My Product Design Fellowship Journey - Aishwarya Naik

Aishwarya was one of the earliest learners at ownpath. Currently she is part of cohort 1 of the Product Design Fellowship where she has been working on projects in the femtech and speculative design domains. She has been mentored by Pragati Mehrotra (Product Designer, Obvious) and Kenneth Dsouza (Senior Design Manager, Gojek) during the Fellowship. She is also an incoming Master’s student at the University of Washington.

Early 2020, right before the first wave of COVID-19 swept through India, I was admitted into the University of Washington for the MHCDE program. Needless to say, I was ecstatic, since I’d been working towards it for the past 3 years. Following it, the rest of the year was a blur, between multiple freelance projects and tiring interviews. I was burnt out by the end of the year, feeling lost about how I should spend my time before leaving for Seattle since I had deferred my admit to Fall 2021. That’s when ownpath happened.

I had taken up a short stint with ownpath in 2018, just when I’d begun my design career. Even though it was a fairly new startup at the time, the things I learnt landed me a freelance gig which boosted my confidence as (yet another) computer engineer turned designer. I worked as a designer at a startup for 2 years but my imposter syndrome (hello, we meet again) was at an all-time high; I wasn’t growing and I was very much in need of a confidence boost.

In a nutshell, I am more confident in my research abilities, testing hypotheses with users and how to scope a problem statement. My design rationale has improved because of the many office hours, mentor sessions and Demo Days where we showcased our work.

Fast forward to 2020, my apprehensions were diminished after I saw how far they’d come in terms of curriculum and mentorship. Additionally, it was a 3 month fellowship. It gave me ample time to work on something interesting instead of going for a short term freelance/job where my learning curve would be rather slow. With the deadline closing in, I decided to go ahead and apply. A week later we had an interview and I got admitted to the fellowship.

My main objective for the fellowship was to work on some off beat problems which I would usually not have a chance to explore. This would exercise my research and strategy skills, things I wanted to get better at for my UW program. Another reason why I chose to do the fellowship was the small cohort size which ensured personal attention to each cohort fellow and enabled better bonding. Since I was not doing a full-time job, I focused solely on the fellowship. Taking this decision was not entirely easy but it proved to be beneficial. I was able to dedicate my focus and efforts which shaped my projects well.

Needless to say, my teammates have grown into becoming dear friends.

Fast-forward to almost four months into the fellowship, my experience has been super insightful. In a nutshell, I am more confident in my research abilities, testing hypotheses with users and how to scope a problem statement. My design rationale has improved because of the many office hours, mentor sessions and Demo Days where we showcased our work. Working in a team of 1-2 designers who had varied experiences (we’re a bunch of engineer/fashion design/architect-turned well…designer) helped me rationalise my thoughts better and also plan project timelines well. Needless to say, my teammates have grown into becoming dear friends.

From learning core research, business and interaction design skills in the exhaustive masterclasses to having conversations with designers on their work in climate change, healthcare, emerging tech has been immensely informative and up-lifting.

Apart from the skills I got better at, my idea of a “designer” evolved in a lot of different ways thanks to the myriad masterclasses and fireside chats we’ve had every weekend. Due to not having a formal design background, I didn’t truly understand what a process driven mindset was. That’s something ownpath did really well. From learning core research, business and interaction design skills in the exhaustive masterclasses to having conversations with designers on their work in climate change, healthcare, emerging tech has been immensely informative and up-lifting. It broadened my horizons in two ways :

  • The contextual insights improved the quality of the work I did at ownpath;
  • Encouraged me to explore challenging high impact problems in my career

Having said that, there were times that we felt lost and not sure where we were headed. We hit roadblocks and spent too much time going around a particular problem. That’s when the mentor sessions helped. While working on Harmony - an app which helps people with PCOS understand and manage their condition - we’d tested a feature prototype with the users and realised we’d completely missed the key aspect of “creating a routine”. At a stage where we knew what the app would feature, Pragati’s feedback (The mentor for our PCOS related project - Harmony) on the prototype made us go back a few steps and rethink key interactions in our app. In retrospect, our routine feature now feels more intuitive and is a key differentiator from the competitor products out there. Pragati was super involved with the Harmony project and her feedback was always detailed and insightful. Sessions with her shaped our first fellowship project to a level where we are proud of the work we’ve done.

In terms of my second project, we decided to take a speculative design problem which brought its own set of issues in terms of time and resource constraints (since all of us worked remotely). With Kenneth’s guidance we are focusing on the interaction bit of the concept while ensuring we tell the story with the right rationale.

It’s a bittersweet feeling as the fellowship comes to an end. The last four months have been engaging in so many ways. I am certain that I now suck a little less as a designer. I am also quite excited to continue being in the student mode once I start my Master’s at UW. With the skills I’ve gained, I look forward to working on problems in the femtech and education space.

I probably know very little, but now I know who to ask for help and how to get better. At ownpath, I made some great friends whom I hope to meet soon. The ownpath community is full of 🔥 minds with expansive knowledge in their areas of expertise. Reaching out to them now feels more organic and easy. Most of all, ownpath got me excited about design and being a designer. I hope to ride this wave for however long I can.

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