One would think that designing for creative consumers through a massively popular brand would be a dream come true for any young designer. After all, what more could you want than a great company, compelling product, and an engaged team?
A bigger challenge, it turns out.
I started my design career working on printed materials and corporate identities at a Brooklyn studio. Even then, I was attracted to the endless possibilities of the digital interface and changed course to immerse myself in web and mobile design at the Washington Post. Soon after, I joined a startup as the second employee to distribute indie hardware to the masses. The startup was acquired, and I learned how to thrive at a large product design organization in a public tech company. But my desire for more risk and growth in my work outweighed the the comfort of a widely accessible audience.
At this point, the startup life had imprinted itself into my mind. Regardless of all the great work I was able to do at Etsy, I had the itch to go back to startups and let the unknown fuel my growth. I poked friends, peers, and designers I admired to see what they were up to (and the companies they were into). Many coffee dates followed, informal interviews were held, and companies were pitched. After all those lattes, I homed in on enterprise technology startups – and found my new place at Cockroach Labs.
It all came down to wanting a new challenge, and the decision to delve into design for enterprise technologies gave me two. First, having been consumer-focused my whole career, the idea of designing for software developers was new territory. Would I need to learn and understand the technology and development process better? Could I even begin to understand this new audience? I had no idea – and I was thrilled about it.
Secondly, I was curious to learn how designing for enterprise technology would be different from consumer-focused design. With different business goals to keep in mind, I wanted to know if I could adapt my skills rather than having to learn new ones.
To embed myself firmly in the center of developer-first design is to weave my work with the rest of the team. As a team of one, I rely on my colleagues to help me reach my design vision – achieve design excellence in the world of databases. So it’s crucial that my priorities are known amongst other team leads.
When multiple departments share the same success metrics, especially at startups, ownership might be blurry at first. It’s thus important to remember that in this team sport, we’re winning or losing together. Furthermore, pushing my own limits and challenging the rest of the team to aim higher and think bolder are growth opportunities where my design skills are truly tested. How can one embrace ambiguity, navigate through different pools of opinions and data, and comes up with a solution for everyone? For me, that’s true innovation.
Five months of trials, errors, and reflections later, I realized that though business goals are different between enterprise and consumer-facing companies, the skills a designer needs to make the startup successful are largely the same. Regardless of the product or audience type, we ultimately design a better experience for users.
There are many ways to do that successfully, as I will elaborate in future blog posts, but the crux of the matter is to understand who the audience is by learning what motivates and frustrates them. With vast space to innovate and grow, it has never been a better time to get into design for enterprise technology. If you ask me, the most exciting opportunity lies the beating heart of every business in the world – databases. If you are interested in joining the design effort at Cockroach Labs, get in touch.