Kenneth Dsouza on Challenges with Transitioning to a Design Manager from an IC role

Kenneth talks to us about the transition to a Designer Manager and the challenges he faced. He's currently a Senior Design Manager at Jiva and previously was at Gojek.

Kenneth Dsouza on Challenges with Transitioning to a Design Manager from an IC role
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Expert Interviews

Kenneth Dsouza is a Senior Design Manager at Gojek and also a mentor in the Product Design Fellowship. During cohort 1, he’d mentored AishwaryaMudita and Yashasri for their project in the speculative design domain.

Q: How did your journey as a designer start?

Like most people who got into the design around a decade ago, I did my undergrad in engineering before figuring out what I wanted to do next. Going with the flow, I started working as a javascript developer at TCS. A few months in, I was mentored by a designer so that I could help him with incoming work and pitches to clients. He taught me how to use Photoshop to design websites and convert them into HTML.

Q: How did you figure out that you want to take this further and do a master’s in design?

While working, I had been trying to figure out what to do next. I had written the GRE and had an impression that probably a master’s in the US is what I need to do. Around that time one of my friends got into Georgia Tech for her Master’s. When she came to Chennai for her visa, I asked her what she wanted to do and she introduced me to HCI. And when I looked into it, I felt like I finally found something that I wanted to learn. I started researching the field of HCI and design and applied to a few colleges.

Soon after, I attended a conference called UXNext that happened in 2011 in Chennai. There, during the Q&A session, I asked the panellists how I might be able to learn UX in India. What are my options to study it? It was here that I learnt about my opportunities and was also referred to a course in NID called Information and Interface design. I applied, got in and the rest is history.

Q: What were some initial challenges for you in terms of working with different stakeholders and what did you learn from that?

I think a big mismatch was that what school teaches you to be as a designer is not the same as in the industry. So when you get thrown into this, you have to adapt to this new idea of what the industry expects you to do as a designer, and design school doesn’t teach you how to be that designer.

At the end of my course, I was well aware of this mismatch and I decided to get an internship at Practo where my intention was to get some mentorship from my seniors who worked there. As I was an intern, I got to do a variety of tasks, like designing mugs, physical data visualizations and games along with minor design tasks. However, working on my Master’s project was my first experience working with non-design stakeholders. Initially, It was scary to present your designs and get feedback for it. There were a lot of battles lost and slowly, I gained the confidence to present my work.

Q: How does transitioning to a design manager look like?

I think it’s still not clear how designers transition in the industry and grow in their careers. But the part that is usually very clear is from associate designer to senior designer because that is when you are actually crafting things. After that, it gets a bit tricky and a lot of it depends on the designer. Not everyone can manage a team but usually, folks become design managers because that’s the only way for them to grow in this industry.

Q: What does it mean to be a design manager?

I can’t say that I have always been doing a purely managerial role. Only recently, was I able to move completely out of my responsibilities of day-to-day design work. The way I look at it, a design manager’s role is to focus less on what’s happening in the product and focus more on the people and the process. The skills you levelled up as a designer are of not much use in this role. You really need to develop ‘soft skills’ when you become a manager. You need to learn to manage up, down and sideways. You need to understand the past, keep an eye on the present and constantly work on the future. It’s a lot of work. You can’t do this while also designing a product without burning out.

Q: Looking back at your early days as a designer, is there anything you think young designers can learn from?

Today, a lot of people get into our industry by making apps and websites thinking that this is who being a designer is. So they get bogged down, their mindset restricted by what they see around them and end up being trend followers rather than trying to gain the foundational skills required to create something out of the box.

This is essentially the advantage that a design program gives you, to take the opportunity of not working on a product that has well-defined constraints and try to work on problems where anything could be possible.

There is also a reluctance to ask for early feedback on the work they’re doing because they get scared about the type of feedback. This is not always the designer’s fault because it may also be the fault of the team that they are part of. They may not have an environment where they feel safe to actually present the work that they’re doing to get feedback and that’s why the role of the manager is so important for a team.

If you’re a designer, you can join our Product Design Fellowship. The next cohort begins soon!

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