This past summer, I was a design intern on the prototyping team at FiftyThree. As a computer science student at UC Berkeley with a passion for product design, I had struggled to find a balance between pure design and development. But at FiftyThree, I didn't have to choose. There, I was constantly encouraged to pursue both disciplines.
“When you bring two different things together, that's when you start to discover something really interesting,” my mentors told me. This summer, I discovered that these words couldn't be more true.
Prototyping also helped elicit valuable feedback from user testing. Just a couple weeks into my internship, we tested several of my prototypes with real people, only to realize that they were not noticing the UI we were testing. After several trials, we realized that we needed to rethink our approach completely. I had to iterate quickly (often within an hour or two) to build an improved version in time for our next scheduled test. It was a humbling experience, and I loved seeing my work being used to obtain feedback.
Prototyping is about building things in order to throw them away. Speed is everything, so I learned to work without fear of exploring ideas that wouldn't make the cut. Each prototype was a quick and dirty test for an idea, and every iteration was another step toward a better design. I learned that the process can be more rewarding than finding a solution right away.
Although I was hired by the design prototyping team, they invited me to explore any area that interested me. Early on, I mentioned my interest in visual design, and the team was happy to accommodate. As a result, I had a great time exploring how to visually communicate abstract brand principles through illustration. I even lettered the title for the new FiftyThree blog, The Open Studio!
While my supervisor and main mentor was Amit Pitaru, head of prototyping, I felt that I had multiple mentors in members of the FiftyThree New York City design team, each showing me a different perspective this summer.
In just three months, I got to immerse myself in prototyping and interaction design, working on onboarding flow to product-facing web features and marketing web designs. I learned about visual communication design, marketing messaging, and the intersection of design and engineering. On each prototyping project, I worked with a designer who introduced me to initial wireframes and encouraged me explore different ideas and variations using code.
From the beginning of my internship, I was encouraged to sit in on any meetings that interested me. In addition to the design reviews and company meetings that I attended on a weekly basis, I sat in on brand presentations, data science meetings, and research debriefs. From these I got a peek into how marketing messaging affects the design process, how data influences design decisions, how user research builds the foundation for product discussions, and how design and engineering work together to build a great product.
Multidisciplinary collaboration is an essential part of the process at FiftyThree. Designers and developers frequently work side-by-side to fine-tune designs. Engineers are updated on design decisions early in the process so they can offer critique and propose timelines. During my internship, one of the designers on the prototyping team even jumped in to help with app development!
Seeing the different departments interweave and work together, I learned that design doesn't work in a silo, or at least it shouldn't. After all, collaboration between different perspectives fosters great ideas.
The best part of my internship wasn’t necessarily the breadth of projects I worked on or even how much I learned about prototyping and design, it was the people. The interdisciplinary spirit thrives not only in the company, but in the individuals themselves. Everyone I met at FiftyThree had diverse interests that bridged seemingly unrelated areas: Amit is a designer and musician; Rachel works in marketing and is an author; Andrew is a designer and filmmaker, just to name a few!
Looking back at the last three months, I realize that there's nothing more rewarding than being a part of a team that passionately believes in what they are making and works hard to get every detail just right.
Shoutout to my main mentors, Amit and KJ! And thanks to everyone at FiftyThree for an amazing summer.