.: 22 August 2016 :.

What I learned during my internship at Google

Today is my last day interning at Google. For the last 4 months I’ve been part of the Google Chrome design team, pursuing an UX Design internship in Munich, Germany.

My internship has been really amazing. It’s been so amazing that I felt the need to write this article. This is a story about creating new problems, what it means to be “Googley”, the value of mentors and how interning at Google is different from IDEO.

This article is “part II” of my internship year after spending half a year at IDEO in San Francisco, where I also learned a lot.

6 Weeks. The period scheduled for my first project at Google was 6 weeks. In the beginning, I just couldn’t get my head around it. Before Google, I had designed entire apps in just 6 days. Why would I spend 6 weeks on designing just one single page?

Seeing my colleagues work I quickly discovered why. I noticed a level of thoughtfulness I had never seen before. Every pixel, every letter and every situation was considered. What if the user has enabled high contrast mode?”.“What if the translation of the page uses up more characters than the language used in this mockup? To me it felt like everything possible to consider, was considered.

I realized that with great impact comes great responsibility. Thoughtful design takes time. More than I could have imagined. There wasn’t a single moment during my 6 week project that I felt like I had nothing to do.

Solutions always create new problems

I learned that thoughtfulness is important because solutions create new problems. It’s inevitable. It’s inevitable because no solution lives in isolation.Products overlap and changing one might negatively impact the other.Besides that, people that use products differently than expected create new problems.

As a result, the final solution that’s visible from the outside might not always seem like the best one. In some cases that is true. I’ve realized that sometimes you have to settle for less to avoid creating new problems. A good solution maximizes impact but minimizes the destructiveness of newly created problems. An even greater solution minimizes the number of problems that might arise in the future.

A good solution maximizes impact but minimizes the destructiveness of newly created problems.

There is always a better idea

Spending 6 weeks being totally focused on designing one single page I realized something. Every time when I thought I had come up with all possible options, one breakthrough idea opened a door of new possibilities.

This made me realize that there is always another idea. There is always a door to a new design space. And because there is always another idea, there is always a better idea.

I think its important to realize that as designers we don’t settle for a solution because it’s the best we can do. We settle because we decide it’s good enough. There is always room for improvement.

We don’t settle for a solution because it’s the best we can do, we settle because we decide it’s good enough.

Proving myself wrong

I think that as designers we often convince ourselves that are solution are great. Things make sense it our head or we can “feel” it in our gut. As a result, we are biased towards a positive outcome. Reality can strike pretty hard when things don’t turn out as we expected.

So what if you try to be wrong instead? What if you try really hard to be wrong? At Google, I’ve learned to adopt this approach.

Instead of proving myself right I’ve learned to prove myself wrong. To some this might sound like a lack of confidence, but perhaps it’s more of the opposite. I realized that if you try hard to be wrong you will eventually be right. If you discover your problems you can solve them, not if you pretend they don’t exist.

Instead of proving ourselves right we should prove ourselves wrong. If you discover problems you can solve them, not if you pretend they don’t exist.

At Google striving to fail comes naturally. People care about product quality so much that they put aside their egos. This is what it means to be “Googley” to me. Putting your ego aside.

As an intern, working in an environment with no egos is great. At Google, it really doesn’t matter what title you have. If you want to participate in a project you can. Proactivity is celebrated. Managers and mentors are not looking down on you, they are on your side and even cheering for you.

Mentors aren’t overrated

Speaking of mentors, before my internship I used to think that mentors are overrated. Instead I preached self-directed learning. I preached it because you won’t always be fortunate to have a great mentor, but you can always learn independently.

At Google I have came to realize that these are not two opposite poles. You can work independently while having a mentor by your side. Mentors aren’t overrated, they catalyze learning. You don’t need them to learn, but having them is great. I’ve learned so much faster having a mentor than I’ve ever did before.

How interning at Google is different from interning at IDEO

Prior to Google I interned at IDEO in San Francisco for half a year. Some people have asked me about the differences. Before going into this, I just want to add a disclaimer. These are just my experiences. These experiences would have been different if I would have interned other offices and even if I would have been on other projects. With that out of the way here are some thoughts.

To me, the biggest difference is that project at IDEO feels like a sprint, a project at Google like a marathon. Sprinting over the finish line is really rewarding, but afterwards I always needed a couple of days to recharge again.

At IDEO a project feels like a sprint, at Google like a marathon.

Why are you sprinting? You are sprinting because there is always a client at the sideline watching you run. The client makes you want to run faster. You want to impress the client because if you just run fast enough, he might ask you for his next race.

At Google, things are quite different. Sure a project might feel high paced, but more constant. Your race is carefully planned and no client is going to effect this. You also already know that you will be running another race.

Finally, designers at IDEO have quite a different skill set. At IDEO, people are put onto a lot of different projects and so they develop a hybrid set of skills. Being at IDEO I sketched scenarios, conducted user research and coded a website. At Google I found myself quickly growing as a UX designer, because that’s the work I did exclusively.

For an intern, these are both fantastic places. Both places quickly made me forget I was “just” and intern.

Special thanks to Rachel Ilan Simpson, Max Walker and the rest of the Chrome UX team!

© 2020 Martijn van den Broeck
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