Meet Ernest, Product Designer
Ernest is a Los Angeles native with a mild addiction to coffee. In his decade-long career as a product designer, he’s helped build award-winning websites and apps for a diverse range of companies like Thrive Market, Hulu, and Change.org. With degrees in biology and music, Ernest’s path to his current profession was a bit unconventional. He discovered his interest in design after his first job, and since then has continued to seek out new challenges to keep learning and growing as a designer. Ernest is currently freelancing, teaching at General Assembly, and mentoring new designers entering the industry.
Tell us about your career story. Did it start when you were young? After college? How did you get that first foot in the door? Did you have any connections when you started in this industry?
As I child, I was fortunate enough to have access to a home computer, so I developed an interest and proficiency with technology pretty early on. In high school I took AP Computer Programming (super nerdy, I know), and later I started coding websites as a side gig.
At the same time, there’s always been a part of me that’s creatively inclined. I took fine art classes for many years, and I actually have a graduate degree in music. So it might sound like a bit of a contradiction, but I think being able to straddle the line between the technical and the creative is what led me down this career path.
In terms I how I got my start, I was taking a User Experience Design class at UCLA Extension and ended up meeting some nice folks working at Fandango. They made some introductions, and the next thing I knew I was at Fandango designing their Android app.
Other than the people I met in my class, I didn’t really have connections going into this field. But now that I’ve been working for some time, I’ve met some really great people in my industry who are now some of my closest friends.
What is a typical day for you?
As a product designer, you’re conceptualizing the experience of an app, website, or individual feature. There’s a lot to that — the look-and-feel, the organization of content, how the navigation works, and many other considerations.
In practice that means that every day is a bit different. One day I’ll be creating icons, the next day I’ll be building a prototype, and the day after I’ll be interviewing people who use our app. One thing that does stay constant is that you’re always collaborating. Building a product is a team effort and you work closely with other designers, product managers, engineers…really a wide range of people from across the board.
What do you love most about your job?
Technology is ever-changing, so you are constantly exposed to new and exciting things. Whether it’s virtual reality, artificial intelligence, or digital currency, the next frontier is always around the corner.
Also, as the world becomes increasingly digital it means that the range of companies to work for is huge. You have everything from large consumer internet companies like Facebook and Google, to tiny startups operating in niche industries.
I also really enjoy the challenge of design itself. At the heart of it, when you design you are problem solving. You are trying to find a solution that addresses user needs, balances technical and aesthetic considerations, and also takes the goals of the company into account.
What are its biggest challenges?
The biggest challenge, if you’re not used to it, is taking feedback. Much of your work as a designer is inherently visual, and getting feedback is an essential part of the design process. Sometimes this feedback is from other designers in the form of a “design critique”, other times it might be from a product manager who is challenging whether the design solves the problem at hand.
It can feel very personal when other people offer opinions about your work, especially if its critical in nature. You have to learn not get overly attached to your designs and to take feedback as an input as opposed to a personal attack.
Another big challenge goes back to the fact that technology is always changing. It’s really important to keep your skill-set and knowledge current. For me this means constantly reading articles, listening to podcasts, and learning new tools and techniques.
What are some of your hobbies and interests outside of work?
I like to take advantage of the amazing weather we have here in Los Angeles and be super active. Hiking, biking, swimming, kayaking — the city is one big playground to me.
When I’m not outside, I compose and play music, go on food adventures with my wife, and…not gonna lie, I watch a lot of Netflix!
Do you have any words of advice?
This could be a entire interview in itself, but probably the most important advice I could give is to find a role where you can learn from more experienced designers. Of course there’s tons of great learning resources online and offline, but nothing comes close to the quality and speed of the learning you’ll get from working with a senior designer.
You can learn more about my work at ernestli.com.