Daphne Jong, Experience Design Intern, Airbnb
Daphne Jong (MIMS ’19) spent the summer of 2018 as an Experience Design Intern at Airbnb. She tells us more about what she learned, and how other students can find their best possible role for the summer:
Describe a typical day at your internship.
I usually start by having breakfast at the office and then head to my desk to start reading emails and checking Slack. I might have a sprint meeting in the morning where the team stands up to talk about everything accomplished in the last week, and I give updates about my project as well. Otherwise, I’m often working on making design deliverables at my desk and occasionally meeting with cross-functional stakeholders such as engineering, product management, data science, and operations to get aligned technical feasibility and product requirements or having design critiques, brainstorms and working sessions with other experience designers.
What was the most valuable thing you learned during your internship?
The most valuable thing I learned was that design doesn’t operate in a silo. I had to think about how the solutions I’m proposing to a problem fit within the greater product ecosystem as well as operate under a number of constraints, and meet with a lot of cross-functional stakeholders in order to move the project forward. In spite of these constraints, I learned how to get buy-in from stakeholders, and the importance of advocating for a good user experience, even if you might have to push back on product or engineering when the need is justified.
What was the biggest challenge?
The fact that design doesn’t operate in a silo meant the biggest challenge was unblocking myself whenever there were things getting in the way of the project moving forward because there were dependencies or areas that needed clarification from other stakeholders. My project also required a lot of technical understanding so I needed to understand aspects of how the system architecture and codebase at the company worked in order to ensure that my designs were technically feasible.
How did your work at the I School prepare you for this role?
The fact that the I School is such an inherently interdisciplinary program, where we learn everything from coding to information organization and legal policy, really prepared me for managing cross-functional stakeholders and understanding the perspective of the people I was working with. Although the design classes I took were more directly relevant to what I was doing as an experience designer, it was the actually taking all those different classes at the I School that really helped me in the work I was doing every day, and gave me the vocabulary to speak to engineers and PMs in my day to day work.
Any advice for next year’s MIMS students as they prepare for their internships?
For design specifically, I would say to start early with preparing your portfolio and to develop a wide variety of skills. Even if you’re planning on becoming a designer, you should still develop other skills that you might be interested in, whether it’s coding or business or knowledge of policy or cybersecurity. I think that MIMS students set themselves apart in the way that they have a breadth of interests and skills, which is really valuable in the industry.
Did your internship influence your career plans after graduation?
My internship definitely affirmed my decision to pursue user experience design as a career. As I was doing my work every day, there were elements of being artistic when I was doing visual design but I loved how I was solving hard problems and untangling them by working with people from different disciplines. I think the fact that the work complemented my interests and skill set, and the fact that I loved what I was doing, made me feel like the career was ultimately a good fit for me.