grab it

6 Lessons from an Unemployed Designer

As some of you may know, I quit my job at ZURB over 3 months ago. It took a lot of encouragement from my love ones and a whole lot of faith from myself to do something crazy like this where I did not have anything lined up. Though I had no idea where I was going in my next career move, I just knew ZURB wasn’t right for me. I formatted my laptop, took down my sketches, packed my pens and left. Since then, I’ve been a nomad with six reoccurring lessons on my journey so far.

reach out to people


Have courage & reach out to people

Growing up I was taught not to talk strangers, but I totally disagree. Go, get out there. Have the courage to meet and chat with strangers. Make use of your Twitter and LinkedIn, and connect with people. You will be surprised with how much you can learn from strangers and be inspired by their stories.

The other day I emailed Mark Otto, an ex-ZURBian and creator of Bootstrap with a question. And 10 minutes later, he emailed back inviting me to lunch. Little did I know, I was also going to meet another framework creator (Ratchet) and ex-ZURBian, Connor Sears. We exchanged our ZURB stories over some Mongolian BBQ and it felt like I’ve known them for a long time. In that hour, I was also inspired by their courage.

If you want to meet someone, just take the initiation and ask. The worse thing they can say is “no" or simply ignore you.

go the extra miles


Go the extra mile(s)

In January, I whipped up a site to introduce myself and why I was interested in working with Basecamp. I emailed the link with some silly subject line of “DESIGN | Macaroni & Jelly” to the founder and CEO, Jason Fried. Within 5 minutes, he invited me to hop on a call the following week. When you put an extra effort to present yourself and do it thoughtfully, more doors will open up for you. That site and subject line landed me a sweet 40 minute chat with the busy man. Thank you for not disregarding me. Even if it doesn't work out, I enjoyed the opportunity chatting with this co-author of "Remote" and "Rework" about a few lessons learned.

And in another email to Basecamp, I worked with my talented friend, Agnes Fernandez, to create a hilarious rap song. We had a blast brainstorming the lyrics while sipping on some Bud Light Apple-Ahhh-Rita on a Friday Night. She exercised her musical skills, while I spent some quality time with her. The song gave me the opportunity to chat with Basecamp's designer who is also the man behind HumblePied, Mig Reyes.

don't get emotional


Don’t get emotional about rejection

Finding the right job is like finding your soulmate. You do not want to be in a relationship if the other person doesn’t want you. Chances are, it wasn’t meant for you. So if Stephen Cohen of Palantir doesn't want you, it's okay. I have faith the right job with the right team will come at the right time.

For now, I’m going to enjoy all the free food and enjoy meeting wickedly talented people. Because at the end of the day, I’m learning an incredible amount of things. I’m learning about the industries out there, how teams work together, what people value and expect in a workplace, the tools of preference and their design process, and a whole lot more. But most importantly, I’m learning more about myself and I’m reminded what I want and don’t want.



Be yourself & be honest

When you are out talking to people and interviewing with them, just be who you are. Be honest about your strengths and weakness and talk about what you know and don't know. Go full in about your values, your passion and your goals.

When you put your guard down and open up, people will respect you. Even if you’re not a good fit for the company, chances are they are willing to provide any guidance and resources along the way. By the way, thanks Bill Wetherell and Tommy Giglio for the words of encouragements. Embrace who you are and have a sense of self-awareness. It’s a start to becoming a fearless designer or simply, more human.

grab it


When the opportunity comes, grab it

If someone recruits you, give it a shot. If someone ask you to teach a Skillshare course, take a stab at it. If someone invites you to do a talk on prototyping in New York City, then do it. Thanks for that and delightful evening with the rest of the gang, Tin Kadioc.

I don’t always say “yes” to everything, but these are a few that has helped me exercise my courage, become more confident, and provide me with more experiences to learn from. These experiences will also prevent me from being stale as a designer.



Enjoy the ride & appreciate present moment

I know it could be stressful because your savings are dwindling down, but it’s not often that you get this opportunity to go find yourself. Do try to enjoy the ride and appreciate this window you have. Take the time to cross off those things on your bucket list, revisit a hobby or explore new ones, and meet people.

If I were still wrangling my list of tasks over at ZURB, I would never have the opportunities to meet with so many faces. To name a few more who has, in some sort, inspired and enlightened me: Ben Blumenfeld, Wes Yun, Lindsey Mindler, Ed Lea, Francine Lee and many more! Of course, if I haven’t done my year of blood, sweat and tears at ZURB, I probably would never gotten the opportunity to speak to these people. So much thanks to the folks over at ZURB (especially to Alina Senderzon, Shawna Moser, and Ibie Maria).

One last thing, take the time to share your personal stories and lessons you’ve learn.

I haven’t been tied down to a job yet, but I’ll keep y’all posted. In the meantime, I’m hanging with the fearless creative behind Sequoia Creative Lab, James Buckhouse. And I'm designing a better tool for physician to communicate and collaborate more effectively.

With any spare time left, I enjoy chatting with people and hearing their stories. If you have the same spirit and you're hanging around the Hollywood of Tech, let’s grab coffee (or milk tea)! Yea, I'm slowly learning that life as a designer isn't always about the things you build, but it's also about people and the relationships you build and keep.

Keep it up,
Jessica Phan

A T-shaped product designer and design generalist, Jessica designs solutions to create delightful and meaningful human-centered digital experiences. Previously at ZURB, she worked with a broad range of clients, from growing startups to Fortune 500 companies. And as an ENFP, she loves to inspire the world with a bit wisdom on life here and there.