Interview with Dan Speers, product designer at Shiftgig in Chicago

Designation Team May 17 Interviews, Designers

Dan Speers works as a product designer at Shiftgig in Chicago. A graduate of the Xenon cohort in 2017, Dan previously worked as a marketing manager and strategist.

Tell us briefly about your job today. 

I work as a product designer on what we call a squad at Shiftgig. Each squad is a small, self-contained team comprised of a product manager, a product designer, and a few front-end and back-end developers. We identify goals around core KPIs with leadership, but then have autonomy in how we accomplish those goals and ownership of new features from inception to delivery. Our design team also meets frequently for collaboration and critique sessions of squad work. I’m on the marketplace balance squad so our high-level focus is to build an intelligent, automated marketplace where workers are active and posted shifts are worked.

What did you do professionally before you started at Designation? 

I was a mental health counselor for kids and then worked in marketing, first as a marketing manager at a small startup and then as a marketing strategist in Chicago. I found my favorite projects in those roles were always design-related, and I took the opportunity to conduct user research and build out personas at the startup and redesign our website as a marketing strategist. After the website redesign, I was hooked and decided to try to transition into design.

Once I made up my mind I wanted to be a designer, Designation was an easy choice.

How did you hear about Designation, and why did you decide to attend? 

While I was at Savvo, we were the client for a Designation project with a team of UX designers, so the program was on my radar and I had a pretty good idea of what to expect. Once I made up my mind I wanted to be a designer, Designation was an easy choice.

Looking back at your Designation experience, how do you describe its impact?

I’m still amazed how quickly I went from deciding I wanted to make a career transition into UX design to being happily employed as a designer—essentially 6 months. That’s crazy, but Designation made it possible. I worked incredibly hard and put in a lot of long days, but in the end, it was totally worth it.

What were your favorite parts of life at Designation? 

I loved the Client Phase, where I got to work on some really interesting projects. Being able to work closely with stakeholders and within the constraints of a real business problem was invaluable. My hiring manager mentioned this is something that sets Designation apart from other similar programs in his mind.

I also really enjoyed the fun design challenges on Friday afternoons. We’ve used a few of those ideation exercises/games with our design team here at Shiftgig.

What’s the staff like at Designation? Did anyone help you in specific, important ways?

The staff at Designation was very knowledgeable and rooted for me to succeed. They also had high expectations that pushed us to work a little harder and become better designers.

Think of Designation as the first step in a long journey of becoming a designer; you’ll learn more than you thought possible in such a short time, but then quickly realize you’ve only scratched the surface in your first job.

What advice or recommendations do you have for people considering applying to Designation, or for those already in the program?

Think of Designation as the first step in a long journey of becoming a designer; you’ll learn more than you thought possible in such a short time, but then quickly realize you’ve only scratched the surface in your first job. There’s always so much more to learn and try and do. It can be overwhelming at times. But also exciting, fun, and rewarding.

What was your job interview process like? 

My interview process was really fast. I met my hiring manager in a coffee shop, had a casual conversation and then walked him through two of my case studies on my laptop. He brought me in the next day to present my portfolio to several PED team members and the VP of product, pulled up my website and walked through two of my case studies as they asked questions. Then I had about a half hour of additional questions at the end.

I will say that’s not typical though. Currently, our hiring process starts with a phone screen. Then for the in-person interview, we have the candidate present a case study to a cross-disciplinary team, followed by smaller breakout sessions and a design exercise.

What were the most useful skills, tools, or experiences at Designation that have been the most useful for you in your job?

I think one of the most useful skills that Designation instills in grads is how to approach complex problems with a repeatable process. Having a clear design process and knowing when to use different tools or research methods is by far the most useful thing I started learning at Designation—and am continuing to learn today.

We’ve also recently been trying out a new design workflow where we cycle through all the phases of the design thinking process in one two-week sprint. It’s intense but also very similar to the process we learned at Designation, which has made it a much easier transition.

What do you do in your current job that uses anything from your pre-design jobs?

What was so cool about Designation is that our cohort was full of really smart people from very different backgrounds; this brought a lot of diversity of thought and skills to our projects. Before Designation, I did a lot of work in Google Analytics and monitoring KPIs, which has been really useful when trying to define and measure progress towards our squad goals.

Our cohort was full of really smart people from very different backgrounds; this brought a lot of diversity of thought and skills to our projects.

What’s a piece of knowledge, skill, tool, or something cool you learned at work recently?

We just started using Google Gallery and are thinking about switching over completely from Zeplin. For companies that use G Suite, it makes it really easy to provide visibility into design work and encourage feedback.

What are your favorite parts of being a professional designer today?

I love being just a little out of my comfort zone and feeling like I have so much more to learn. It’s exciting to continuously tackle new problems and see solutions come to life.

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