Shreyan is a Product Design Fellow from cohort 1 of the Fellowship where he has worked on projects under the mentorship of Fatema Raja (Group Design Head, Gojek) and Akshay Verma (Lead Designer, Prophecy). After graduating from the Fellowship, he has joined Unacademy as a Product Designer.\ \ For most of my career, I’ve been a solo designer. Post-college, I started freelancing and then moved between a few early stage startups, where the design teams were just getting started. Here I got the opportunity to lead design initiatives and build the design teams from scratch.
Even though the team was great at product building, I started to recognise the need for more structured design mentorship, to identify gaps and opportunities for me to improve. I was just starting out and I wasn’t very clear on a lot of aspects of design and the design industry in general. This turned out to be a huge motivation for me and I started to actively seek programs and services that would cater to my needs.
It was actually by accident that I stumbled upon ownpath. I had a conversation with Shreyas, back in May 2019 when the Fellowship as a concept was still taking shape and a few months down the line, I get contacted again where I was informed about the program structure, curriculum, etc., and things fell in place for me, since this was exactly what I wanted as well.
One thing that interested me here was the format - Usually in mentorship, you have questions and doubts that you seek to clarify with your mentors; but it’s rare for one to be able to work on projects that get reviewed by senior designers with the mentorship structured around it.
In industry, one doesn’t usually have the opportunity to work with senior designers on projects that you can receive feedback with respect to your work on, in a detailed and comprehensive manner with a focus more aligned with accomplishing something than helping someone improve their fundamental processes itself. So, the way ownpath facilitated mentorship through a combination of projects, teams and review sessions was what I liked the most.
Another thing that appealed to me was that I would be working on projects and I was sure that my cohort peers would be some amazing folks who I could learn and benefit from as well; this simply because of how rigorous and careful the selection process for the Fellowship has been.
First Impressions and experiences
Initially, it was a little challenging for me. The conventional format is that we’re given problem statements that we’re supposed to work on. But the initial few weeks really pushed us to explore various domains and come up with our own problem statements.
This is not something that junior designers get to do. It’s something that very senior designers get to do, but suddenly you had a cohort of junior designers tasked with accomplishing something similar.
My typical week was quite hectic during the fellowship. Sai and I were both sole designers at our respective companies and our work load mostly tended to be towards the heavier side. We would try to sync up in the mornings for an hour or two before work to plan things out. We’d often put our heads together before mentor calls to have our work presentable, made lists of our queries, etc. Over the weekends we used to dedicate a bit more time whenever possible and sometimes even sync up after work on weekdays.
The first few mentorship sessions with Fatema were a little rocky for us, since we didn’t understand how to structure it and extract maximum value from our mentors’ time. Shreyas stepped in at the time and helped us by coaching us on how to prep for mentor sessions.
One of the things I really liked about our mentors is that they were not just course correcting us, but also actively contributing and brainstorming with us.
Around the time when we started to work on our second project, the second wave of Covid also had started doing the rounds. Things were a bit rocky at the time - finding research participants especially was quite challenging. It was taxing for us to stay on track, but I feel like we made a strong come back towards the end and managed to catch up with the rest of the cohort in terms of the quality of our output.
So once we got back on track fully, I think we had two or three weeks. We were being mentored by Akshay and he was super mature and understanding, especially in the way he facilitated our sessions keeping in mind the constraints at the time.
He didn’t hand hold us, as such, but it was like a sprint on steroids. This required a great deal of planning with no room for missing deadlines. Akshay really stepped in to optimize our process and make sure we and our project work did not fall short of the expectations set for us in terms of quality and thoroughness.
As designers, we all solve problems. The whole aspect of problem identification and validation is something that is taken care of already. At the Fellowship though, we were also put through the process of conceptualising problem statements and validating them.
For the first cycle, it was relatively easy for us, as I was able to draw on the experience of one of my friends who runs a small business and we were able to distill and refine our problem statement based on research and help from Fatema. But for the second cycle, it was challenging as we had a vague idea of some domains we wanted to build in. We did explore quite a few domains, but neither of us really resonated on something strongly enough to start working on it.
Sai and I have had quite a few deep conversations about society, design, problems in various places, current affairs, etc., and we happened to be discussing one day about suicides and suicide prevention. We explored what was happening, did some preliminary secondary research, pulled up numbers and statistics associated with it and what came out of it was something that shocked both of us. The shocking plight of the mental health field in our country was something that pushed us to set our next problem statement in that domain.
Post Fellowship Expectations
The Fellowship for me turned out to be more than just an upskilling or career transition program, but also a place where I have met people who went from being acquaintances and colleagues to close friends I could share my joys and sorrows with.
I am really pleased that all of them are now working as product designers in companies they love, working on things they’ve always wanted to. I feel that some of my biggest learnings during the program have been from this set of really amazing, talented and warm-hearted folks.
Post the Fellowship, I was very sure that I wanted to join an established design team to learn in a structured manner and contribute effectively. Before getting into Unacademy, I had one offer from a company that I wanted to join, infact it was a company that I had applied for but couldn’t make it into before the Fellowship, but fortunately my application went through this time. At around the same time, I also had an opportunity to be at Unacademy, where after 4-5 rounds of interviews I made it in, which is where I’ve ultimately joined too.
Unacademy is a company that I believe has one of the best design teams and is one of the most well designed products in the market. I have even thought of applying to their design roles earlier, but always lacked the confidence to make a successful application. I’ve been following them since I started out in Design and have seen how they’ve evolved as a company. So, I’m super pumped to finally be working here.