During summer 2017, I interned at Google as a user experience design intern. It was a fantastic summer with laughter, fun, love, and learning. I had the pleasure of designing and crafting experiences in a very complicated world of advertising. I also met an incredible team and made so many talented and lovely friends. Honestly, no previous courses and experiences have taught me what I learned in the three months at Google.

Some highlights of my summer:

#1. I did two main projects - they were very different. One was to design a workflow with multiple steps and screens, which had to fit into and connect with the whole product. Here happened a lot of communication and explorations. The other was more detailed and focused on designing intuitive interactions. I spent most of my time crafting a specific component through iterations and making it work and scale.
#2. I helped our user researcher and facilitated focus groups and client meetings.
#3. I was included in the weekly team workshop solving challenges in the product and contributed a lot of ideas.
#4. I also made full use of Google's internal recourses to participate in internal summits, take courses and enrich myself!

Although I am not able to share the details of my work protected by NDA, I am happy to share my takeaways, thoughts, and challenges I met.

Problems are always more important then solutions

I was scared by the complex workflows of our products on my first day in Ads. Upon receiving the project brief, I didn't even understand some of the terms, not to say the problems and potential solutions. I was also so worried that I would screw up this internship.

Now looking back, I think I should be grateful for all the confusion. Thanks to all the questions which pop up in my mind at that time, I got a better understanding after I made it answer all of them. "Why are we building this? Is it important?" "Who are my users? What are their goals and pains?" "Where will my design be? What does the whole product?" "Who do I need to talk to? How does the company vision the product?" Just like any challenge in the world, I need more contexts than some sentences written in a Google Doc.

I took courses online about ads, talked with stakeholders, read past research report, and used existing tools. Finally, I started to get some clues and understand what problems I was solving. I found myself actually being more creative guided by all the problem statements.

One thing I love about my internship is the complexity of problems. In school, all of our projects make us advocate for users. At Google, I came across challenges from the business end. I was also taught to design for the product's growth in the future and figure out how it as well as the ad industry evolves as time passes by.

Timeline of one of the two projects

Embrace ambiguity

As I said, problems were complex and ambiguous by nature. After being anxious for a while and talking to my host, I decided to embrace the ambiguity rather than worrying about it. I pushed myself out to speak to different people and hear their thoughts. I allowed myself to have crazy ideas. I gained valuable feedback from different perspectives after showing people my ideas. By embracing the ambiguity, I was finally guided to a pretty innovative answer by the design methods.

New York City has the best summer

Always be communicative

At school, we do presentations for projects. However, they happen only once - at the end of the semester. By then, we will have beautiful slides, detailed report, and maybe fancy videos after staying up for a few nights. During the internship, communication didn't happen when I was ready. In fact, I was never well prepared because there was no time to. I talked to my researcher at lunch. My engineers came directly to me. I updated my designs and asked for feedback casually. I learned to be communicative not only in the sense that I communicated with others frequently but also wisely. I thought about what was the best thing to present when talking to this person. Was it sketches, or interactive prototypes, or documents with annotated mocks? I thought about what feedback I was seeking before starting the conversations. I reflected myself from time to time so that I knew how to convey my thoughts best.

There is always a better solution

Haha, I used to be sad when I knew my solution wasn't the best. See, now I admit it, and I am happy to learn from the better ideas. Sometimes I thought I already listed all the possible solutions and settled down with the best among them; there was always a conversation, a piece of feedback from the users or a simple question asked from the engineers making me realize that there was a better idea our there. Iterate, iterate, iterate. I am happy that this is true. I am so glad that as a designer, I will always have something to pursue.

Feedback I received

At the end of my internship, I proposed an activity - my mentor, host and I sat together and listed down three things that I did well and three things that I could keep working to improve. It was my first time learning about some of my strengths and how others perceived my weaknesses. I was surprised that they all liked that I "listen to," "take in" and reflect them in my work. It was a fun activity! I will recommend all of you to do it with your managers.

The farewell slides made me cry

Finally, I want to give a huge shout out to my team. I am so grateful that I had the chance to work with these talented and inspirational people. In the end, I almost forgot that I was just interning and would go back to school. Special thanks to Zhenshuo!