In the series “Job Profiles”, we talk to various members of the InterNations team about their position and the work they do.
For this article, we’ve interviewed Preeti from the UX (User Experience) Design Team.
How long have you been working at InterNations? And which position do you now hold?
I started working in February 2018 and have now been here for one year and nine months. I joined InterNations as a senior user experience designer. The plan was for me to join as the first UX designer the company had officially hired and help InterNations gradually establish its own design team: After a while, we started looking for other designers, and once the team was hired and everyone had completed their probation, I was officially promoted. My current job title is “Team Lead Product Design”.
What are your responsibilities as a UX designer?
I’m responsible for understanding the specific requirements from the product teams. I usually provide the teams with design input and guidance, assist them with carrying out different forms of user research and testing, and share user needs and problems with various stakeholders as well.
UX designers work collaboratively with product managers and tech leads on solutions and help the product teams brainstorm ideas and concepts for new features. We develop these ideas and concepts on a design level, creating user journey maps and interaction flows supported with wireframes — rough blueprints for what you can see on screen — and mock-ups or prototypes.
In the final stages, as a UX designer, I work closely with the user interaction designer and engineering to transform the designs into a tangible outcome. And finally, I observe the performance of a new feature, together with business, and work on any iterations of the UX design.
For example, if InterNations is planning to introduce a new search feature, so that our members can look for anything on our platform, be it other members, events, or groups, etc., then it would be up to me as a UX designer to carry out all these tasks and responsibilities. Lastly, I also conduct workshops, spreading awareness on particular user challenges and challenges regarding the product’s user experience across platforms.
What’s the difference between a UX designer and a product manager?
A UX designer focuses on how people interact with a product. For example, where do they usually expect to find a feature, such as the search function, on a website or an app? What should be its ideal size and position? What should happen when they click on something, like a button? How do they return from the feature flow — for instance, the search result they’ve just produced? UX design means thinking about all the steps involved in how a feature works, from a technical and a user standpoint.
The product manager, on the other hand, is in charge of development and maintenance. They are responsible for planning the schedule, the budget, resources, business impact, etc. And the two — the product manager and the UX designer — always work closely together. The product manager, on the other hand, is more in charge of the entire process. They are responsible for planning the schedule, the budget, etc., and it’s the role of the UX designer to work in parallel with them.
Once I joined InterNations, we established a process we call the “triangle”. It involves the UX designer, the product manager, and the tech lead. The three of us decide collectively on what a new feature should be like.
Can you tell me more about your background? How did you get into UX design?
I’m an industrial designer by qualification: I studied designing products, such as electronic gadgets or a glass or a chair. I started off as a novice visual designer for online products when UX was still a fairly new field, back in 2011. At the time, industrial and product design wasn’t doing all that well in India, so a lot of people moved into this new industry.
After working as a visual and UI designer at various start-ups, I slowly moved up the career ladder, becoming a UX design lead at a service-based company with a large clientele. We’d do the UX design for other companies, whereas InterNations is the exact opposite, a product company that has its own platform.
It had always been my dream to live and work abroad, so when I came across the job ad for InterNations on LinkedIn, I thought it was a good time to explore and see how I fit into another culture and a different kind of company. I applied from India and directly moved to Munich for my new job.
So, you had never lived abroad before you took the job at InterNations?
No, I’d always stayed in India, though I’d lived in different cities, for example, during my studies, and I’d also traveled within Asia.
How did moving to Munich work out for you?
It was pretty overwhelming. The first six months were very hard for me. I think many expats go through a rough patch when they move, but I might just have had an extra bit of bad luck.
First, coming from a country like India, the cultural differences felt way too much. Perhaps it’s not as bad for someone from the US or Australia moving to another western country, except for the language barrier, of course.
And it’s really difficult to settle in if you don’t have anybody to help you out. You have to understand all sort of documents in German and know your way around the local bureaucracy. Things would probably have been a lot easier without the language barrier, but unfortunately, German isn’t exactly the easiest language to learn.
I think I was also particularly unlucky when it comes to bureaucracy. There was a mess-up with my tax ID number — I got assigned two different ones by mistake — and, even worse, misunderstandings concerning my Blue Card EU. At one point, the immigration office even thought I was here illegally and sent me a letter telling me to prove my immigration status. So, I started getting a little scared whenever I got mail. Thankfully, things have improved by now!
How did you cope with what must have been a very stressful time?
The job was the main thing that kept me going through this rough patch. It was a huge bonus to work for an English-speaking company with colleagues from so many different countries. There was always someone to help me out at work. Everyone — especially Christa and the rest of the HR Team, Conny, and some other colleagues who’ve become close friends — was very understanding, welcoming, and supportive.
InterNations even helped me indirectly get an apartment. Fortunately, Philipp and Conny were happy with my performance and agreed to reduce my probationary period from the customary six months. When you’re single, new in town, and still on probation, it can be extremely hard to get your own place in Munich, so that was a huge relief. I’d say that things really started settling down once I found an apartment.
I’ve also been trying to learn German, and I think I’ve made some progress, thanks to the free German classes that InterNations offered at the time. I can ask someone how they are doing now and make bit of small talk, and I can manage at a restaurant or at the supermarket.
You say that it was the job that kept you going at first. What do you enjoy most about working at InterNations?
Building up the design team has been a very exciting journey. For most roles, you can go through a certain process of filtering candidates via interviews, but with a designer, the entire selection process rests upon the work they show in their portfolio. Of course, you can never know for sure if this work is actually theirs, with so many great things being online nowadays. So, finding the right candidates who were good at their work but also a cultural fit for the company was crucial and rather challenging.
But my team members are a great fit, as well as a great cultural match. I remember the interviews with Idowu and Pedro very well. They both really stood out in their own ways — Idowu with her energy, passion, and willingness to learn, while Pedro was just so calm, pleasant, and easy-going from the moment he walked in. I’ve been very lucky to find two team members who fit in so well, not just with me or with each other, but with everyone else as well. I really enjoy our team dynamics, and I think we are extremely loyal towards each other. Things have turned out really well so far — having a team and solving problems together, instead of being the only UX designer, has given me an extra boost.
Another reason why I enjoy working for InterNations is the fact that I come from a very different business culture with a very different work-life balance. My previous jobs in India did pay well, but I never knew where my time went. I appreciate that here, the company respects your work life balance. For example, if you fall sick and need to take off a couple of days, everyone insists that you rest up. It’s amazing to have a more balanced approach — that you can still do a great job without working 12–14 hours every day. It is also very important to have a good manager in order to enjoy your work. Conny has been that manager who has made a positive impact on my working life here.
And now that we’ve kicked off the pilot phase of the ReFlex project, this also helps me a lot, personally. It takes me at least 13 hours and a connecting flight via Abu Dhabi to get home to see my family in Hyderabad. Now I can plan my vacation by combining paid leave with remote work from India: this means I can go there every six months, which I think is pretty good. It was a very emotional moment for all of us when I moved away — we are a small family, so we are very close knit — but seeing them twice a year instead of just once definitely makes things easier!
Is there anything that you find challenging about your work?
Just like any new person or team at a company , we — the design team — have faced the normal challenges of fitting into the organization, establishing the need for design expertise and becoming a part of the product development cycle. The other teams had been working without a UX designer beforehand, and it took some time to break away from these habits and routines.
Initially, it was tough when it was just me, but it certainly got better and more balanced once my team joined. We now work closely with other teams and keep each other informed. Design is also a subject everyone can have an opinion on and may expect flexibility from. So, convincing the other departments and getting everyone on board may be a challenge, but we have always managed to tackle it so far.
I hope you’ve settled in a bit after your rough start and found some things to enjoy about life abroad…
I do enjoy quite a few things about Munich! I feel very safe here and enjoy the open mindedness, which is also a cultural difference, I suppose. There are so many things to do and explore, for example, going to the nearby lakes or the mountains. I loved my trip to Neuschwanstein, Garmisch, and Wendelstein (a peak in the Mangfall Mountains). During one of our smaller team-building activities, we also went sledding in the Alps: the view was just breath-taking, with deep snow everywhere, and the mountains were blue…
And I do love the weather. Not so much the rain, but I really love winter here. When I came to town for my in-person interview in November 2017, I believe it was the first snowfall in Munich that year, and I also saw snow for the first time in my life: I felt excited like a little girl! While I was waiting for my luggage at the airport, I saw it snowing outside, and I nearly jumped with joy. After moving here, I got introduced to Glühwein (mulled wine) and Christmas markets. All these things were new to me, and I still find them very fascinating.
Image credit: InterNations/iStockphoto/Pixabay