October 27, 2020
Hello my name is...

Susan Furest

Director of Product Design @ Fellow by day β˜€οΈ
Amateur singer by night πŸŒ™

Favorite Emoji:
πŸ™Œ
Current Color:
Aegean Teal
On the Playlist:
Jessican Pratt
Go-to Food:
Donuts 🍩

Hi Susan, care to share a little bit about yourself?

Hi! I'm Susan, the Director of Design at Fellow (the fertility company, not the coffee company 😊). We enable men to better understand their fertility from our mail-in kit. I previously worked at 23andMe for ~5 years. I like drinking coffee, eating donuts, and learning to play the piano..
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Can you tell us what you do as the Director of Product Design at Fellow for those who are unfamiliar?

I'm the first designer at a 7 person startup, so I work on many aspects of the business. From marketing, social media, (even sometimes PR), and of course the product experience, I help bring value to our customers while ensuring our company's brand is pulled through.
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How did you decide to pursue your specific career? What pivotal moments pushed you to where you are now?

I studied bioengineering, but I wasn't sure what I wanted to do after college. I liked the challenge of the degree and I found science fascinating. I just figured I would figure out my career later πŸ€·β™€οΈ.

Fast forward to my first job out of college, where I moved across the country to work at a medical device startup. My role was very unfulfilling and I felt like I was going through an early quarter life crisis. This was the first time in my life where I was no longer just on a path with a certain destination. There were no longer semesters, grades, etc. I was in charge of my destiny and I felt sort of desperate to figure out my path. In pursuit of exploring who I was and what interested me, I took up much needed creative outlets like painting, DIY interior design, and amateur graphic design.

Most of the careers my colleagues had didn't interest me much. In the medical device world, following regulations and documenting processes is extremely important, and in my opinion, boring. Β The only role within the company that really interested me was design. How awesome would it be to get paid to do the things I already loved doing in my free time?! I started conversations with the lead designer and asked how I could learn more about design and get involved. He was super supportive and gave me a lot of resources. I conjured up some internal design projects I could work on to improve my teams workflow. In my spare time, I started reading books, taking free online classes, and reaching out to people in my network that had transitioned into design to hear their stories. I knew I really enjoyed design because I could spend hours in a flow state, totally engrossed in solving the complexity of the problems in front of me, and doing it in an appealing way. But I also knew that there was a lot I didn't know and didn't feel my visual designs were up to par. I was both extremely motivated but also a victim of imposter syndrome, and everyday I would wonder if I could ever actually have a career in design.

With student loans already, I didn't feel like I could just quit everything to go back to school or go to a boot camp. So, for over a year I just continued to do side projects in and outside of work. Once I thought I had a somewhat decent portfolio, I started applying everywhere. I was lucky to get a design internship at an advertising company and then extremely lucky to get an associate designer position at 23andMe, where I could combine my science background and my love for design.
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What made you interested in design?

Design is about so much more than aesthetics. I love that I'm solving problems to help real people. While bioengineering > product design is not always a common path, the foundation of critical thinking skills and asking the right questions goes a long way in taking ambiguous ideas into concrete and useful products.
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Any advice on how to stand out and get hired for those starting off?

☝️First, treat your portfolio as a product you're designing. You're going through the design process and putting in so much effort and detail into your individual projects, why wouldn't you use that same care in crafting your portfolio? Think of an apple store- part of the appeal of the brand is the store- not just the devices! Please make your portfolio responsive, easy to navigate, and communicate the problems you solved and the outcomes. Please don't use Lorem Ipsum in your designs - part of your job is communicating. Then, just like you would user test a design, get feedback on your portfolio from someone in the industry. Don't know anyone? That's OK! Reach out to some nice looking strangers on LI. A lot of us transitioned into design and we're happy to help. πŸ™‹β™€οΈ

✌️Second, utilize your network. Knowing someone at a company is much more likely to land you a job. (Again, another reason to reach out to strangers and expand your network!)πŸ’ͺ

Third (sorry, there's no three finger emoji), never be satisfied with your current skills and knowledge. We're all learning and improving. Having fantastic visual designs will make you stand out, but it's the deeper cross functional understanding that will make you an *exceptional* product designer. Be curious. Keep asking questions to get to the root of your problem and your business goals. Understand how feasible your designs are to build. Consider how you may make tradeoffs to make your design as useful but simpler to build. Show that you think critically to make smart solutions and that you're not only flexible to feedback, you welcome it. You ultimately want the best for the business and your users, not your ego.
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3 Character traits that would make someone excel in your field

Critical thinking, empathy, perseverance
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Most difficult thing about your job?

Prioritization of tasks. There's always so much we can be doing, and we're biased by the tasks we want to do, but ultimately we need to be diligent that we're spending our time on the projects that will have the highest impact.
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What would you like to say to your younger self?

When learning a new skill, there's no shortcut. You just have to put the time and effort in and enjoy where you are at every stage.
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Best advice you've received/heard?

My friend has a saying, "comfort and growth do not co-exist."

If you're uncomfortable, that's good, it probably means you're growing! Keep going and pushing through! You'll be so much happier in the end than if you stopped pursuing your goals.
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Any last thoughts, advice, or recommendations for someone who wants to learn more about Product Design?

Wow, there's just so much I could talk about on this subject! Feel free to reach out if you have any specific questions!

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