Yitong Zhang is a graduate of the Sapphire Cohort. Prior to joining Designation he was startup founder in Toronto.
Where do you work, and what’s your job title?
I am a product designer at a small, but really rad product design studio in San Francisco called O/M Studio.
Tell us briefly about your company. What do they specialize in? What does your team look like?
Our studio has a pretty strong focus on practical, clear and direct design, and the work we do reflects that. Most clients hire us to solve messy interaction and information architecture problems, often in the form of dashboards and tools. Some examples include the Facebook Ads dashboard, Youtube internal docs, and the Google productivity app. Our team is comprised of four designers, all of whom come from non-traditional backgrounds and are super down-to-earth.
Tell us briefly about your job.
Officially, my job title is Designer, but I end up doing a pretty wide range of design work: UX wireframing, interaction design, visual design, some front-end dev, and even a tiny bit of branding. The only things I don’t do are research and testing. Not every designer at my company works on this wide of range, but I chose to because I love it all.
What did you do professionally before you started at Designation?
I was a startup founder in Toronto. I did a bit of everything, from product building to customer acquisition.
How did you hear about Designation? And why did you decide to attend?
The improvement I saw in my design craft as a solo freelancer was too slow. I needed to be surrounded by like-minded people who could provide me with constructive feedback and guidance in order to get better faster.
How would you describe your Designation experience?
I love to learn. It’s really gratifying to feel my mind grow and expand quickly and to look backward and My personal experience at Designation was very intense. I always made it a point to stay later than everyone else during weekdays and took half of Sunday to practice coding. I took advantage of the instructors, my peers and the general Chicago design community to improve my craft as much as possible.
You can coast through the program doing only what is required. But the reality is that there are enough bootcamp grads out there competing for jobs, that you will likely not find anything by just being good enough.
What made your Designation experience unique?
Our cohort had an unusually high amount of out-of-state designers. None of us had friends in the city so we ended up becoming friends by hanging out with each other a lot. To this day, we still keep in touch regularly and hang out whenever we get the chance.
What did you find was the most useful skill, tool, or experience from your time in the program?
How to present my work. Giving context, talking about problems, objectives, assumptions was very helpful for interviews and day-to-day work with clients and other designers.
How did you stand out from the competition in applying for, interviewing for, or getting this job?
I did two important things to set myself apart. First, I spent the time to custom code my portfolio so that I could get it looking exactly like I wanted it to. As a result, my portfolio was picked up by multiple web-based galleries, which gave my applications a lot of strength. Second, I reached out to designers instead of recruiters. Every application I submitted was backed by a designer at the company I had already met and impressed.
“You can coast through the program doing only what is required. But the reality is that there are enough bootcamp grads out there competing for jobs, that you will likely not find anything by just being good enough.”
What advice can you give to someone trying to start in the design industry?
This is advice specific to bootcamp grads: don’t underestimate the importance of visual design, even if you consider yourself a more UX-oriented designer. I come across too many designers who have a good process and solid thinking that we are unable to hire because they can’t produce the flows they’ve designed in actual, shippable pixels.
Also, when you’re making a portfolio, avoid using the default styling in Squarespace. We see tons of Squarespace portfolios that look exactly the same, and we almost always reject them for not trying hard enough.