Fatema Raja is currently a Group Design Head at Gojek and also a mentor in ownpath’s Product Design Fellowship. In the article, she talks about her journey in design and her mentorship experience during the fellowship.
I come from Ahmedabad, a city filled with artists, architects, textiles and patterns. Soon my surroundings very organically pushed me towards appreciating art and good design. Hence from a very young age I knew I wanted to be designer. Most people around me including thought I’ll end up studying architecture given my love for designing spaces. I did end up in design however ended up studying brand communication, starting a retail brand called Calico Kids (Sold off to a friend) and joining an SEA startup Gojek— The superApp.
About five years ago, I got extremely inquisitive about technology, UX and where it was all really going. I came to learn that UX was not just limited to technology and could also be found in the work I was doing with my brand earlier.
Leftshift was how I ended up in Gojek. I joined them straight out of college, after setting up Calico. Gojek was a rocket ship when I joined them, we were roughly 10-15 Designers in the team including both India and JKT and today we have 10x’d the size. As the team grew, we started to specialise and I ended up working in products called GoFood and GoResto. I did product design here, then spent about a year doing the rebrand for Gojek in 2019.
Post rebrand, I spent sometime building the Design Strategy vertical for the DesignOps team. But soon realised I enjoyed the thrill of product design. So that’s when I moved back to GoFood. Today, I am responsible for 4 products — GoFood, GoMart, GoPlay and GoFresh.
Initially, after joining Gojek, I would attend a lot of design conferences on a regular basis. I was excited and curious to see how designers in other organisations were solving problems and if it could be applied to my work as well. It was at one of these conferences that I met Shreyas, where we got talking about ownpath, and I immediately resonated with his vision for it.
I think one thing that had really, really helped me throughout my career was having a great mentor by my side. Abhinit who is one of the mentors at the fellowship, has been my mentor too, at Gojek. So, I figured it was time for me to give back to the community, through ownpath.
While mentoring at ownpath, I have had to learn and understand concepts at a very fundamental level. When you’re teaching somebody, you need to understand concepts so well, that you can explain it to your learner in a way they can understand. For example - How to come up with a problem statement, how to solve it, how to not fall in love with your solution; these are concepts that are better understood in the context of personal challenges than in a standalone manner.
Being a mentor here has helped me learn and grow not just as a designer but a better communicator.
I have mentored Sai and Shreyan, both of whom already have industry experience. What I find impressive is how they were able to juggle office work and project work at ownpath. We would meet either weekly or bi-weekly, but regardless, were always connected on a WhatsApp group where we’d discuss challenges and updates.
Among things that stand out for me about ownpath — I think they have a very beautifully created curriculum, that has been thoroughly looked at by industry experts. So they know what works in an industry, what doesn’t and what would be most helpful to designers.
On the topic of challenges, there was an instance where, the both my mentees were at a juncture where they had broadly figured out what we wanted to work on — figuring out a way to help merchants go online with their businesses; they were now trying to narrow down what exactly their problem and vision statements were going to be.
User research indicated multiple problems that came up, such as lack of proper inventory forecasting/management, unable to effectively address leads, etc. All the problems seemed inter-connected, value-additive and necessary to solve for.
That was one major struggle period that we had - deciding on the problem statement. Since I had to teach them a way to also narrow down and move on. I had to relearn a few techniques where I am not helping them with what to pick but just pushing them to do it themselves. They needed to try and break this further into smaller problems from which they should pick 1 or 2 that could be solved.
So, we got our thinking caps on, went back to the research and tried to figure out the most pressing problems for our users. After a few weeks of brainstorming and research we decided to focus on the communication problem - simplifying, how easily a buyer and a seller can connect and convert.
In general though, it wasn’t easy, given Covid-19 and both my mentees having their own independent jobs as well.
Sometimes, we were running behind in timelines due to some delays, but I think everyone kind of buckled up towards the end and tried to produce as much quality work, as they could. The idea was not to finish everything, rather the idea was to do everything properly and I think we were able to achieve that very, very well.
I think one of the things that I would probably do better next time is to leave one session for retrospective inspection. I feel it was important we three shared feedback on how we can work better and what we all can do to help. For example - my biggest learning was that each student is different, and since it was my first time mentoring outside of Gojek, a quick feedback on my teaching style would’ve helped me understand their needs sooner and better.
I think my biggest learning was to not only focus on design quality and skills while mentoring but also focus on other soft skills like project management, clear communication, setting agendas, what to reflect on, etc.
I think that is something for me to keep in mind for my future mentees, something I will also try and push for, from the very beginning.
The focus during the fellowship is not on what is being delivered towards the end, but rather understanding what are the right steps that you need to go through for the desired outcome. Its the journey not the destination that matters
I think what ownpath is doing is a very good hybrid between actual industry and design school. Because there are checkpoints or milestones where the cohort could present their work for review, there aren’t multiple projects going on (unlike how we have to deal with multiple subjects in college) and there’s just one problem to completely focus on.
Fatema is also a mentor and speaker for ownpath’s Product Design Fellowship, which starts in October 2021.
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