My Product Design Fellowship Journey - Sai Shinde

Sai is a Product Design Fellow from cohort 1 of the Fellowship where she has worked on projects under the mentorship of Fatema Raja (Group Design Head, Gojek) and Akshay Verma (Lead Designer, Prophecy).

Being an engineer by background, design looked like alchemy to me. I started my design journey as the only product designer at a start-up and I could tell that I had gap in my knowledge which had to be fixed on priority. At this time, it was random chance that I saw a retweet about ownpath and that’s how I came to know about the Product Design Fellowship.

I’ve been an engineer and then a visual designer, but I knew I could be more, I wanted to be more. I had been working on websites and other digital platforms for my previous organization and I realised I wanted to deep dive into it. That’s where I realized I wanted to build my career.

Generally, when we apply to jobs, we have a certain mindset in which we approach it, but once we’re actually in the job, there’s a whole new realm of challenges, obstacles, and more importantly - consequences to your actions. As a designer, one needs to be very careful and should be very clear about how their work impacts different aspects of the company. I realized I had to polish my existing skills and at the same time learn more. So, that’s when I started considering joining a program and came across ownpath.

I had a lot of questions in general about the design process. My how’s, what’s and why’s never were answered and that was my agenda coming into the fellowship - to build a strong design foundation and find my answers.

I really liked how the fellowship was very intimate in the way it was structured — there was a small cohort to learn with. As an engineer, I’m used to being surrounded by a horde of people always. Shreyas and the team also were very responsive and worked hard towards easing us into the fellowship. Meeting new people and collaborating with the other fellows (ahem, friends now!) was another great experience, especially considering current circumstances! So I was really excited and wanted to do well.

My current role is fairly exciting and challenging in terms of my commitment and projects that I get to work on. For that reason, I had to put in effort in planning out all my activities, to-dos in the week. So I tried putting in some structure to my daily chaos and used to put about an hour in the morning to work on the fellowship project before starting my “work-work”. On some days, highly dependent on how my day went, I’d work for another 45 mins for the project. There were times when I just couldn’t stick to this timeline, but I would try to compensate for that over the weekends.

The masterclass by Navneet about mapping business objectives left me jaw droppingly surprised. It made me go wow about how design and business could have a symbiotic relationship compared to my earlier notion that - business decides, design follows.

Akshay’s masterclass was another one that has stayed with me. It really taught us how to observe things and how to take insights from normal activities as well. It taught us to have a critical eye, as designers even to the most mundane, workaday activities.

Mentor calls were amazing, with Fatema! She was great in terms of talking and interacting and making us think a lot more. Even Akshay had a similar approach while mentoring, where he stimulated us to think in the right directions and instead of outright telling us what to do. They asked us questions that made us think in ways that we conventionally wouldn’t.

In our first project which focused on streamlining communication for SMEs, Fatema’s inputs were critical as she had already been running a business for a while. She helped us identify gaps in our research which we never would have due to inherent biases probably.

Having Shreyan as a project partner was a huge help for me since he came from a SaaS background. That heavily impacted our first project. I had to read a lot to keep pace with him in terms of knowledge, but it did result in a very steep and intense learning curve for myself, which is something I’m glad about.

In our conversations and brainstorming sessions, I’d constantly be puzzled about how conclusions that seemed to be very obvious to him, took me a while to arrive at. I think working alongside someone who had more experience in the domain our project was in, accelerated my learning and growth as a designer, more specifically, my knowledge in that particular domain. He always gave me suggestions on what I could read or watch and it was just as fun as it was intense.

I am generally never a conversation starter and tend to shy away from talking to people, especially strangers - speak only when spoken to. But that changed when we had to approach users and then speak with them as part of our research for the project.

Slowly but steadily the fellowship also contributed to my personal growth. It’s not that, now I’m not nervous at all, still get nervous and tend to shy away, but I understand how to navigate such situations. I’ve come a long way.

Post the fellowship, I look forward to connecting with the fellows’ community going forward and be more involved in design communities in general. Asking for help at ownpath has became very easy and folks here are humble and patient. I am also keen on applying all that I’ve learnt and would certainly be on the lookout for avenues of application for all that I’ve learnt during the fellowship. I think I’d want to start exploring problems I’m genuinely curious about and form stronger opinions on various topics professionally.

UPDATE:\ \ I’ve joined Jiva as a UX designer. Jiva focuses on improving the lives of farmers by providing access to the best possible advice, products and trade services.

What’s truly intriguing about Jiva is the fact that it is helping smallholder farmers who face challenges every day and need the most help. I’m nervous yet excited to join folks at Jiva who are solving for and empowering millions of farmers.

Ownpath played a crucial role in this and I’m glad I was able to learn from some of the best mentors and fellows. The immense dedication and thoughtfulness with which the program is has been designed, I am grateful for it.

I am looking forward to what’s in store for me, the learning slope is steep but I wouldn’t have it any other way !

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