My five-year journey to product design

4 min • Type: Technology


In 2015, on my commute to and from my job as a front-end developer in North Carolina, I listened exclusively to the Design Details podcast. I knew I wanted to be a part of that community. They all seemed so cool. But more than that, I saw myself in a lot of them. I saw a community of people I felt I belonged. I wasn't sure how I was going to get there, it seemed too far off, as they were mostly in San Francisco, which seemed like a world away. I spent my days in code, building the things that were passed on from the designers.

One day, I downloaded Sketch, and began recreating a logo I really liked. This was my first introduction to design and design tools. I'd used Photoshop before but only to grab images or designs I coded out. I got hooked. I started redesigning random websites and software, adding them to a newly-created Dribbble profile.


I then plotted my next physical move. I didn't feel like there was enough of a community of tech people where I was. I'd visited NY once years earlier and loved it. So over many conversations with myself and others, that became the place I'd start my career as a designer. It was also around that time when I started seeing software companies, designers and other tech people moving there so it started making more sense.


I packed up, got a new job at a new agency, one that allowed me to write code and design things, and left my friends and family behind in pursuit of what I wanted. I became a web designer. I was OK at it but doing both of these things was hard and unsustainable. I loved design and was gradually becoming disillusioned with the dev part of it. It was at this point I took my next step.


I needed a better handle on the basics and hands-on training. I enrolled in an 8-week Continuing Education course at the School of Visual Arts. Twice a week after work, I took the C train into Manhattan to learn about visual design. It taught me how to think about my design process, how to implement feedback and how to critique other peoples work. I used that work to bulk up my portfolio and looked forward.

I started to look for product design roles. I knew I didn't have the chops or the experience but wondered if anyone would take a chance on me. They did not. I did, however end up landing my first freelance design project (through a Dribbble DM) and my first full time role as a designer. Both were visual design-oriented, neither of which I felt I was very good at. But it was a step in the right direction.


Visual design is miles away from product design so I kept learning, and kept creating. I designed and launched my first iOS app in the middle of all this, taking nights and weekends to finish it. Looking back, this was an important missing piece to help bridge the gap between visual and product design. It got me more interviews. Yes, it was heavily visual, but there were elements of product design that I was able to articulate to prospective companies. I'm privileged to have been able to have the time and energy to work on it.


I was laid off of my full time job in April. In the ~2.5 years I'd been there, I'd gone from visual designer to design operations associate to design operations manager. Working on the operations side helped me better understand how a design team works and how it functions as a larger part of an organization. It was this role that enabled me to talk about design at a higher level.

So when I was laid off, it was the perfect opportunity to throw myself into interviewing and make the final transition into product design. I landed the apprenticeship with Upperstudy a month later.

Now, I'm a mid-level product designer at one of the largest industrial staffing firms in the U.S. I'm learning everyday and although this year hasn't been what anyone thought it would be, it was just what I needed to finish what I started back in 2015.