summer 2016 • ecommerce


As a product design intern, I worked closely with our team on designing and coding a delightful experience for sellers and buyers. I would like to share with you what I've learned! BTW, the project that I was part of was launched on Feb 14, 2017. Etsy Studio is Etsy's new marketplace for DIY dreamers and craft supply sellers:

My Journey at Etsy as a Product Design Intern

This June, I flew from San Francisco, California to Brooklyn, New York — far from my family, friends, and everything I’m familiar with. I felt curious and nervous, wondering what my Etsy internship would bring. “Will I feel comfortable working there? What if I mess things up?” I kept thinking to myself.

As it turned out, my 11 weeks spent at Etsy as a Product Design intern was one of the best experiences of my life.

What I've learned

Before the opportunity to contribute at Etsy, I interned at a 10-person startup. Although I learned to test and validate frequently and iterate designs quickly, I found myself in need of deeper user research and guidance from other designers. I felt limited sometimes. That’s why I decided to intern at Etsy this summer: a company with an established and world-class design team, large user-base, and resources to help me grow as a designer. I want to share a couple of things I learned.

Know your users first

What surprised me during my first few weeks was how deeply Etsy’s employees understand the audience they’re building for. My one and only task when I first arrived was to read emails embedded with user research reports specific to my project. I was told to “soak it all in.”

Understanding your audience and their needs first sounds easy to do, but often, designers (including me) just want to jump right into design because we find it fun or love the feeling of producing work. And so the cycle of a bad design process begins: We don’t know much about the users, yet we still want to solve a “problem,” so we look at other designs and see how other people have solved similar issues instead of identifying the unique problem we’re facing from the very beginning. We might design something similar to an existing solution, but then realize it doesn’t feel quite right. So, we look at more designs and try to plug them in s. Maybe we make something cool along the way, but it’s not useful. This process can happen over and over again, but it will often result in a mediocre experience that doesn’t solve the core problem.

Before diving straight into a solution, we need to first ask ourselves questions such as:

The answers to these questions can only get more interesting or clear as we run user research, brainstorm ideas with our partners across product, marketing, and customer support, and come up with design solutions to test with users and iterate, etc.

Bring designs to (real) life

One of the first things I had to do as part of the onboarding process was to learn how to push code to our website. To be honest, I was surprised to learn that many 0f Etsy’s product designers also bring their work to life through front-end development. Coding takes a lot of time that could otherwise be spent designing, so why is it important? Because it allows you to:

  1. Discover problems in your design: A lot of people think that coding is just like duplicating your design in the format of html/css. What I learned at Etsy is that coding actually helps you think about the information hierarchy and revisit some of the visual details. When we design in Sketch, we usually design on a zoomed-in canvas so things such as text and spacing look right in size generally look much bigger or wider on a real screen. Coding can also help make decisions to optimize for different screen sizes. Things look right on web may need some tweaks on hierarchy to make sure the most important content stands out on mobile or tablet. Bringing the interface to life by coding it can make visual problems more obvious and make sure the information hierarchy is optimal across different platforms.
  2. Create a smooth interaction: As designers, many of us love animations and delightful interactions. We enjoy talking about how things will feel before we start thinking about how to make things work. We are past the age of static pages. Motion and animation captivate and engage people in moments of delight and enhance the natural experience of using the product. However, it’s hard to visualize the feel of an interaction and to know whether it will work on a static canvas unless we can see it in action. When coding, we get to tweak the interaction to make it feel natural and optimize it for performance.
  3. Save time for engineers: I believe as designers, we need to take care of our product from beginning to end. Not only do we have to make sure everything’s good on Sketch but also we have to guarantee that it looks just as amazing on screens. Coding sometimes involves making changes to design, so taking care of coding by ourselves can help engineers save a lot of time going back and forth between design and code.

Make the best use of design critique

Sometimes designers struggle to come up with ideas and make things look, work, or feel right. While working on my project, this happened to me. A piece of advice I got from my manager Kary was that when you feel stuck, try not to tackle the problem all by yourself. It’s more productive to talk through the problem with others and reach solutions together.

By working through issues together, I learned a few key ways to give and receive constructive feedback:

  1. Be positive: Start the conversation with a trusting tone (we kick off our design critique with icebreakers to get people comfortable before we start critiquing). Recognition or empathy for the effort that went into a project can encourage designers to talk more confidently and openly about what they’re struggling with. If we trust each other and share a common language for design decision-making, critiques become more practical rather than emotional. When evaluating others’ work, instead of saying something like, “This doesn’t work,” consider saying something like, “I want to know how it will work when…” Leave your questions open for more creative responses.
  2. Back up your statement with reason: It’s our instinct to speak up right away when we see something that doesn’t look right. Although it’s good to keep these senses sharp, we need to take a moment to think through why we feel a certain way and share our reasoning behind those feelings. . In design crit, constructive feedback can inspire a healthy dialogue that produces more ideas, whereas judgements with no context or rationale tend to lead nowhere.
  3. Focus on the broader problem: Personally, visual design is my strongest skill. When I look at something, it’s like it’s in my blood to be extra picky on the visual details. I used to spend more time polishing pixels than thinking about the broader problem. If we focus too much on tiny details, then we won’t get a chance to talk about deeper UX design choices. Design crit is a great time to talk about the broader problem and get everyone’s thoughts on that instead.
  4. Ask questions: One effective result of a design crit is to provide open-ended, human-centered ideas for designers to think about. Instead of providing a fixed solution during a design crit, asking some thought-provoking questions can keep the conversation flowing, tie back to the problem, and inspire creativity.

Keep the experience consistent

Before, I used to prioritize designing things that looked cool and pretty. I would look through Dribbble for beautiful UI elements for fun. However, I realized that adding flourishes to my design may reduce the quality of communication. This comes from inconsistency or decoration without purpose. When certain elements of the interface don’t fit together holistically or serve the user, it’s time to clean up the design.

As a product experience gets more complicated, keeping the interface elements consistent throughout flows can be tricky. That’s why Etsy has made huge strides in documenting and updating a detailed web toolkit for all new product development on its website, emails and apps. In addition, styleguide training sessions and workshops helped me understand our brand and reflect consistent and rhythmic styles in my designs.

Although styleguide trainings provide principles for things like typography and colors, it is by no means constraining for the many solutions you might design. It’s more like a tool to help us move faster and consistently across the team.

Finally: Be confident & be humble

Confidence in yourself, your team and your work helps you better communicate and receive feedback. My internship at Etsy helped me think more positively about design and life in general. It’s hard to feel frustrated about your work when you’re surrounded by friendly, encouraging and supportive people. As a result of my time here, I’ve gained greater confidence and learned to openly share my work to critique.

Keep learning. Design is a creative career. As long as you are willing to learn and adapt, there’s always opportunity. No matter how perfect you may consider your output, you can always get feedback from user research, analysis, or your team that will help push your design thinking and output further.

Many thanks

It seems like only yesterday that I took a bunch of quirky selfies in the Etsy photo booth on my first day. Sadly, my internship has come to an end. Throughout those eleven weeks, I experienced what it’s like to work with kind, supportive colleagues and for a company that has a wonderful vision and strong values. I am so blessed to have this opportunity to build for creative entrepreneurs and thoughtful shoppers.

Thanks to my team for having me, and helping me in every possible way, my manager Kary for always encouraging me, and all the designers at Etsy who offered me genuine feedback and critiques. Because of you, I’m a better designer.

If you enjoyed reading this article and would love to learn more about what it’s like to design at Etsy, feel free to reach out. And of course, Etsy is hiring designers in New York City and San Francisco…