What can a Senior Designer get from working with startups? - Filip Wilczek Q&A

Startup Development House
03 February 2022
6 min read

What are the important factors to consider when planning a career in product design? How do you ensure consistency in skills development and stay creative? Today, we’d like to share with you some tips from our senior product designer, Filip Wilczek. With three years at SDH already behind him and dozens of projects delivered (mostly for Scandinavian and American startups), Filip remains fully motivated to learn and grow. Let’s dive into his approach.

Here are some topics we’re going to cover:

  • How to increase the rate of the professional development process

  • How to strengthen skills and create capacity

  • Which habits and traits to look for in a domain team

 

Okay, so let's get into questions!

Question: Filip, is being a product designer a path that you’ve planned? How did it start?

Answer: Perhaps it originated in a long-standing love of playing with Lego 😉. For as long as I can remember, I’ve been a fan of logic puzzles, too, always finding great satisfaction in using my creativity to solve them. What’s more, I grew up in a place where design issues were regular topics of discussion, given both my parents have always been working in the creative industry. Later on, I followed in their footsteps and applied to study at the faculty of design at The Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw. It's there where I first learned about the design thinking process. However, my true interest in product design developed at my first workplace which was a large corporation where I was employed as a graphic designer. Here, I was initially tasked with designing my very first app which was a rather simple platform for ordering lunch in the office. That achievement was a milestone and initiated my interest in digital product design that eventually led me to Startup Development House.

Q: At SDH you’ve experienced personal growth graduating from mid to senior designer. Looking back, which personal development factors helped you achieve this? 

A: For the most part, it was through a rapid onboarding process and by being entrusted with much responsibility from the start. In my second month on the job, I went on a business trip to Oslo to help conduct some workshops there. Eventually, the company I was assisting began to grow, receiving increasingly complex projects. So, step by step, I developed accordingly. Needless to say, cooperation with more experienced designers had a huge impact on my knowledge base, and as my awareness, as a designer grew, so continued my discovery of new sources to draw upon for fuelling further inspiration.  I must emphasize, however, that my comments come from a subjective reflection on my career so far and shouldn’t be taken as some single, rigid prescription for growth. We have several talented designers in our team whose professional paths look much different to mine.

Q: Now that you’re a senior designer, surely this doesn’t signal a pause in your ongoing professional development. What opportunities do you see at this level?

A: Firstly, as I’ve mentioned before, I do not believe you can be a good designer without constant self-development. This means being consistently open-minded to new concepts. Which is why I consider myself lucky to be working with people who think similarly. Our department consists of about a dozen people, all with varying specializations. Not only do we have experienced pros in UX and UI, but also some who are well-versed in psychology and tech. For me, the most effective means of professional development is in the mutual exchange of experiences. We have two internal meetings per week: ‘feedback sessions’, which are a platform for sharing opinions about current works, and ‘designers random’ meetings which are focused on internal relationship development. We also have access to self-development platforms like, for example, Skillshare. These rituals help us share our expertise and broaden our perspectives and as such, are ones deeply embedded in our company culture. But most importantly, rely on one another.  If you need to discuss something, you’re never made to feel like a 3rd wheel - everyone is always more than willing to help. Though we do work remotely, we don’t work alone. So, to sum up, my first crucial factor for lasting professional development is working with talented, empathetic people and secondly… working on ambitious, well-tailored projects!

Q: What does an ambitious project mean to you?

A: We work mostly with startups and I believe that this customer sector positively affects our skills. Compared to my corporate experience, startup founders are more open to dialogue, discussion and innovative ideas so that we as designers have more impact on the final shape of the product. They just treat us as equal partners. As I also believe that the designer is the advocate for the user, this makes my mission one to simplify and facilitate user experience. Therefore, I always try to connect business goals with usability and keep the two balanced. With startups, the approach is much easier to implement and maintain than it is in a corporate context, and often this results in more ambitious projects which, for me, mean greater influence and more opportunities to apply my knowledge and experience. 

Q: Can you reveal how you support your creativity?

A: Here, I think that variety is key. I try to find inspiration for myself in different domains - not just those of product design, but, for example, in typography, branding or packaging design. As I realize that another of my capacities is for visual sensitivity, I look to enhance it by exposing myself to beautiful objects, by communing with art. There are lots and lots of paid and unpaid resources for designers, so it’s always good practice that they expose themselves to as many as possible. 

Q: So, a final question: What differentiates SDH's approach toward its employees from that of other companies? 

A: It is the trust SDH puts in an employee’s expertise, an openness to different opinions, and its promotion and maintenance of a positive atmosphere in the workplace. Our exec doesn’t take on every project simply for financial gain. At SDH, we have a set of values​ we follow for choosing projects consciously, and the goals we set for ourselves are ambitious but never unrealistic.. Ever since my university years, Dieter Rams and his 10 Principles of Good Design have been a guiding light for me when it comes to design. I am glad to be working in a place where we put this set of rules into practice every day.

As you've read, there’s no one right way of becoming a good product designer, but constantly seeking inspiration, openness to various viewpoints, quick transition from theory to practice, and a value-driven workplace might help your path forward. Thank you Filip for sharing your story!

Hope this blog post shed more light on our design team and inspired you to seek new challenges 😉. Interested in working with startups and playing a significant role in the product discovery phase? Step one: check out our openings. Let’s make some startups grow! 🚀

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