Preparing for a Design Career in the Real World

The AIGA DC Design Continuum Fund is like one big family of very talented people who make us proud wherever they go. Recently, we’ve caught up with Huong Le, a DCF scholarship recipient, MICA graduate, and now a Product Designer at 15Five, a San Francisco-based startup.

What made you want to become a designer? 
I was privileged to have some amazing teachers that saw my creative potential at an early age. These teachers guided me toward design based on my interests, and this led me to an arts magnet high school and, ultimately, the Maryland Institute College of Art. I took a class in my freshman year that taught me design fundamentals and showed me that being a designer is a viable career. Organizing elements to be aesthetically pleasing came naturally, but I truly matured as a designer when I approached design as problem solving.


Can you tell us a bit about the kind of work you do?
I’m currently a Product Designer at 15Five, an employee engagement startup in San Francisco. I started off as a print designer, then environmental graphic designer, and now I have transitioned into software and user experience design.

We use a user-centered design process to design delightful solutions around our customers’ needs. Daily tasks can include conducting user interviews to build empathy around the customer experience to prototyping new concepts for future releases. Our process is highly iterative and requires a lot of collaboration with business and development teams.

What I enjoy the most about working at 15Five is talking to our customers and hearing how our product improved their company culture or made their lives easier. It’s incredibly fulfilling to believe in the mission of an organization and see the positive effects of your work.

What inspires your design work?
I keep my spark for design alive by diversifying my interests outside of work. I spend my free time at the ocean, going to national parks, and photographing the people I love. My time away from the screen allows me to recharge and I come back to my craft more energized than before. I also take advantage of the design lectures and conferences around me to connect with the design community and learn about new technology and trends.


What advice would you give to young designers who are not sure if this is the right career for them?
If you are in school, apply to as many internships as possible. You can gain invaluable job experience and lessons you typically won’t learn in school. You also have a head start in networking and making connections. Sometimes knowing the right person can be more important than being proficient in a particular skill.

Since graduating, I’ve worked at a boutique design agency, a Fortune 500 corporation, and now a tech startup. There is no right career path. Just follow the path that best aligns with your values and goals. It’s important to stay on top of your portfolio and online presence because you always need to be prepared when an opportunity comes along.

Regardless of what career you go with, everyone is always going to appreciate an employee that works hard and is passionate about learning.


Can you talk more about the benefits of a design education?
No one can talk about the benefits of a design education without mentioning the art of the critique. Critiques are crucial in the design process and force designers to articulate their thought process from concept to execution. I learned to be intentional with my decisions and that every detail must serve a purpose. Storytelling and selling your ideas can be powerful skills that are applicable in a myriad of situations. Design thinking allows creatives to have a seat at the table and apply a diverse perspective on problem solving.


What was your response when you heard you got the scholarship?
I remember it like it was yesterday! I was at my desk at my summer internship and I couldn’t contain my excitement. The financial assistance gave me peace of mind, but the best part of winning the scholarship was being a part of the incredible network of design advocates. I can also continue to fulfill the Design Continuum Fund’s mission of giving back to the design community.

By aiga
Published April 13, 2016