Mohit is a Product Designer at Shopify who recently graduated from his York Sheridan’s Bachelor of Design program. Shopify is a Canadian multinational e-commerce company providing an all-in-one commerce platform to start, run, and grow a business. In addition, Mohit has interned at multiple Fortune 500 companies during his undergrad such as Google’s Sidewalk Labs and Facebook.
Tune into our chat to hear about Mohit’s career path, a day in the life of a Shopify Product Designer, and his advice for new Product designers breaking into the field!
Tell me a bit about your background, how did you get into the design field?
I completed my high school back in India and moved to Canada in 2013. I wanted to specialize in something creative but didn’t really know what I liked at the time. I took Visual and Creative Arts Advanced Diploma in Sheridan College to prepare my portfolio, and wanted to apply to the Sheridan Animation or Illustration programs, as I enjoyed both art and design. I eventually didn’t get into the Illustration program at Sheridan, but I did get into the York Sheridan Honours Bachelor of Design Program which my portfolio spoke more towards than illustration.
During the second year in my bachelors, we had our first app design project, that’s when I realized that the print-based projects weren’t as iterative in nature as designing an app. For example, when a campaign is finished the project is basically done but with product design there is always room to learn, iterate and improve. That’s what really piqued my interest in product design and started to take more digital courses to improve my product design skills.
I see you’ve done a lot of product design internships at great companies like Google, Facebook and Shopify. What do you think sets you apart from other candidates?
I don’t know! Haha that’s a tough one, but something I try to do is being vulnerable and honest about what I know and don’t know, going into interviews. For example, I am really confident with my visual design, product thinking and my craft skills in general. I may not be strong with coding. And so I like to be open about my strengths and weaknesses with the interviewers and also share the areas I want to grow in and areas in product that excite me and what I’m curious about.
Showcasing a growth mindset during interviews has helped me a lot. It basically means, to show that you embrace new challenges, able to learn from criticism and always looking to push yourself to learn and grow as an individual. I tend to talk about these things using examples from my past experiences in college or work projects.
I would also like to highlight current problems within the projects that I’m presenting in interviews and share how I’d approach the problem differently if I were to start the project today. I think this helps interviewers understand that you have humility, you’re not defensive about your work and you’re not attached to one solution and are always looking to improve. It also helps drive conversations during interviews.
There are things we don’t learn in college, like, applying research, data and business to our projects. I like to also share my perspective and how learning about these different intersections of design can help me improve my design thinking and make me a better designer.
What advice do you have for students or designers looking for job opportunities?
One thing that I found really helpful for myself was networking. My early internships were all through networking, I tried to make new connections and reach out to people in the industry through events and social media hoping to find new opportunities. My first design agency internship, I got an interview through responding to a post on Instagram. My first product design internship was through an YSDN Alumni Facebook group where I responded to a post. They weren’t looking to hire at the time and they actually opened up an internship opportunity for me and I was their first design intern. You never know where networking may lead you.
Networking today can be a bit challenging with no in-person events. I would highly recommend attending any virtual design events happening in your city or around the world, there are so many good ones. It might be hard to find connections but it can definitely be helpful with staying on top of what’s happening in the design world. During my school time, some events that I attended were hosted by RGD. RGD used to host socials where they hosted roundtables with professionals in different bars across Toronto for only $5 a ticket. It was a great way to socialize and meet new people in the industry. I’d also recommend joining some online design communities, ones that really helped me were DesignX Slack group and Designers Guild on Facebook groups.
Another recommendation I have with networking is using LinkedIn to connect with recruiters, designers, UX directors and anyone that you admire from companies you’d like to work at. There are occasional posts from people on the newsfeed if their teams are looking for designers. It’s a great way to form a direct connection by reaching out to invite them for virtual coffee chat. It’s also a great way to get feedback on your portfolio from industry professionals in a less stressful setting.
What were some of the coolest, most interesting, or most challenging projects you’ve worked on?
One of the coolest projects that i’m really proud of would be ‘Oble’. I worked on this project with a team at school during my third year. It was a really fun project because we got this design challenge that was super ambiguous, it was something along the lines of creating a product that is a physical product with an app that accompanies it. Doing research together, brainstorming ideas, thinking about how we can take each other’s strengths and then amplify it to create this project made it one of the most exciting projects in college.
We were a team of four and it was our first ever group project. While we all contributed to the UI/UX for the app design, we wanted to take the project a step further. We had members that had specialization in different skills. Collectively, in addition to product design, we had skills that included 3D modelling, 3D rendering, script writing, voice recording and editing, branding and animation. We decided to challenge ourselves to build a strong portfolio piece, while also having fun working on this project together. We relied on each other’s expertise to bring this project to life in the short time we had and was so much fun to come up with and something I never would’ve thought of alone. For that project, we also entered a couple of student award competitions that year and we won an RGD student award and a gold ADCC student award trophy.
One other project that I’d like to share is from my first product design internship at Universe during my second year in college. I was briefed to work on redesigning the messaging experience that helps event-host to connect with their attendees and vice versa. With my first iteration, I came up with a design that had about 5-8 new components which would need to be built. I presented my solution to the engineers and after several iterations we cut it down to like 2-3 main components. That very experience taught me the importance of considering time, engineering and business constraints and tried to apply that learning with all my future projects. It also taught me to work closely with engineers and share my designs more often with the team.
Could you describe a day in your life as a Product Designer at Shopify?
Everyday is a little different, my usual day starts with checking my emails and Slack messages, followed by team standups. During stand ups, we share what we’ve been working on since the last update, what we’ll be doing today and if we have any blockers.
I work in the Shopify Compass team. It’s a fairly new product and we just recently launched our app. Shopify Compass is an education platform to help guide entrepreneurs who are looking to start a business with Shopify. The Compass team is about 60 people and is divided into smaller sub teams and my team has about 16 people. The people in each team are a combination of all different product disciplines.
Most days are filled with team meetings such as standups, project kickoffs, project-based weekly syncs, any other team rituals like retros, Show and Tell, 1:1 pairings, etc. Other than regular meetings, we have design meetings that are focused on providing time for the designers to collaborate, gather any context on projects and share designs to get feedback. Some example of these design meetings include, ‘Compass Fresh eyes’ a weekly two hour collab session where designers can share designs to get feedback from other designers, ‘UX review’ meeting where our work is reviewed by UX Director and the Senior leadership to make sure everyone is aligned, ‘Collaboration Fridays’ meeting is where we pick an ongoing project and invite any external stakeholders and jam on it for an hour, etc. We also have a no-meeting Wednesday and Fridays rule, where we encourage everyone to not schedule any meetings to get some heads down time to work on their projects.
Going remote, it has become difficult to socialize with the team, so to keep things fun and exciting we try to organize virtual events from time to time. On some days, we end the day with drinks and drawing sessions. Grab your choice of drink and a note-pad. We will find some drawing challenges and draw on our sketchbooks. Recently, we did a virtual escape room as well.
What do you think are the most important aspects for someone to focus on if they want to break into Product Design?
Definitely to always iterate on your portfolio and keep it up to date. I use Squarespace for my portfolio as I wanted to get something up quick and spent most time on structuring and storytelling of my case studies while keeping the visual design of the portfolio very simple. The platform you choose to use for hosting your portfolio doesn’t really matter, what really matters is your content, storytelling and organization. Get your friends to proofread your case studies and you can do it for each other. Ask people to test on different devices and spell check for any grammatical errors. Having that feedback early can really help improve your case studies and allow you to fix them before a recruiter notices, especially if you’ve decided to code your website. My friends and I would go through each others’ website and it helped us a lot and we also got inspired from each other’s presentation of work.
Focus on storytelling within your projects. Oftentimes, people put their process works like they are going through a checklist of things to show. Instead of just uploading a PACT analysis or a picture of a white board with scribbles, take the time to drive them through a narrative. For example, in my projects, I start with outlining my project brief and explain the problem I’m trying to solve before showing any design work. Followed by the process that’ll include, understanding the target audience, any primary or secondary research I’ve conducted, any UX methodologies used, user flows, visual design with some iterations, wireframes and 1-2 high fidelity iterations, followed by the final design and prototype. With each stage, I try to explain how the process of my work defined the final solution. And in the end, I like to add a reflection of what I learned from the project and an additional section of how I would approach the project differently, if I were to do this again today.
For designers who are still in school, I would advise you to spend some time researching and defining a scope for your school project. The problem with the nature of school projects is that they can be very speculative, so challenge yourself to solve real problems by backing your problem statement with secondary research and if possible user surveys and interviews. This can help you define the focus on a specific problem rather than relying on personal assumptions and biases. It is something that recruiters look for and having your project backed by strong research or data can help you prepare for any questions in an interview, on how you landed on your final iteration.
In terms of preparing for an interview presentation deck, I like to first understand what the company is looking for from their job posting and any initial conversations. Moving forward, I like to tweak my deck by adding or removing slides to showcase any specific areas of a project in depth. For example, if I am applying for a UI designer position, I’ll add additional slides to show more process and iterations for how I landed on the final design for that project.
Some of the best practices and recommendations to prepare a deck for an interview would be to start with keeping things light by not having too much text on each slide, you want them to listen to you, rather than trying to read what’s on the slide. Focus on storytelling, include at least 1-2 iterations that didn’t make the final as they can help drive the conversation of why you think that didn’t work. If there is time, include some learnings from your project. Another important thing is to make sure you practice your timing. Try doing some mock interviews with friends to practice and get feedback on your presentation skills.
Lastly I just want to say that different companies are looking for different things, spend some time trying to identify what it is that you like about product design? What are you most passionate about? Is it visual design? Is it UX research? Is it prototyping or coding? Then identifying what are the areas you need to grow in? Try to make a short, medium and long term growth plan. This can really help you prepare for that initial screening call with recruiters and eventually find the company and the type of work you’d enjoy.
For me, I wanted to experience working at different companies before starting my first full-time job, so I decided to do a couple of design internships during college to essentially find if I wanted to work at an agency vs an in-house or at a startup vs a medium/large tech company after I graduate. The company’s culture and type of projects you get to work on also plays a key role. That’s why in retrospect, while internships are often seen as a way for companies to test your skills and understand you, I saw it as an opportunity for me to try different things and evaluate if it was a place for me in the long term.
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About the Author
Judy Hu is a Toronto-based designer who cares about designing intuitive solutions and enjoyable products for users. Most recently, she was designing at Publicis Sapient and had an amazing time building innovative features for an enterprise client. Judy strives to grow as a designer by learning about human interactions and understanding problems in a holistic approach. In her down time, she loves listening to Kpop and playing Genshin Impact!