This article first appeared on the Bridge blog.
Written by Lindsie Canton, Director of Product Design at Bridge.
Bridge for Product Designers Cohort 1 applications are now open! What exactly will you get from participating in the program? I spoke with alum from Cohort 0 to hear about their experience, what it’s like to challenge yourself in a safe environment, and gaining confidence through practice.
Lindsie: Why were you interested in taking a Bridge course?
June Paik: Three things made Bridge a really unique opportunity in my mind. First that it was an applied course, second it was free, and third it was a program for women, non-binary, and agender folks. I had recently started my first design job outside a bootcamp, and while the UX bootcamp I took was interesting and useful, the fact that Bridge was an applied program was important. I would be able to navigate my new job better with an expanded design toolkit. It’s so valuable to be able to draw from the experiences of other students, instructors, and TAs.
Nat Cooper: I was interested because there wasn’t any other opportunity to learn about product design process. That’s what I was looking for, everything else had a UX focus.
Alyssa Baybayan: The reason I joined was because there wasn’t anyone who I could relate to at the time to get mentorship or guidance. And I’m a self-taught designer, so I needed more structure to level up from a junior to intermediate designer. Bridge used design thinking methods to develop curriculum, and that was huge. I knew the class would meet my specific needs. And I was excited to find the community. And as a self-taught designer and as a minority it’s difficult to find representation.
June: I also want to add that Bridge is an inclusive environment for women, agender, and non-binary folks, and that’s something that needs to happen more in tech. It signalled to me that it would be a safe space for me, and a space where I could ask a lot of questions. And the fact that it’s free is huge. A free course empowering women in tech — this combination of things is really amazing.
Lindsie: What was the most valuable thing you took away from your time at Bridge?
Nat: The facilitation process and the hands-on experience through in-class lessons was so valuable. I wasn’t expecting to be given that kind of experience, I thought it would be more lecture-based. Being given the opportunity to practice and make mistakes was great. The challenges were interesting and we were uncomfortable but that was ok, it was a safe environment! You can always read about something in theory, but it’s another thing to be able to practice it, hands on. That’s what makes Bridge a great learning experience.
“The challenges were interesting and we were uncomfortable but that was ok, it was a safe environment! You can always read about something in theory, but it’s another thing to be able to practice it, hands on. That’s what makes Bridge a great learning experience.”
Alyssa: Before I started Bridge I was scared my skills were falling behind. One of the most valuable things I realized was that I was capable of levelling up. If you’re afraid that you’re not ready, this is a great place to begin to recognize that you are ready. You’re able to become better at what you do. For example, I hadn’t done a lot of facilitation, presentations, pitches, and through Bridge I gained so much confidence and understood I was capable of doing all that, I just had to try it.
June: The most valuable thing was the confidence you gain from having symbiosis of learning then applying; learning various design processes in class and in your project, and then going away and applying it at your job the next day. Having a project where I could apply my learnings was powerful. I walked away with a new perspective from the empathy mapping session, and then tried that method out at my workplace. I have new ways of thinking, and it’s all applicable.
Alyssa, Nadia, June, and Feyi practicing facilitation during a discovery session with stakeholders.
Lindsie: What mistake gave you the biggest learning opportunity?
Alyssa: In design it’s common for people to think you have to learn all the tools like Sketch, Illustrator, everything. In this class I learned that one of the most impactful things you can do is build good relationships with stakeholders. In one class we had to brag about something that we did, and how it affected our teams. Everyone mentioned that they made real impact from being a better team member, facilitating relationships and conversations within the team and with stakeholders. I came in thinking I’d learn a lot of technical skills, but ultimately it’s learning how to build the relationships and communicate with others that helps you improve as a designer.
Nat: In the user research phase I could have sought out sources more effectively. I didn’t get the results I wanted, but I learned the right process and methods by seeing what other folks in the class were doing. The community really helps you learn, and next time I do research i’ll be really well-equipped.
June: During presentation mode being a junior designer I felt the need to rationalize every single part of my design. For example, this was because of that, for every component. But one of the instructors, Katrina, said to me, “some of your designs do speak for themselves, so you don’t need to justify every single thing”. It turns out I didn’t need to explain everything, it’s being confident in my design, and using storytelling during a pitch that will help me sell.
Lindsie: What was your favourite personal or class “win” in the program?
Alyssa: When we were learning how to facilitate I was struggling during class, and I relied too much on my peers. Later, my boss at the time encouraged me to apply what I learned in class at work. It’s cliche, but if you believe it, you can achieve it. It turned out I was totally capable of applying something I learned in class to a real life situation successfully. And…I got a job out of it! I wasn’t actively looking for a role around that time, and to be honest I was scared I wasn’t ready for the job market. But because I learned these skills at Bridge, I realized that I was ready and capable of a new challenge.
June: My favourite win was when we got to present what we learned. It was so satisfying because the beta program was dense, and it went so fast, but that last presentation you had an opportunity to step back and reflect on the course as a whole, how you’re matured and grown as a whole, and present that back. To have that space was amazing. I felt an immense amount of pride for myself and my peers having completed this course on top of full time work, all of us were definitely changed by the program. To be able to get through it, give it a go, and have a space to reflect and show off a bit was amazing.
“I also loved seeing my classmates grow in the program, and the confidence level in the group went up across the board. We learned together, and there was a huge difference from day one to the last class.”
Nat: There were a lot of firsts for me in the program — for example, I had never done user research before. And the biggest win was that I was able to validate the importance of the process I learned in class by applying that at work, then using it in my class project, and again in my case study. I also loved seeing my classmates grow in the program, and the confidence level in the group went up across the board. We learned together, and there was a huge difference from day one to the last class.
Nadia and June sharing their Journey Maps with each other
Lindsie: What surprised you most about your experience?
Nat: The program was only seven weeks, so I wasn’t expecting it to be as deep and thorough as it was. I’m excited to see how it grows and see how the longer program works. Especially because I worked at Ladies Learning Code and saw people professionally develop content, I was skeptical at first but it all came together. The content was SO GOOD. The process was well thought through, and the content was valuable. There was so much to choose from, and it felt tailor made for me. The quality was incredible.
June: For me, it was the research component that surprised me! In my mind, research is quite academic, and there’s usually a very formal process. But creating a proper user research survey and then posting it on reddit was actually very helpful. Design research isn’t academic research, the purpose is to try to find out the answers that are most relevant to your product. In the end, the results of the research and the quality of answers were amazing. It really challenged my preconception of research having to be a certain way. I took the same approach to user research at my job, and got 200 responses from doing research on reddit at work. It was so useful. Trying to making informed next steps based on the research you have is incredibly empowering. It doesn’t have to be a PhD student doing research, anyone can do it.
Alyssa: I would say that It doesn’t matter what level you are in your career, everyone is still capable of learning something new. Students in my cohort were at different levels and had different experiences. If you put in the time to grow and learn new skills you’re more than capable. I’ve learned so much from instructors but also the Bridge students. You can’t design in a vacuum, you have to seek feedback from others. For user research specifically — I realized you have to be creative at how you look at it, there are so many channels for research, and research is so valuable! Design is a lot more fun when you have insight and data. It surprised me how much I loved research, and how accessible it was. It was a fun process.
June telling us How to be a kick-ass Product Designer.
Lindsie: Anything you’d like to add about the program?
Nat: As someone who has been through a lot of educational experiences including trying to self-educate, Bridge was a really valuable experience. It has my strong endorsement. There is something to be said for an environment for women, non-binary people, and agender people. That made it conducive for deeper learning for me. It allowed me to be more vulnerable and ask more questions.
June: Yes! I encourage anyone thinking of applying to just do it. Wherever you’re at in your design journey it’s really worth it, whether you’re junior or intermediate. It’s amazing to see the group jamming on topics, and it will surprise you what will become useful. For example, I didn’t realize facilitation was going to be so valuable and important in my career. You’ll walk away empowered.
Alyssa: I think, not just from my experience, but talking to other women in tech it’s very common for them to keep on waiting for their next role until they’re ready. Doing Bridge made me realize that I was more than ready for my next role, and my next challenge. Take the opportunity to grow at Bridge — you’ll grow your skills but you’ll also grow as an individual! It’s amazing to have the support and the community. The folks at Bridge and Rangle are really helpful, and the community support feels great. It’s so amazing that this exists, it’s truly inclusive and they care about your input and feedback. If you’re thinking of applying, definitely do it!
“Take the opportunity to grow at Bridge — you’ll grow your skills but you’ll also grow as an individual! It’s amazing to have the support and the community. The folks at Bridge and Rangle are really helpful, and the community support feels great.”
Thanks for taking the time to speak with us, June Paik, Nat Cooper, and Alyssa Baybayan! It was really great to hear your thoughts on the program.
Cohort 1 will be our first non-beta cohort, and we’re making it bigger and better based on all the feedback we got from our amazing students. This cohort will be a few weeks longer, so we have the luxury of taking our time on a few topics, and adding a couple elements. For one, we’re giving students an even deeper dive into facilitation and discovery, as well as more time to do user research and usability testing. We’re also adding a class about release planning so students will have an even clearer path on how to move forward with their prototypes. We‘re excited!