Summary of a four-month design internship at a hyper-growth unicorn startup
December 17, 2018
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Since late August, I’ve had the privilege of working as a product design intern on Wish’s Platform team. From pushing pixel-perfect mockups on Sketch to communicating design rationale to stakeholders, I’ve learned a myriad of valuable lessons at my role this fall. Here are my top six:
Early on, my manager and I scheduled weekly one-on-one meetings to offer a space to reflect on my goals, progress, and performance. During these intimate conversations, I’ve voiced my interests in certain projects by proposing ideas for specific areas of work I wanted to dabble in. Personally, a topic I particularly wanted to learn more about was sculpting design systems — a skill university courses had given me little to no insight into.
As a result, I had the opportunity to help flesh out our current pattern library. I observed where inconsistencies lied in past features, defined guidelines and visual aesthetics for new components, and dove headfirst into the codebase to engineer elements into our digital collection. Once it was built, I had the chance to present the updated design system in a team meeting. I explained why having a design system is important, where to access it internally, how engineers could start using the components in their projects, and the value of a communicative culture where engineers propose components to add.
One of my very first tasks as an intern was to create illustrations for Wish’s merchant performance pages. To ensure I was following a consistent visual style, I looked at past artwork my team had designed for former features. Immediately, I was intimated by the skill and refinement in their visual storytelling. Somehow, I’d always believed making digital artwork was simply not my forte, and now I had to work on an assignment that relied on proficiency I didn’t have?… yikes.
Thankfully, with effort and practice, I blew off the belief that I could never produce artistic graphics. I developed an eye for polished artwork by spending time on Dribbble browsing through the work of people I admire. I curated boards on Pinterest that connected closely with the visual style I wanted to mimic. I persistently played around with varying concepts, themes, objects, and colors. Ultimately, constant iteration and feedback from other designers made me much more confident at handling illustration work, to the point where I ended up designing a team hoodie during my last two weeks.
During my first week at Wish, I created my own “internship document” that outlined what I was most excited to learn, including a checklist of tasks I wanted to work on before the internship concluded. As the weeks progressed, I also added two tables: one to track notes from my one-on-one meetings and another to track all the projects I had completed containing links to Phab tickets and respective Sketch files.
By keeping and organizing this log, it was easy for me to not fall into an auto-pilot mode of breezing through the months without having accomplished all I had wanted to achieve. Usually, I asked for metrics once engineers had built and shipped my designs to add to my notes. It was nice to reflect on my progress and see a record of the tangible impact I was making on the company. For example, following the release of my designs for the launch of our “Fulfillment By Wish (FBW)” program, our marketing manager reported that close to 50,000 shipments were made to our warehouses following the approval of thousands of merchant applications.
In a former life, I was a software engineer before becoming a product designer. I studied Computational Media at Georgia Tech — a major that amalgamated computer science, digital media, and design studies — and had completed software engineering internships at Microsoft, Apple, and DoorDash. I greatly value my technical background and asked if I could help the team in any way by providing this additional skillset.
My manager took this interest with great appreciation. On weeks when I had a lighter load on design requests, I was given front-end engineering tasks to complete on our platform. Moreover, when I had finished outlining certain components for the design system, I helped developed them for the digital style guide using React.
Don’t be afraid to take on responsibilities outside of your main tasks. There are so many more ways to grow than to simply complete the projects you’re given!
For example, I volunteered for a full-day event where we hosted students from Berkeley Innovation, a design consultancy club at UC Berkeley, to visit and learn more about the work we do. The team and I gave them an office tour, chatted with them over lunch, and planned a full day of events focused on tackling design exercises. It was inspiring to be able to spend time with younger creatives who had admirable ambition and curiosity.
I made a conscious effort to grab personal coffee chats or lunch with everyone I worked with; this comprised of everyone on my team and all of the designers. It was great to get to know my colleagues in a more personal setting and learn more about their journeys to Wish.
For our quarterly offsite, the Platform team bonded over homemade Japanese food and soju by attending a ramen-making workshop together. Although messy, it was just as fun and delicious as it sounds (and has never made me want to purchase my own pasta-cutter machine more badly).
I also had a chance to get to know the other interns pretty well, whether it was through seeing Snakehips at 1015 Folsom on Halloween, going on weekend adventures to Lands End and Angel Island, attending graffiti workshops and bowling intern events, or even our daily conversations at lunch. We also spent happy hours together, which my friends in the Bay Area were able to attend as visitors. Our 42nd-floor views, personal bartender, and open bar definitely won the hearts of many.
All in all, I’m grateful to have been a part of the Wish family. I’ve grasped the art of working under constantly changing constraints in a fast-paced environment and somehow managed to not overspend my stipend for the café downstairs on avocado toast and matcha lattes. I’ve met many talented individuals along the way and am glad to have been able to add [temporary] diversity to the Canadian culture with my east-coast origins. I’ve gone out of my comfort zone to solidify areas I can improve in: presenting “still-in-progress” work during critiques to solicit feedback and bowling without gutter guards (a very difficult feat) during the last intern event. I’ve learned a great deal, and can’t wait to keep growing. By sharing, I hope this helps others spearhead their own ideal internship experiences.
Special shoutout to Jan, my manager; Shan, my mentor; Ophelia, for pushing me to write this article; Adam and Luke, for being amazing collaborators on the FBW projects; Sola and Billy, for helping me with my buggy dev environment; the platform and product design teams; and the entire intern class for making my time at Wish *amaaaazing*.