Roles and responsibilities

My five-year professional journey at Industry Dive has been marked by several distinct phases. Transitioning to a new phase often felt scary, but each step brought with it learning opportunities that propelled my career forward.

This post highlights five lessons that helped me grow from an intern to a director.

1. Become an internal subject matter expert

As an intern at Industry Dive, I faced a challenge that many people experience when starting out in the corporate world — prove my worth while constantly questioning all of my own opinions and decisions. Fortunately, the work I was asked to do always had clear business value. My assignments also increased my confidence by forcing me to become an internal subject matter expert on a number of niche design and web development topics.

One of my first internship projects was to ensure all of the images on IndustryDive.com appeared in the appropriate dimensions and resolution for any screen size or device type. To accomplish this task without slowing down our site, I had to do a deep dive into the technical nuances of responsive web imagery.

My second project involved redesigning and refactoring Industry Dive’s marketing email blast templates. This work required me to learn email design and development, which has its own set of complex rules.

Researching these niche topics and implementing changes enabled me to become a go-to person for image optimization and email design and development at Industry Dive. These experiences also helped build my voice and confidence as a front-end developer and product designer. Even five years later, I still use some of the knowledge I picked up during my internship; we recently refactored the image processing on our publication websites and are frequently updating our email newsletters.

2. Develop technical confidence

In June 2017, the summer after my internship, I officially joined Industry Dive as a front-end designer. At this point, we did not yet have our Scrum/Agile system in place and several design department staff were operating as both product designers and front-end engineers. This meant the front-end design team was responsible for implementing our own UI designs in HTML/CSS and occasionally Javascript. With total ownership of the web design pipeline, we were able to move extremely fast and ship meaningful UI/UX improvements to our publication sites each week.

During this period, I became an expert in web development best practices and learned how front-end development strategies can influence product design decisions and vice versa. I had multiple pull requests with over 30 comments from team members; we discussed file hygiene, layout frameworks, SCSS strategies and more.

The ability to own both design mockups and their implementation in code gave me insight into the development workflow and how technical tradeoffs impact delivery speed. I also learned to confidently speak with engineers and use prototypes and browser tools to provide design feedback. While I know “should designers code” is a hotly debated topic, I do think it is advantageous to be technically proficient and can help accelerate your career.

3. Think in terms of systems

After Industry Dive’s engineering team restructured and added a formal Scrum/Agile process, my title changed to product designer. The design team had to think through how best to hand off not only our designs for each project but also ownership of the front-end codebase.

To ease the transition, we created Industry Dive’s first design system and documented our UI/UX patterns.

Another product designer and I audited Industry Dive’s publication website template, documented our existing visual patterns and built out a design system, one component at a time. Early on in this project, we printed out an entire publication website and physically highlighted every component, noting similarities and inconsistencies. After finalizing the visual design, we defined UI components based on atomic design levels and trained Industry Dive’s engineers on the new system and workflow.

That first design system enabled Industry Dive’s product designers and engineers to move much faster and consistently produce high-quality product features for our readers and clients. The project also taught me how to create a design system from an already functioning product and reinforced the value of systems-thinking, generally.

4. Keep the product vision and business needs top of mind

Following the launch of our first design system, the Industry Dive product design team had a chance to step back and evaluate our publication website roadmap. While engineering now had a Scrum/Agile methodology in place, Industry Dive did not yet have a product management team to define our product strategies and coordinate cross-department product work. To help the company better understand where to take Industry Dive’s publication websites moving forward, I co-led a multi-week product vision workshop series. This series involved forming a clear publication website product strategy, understanding how it had changed since the company’s founding and defining a formal product vision statement.

Co-leading workshops for VPs and members of our C-suite team was both very exciting and very stressful. Hearing directly from the company’s founders gave me insight into top-level strategy. Not only did the workshops help shape a vision for our publication websites, they also provided the product design team with a valuable user research opportunity. I was able to learn more about what the founders thought about the business and the value we hope to provide to our readers and customers.

This project coincided with being promoted to senior product designer and is why I now have a sticky note on my desk with the product vision for our publication websites front and center. The note serves as a reminder to always frame work around key business goals and not lose sight of our product north star, as it is easy to get caught up in the details of individual projects.

5. Know when to sweat the small stuff

In 2020, I was promoted to lead Industry Dive’s product design team. As Director of Product Design, I learned not only how to manage others but also when and how to step back. Initially, I was too hands-on with the team, stopping new features from shipping until they were perfect. After several months, I recognized that my micromanagement was preventing a high-trust culture from emerging on the team and slowing down our overall design process. I now work hard to set aside my perfectionist tendencies and give the product designers on the team as much autonomy as possible so they can ship things quickly and iteratively.

Another experience that reinforced the importance of letting go came in 2021. I was leading the refresh of the UI of our publication sites, a project that touched almost every page and key feature on the site. Due to the scale of this project, I had to identify which design changes were critical to get pixel-perfect and which ones were not worth worrying about (and probably only noticeable by me). For example, the typography design on our article page template was something we absolutely needed to get correct. Great typography ensures high legibility and establishes trust with our readers. Our article pages are also by far the most visited pages on our websites. On the flip-side, design updates to our about page could wait for a future date.

What’s next?

This month, which marked my five-year work anniversary, has been the start of a new chapter for Industry Dive; the company was recently acquired by Informa PLC. I am excited to see what lessons and opportunities await.