Caitlin Brisson came to Designation from a career in STEM education in the Bay Area. After graduating from the Basil cohort at the end of 2017, she currently works as a product designer at Gusto in San Francisco.
Tell us briefly about your job today.
I’m currently a product designer at Gusto, an all-in-one “people” platform for small businesses. Our mission is to create a world where work empowers a better life. As a product designer, I own end-to-end design projects across ideation, research, and execution for new and existing products. I collaborate with PMs and engineers to prioritize design work and contribute to product strategy and roadmaps through customer research and design explorations.
What did you do professionally before you started at Designation?
I was a STEM teacher and marine biologist. I lived in San Francisco for three years before moving to Chicago for Designation. I took the plunge and changed careers because once I discovered UX design, I realized design was what I loved most about my previous careers—designing experiments and curriculum is vastly different from digital products, but the commonalities were there. It’s the perfect balance of creative and analytical thinking, and I can do anything with it. That was freeing.
How did you hear about Designation, and why did you decide to attend?
I found Designation through extensive research; I read everything I could I get my hands on and connected with several alumni. Ultimately, I applied because Designation was the best fit, even if it meant moving my life across the country—it was specialized, small, and extensive. I don’t do moderation well, so I knew I wanted that level of intensity if I was going to change my career again. I thought it might be tough, but involve fewer hours than advertised—this was definitely not the case for me, by my own choice.
Looking back at your Designation experience, how do you describe its impact?
Designation changed my life. The fact that I’ve successfully pivoted careers in less than one year is amazing. I’m now a full-time product designer at a fast-growing startup and I was recently accepted as a speaker at the Midwest UX conference in Chicago this fall—it still blows my mind and I’m so thankful. As time has passed, I’ve become more confident in the educational foundation that Designation gave me as well as the appetite and eagerness to continue learning.
Designation changed my life. The fact that I’ve successfully pivoted careers in less than one year is amazing.
What were your favorite parts of life at Designation?
The crazy hours. It’s wild to think about the amount of work we got done in the time we had and the productivity we sustained over so many weeks. There’s something special about staying at a place until the wee hours, night after night with my friends, getting my shit done, and nailing the presentation. If I can work that hard at something, love it, and be excited to go to work every morning, I’m pretty certain I’ve found my calling.
What’s the staff like at Designation?
They are some of my favorite people in this world. They taught me how to push my designs, navigate client relationships, and deal with ambiguity. I loved working with each member of the staff and feel so grateful to have had the time with them that I did. I learned something different about design and about myself with each phase and staff member at Designation—I could go into each but I’ll spare you the essay.
The [staff] taught me how to push my designs, navigate client relationships, and deal with ambiguity. I loved working with each member of the staff and feel so grateful to have had the time with them that I did.
What advice or recommendations do you have for people considering applying to Designation, or for those already in the program?
You have the ability to change everything about your professional life as you know it, but it won’t be handed to you. Work more than you’re asked to, iterate twice as much as you believe you need to, and enjoy every second of it. It will be over before you know it, and you'll miss it.
Work more than you’re asked to, iterate twice as much as you believe you need to, and enjoy every second of it. It will be over before you know it, and you'll miss it.
What were the skills, tools, or experiences at Designation that have been the most useful for you in your job?
Research. It wasn't enough to know what I wanted to learn, and figuring out how to ask questions, dig into answers, and unearth insights from results has been imperative in successfully navigating ambiguous projects at work. I’m also thankful I grew accustomed to giving and receiving feedback, as it’s made me comfortable in seeking out feedback on my work at Gusto. I think I would’ve shied away from asking for it before, but now I know how much it helps my work and overall learning.
What do you do in your current job that uses anything from your pre-design jobs?
I apply much of the scientific method to my design approach, in that I’m methodical and results-oriented. I’ve become less data-crazy as my appreciation of qualitative data has grown, but I’m certainly a hybrid scientist-designer at heart. Teaching also helps me daily when I facilitate work, collaborate with peers, and interview customers. Working with kids made me a more patient and empathetic person, which helps me maintain a user-focused perspective.
What are your favorite parts of being a professional designer today?
I enjoy acting as a facilitator among our PMs and engineers and advocating for our customers. I love blocking out jam sessions on my calendar and sitting in Figma or Sketch while I take sketches to wireframes or wireframes to high-fidelity designs. A few hours later, I always feel like I’ve accomplished so much. As a visual person, that part is particularly exciting for me.
What’s next for you, professionally speaking?
I’m working to improve my skills within Figma and Framer and I’m in the midst of learning some HTML/CSS to become a better communicator and collaborator with our engineers. I’ll be spending considerable time preparing for MWUX; I get to speak about some learnings from the intersection of science and design from the perspective of a career switcher and new designer. Come find me there!
What advice do you have for people looking to get their start in the design field?
Find a passion project to test the waters. Dive into the uncertainty and get comfortable with imposter syndrome. Find people you admire and follow them and their work. Read Medium and listen to 99% Invisible. The world as you see it will change and so can you if you’re determined. If it wasn’t hard, it wouldn’t be worth doing.