Interview with Sameer Bhiwani

Sameer, a Bangalore-based UX leader at Google has been in the field of design for twenty years. He has worked with companies like Oracle, Cisco, HPS as well as startups like BlueJeans and Scripbox. As a Mentor and Coach at ownpath, and through his several endeavours.

Sameer has become familiar with the hiring process for younger designers. He talks to us about the challenges the design community faces, advice for young designers and how one of his mentees went from working customer support to being lead UX researcher at a unicorn company in India.

What are some desirable traits you look for in growing designers?

An eye for design: Be able to observe good and bad design outside the scope and domain of your daily work. If a product isn’t being maintained at a high standard, be able to notice this, point this out and care enough to find a solution.

Cross functional understanding: Designers talk a lot about design thinking, but there’s a whole ecosystem that one be acutely aware of. The business, knowing the context within which your product will function. The technology, understanding the tech that will build or produce your design. This is all in addition to adept design skills!

Communicating through your portfolio: Designers need to be able to communicate clearly, articulate and express their vision to others who do not speak ‘design’. The most pretty looking 45-degree tilted mocks in their isometric glory do nothing more than cause a neck pain for the reviewer. It takes rationale, evidence, data, storytelling and selling skills to convince a portfolio review panel that you are a great designer.

Design is problem solving, find problems around you that affect people you know and solve them using design skills. Another skin-deep Whatsapp redesign is not as impactful.

Q. Can you talk about some of the challenges you’ve observed in this context?

I like to look at challenges as different skews. Since the supply-demand one is heavily explored I won’t go into that one.

Quality and evaluation: There’s no standard qualification that is used to qualify designers. Many of whom are self-titled, which is fair by all means; however it can create a skew within the quality of designers. There are a number of job openings and roles for designers, but there aren’t enough efficient evaluators to do it justice. There’s a lot of hiring managers who don’t ask the right questions, and are just not equipped with the know-how.

Education: Although there are a lot of institutions that teach design, there’s a dearth of experienced designers who teach these courses and programs.

Portfolio and communication: In the context of getting hired and finding employment, your portfolio is your gateway to opportunity. Designers who are not able to articulate their work- fall short. Unlike collaborating with team members who can better express ideas, in an interview setting it’s just you and your work. Designers need to know how to communicate their work- they have a very short period of time to get their foot in the door.

Networks: Although people can find employment traditionally, being a part of a larger community gives you closer access to guidance and employment opportunities. Many hiring managers will first look into their immediate circle when filling a role.

What would you say to upcoming designers who are struggling to know their place and find their path?

Find & solve problems: Design is problem solving, find problems around you that affect people you know and solve them using design skills. Another skin-deep Whatsapp redesign is not as impactful.

Community helps: There are many design communities and groups online and in each major city. Experienced designers are willing to help, mentor and coach anyone seeking guidance. I would encourage upcoming designers to find multiple mentors to talk to and understand how the industry works, what opportunities are going to be available in the next few years and how to go about preparing themselves.

Tools come last: Many designers focus on learning the latest tools, debating Figma v/s Sketch, etc. This is important and shows they care for the craft, but as important as it is, tools can be learnt easily once you use them. Fundamental design skills come first.

What’s your experience with mentorship been like?

Mentorship is not only beneficial for those who are starting out. I have been very lucky to always have great mentors, from the first person who hired me to now. I can always get in touch with them when I need guidance or have a difficult career decision to make.

I soon found myself to be in the same position, where I could help people seeking guidance in areas that I could contribute. The one that really sticks out was with an employee working in the customer support department at a company I used to work at. He was constantly listening to the complaints of customers and gained a unique understanding of their pain points.

However, he felt his role was limiting- in that the most he could do was raise a ticket. Being a designer really spoke to him and he wanted to be part of the crucial problem solving process. We took him into the design team, and giving a lot of credit to his own effort, he branched out into research, worked at one of the unicorn companies in India, and now is excelling in his career.

Tell us about your experience mentoring design management program at ownpath

New managers have to unlearn a lot of things that they have learned as individual contributors. I was aware of this process having gone through it myself, not without help and guidance.

As an individual contributor you’re only responsible for your personal growth; as a Design Manager you have to think about your own growth as well as that of everyone else reporting to you. People will look to you for guidance in their career and success. I particularly found the multiplicative effect on the individual designers on their teams quite impactful. Each of them learned and applied new management skills through engaging activities, exercises, and content. And then continued to guide their own team members to be more effective.

Tell us some of your favourite book recommendations?
  • ‘The Design of Everyday Things’ by Don Norman
  • ‘‘The Inmates are Running the Asylum’ by Alan Cooper
  • ‘Don’t Make Me Think’ by Steve Krug
  • ‘Thinking, Fast and Slow’ by Daniel Kahneman
  • ‘Creativity, Inc.’ by Ed Catmull & Amy Wallace

-Team at ownpath

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