How Did I Get Here - Marek Dlugos

Marek Dlugos

Marek is a Prague based Digital Product Designer with a background in software engineering. I recently came across him on Twitter when a ton of designers shared his pitch to become an intern at Intercom. I loved his approach and recently had the chance to catch up with him.

You’re 21, currently studying Software Engineering, you’ve been designing since 2008, have travelled 22 countries and interned at Shopify HQ in Ottawa. When did this passion for all things dESIGN and software start?

I was super young and we had an old computer at home. My sister said that I didn’t even know the alphabet but was already able to type in the correct password on the computer using the keyboard. I played with computers a lot — and broke a lot of them, broke them like no one could ever repair them. But I learned a lot from those experiences.

A few years later, I made a friend online, we actually never met but he introduced me to web development. We were 11 and both trying new things with computers, I remember his message once saying that he just downloaded some software for building websites and was stuck on how to make a hyperlink. I downloaded that software too and that was the moment where my journey really started.

How do you stay on top of everything you’re working on?

What has worked amazingly for my personal life recently is a simple Text Note in my computer where I write down tasks I want to accomplish that day. For me, having a clear plan and structure before the day starts is really important.

Regarding the projects I work on, I try to keep things as simple as possible in terms of tools. Sometimes I find myself procrastinating because the project I want to start is too big but, what really helps is going over each project I work on and collecting the next steps that I could take. I usually end up with pretty huge to-do list :)

I feel you’ve taken the right approach in learning and experiencing as much as possible very early on in your career. Do you think young designers in general find it difficult to break into their given field after graduating?

For me it really depends on what people did before graduation and what they really want to do.

I believe, that once a person has a clear vision of where they want to get, they can then start working and focusing on that. Of course it will slightly change over time but design is a very broad field. To give you an example - imagine, I am 20 and have decided that I would love to become a Product Designer working at Facebook after graduation. The first thing that I would do is go to Facebook’s Product Designer job advert and list all of the requirements as my goals. Therefore, I personally would reject all of the gigs offered creating logo or print bulletins. I would just 100% focus on creating great products (or only concepts) — so if I one day get an interview with Facebook, I’ll be able to present relevant experience.

Do you think something could be done better to prepare people for the real world after they graduate?

Not really sure as I haven’t had any formal design education. I’m a self-taught designer so I can’t rely on someone else to help me with my ‘career’ when I graduate, I’m taking full responsibility for that. In other words you will no doubt come across institutions that are able to help you get internships etc. and those are all really great things but I think it’s really important to get involved with the real design world ASAP, start building relationships in the industry way before you graduate.

Do you feel junior designers are undervalued in today’s tech industry? What has been your experience?

Yes & no. No, because I remember my beginnings and looking back now, I feel like I didn’t know anything about UI Design but got paid pretty well at that time for my work. I had no idea about processes, user research and other important things.

Yes, in terms of money, eagerness and speed. I believe, that since young designers see things often in a much simpler way, they have tremendous potential to shake the whole thing up in a good way but it's not often recognised or considered. They are eager and can get things done really fast just maybe not perfectly.

Work ethic/motivation - what gets you up in the morning?

I don’t really believe in all the stuff said in motivational books. I think it’s a mindset or inner motivation, something that comes from within you as a human being. I want, like really want to achieve something valuable and create value for others — those are the only things I have on my mind.

What has been your most memorable work experience so far and how did you go about finding that opportunity?

It was definitely my summer internship at Shopify and this opportunity actually found me. During high school in 2015, I was thinking about what I should do with the 4 month gap after graduation, before starting university. So I made this website Take me as an Intern in a week, it got to #1 on Hacker News which resulted in over 30k visitors in one night and I got a lot of emails with internship offers. At the time it was too late to get a visa for Canada so I took an offer from Darius Monsef, co-founder of creativemarket.com and joined his team in Hawaii to work on their new project. Then, in summer 2016, I joined Shopify for a few months. As I could accept only one offer, I forwarded others to my close talented friends, you can read more about this story on Medium and get to know more about my Shopify experience on SlovakStartup.com.

If you were starting your design journey all over again, what would you do different?

I would definitely pick one area to focus on, become better at it, join a great company, become a master of my craft and then start something of my own. I think it’s a good, focused approach, one of my friends has been doing just that and very successfully.

I’d also be more careful in what projects I take on, make sure they fit into the bigger picture of who I want to become. I’d document my process too, I think it would be helpful when doing interviews later in my career.

Favorite designers?

I would probably do great if I mentioned some big names here :) But my favorite designers are simply people who inspire me in some way. To be inspired by people (remotely) they need to have an online presence and in this case I really enjoy reading posts from designers working at larger companies — Facebook does a great job with Facebook Design.

On the other hand, I have a lot of great designers surrounding me here in Prague. You probably wouldn’t even find their online portfolio but once I listen to them, I really love how they think about product design with such a wise and common sense approach.

Favorite products or websites?

I would rather list some interesting products & websites that I believe might help others. Everyone probably knows Behance & Dribbble but for web design inspiration I have recently discovered Lapa.ninja and Land-book.com.

Regarding tools, all of us probably know Sketch but I want more people to check out Adobe Experience Design as well. Adobe Experience Design will help you with prototyping, I see Adobe as a huge monopoly that developed these monster apps and it’s now hard to pivot/change (this is why Sketch won over Photoshop in app design field). However, I like that with Adobe XD they took a totally different, lean approach. XD is still only in beta, but I remember a time when it didn’t even have a color picker. Now it has all the necessary features and they are adding more based on people's feedback.

Favorite font?

Sofia Pro

What's one piece of advice you would give someone?

In the past I would say, don’t work for money. Or money isn’t that important, something like that. But money is important. We all have to pay bills.

Now it would probably be: “Become an expert in one area” — for further information on that please do read “So good they can’t ignore you”.

Have some questions or comments for Marek? Say hi to him on Twitter, check out more of his work and don't forget to subscribe for more content like this 🤘

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