When I talk to my mentor, there is one point that he mentioned is that you can work within the framework but remain curious and really try to focus on what makes those experiences unique and special.” — Jun Ye
The saying goes, “You reap what you sow.” Designers aren’t just born. They grow exponentially with the right tools, resources, and guidance. DAP doesn’t expect its associates to know everything right from the start. Instead, it looks for certain characteristics that demonstrate potential. Here are some questions to ask yourself if you have the them:
✔ Am I outcome driven? Effectiveness can look like consistently delivering on the work and influencing across the team, removing barriers that slow them or the team down, taking the opportunities to lead beyond their job description, or understanding one’s strengths and weaknesses and knowing when to rely on others.
✔ Do I learn quickly? Learning new information at a rapid pace can look like taking feedback and using failures to adjust behaviors accordingly, looking for ways to add value to the team, seeking a variety of stimulation in one’s current role or assignments, or being fearless in trying new things.
✔ Can I adapt to change? Resilience can be identified with failing gracefully and learning from mistakes, encouraging feedback, leveraging strengths of others around them, bend but not break when challenged, or pursuing flexible ways of working.
✔ Do I live my values? Living authentically means bringing one’s full potential to do their role. You incorporate unique aspects of your interests, skillsets or background in your work, get satisfaction from personal or team development, speak highly about your work and area of responsibility, set a high bar for quality, and have the stamina and discipline to achieve goals.
Beyond the pixel
Design Associates hands-on team bonding with a woodworking class.
Design Associates hands-on team bonding with a woodworking class. While craft, software proficiency and product thinking are expected and refined over time, soft skills are often undervalued and overlooked. DAP highlights interpersonal skills, effective communication, active listening, time management, and empathy through collaborative projects across multiple teams and roles. Gaining experience in soft skills improves selling ideas, working well with others, and inspiring creativity — all which positively impacts furthering one’s career. Aside from opening more opportunities to apply themselves off the screen, it enables DAs to understand their strengths as a designer beyond deliverables. Designers, after all, are multi-faceted humans.
“The biggest thing that I learned about myself is what I enjoy and what I don’t enjoy within design. I found my strength in logical problem solving and interaction design, and my weakness in visual design. This has allowed me to deliberately ask for opportunities in my areas of weakness, allowing myself to step out of my comfort zone and grow.” — Yuhui Mao
Design Associates virtual team bonding during the pandemic.
“After a whole year working with my nice teammates, I feel like I’ve gained so many things but from different perspectives. Not only about design skills but also I’ve learned a lot about collaboration, communication and leadership skills. I really enjoy talking with different people, learning from their stories, work styles, and experiences.” — Jun Ye
If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.
Today’s society has glorified fast careers based on hustle culture and the grind. Hustle culture doesn’t take breaks, doesn’t sleep, and pushes to maximize every minute of the day. The impact of hustle culture has shown putting the body in a state of fight-or-flight, leading to a lack of trust, feeling unstable in one’s environment, inducing high stress and ultimately becoming unsustainable. This way of thinking assumes that humans are valued only for their productive output rather than their humanity.
While DAP is considered an accelerated program, its “fast” approach is based on the belief that knowledge is power which reinvests itself into one’s personal and professional growth. The program weaves collaboration and knowledge sharing across multiple roles, products and diverse backgrounds. According to the National Education Association, “collaborative learning has been shown to not only develop higher-level thinking skills in students, but boost their confidence and self-esteem as well.” DAs learn in a cohort setting, which is composed of about 10 designers working on a vast array of projects across the Yahoo brands. They share and present their designs with each other, fostering transparency across the business and how decisions are made, while learning each other’s processes and design thinking.
“The thing that surprises me the most is how supportive the program is. Starting from the interview, the program assigned me with an onsite buddy to make sure I was not too nervous and had all the information I needed. After joining, the program assigned me with an onboarding buddy to ask silly questions and an official senior designer as my mentor. Mentors from the program have made themselves extremely accessible, allowing me to approach all questions in terms of personal struggles and career development. They have provided many many valuable insights especially during the year-end team changing period, advising me to collect the right information and make the best decision for myself.” — Yuhui Mao
2021 cohort in Sunnyvale, CA
“I am an introverted person, and sometimes I’m just too shy to share something with a big group of people. But I’m so glad that DAP has a lot of opportunities to allow us to share something with large groups of people. It not only helped me to develop my skill set of public speaking but also those DAP events helped me to learn from each other and built a ton of trust in the team.” — Jun Ye
Start your Product Design career with Yahoo
Yahoo Design Council prides itself on its culture and DAP alumni satisfaction rate. Keeping our designers fulfilled, happy, curious and growing has shaped the success of our design team and the products they build. Yahoo strives to practice what it preaches and the Design Associate Program was created to reflect its values and commitment to design excellence.
“In the DAP, I feel like we are really like a big family, everyone is so nice and we had a lot of fun together. We play together, we learn together and we laugh together.” — Jun Ye
The design team is always expanding with stand out talent, unique backgrounds, and curious minds. To find out more information on how to get involved, visit www.yahoodap.com or follow us on Instagram & Linkedin.