How to level up your design career with these 4 tips from Airbnb’s Design Lead
Design Lead at Airbnb Doug Alves shares his journey into the profession, 4 ideas he used to succeed, and 10 book recommendations.
The wanderer makes his own road, not one that is laid out for him. Your career path can be viewed similarly: the steps you take determine it. How would you prepare yourself for your dream job in design if you laid out the steps you needed to take?
In order to shape the future of your career, Doug Alves, Airbnb Design Lead and Readymag user believes that proactive preparation is key.
A career-growth perspective on designer careers is provided in this article by Doug, who analyzes how he became a top-tier designer. Taking his advice will make you a more sought-after designer.
I started my career in Sao Paulo, Brazil back in 2000 working in the digital departments of interactive shops and advertising agencies. In 2007, I got an offer from a digital studio based in Los Angeles and moved to the US.
In 2010, I shifted to brand design and spent eight years building design teams in advertising agencies in Los Angeles as a Design Director. In 2018, I joined Facebook to help to establish visual systems for facebook products. I learned a lot but I always enjoy working with visual systems and product design and Airbnb gave me this opportunity to work with both. Currently, I’m a Design Lead in the DLS team at Airbnb.
— Doug Alves
Identify your areas of interest
Despite not knowing what design meant, I have always been interested in it. The people I asked brought me menus from different cities and countries. Anything related to design would be collected by me. My first office job came when I was 16, after several years of changing jobs such as selling chocolates and lemons. It was not related to design, but I began learning software related to designing on a computer nobody was using. In addition to this, I started reading some beginner-friendly books about graphics and design tools. My heart pounded with excitement!
It may be possible to learn new things even if you’re not doing what you want, but you have to find what inspires you to stay motivated.
Take advantage of your skills by developing them
My higher education has nothing to do with design. I never became a designer, despite my strong desire to do so. I used Adobe Photoshop and Macromedia Flash a lot when I first started designing. When I applied for my first design job, I had an advantage since the second one was less well-known than the first. The time I invested in learning new tools helped me along my journey of becoming passionate about design.
Make sure your portfolio is well diversified
The projects I added when I started was not particularly interesting, but I cared a lot about them. I found it difficult to balance my artistic side with my commercial work. I was scared and worried about being judged by my skills since no one told me which projects were the strongest. Back then, it was acceptable because it demonstrated my skills and my craft and showed the care I took in my portfolio.
I have created a portfolio that represents what I am interested in focusing on right now. Due to the lack of relevance to my work today, I deliberately left some projects out. I used to focus my portfolio on illustration, but now it focuses on product design and graphic design. My portfolio needed to reflect what I need today, and Readymag helped me find the right balance. All the elements of the design system, such as the grid, typography, colour, and animation, are intuitive and easy to use. As a result, I was able to visualise my portfolio at a variety of breakpoints, saving me time.
Nowadays, social media is as important as a portfolio when it comes to showcasing your work. The Instagram account is an extension of my portfolio, where I share projects, processes, and studies that help others comprehend how I view design.
Set your role up for success
Airbnb’s leadership role is to think about the future of the product and our design language. By offering different perspectives on everyday problems, I strive to lead by example. My favourite part of working at Airbnb is collaborating with other leads and designers and learning from their approaches to problems.
There are different levels of designers in the tech industry, and what separates the junior level from the mid-level is the amount of experience they have accumulated. Your level of experience will not matter when it comes to participating and sharing your ideas.
Taking directions from a senior designer, requesting feedback, and completing the project on time are all expected of junior designers. Those at the mid-level will be responsible for explaining their designs and taking more responsibility.
In addition to driving multiple projects, mentoring other designers, and communicating effectively about the project’s goals with partners, senior designers are expected to see projects from a broader perspective.
Leaders have the freedom to choose their path at any time once they become leaders. As an individual contributor, you can lead projects and processes and be recognized for your tactical skills, however, as a manager, you will be recognized for your leadership skills and responsible for a large group of people.
Designers are also important in other roles at a company, such as recruiters, designers, designers, designers, and designers. From my experience in tech, a design manager performs many tasks such as unblocking designers, providing guidance, defining strategy, and ensuring projects have the appropriate members to successfully ship.
Any position in the design industry can benefit from adaptability, work ethic, and teamwork.
Best books on design as selected by Doug Alves
- Design by wangzhihong.com: a Selection of Book Designs 2001–2016
- Grid Systems in Graphic Design
- Stockholm Design Lab: 1998–2019
- Experimental Jetset: Full-Scale False Scale
- Issue 8 New type design — Actual Sourcebooks
- INDEX magazine issues 1 and 2
- 1970 NY City Transit Authority Graphics Standards Manual
- Logo Modernism
- Nasa Graphics Standards Manual
- 30 Years of Swiss Typographic Discourse