Grace: I feel like being part of communities really helps a lot, and just making my own as well. Because I'm not only limited to my own knowledge and my own limited Google search habilities. Now if I have a question or I can learn from other people, get questions answered quickly to remove any blockers, but also learn from how other people want to design. And not listen to how they learned design, but what their journey to design was and what helped them along the way, and seeing how that can help me.
Bruno: Hello everyone. And welcome to yet another episode of the Design is for Everyone podcast. A show that journeys through the layers of what design is, and what design can be. Made for and with people from all around the globe.
I'm your host Bruno, and today we will be chatting with the founder of Design Buddies, Grace Ling.
Grace is a young overachiever, with a very diverse background that drover into design as a job and communities as a passion. We'll be talking about her path and learn how a bioengineering undergrads turns into a game designer/fonder at the age 24, and all the work that she's been doing for the young designers community.
Here we go. We're live. We're recording. Ready to get started. Hi, Grace. Welcome to the Design is for Everyone Podcast.
Grace: Thanks you so much for having me on super excited.
Bruno: Great love to have you here.
So I'm going to start it as I've been starting almost every episode with everyone, which is ask you a little bit about your backgrounds and what drove you into design. Because you have a really interesting background for sure. I think up until this point, you're the first person that I could actually go on YouTube and listen to a video from you in your early career or something.
And the fact is, you went from being a bio-engineering and pre-med students, right? To computer engineering student, and eventually design intern, and now full time.
Grace: Yeah, I'm actually, full-time now
Bruno: Damn. It's really interesting for someone, and especially so young. You have a very interesting path. So tell us a little bit about it.
Grace: Yeah, for sure. Just to briefly introduce myself currently by day, I am a full-time product designer at Electronic Arts, focusing on play experience and marketing products based in the SFA area. And by night I am the founder and product design lead of Design Buddies. A very wholesome and large design community. As of today we have 28,000 members and about year and a half, and we are the largest design company on the planet.
I feel like where I am today kind of integrates a lot of my interests I had during up. Going up into bay area, I was always influenced by a lot of people around me. People are always like, I want to become a doctor engineer, lawyer. Especially like parents, classmates and stuff, but I was never really liked going with the flow. Like, I've always liked to be different. Cause I thought the same and normal was boring.
Like why conform? It's like, I got my own person. I was really rebellious and in school and elementary school, all throughout elementary, from high school before college, I really wanted to become... well, first of all, I wanted to become a crayon maker when I was five, because I liked the colors I saw of this documentary, on kindergarten. So I was like the first time someone asked me what I want to do. And then I wanted to become a marine biologist because I really liked SpongeBob, and I thought it was super cool so...
And then, I got really into anime, manga, and games. So at first I wanted to become anime artist or manga artist. I would never actually pay attention in class. I would always draw. I love storytelling, to have imaginary characters and, giving them personalities and the storyline, and making them do stuff together.
I never really liked, liked school. Like, my parents had had to bribe me in order to get good grades and how would they would bribe me was them giving me video games.
I got really into gaming and the game I was super obsessed with was Maple Story. Like you see, I was next level on that. I was just random 14 year old girl leading a bunch of 29 year old dudes around a Guild and fighting expectations. And no one really knew about it. In fact, my parents didn't really like it when I played video games, so I would sleep at like 8:00 PM and wake up at 3:00 AM to play video games, which later inspired me to go to game design.
Actually in high school, at the same time, my interests were kind of were around like anime art, game design... kind of that virtual reality like world-building kind of theme. But I was also influenced by my peers a lot. And I went to a high school where the majority of people we're like, what's your SAT score? What college you're getting into.? And so it was super hyper competitive in that way, and at the same time, I was really into cross country and track.
Um, long story short, my mother made me got to a gym with her and that's when I discovered I was fast, and I'm actually climb my way up to multiple like national titles and cost centers. I try to get high school. That was really fun, and that inspired me to integrate science. I really loved biology. And so that kind of inspired my undergrad major of bioengineering because I wanted to learn how to biohack myself to run faster.
I wanted to...
Bruno: That's a very next level thing. You wanted to bio-hack yourself to get faster? At that age?
Yeah. That's super cool.
Grace: Yeah. And like, of course, everyone around me is okay, you gotta be a doctor, engineer, lawyer to be successful. So I kind of was a little bit lost in my life, so that's why I kind of succumbed. Not succumbed, but like fell into influence of those like expectations that were on me. So that's how I got to bioengineering.
But I loved the stories. The reason why I was so drawn towards bioengineer is: I love the stories that cells tell. Like, I love all the chemical and biological processes and how molecules interact with each other. I thought it was really, really cool.
Througouht this whole time I was drawing manga and gamifying, personifying, these cellular organisms. I made a chloroplasts character or something like. I didn't actually like the lab work, but I was a fan of biology. I didn't necessarily like, like what I was doing.
In an undergrad, I did a lot of research in gene therapy. My freshman year, my first day of school, I was like: okay, I want to be an MD-PhD neurosurgeon, Olympic runner and motivational speaker, manga artist and I had all these grand aspirations..
But then I remember I got like a B my first chem class, and I feel like I cried myself to sleep. I can't be a doctor like this.
I struggled like chem, physics. I love biology so I continued pursuing that path, but... it was kind of toxic at school as well. School and test taking, this never really came natural to me, so people would brag about how they'd never study and they got like a hundred percent. And not me. I studied like 12 hours for this test and I got a slight lower score than them.
So I just felt it's like a lot of imposter syndrome, and just a lot of people trying to flex on me for whatever reason. And at the same time I did a few internships as a medical scribe researcher. But then I realized I was only to here for my resume, which is not something I should be doing.
And then, my junior year of college, halfway through, this virtual reality lab opened up my school and I was like: "oh cool! VR." And I was like "games, "3D. This is fun". So I just started hanging out there and I started like... I didn't really take a class because I was like, okay. I was majoring in bioengineering and minoring in computer science and engineering, just because I felt like I needed to code for some weird reason. So I hung out in a virtual reality lab. And I was really wanting to get into that space. So I found a bunch of YouTube tutorials and let's learn VR that way.
I have a group of friends as well, who were also interested in VR, we didn't really have any professors that could teach us. So we just learned tutorials online and teach each other. So that's how I made my first game.
I made this game called Cellfie. It's spelled C E L L F I E. But you can become a cell in VR. That's like...
Bruno: Punny name, yeah.
Grace: I love puns, which kinda lead me to Design Buddies in a way, but I'll get into that. And I just love gamifying learning, and I thought it was an opportunity to make learning fun.
Cellfie made me actually pursue game development. Because going into Silicon Valley, it's like: "oh you've got to be a programer". And so I was like: "okay, I got to program". Even though I didn't really like coding, like secretly. I didn't really like it.
I actually done a few internships in that. One of them being a virtual reality, robotic surgery game developer intern, at Intuitive Surgical. So that was my actual job title. And yeah, I always just thought programming was like cool, and bringing things to life, bring my ideas to life. But I would get really frustrated when I get stuck in a problem. And I feel like it's not the kind of creativity I was seeking.
It was very like logical, very like... it's like very abstract and just, you can't really see the direct outcome. And yeah, so when I graduated college, I was like: "okay, I have all these random interests. I kind of like games, I don't want to do anything related to bioengineering. I kind of feel like a small potato in this programming world." And so, I thought of doing a PhD actually in human computer interaction. But what stopped me from doing that was, well, I guess the reason why is because growing up with both parents as professors with PhDs, that was kind of the path that they wanted me to take.
I didn't really question it or anything, but the thing is I took a practice... I know you didn't take a GRE, which is like the standardized testing that you take and I'm a really bad test taker. So I got like a 50 percentile on that. And I was like: "okay, I'll probably not getting to Stanford this way."
Bruno: And talking from a European point of view, you guys in the states are way more focused on the tests and us. And we have a lot of focus on that too. Like entering college, like half our grade is the exams before entering university and college, and what's not. But you have so much little details on the tests and the amount of tests, and what's not. I sometimes I just feel like it's so hard. That I get that.
Grace: Yeah I have a whole rant about school.
Bruno: I get that completely.
Grace: Yeah. The content on these tests are not applicable to anywhere else in life, besides taking that test. So that's why I struggled so hard and not because they teach you how to think inside the box. They reward you for following rules. Which is not... um, not what life is about.
Bruno: Yeah. At the end of the day, if we look at the way that actually we're getting to work more... the pandemic specifically changed a lot of those things. But the fact is that box, that everyone kind of wanted to feel before, and we wanted to industrialize everything, now it's not hidden. People get more than enough knowledge to get in the box and we need to get out of the box again and evolve again.
And college and general studying is still very closed up in that model. I get that. It's a whole thing for sure. It could be an entire different episode just on that topic.
Grace: Yeah. Yeah. And kind of speaking to GRE, I struggled in it so much, but at the same time I was really lost. And this is 2019 when I graduated from undergrad and I was like: "I don't know what I want to do. I don't feel ready to get a job anywhere yet. Design is cool. Computer science is cool. Games is cool, but I feel like I lack the background to get a job. Full imposter syndrome. So I just signed up for master's degree at the same school, because of the non-required GRE, that is the only reason. No GRE.
And I thought of dropping out so many times just because I was kind of jaded from the fact that school rewarded you for following rules. That it's not consistent with how the rest of life is. But the same time was kind of my safety net. I just wanted to buy myself more time so I could get an internship and decide, and latter break into the industry.
And so this was 2019. And I was in grad school. I didn't like it. I had some professors who were like really sus. One of them.
Well, one of them told me like... so this is actually that leads me to Design Buddies. One of them told me that, he was like some fancy title. I don't want to say too much, but he was this person I used to look up to basically. Very high up in the realm of professor hierarchies. Office hours one day, and he was like: "yeah, so Grace. What are you doing with your life?" And I was like: "oh yeah, I'm learning product design, it's really interesting." And he's like: "oh, product design. But you are a bioengineer. Like, what are you doing as a product designer? My 14 year old daughter does design". He said: "it's too late because your major is that".
And he stood like 45 minutes, talking, circling back on that single point. And me, like I mentioned earlier, growing up, I was always rebellious. I feel like, especially as an Asian, I was always told to like, stay quiet, but I dunno... I always rebelled against that. Cause I'm just like, why?
And so, that gave me a lot of energy to pursue design. I didn't let it discourage me because, even though it was coming from someone I previously looked up to, like a role model previously, and that role model is saying that whatever my interest is, like is not valid. I just like, I was like: "okay, I'm going to do it."
Bruno: You just felt challenged, that's it?
Grace: Yeah. I just love proving people wrong. And so that energy of proving you are wrong, kind of carried me through a lot of the hardships in my journey to design. And I had a hard time because I was a computer science and engineering grad student, and I had a hard time really finding mentors and really learning about design. So I joined a lot of like, meetup groups and just went to UX meetups in person before the pandemic.
And then a pandemic hit. I was like: "oh, no more in person meetups." But I was like: "I want to learn about design. It's so fun." And so I stumbled across a few online communities and I felt like they were really scary.
They weren't inclusive to me as a new designer, trying to learn from the field. They're not the field coming from, like non-design school. And in fact, the experience that kind of triggered that was, I was asking a simple question... I just wanted people's experiences of how they meet their first case study, because I found so much conflicting information online, and someone commented a DNB saying that I shouldn't be posting that because it was like a beginner question.
I mean, I was like, ah...
Bruno: Sorry. Jesus. I'm glad I don't get those type of comments in the communities that I run. Look. That's one of those things, you don't shame someone because they're starting their career. You help them. That's it. Like that's... that's the role that you have there. That's why you have a community. Come on.
Grace: Yeah. And I also wanted to just make friends in design and, just create a place where people can ask questions, express themselves, share their work, get feedback without feeling judged, so I created Design Buddies. It started in April of 2020, so during the pandemic. And it started as a messenger chat. I posted in this Facebook group called Asian Creative Network, and I was like: "Does anyone wants to join a wholesome design group chat?" And then 200 people commented on it. So that was the first 200 members of Design Buddies in the messenger group. And then messenger group got full, so I created a Discord Server and that became Design Buddies, how it this today.
Today we have over 28,000 members since April, 2020. And so it's like September 20 21 now. And I just kind of focused. I never really expected to go viral, but I realized that my story isn't that unique and my story, like in the aspect of feeling intimidated.
And I realized I was... by solving a problem for myself, I saw a problem for 28,000 people who, all also felt the same as me and other design communities are just scary, so... Yeah, and it's just been a process of learning from the community, and iterating, and applying design thinking to drawing and innovating upon Design Buddies, and adding more features, events and more. Now it's how it is today.
Okay, so you made it so far and have been wondering what Design Buddies is. So let me clear it up for you. Design Buddies is a community to help you learn design, where over 29,000 members interact everyday. You have 50 plus channels for all the needs, community, events, resources, and much more. An inclusive community where all designers belong.
So visit designbuddies.community to learn more and join to Discord community.
Now, back with the show.
Bruno: For starters, what an incredible journey. There's so much interesting things in your story. And about the creation of Design Buddies. It makes perfect sense. And it's a lot of what I have, again here. Which is: people have very different paths for design. Yes, I believe in the idea of design having to be... gatekeeping some things. And I believe in the role for the professional designer, but I don't think the path to being a designer is as linear as the path to being a doctor or an engineer, although some computer engineering is also non-linear. But design, very specifically, you can get people from everywhere, right?
Nowadays you can get a kid that is interested in doing graphic, the same way that you can get someone that went for college, took an entire psychology or sociology grade, and then decide that they can put their practices on knowing about people, into UX for, for example. And there's so much variation on the background and the way that people can be part of the communities that it's... at least for me, 2020 was a year that felt great, because not only Design Buddies, but a few other communities that I am on, have carried that wholesome theme.
We're not here to block doors, we are here to open doors, and help others, and support each other. And I love that. Look, it's just gives me.... joy. My heart is full of joy, from some of the interactions that I see everyday on Design Buddies, on other communities, which is great.
And, in all of this, have to design and to create these communities. Essentially you've learnt design by yourself, right? Everything was self-taught. So how was that? What helped you get there? How did you learn design?
Grace: Yeah. I feel like being part of communities really helps a lot, and just making my own as well. Because I'm not only limited to my own knowledge and my own limited Google search habilities. Now if I have a question or I can learn from other people, get questions answered quickly to remove any blockers, but also learn from how other people want to design. And not listen to how they learned design, but what their journey to design was and what helped them along the way, and seeing how that can help me.
But, me specifically, in fall of 2019, I was just joining a lot of communities. I took this like asynchronous, class. It was like this free, very part-time, intro to design class. It's not available anymore. But that helped me kind of learn product thinking and basically... the course taught the fundamentals to make my first case study, which it's still on portfolio. It's my Discord design case study. Which has been revised three times. And so, that class taught me how to do that.
And I feel like I learned the most... I feel like the thing, that kind of thing that was blocking me from pursuing design was I felt like I had to enroll in a course or learn a lot of things, read a certain amount of books, before I could do design. Which is not true, I feel like anyone can do design, I feel like it's just like the mindset of problem solving and really curious of trying different solutions and knowing about the problem space more as well.
So, I kind of took that and joined a lot of hackathons. I actually did 10 and 2020. Well, the first hackathon...
Bruno: Can you stop impressing me? Because it just kind of feels like you do a lot, and then you do a little even more. Sorry, just go ahead.
Grace: Yeah. Yeah. So I did Like 10 hackathons. In those hackathons I didn't really code. I was the designer, and the product manager of those hackathons. And I also did some freelance work as well for clients and startups. And that helped me practice design thinking, kind of spun that thinking and practice collaborating cross-functionally with engineers, especially in researchers and product managers, making products.
I don't have any other hackathon projects on a current bullet because we never really continued after that. But yeah. That helps me... really just improve my design skills. Being able to apply design, to solving a problem that's agreed upon, with my team and for the hackathon theme. So that helped me kind of build my portfolio and, and also, I feel like that's like, so I talked about just like how I learned about design, how it got better at design and getting a job. It's like a whole other thing. It's a lot of networking. I basically got my internship, that year, without applying. It was a hundred percent... I can talk about that.
Bruno: That's a great story. That's actually a really interesting topic because I feel like many times people feel like they are stuck outside, whatever is the design industry is. Especially when it comes more to product design, and more of a... more structural design and even some industrial design.
How it gives me the sensation that people feel that they should learn, on a course, like you said. Like, I went through that path. And the fact is for me, I don't feel like my degree, my course was essential to becoming a designer. It was helpful because it basically gave me something different to look at every time. I did the multimedia course, and I not only learned about graphic, but I also learned about UI, UX a little bit, a little bit about video, audio, programming. Things that helped me look at design as a whole thing and not just that little box. But the fact is I didn't study that much. I ended up with somewhat good grade. That would be like a B minus in whatever grade you guys have there in the US probably. But, the fact is, I probably didn't went to half my classes. I did most things by exams, because it felt for me I could learn that in my own way and I didn't really need that. That, that was a validation that I needed more for the job market, more for getting a place. And then I get to the job market and the actually good places to work, they ask for it because it's mandatory, but then they don't really make you prove that much, that you have that degree or anything.
It's all about how you actually work, how you can show your portfolio. And, the barrier should be so much lower to at least giving an opportunity to someone to try and enter the industry. I honestly would love to hear about that story. We'd love to hear how you entered.
Grace: Yeah, of course. I also feel like, my success in school has very little correlation to what I do at work, and basically getting in and succeeding in the work environment as well. And I feel like school, just like... I don't know, I feel like that's kind of going off tangent, but. That's totally different...
Bruno: We can swerve a little bit on topics for sure.
Grace: Yeah, for sure. If you like school, like talking about grades. I remember getting like a C or something in English or math in my high school. And then I remember during my junior year, MIT recruited me to run on their Cross Country, Track team and then they saw a C and then they kind of like, like... ghosted me.
Bruno: Yeah, I can see that happening. That's the thing... like, grades... . When you start taking too much attention into what grades can be, it gets to the point where it's toxic, in my opinion.
Grace: Yeah. I always had that mindset.
Bruno: There's a lot of things that influence grades. Even the fact that part of them have to do with tasks, have to do with moments that are not constant evaluation... that can screw up. Someone with any type of issue that has to do, for example, with anxiety can easily have worst results at a task, because it's a stressful moment, than someone that has no problems like that. Or someone much like me has a lot of attention problems... look, I wasn't bad at tests, but during classes sometimes here and there, teachers would look at me and be like: "this guy is not listening". And I was, I just kind of do three or four things at the same time.
And the grade itself, the way that you're evaluated. Is still very... I dunno. It still feels like it could be way better handled, and way better distributed. Much more like some companies do the evaluation of their workers, and what's not, than the actually way they are seen, and then use to give you value, which is... it's something that I don'tlike, at least.
Grace: At least like in my experiences, the work place is totally different than school. Like there's no grades. It's all about your impact. How much impact you can drive for the company and how well you work together and your behavioral skill as well, and your hard skills, but... kind of on the topic of how I'd gone to EA was.
Well, so I reached out, I cold reached out to a lot of people on LinkedIn. Because back then I was... so this was like early 2020. Like March or April during the pandemic, and I was just like: "I want to learn design. I want to like meet more people. I have Design Buddies, but I also want to meet people who are like design directors and who have different paths. And I just wondering like how they got there."
And so I sent 400 cold email calls requests on LinkedIn.
Grace: And this is just like me, reaching out to people with interesting backgrounds. They were like really cold requests. But I was specifically trying to target people who came from engineering backgrounds to design, and just seeing out that I can relate to their story. And so in that message, I sent 400 times, I was just doing this in class as well, by the way. I was like: "Yeah. Hi, I'm Grace, a grad student. I'm studying computer science, engineering. Working towards a career in UX/Product Design. I would love to know how you got to where you are today."
I would kind of frame it in a way of just curiosity, and sort of like asking for a job because I realized, a mistake I made early on was I hinted it too hard. I was like: "so what do you look for an intern? " And that kind of...
Bruno: That kind of sold what you were looking for, for sure.
Grace: Yeah. And what I learned about networking was: it's all about exchanging value and all about just being curious, learning more about that person and asking about how you can help out as well. And, I kind of see it as making friends. And so I would just like approach networks in that way. Like, even though, I had probably like a hundred people accept and I hopped on 30 different calls. I would just like... the mistakes I made in the beginning of like, being too direct and asking for a job, made me just kind of approach networking differently. Because I was so...
Just kind of backtracking a bit. Some more context of why I was so desperate for a job was, I literally did grad school because I wanted to buy myself more time to have another summer to intern, in the industry. And so with the internship cancellations due to COVID, and I was like, kind of far into some interviews, but they all got canceled. So I was really nervous and this was like April, almost summertime. And I was like: "Ah! I have no job". And so I was like, I did grad school for this.
Yeah. One of the person I reached out to, was actually director on my team right now at EA. Shoutout to Marlon as well. And so because Marlon also has like, kind of a similar background as I did. So I just kind of just like, asked him about how the OD design and then just became friends, and then he kind of asked me like what I was doing this summer. And I was like: "I has no job". And basically that's how, like he recruited me into EA. We still had to like formally interview and stuff. I had two interviews with a few senior managers on their team. But yeah, I was a UX design intern for the summer and fall. And then they gave me a full-time offer the, towards the end of my fall internship in 2020. And I signed up full time in December.
And I haven't graduated from grad school yet, actually. So...
Bruno: It doesn't mean that you can't do both things for sure.
Bruno: Yes, as you've proven to this point is you can do a lot. But yeah, makes perfect sense. And... Look, it's a really interesting path, and... I don't know if everyone has that urge to go and do 400 cold contacts for sure. But it is a method, and it works and honestly, it's one of those things that I say you should never be afraid of just emailing, messaging someone, asking for their opinion. You should already know that there's a no there, but most people are very open to at least give you an answer or at least saying you: "No". In fact, for the podcast, I invited Stefan Sagmeister. He said, no. I thanked him. He's a very big name on design, most people wouldn't even try it for sure. I just kind of went for it.
Grace: Yeah. Worst it can happen is "No". Or they don't respond, and so what? That's not really a bad thing. It's like, oh, you learn, you kind of... I kind of like AB test some messages I sent in the verbiage. And then that's how I optimize my messaging tactics. And so it's always like, even though it might seem like a failure, like: oh yeah, they didn't responded. Probably like in a week or whatever. It could be they're busy. And, there's always room to learn and grow. So I just took it as a learning opportunity and iterate. And it's like the science of try out solutions. Yeah. Test it, test it out and approach it to like networking.
Because I know before, networking for me, like two years ago, was about getting a job and I was too direct with it. And people could smell that from like 10 miles away. So I tend to like, but now I'm just like... now I can really empathize with those people because now I'm on the other side and people who probably had one class with me, five years ago, asking for a job. I'm just like...
Bruno: It doesn't feel great. For sure.
Grace: Yeah. I really empathize.
Bruno: Yeah. But look, as a hiring manager... I had my share of processes to hire new people and figuring out who was best or not for my company. And it felt like... when people approach you, even when they do proper applications, based on the process that you, that you created or something about that. You can feel when people are generally interested in trying to understand or not. What is it that they're going to be doing there? Even before the interview process during the interview process, and what's note. When people usually feel a little bit eager, like I just want to change jobs. I just want to find a job. Usually you never know if they are the right people... It, it takes more work to actually understand who those people are in these. If they are the right person to enter the team or not.
And I wouldn't say the right fit, because, in my opinion, I changed a lot on that. I have. I was definitely one of those people that looked at a team and felt like, okay, I'm looking for people that match our team. Now I'm looking for people that don't match our team, people that can be interesting to bring in some diversity in tought. Specifically, because I want more ideas. I want to break out those barriers. And, those conversations usually come from people that are interested in learning more about where they could fit, how do things work? And I really like that perspective on, on all you went for it.
Although, I would say the AB parts is a little bit very structured for cold emails. But I appreciate that. Because that's also a the next level of thinking, which is interesting.
Grace: Yeah, I just like applying design principles to like my life.
Bruno: Yeah. Yeah. If we could A/B test everything in our life, it actually make it so that we optimize the way we would be work and...
Grace: Yeah. I do it with Design Buddies. I A/B test a bunch of things that people don't know that I'm secretly testing them. Um, but I also can relate in a way of just taking on people who want to work with our team at Design Buddies.
I actually run a team of over 40. You have many different departments and I have a lot of people reaching out to me every day. And, what I learned early on is that I actually, the mistake I made was taking on people who are a little bit suspicious, or were using Design Buddies for their own name. And just to promote themselves not to like help out.
And yeah. I have lots stories of just really sus people. Gaslighting, power tripping, fraud... Yeah. I'm happy to share them if it's appropriate.
Bruno: I was going to talk a little bit... of what's behind Design Buddies and how things are going because it is a giant community, you have really a lot of people there. And trying to make sure that a community, this big keeps... keeps true to its origin, to that wholesome, to that inviting community that helps others... I would imagine it would be a little bit hard, right? At least it feels like it could be.
Grace: Yeah. I feel like the first challenge I kind of faced was scaling. And scaling like by taking on team members in a way that I don't lose all control. Because I feel like I wanted a very particular way. So it was kind of hard for me to like expand my team at first because, I had to like really trust someone and I never met anyone on our team, we are over 40, in real life.
And just giving up that control, giving up some of that decision making power. But then I realized, after kind of developing trust with people, I realized: "oh yeah, they're a good decision maker. Let's have them make all the moderation decisions. All decisions, how to ban people. So I don't have to deal with any of that stuff."
And so in how our team kind of works today is, we have a Community team. Community team and our, we have a core Admin leadership team. Which is about 10 of us all for all continents in the world. And so our meeting times are like 8:00 AM, 8:30 AM Sundays, that works everyone, my time. And you have Community team who does all the moderation. So I don't really have to like make a decision if I wanted to ban someone cause that's huge in Design Buddies. We have thousands of messages each day, and I don't even have to read through everything. So I delegate it, complete that to them. And we also have the Design team, which is split between graphic design and product design.
At first I was leading the whole design team, but then I realized that it was a lot for me to like, do everything Design Buddies related, and also all the design. So I delegated graphic design to another lead, and she kind of helped up build more brand guidelines and everything. And then the that's the second team and they have third team... well, kind of like two and three. Our fourth team is Content team. So content focuses on a lot of content, like carousels, articles, soon TikTok. And I just created for fun, but I have some guidelines we have for everyone as well. And then our kind of fourth team is public relations. So that's where we do a lot of like partnerships and sponsorships with companies... and I've learned so much about negotiation and advocating, and asking for more through partnerships and sponsorships as well.
And then we also have over like 30 volunteers as a focus group. Who like to, like, just give us feedback and help moderate. So in total that covers more than 40 now, but how I kind of got to those places, where basically I'm defining needs of what Design Buddies, what our whole goal is and how can we get there? How can we delegate the work? And how do I also understand why people have gone to, for Design Buddies? What do they want to do? And how can I also help them be able to give them opportunities to build a portfolio?
I feel like in terms of managing teams, at least for me for Design Buddies, it's a fine balance of knowing about what my teammates goals are in life and their career goals, and then matching them with Design Buddies' goals.
For example, if people want to be a content creator, then I want to give them more opportunities to build a portfolio, getting more experience, getting content. And I could go in and also help them write recommendation letters, and be references for jobs. So I try to really have situations where both parties win.
And it's like a win win situation. And Design Buddies kind of aligned to how the team got to where it was today... is I always originally started as mostly junior designers, and mostly beginner designers trying to learn about design. And then we start to notice a lot of professionals joining and then that's how we got a lot of mentors in Design Buddies. As we kind of kind of exhausted our events for... we have too many like intro to UI... we started to care towards more professionals. So now we kind of really think about the designer's life cycle, and what kind of challenges did they face along the way of student, to internship intern, to full-time. Full-time to like mid-level, middle to senior level and IC or manager. So right now we're really focusing on increasing the professionals in our community.
And our overall goal is having Design Buddies as a household name for design. And that crosses all designers from like all walks of life. So are you really want to understand what problems they face and how can we design solutions for that. I mean, that's kind of like what we're headed to... and yeah! Our overall goal is just to help people and also elevate our friendly bunny mascot Fluffle over here.
So Fluffle is like the friend... we do all story telling, so like Fluffle is the friendly guardian support character, of the hero. So the people in Design Buddies are the hero of their own design journey, and Fluffle is their guardian like character/mentor that helps them along the way, to achieve their goals in design.
And so, yeah, that's kind of how Design Buddies have functions, and how we aligned our vision to all of our teammates and everyone who's involved in it.
Bruno: And that's super interesting because it means that... you went from what you thought was the vision, to a more collective vision that supports all people. And, honestly, yes! Different levels. Having people that are mentors. Having people that are junior. But I see Design Buddies as a really important first step for anyone that is entering design or juniors. Because it feels like that's a good space for that. It's a bit overwhelming if you're not used to Discord, but aside from that, definitely one of the best places that I've been when it seems to open doors and you've got space for people to learn a little bit.
Even more with the events and everything that you have right now. I feel like those are super interesting, super relevant to who wants to learn. But the way the Design B uddies creates that structure it's interesting.
And, we already talk a little bit about how communities are very relevant to the way that you learned and how you went into design. But... now, let's put it on another perspective.
Being so young, and having done so many things and still having such relevant position due to what you have been doing with Design Buddies. How do you see that then people around you, and around the community, have started perceiving design? And do you feel like that change? If it didn't?
How do you feel that that actually changed or affected, it would be the best word, people's perspective of what design is and what design can be?
Grace: Yeah, that's a really interesting question. I recently just turned 24, and usually people.. I get mistaken as a high schooler a lot.
Bruno: You do. And you really are young for sure. For having achieved so much things, so I get that comment.
Grace: Yeah. I feel like there's like a lot of stereotypical differences between millennials and gen Z. And yeah, I feel like I can identify with both of them, and I guess I can talk about how I experienced my age in Design Buddies and in the workplace.
But for Design Buddies, no one really questioned me about my age or like, treated me any differently. And I guess, because I'm still relatively young, I like to crack a lot of jokes. I say, like yeet, and lit, and dope, a lot.
Bruno: I still don't get the yeet but I'll go with it. And I think that comes out TikTok. I tend to at least learn it. Then I don't have anyone to use it with, because my millennial friends are all like: "oh, that's for kids." It's like: "You guys, come on! It's for everyone. You're just being classist and ageist. Don't! Stop with that. Come on."
Grace: Yeah. I feel like... but at the same time, actually no! Age has affected my experience. After thinking about it more, but it helps me be able to like, be more comfortable expressing myself. Because I feel like my interests, being all like chill, like cracking jokes, is what associate people who are younger. So I try to take advantage of that. But at the same time, I had people take advantage of me. Because...
Bruno: Oh. That's definitely not good.
Grace: Just at a very high level. Well, this is all public, so I'm not like violating any NDAs. But, we had a couple experiences. One with a former admin and one with a partner. And I'm not going to name any names, but that admin, I think he was like a few years older than me. I was like really young and like really, really trusting and just, I was just trying to be nice. Just trusting. Expecting the best out of people. And so early on... he went and pulled a little power move. He set up all our social media accounts, all our domain name, all our website... managed our merch store. If you don't know we used to have a merch store, but later it mysteriously disappeared, but this is why. And I trusted him with finances. And so like, he basically didn't ship any of the merch, for some of the orders. And it was like a lot of fraud, a lot of lying, a lot of like gaslighting, a lot of like guilt tripping as well. So in a way I got a little bit taking measures. Because I was just like trying to be nice, but he was using that as a power shift move and using Design Buddies to promote his name, to promote his company.
And I learned a lot through that. It almost just like, it build up. And also another experience, before I kind of like wrap up the lessons I've learned from that, is another partner... they tried to basically pull out a power move on us. And so that's how I got into writing legal contracts and, reading a lot about law and consulting with lawyers. Because they were trying to just take advantage of us, and just promote themselves. And that partners specifically mentioned that they want to acquire Design Buddies casually. And that was like a red flag. Cause they were like, kind of trying take control of everything. So that's why I had to write a whole contract and they kept finding loopholes in it and I just decided: "yeah. I'll just continue..."
I got really good at running contracts that way. I feel like, because they thought of me like relatively young, relatively new in the industry. I must not know a lot of things. Right? So they kind of twisted their own words on me as well. But throughout that, even though this all happened within the span of like July and August of 2021, so it was supposedly recent. I've learned that, sometimes it's easy to get really, really riled up and really, really frustrated in these things. Also before I kind of wrap that up, a lot have plagiarized us as well. They thought it was okay. And from Design Buddies, but I feel like, you know, it's easy to become really upset about these things. But what I really learned is, I like to see problems as opportunities to learn, like... through that suspicious admin, I learned a lot of red flags. I learned a lot thekeeping control of finance. Taking control of all the power. I'm not delegating too much, too early at a time. And through the partnership/sponsorship, I learned that contract writing and negotiation skills, and conflict resolution skills, and how can we meet at a medium and really understanding everybody's goals and being really authentic and strategizing how to get there.
And, so I treat these as opportunities like: "yeah, I was upset for a few hours, and my team was really upset. But I tried to just like encourage everyone". Yeah. I'm really glad this happened, that this is really early on. And it's not like a million dollars. It's just like, you know, not that much.
Bruno: It's that thing that companies end up saying all the time: "it's better to fail early, fail soon, than to fail late and have problems". And. Yeah, Design Buddies is not a company, but it is a company if you look at the dimensions. Like it's a giant community, has a lot of stuff happening and there's a lot of coordination there.
It's great that you've learned with it. It's bad it have to be like that, but it it's a path and it's a path like any other.
Grace: Yeah. Looking back. I'm really glad it happened. Even though it's... I feel like sucked in the moment. And I lost a few friends. Well... I don't think they were friends in the first place. But I'm just like, at the end of the day, I learned a lot about how I want to trust people. How to develop trust and how to, suss out things more. Because growing up in a bubble I was just like: "everyone's nice, but no.That's not real life." And I'm glad I'm learning these early, so I can share them with people. So they don't make the same mistakes as I have.
And yeah, so there are a lot of lessons around there.
Bruno: No, but that's, that's perfectly important. Because that's the thing. Your age, did affected the way that people see you when they see you, not only as part of the industry, but as someone that was working there, creating things. And what they could get or not about it.
But honestly, for example, I see more people like me. Who look at you as being someone so young and so inspiring. That gives me hope to what the industry can be. Because that's the thing like. Okay. We don't have a huge age difference. Somewhat about I guess seven or eight years.
But. When I was your age, I didn't have very much insightful and glowing reviews of what being a designer is. And in fact, even in my country, it's still not a great place to be. If you're in tech world, being a designer is something that people can aspire to if you know that. But most designers, and people that then work as graphic designer, they are really, really undervalued. Like, their work is really undervalued. And back when I was younger, I could never see that as an aspiration goal. Like getting to a point where people can see the value in design, or to see the value that our work has been doing with communities, and what our work could be doing in this and that. And having that experience, I can see that it took a toll, but I guess the most people that I know, that I've talked about Design Buddies, is that! It's like they see you, and the community as a great thing. And someone that we feel happy to have in the community because it helps a lot.
Grace: Yeah. Thank you. I just like people being wholesome and nice. Cause I'm just like, why be mean? What did you achieve ou of it? I'm really goals oriented person. I really evaluate the ROI of different interactions, and different things we see. And I was like: "yeah, I have better ROI when everyone's wholesome".
Bruno: What a better goal than have wholesome people in your life and just be happy.
Grace: Yeah. I'm just like, I don't gain from being negative and just like.
Bruno: No, but that's it. Like, we are part of all experiences happening around us. And the fact is communities, as open places that give space for everyone to be part of, and to learn, and to participate in, to be whatever, are great places. That wholesomeness, that door to anyone is key for actually growing more as a society and everything. These communities, the way that... even if you look at the way that science works. That scientists share all information that they can. They do it very technically. Sure. But the fact is if they didn't do that, if they were more like sometimes companies where it's just keep their things either, and then they, they are less wholesome in that way in more like secluded, closed. That doesn't really help things grow that well, I would say.
And you... and you can see that even in other technical things like code nowadays. The fact that we have open source, definitely made that Code and creating things became so much easier. So much better. But community, specifically, on the human side changed a lot of how we do things. Even more than just like regular social media. And that feeling of that wholesomeness... honestly, it's what drives me to some of those communities. Much more than like the value that I can get from one with X, Y, or Z. It's more about the overall feeling of: "do I feel like these people are cool to hang out with and that they're open to questioning and to question me?" That I can make questions to them, or having some interesting chats, or even discussing ideas. Which is still something that I feel like doesn't happen as much. Many times the communities are very supportive, but then when it gets to the point where people should like clash a little bit, and talk about some topics, and be hard about them. There's a lot of alignment on those communities. But it makes sense that then it's still an open space for that type of conversation.
Grace: Yes. Challenging people's opinions, but still being open-minded about hearing other's perspectives.
Bruno: Yeah. Completely. And that makes perfect sense.
Okay. Now let's change a little bit and focus a little bit more about the topic of the show and everything. I would ask you, personally, do you feel that having become a designer, or being thrown into the world of design. Do you feel that it affects the experience of how you see the world around you? How you interact with the things around you?
Because we already talked about your role. And the things that you did has the creator and the founder of giant community. But as a designer, specifically, the way that you work, the way that you look at things, that problems, how do you feel that changed how you see the world?
Grace: Yeah, I feel like... I feel it changed a lot. Like I gave a specific examples as well, but I think of things as what kind of OKRs can I set, and what kind of KPIs...
Bruno: I would say that's not design, that's business, but it's discussable.
Grace: I can think of specific design examples, but I find I'm very goal oriented person. So I think about what goals I have and like why, and what's the meaning behind it and how can I get there? And so explain the problem spaces and explain different solutions. And I feel like in life it helped me really prioritize things. Because I went through like a really big burnout my life. I was like... so I used to answer every single person who wanted to chat with me for like, eight months. And that burned me out. I was having like 15 zoom calls, usually with the people random reaching out to me on LinkedIn, for like eight months. And then I went through like kind of biggest burnout of my life in... March of 2021. And that really made me like, reflect on what am I doing in my life? Like time is the only resource I can't get back. And because of this like scarcity, I was like: "okay, how do I like optimize it? And how do I come with goals to really organize my optimization of my time. And how can I know when I'm successful?"
And so I think about things... it helped with like really prioritizing life and just match it with my goal. And this kind of like design playing in other places on my life is in running. I still love running. Like long story short: I ended high school, like really positive running career. And then in college I actually got injured like six times. And I kind of...
Grace: So I just love running still. But I was supposed to run on my division one cross country and track team, except I kind of walked off the team like, halfway through college. But because I was just getting injured all day, every day. So I didn't run for three years, but I recently picked up again during quarantine, and I'm really enjoying it. I actually went for a run before our interview today. And I... the problem I face with running sometimes is injuries. Because my foot is relatively flat, and I have really big bunnions. So it's not really optimized for running, but I still love running, I can still run fast. But it makes me get injured more often.
So I think of this as a problem, and I kind of do a lot of research online and I think designing solutions myself. So designing different like... So I have like different bracelets I have. And different like foot pads and just like different designs of like injury solution... so I do like A/B testing...
Bruno: I get that too. That's a very specific perspective, but it's at a very interesting one. For me it change the way that I look at, like, everyday objects. For you it changed the way that you treat yourself, health-wise. Which is amazing.
Grace: Yeah. It's like. Going back to like, biohacking aspirations too. And trying to apply it from a design perspective instead of like, by a molecular level.
Bruno: Yeah. You went fool loop.
Grace: It did like full loop. Because I still love running so that I wanted to make myself faster. But instead of like spending time... learning medicine, I spent time... collecting data and testing things on myself to like collect data, iterate. So it's interesting.
Bruno: No, that's, that's super interesting. And again, I said the full loop, but it makes sense. Like, it feels like you aspire to create and to learn about so many things, you went through a very convoluted path to get to design, but in design, you found a way to create those things and get some of the solutions. And even before design design, when you talked about the creation of a have a game about cells and what you were learning in bioengineering, you have that. collection of knowledge, you were putting it towards that end goal of doing whatever you like. And figuring out where you fit. Which is great by the way because, as you said before, it feels like it's so interesting that you really loved gaming and then you went up at EA and this full loop again, like it's... That being that goal-oriented makes it, well, at least more, structured and easy than, for example, I would be with my goals because I am goal oriented just enough, like it's a little bit like eehh. But yeah, it's a very interesting way of looking at things and even the fact that you thought about how to improve yourself using design, product thinking methodologies makes perfect sense.
Grace: I feel like design is like a tool I use to optimize my whole life. Whether it's running, whether it's Design Buddies, I do a lot A/B testing, card sorting, and designing solutions on people as well in the Discord server, and A/B testing on social media.
And also with me, with my parents and with people in my life. I A/B tests on them to. I tend to apply the UX methodologies to my whole life and try to optimize it.
Bruno: I would say... I would lie if I would say that that also doesn't happen with some things that I do for sure. I don't know how manny. I know that probably graphic design had much more a weight in my life, than UI and UX. But that also has entered in the last few years. But definitely changed the way that I see the world around that I experienced the world around and yours is just very, more practical than mine. I would say. But it's more than... uh... normal to just get to that point where you see, like: "how can I improve this? How can improve that?"
Grace: Yeah. Nowadays I analyze a lot of apps I use and... Especially like services, I'm at an airport... and just like different experiences I have and just like, how do we optimize it? I wonder how they design this. I wonder how they tested success. And I wonder like if...
Bruno: How do they improve this? I'd be like: I have a very specific things with supermarket rows, and I know that they, even in Portugal, some of the biggest chains, they do use a testing and they have like places to figure out what's the optimized path and what's not. But I haven't found a supermarket in Portugal that I actually liked going into because I always feel like: the buying pattern is backwards because everything that is at the end, it's going to squish your vegetables is the first things that you get in the entrance.
Grace: Oh, yeah. That's very common with grocery stores.
Bruno: Right. It's like, that's the type of thing that I like. It should be heavy things, then fresh things. No, it's not.
Grace: But it's very interesting.
Bruno: Yeah, it's very specific to me and my person. For you, you've just talked of airports. It's also a very interesting problem, but it's really changing when you start looking at things on that perspective.
Grace: Yeah, I think that everything is a problem with the solution. Something lost in the problem. I can think about: "how do we break it apart and how might we arrive at a solution that works".
And so it really helped me giving me a lot of motivation in life because I was like: "oh, I can just like design things my way and do this".
Bruno: And with that, I would leave you to a final question. Which is, very much in topic with the podcast, do you believe that design is for everyone? Like... I would assume yes, but I don't want to say it, because from what you just said about the Design Buddies community and everything. But yeah, I would love to understand how you feel that that is? Do you believe that design is for everyone and in what way?
Grace: Yes, I do believe that it's for everyone. And I feel like, a caveat to that is, before what kind of limited me in kind of like feeling design was for me was, I felt like it always had to do with the visual side of, right? I wasn't good at visual design, if I didn't go to like art school to like learn all these like theories and stuff, I wouldn't be a designer. But really, in my opinion, design is all about solving problems and critical thinking, and just being really curious and opening to the learning.
Learning about the problem space, learning... cussing out solutions of being really open-minded if a solution doesn't work out. So I definitely think design is for everyone, as long as they're really curious. They really want to solve a problem. So it's all about like problem thinking skills.
And I feel like in a way, everyone could be a designer. They don't have to formerly have like a job title, that's like designer, and it's all about just like problem solving, and been curious to learn more about how to get there. And yeah, so I do believe design is for everyone then.
Bruno: Cool! Then... I guess that's it. I guess we're done here and...
Just going to say, what a ride today. What amazing journey. All the details in your interaction with design. Definitely great to talk with everyone and showcase everyone, see how there's not a linear path, and how there's not a linear way to experience what design is. And I just got to thank you for being here today, with me, sharing all these stories ,and all those moments, and all this thoughts.
Grace: Yeah, of course. Thank you so much for having me on. This was a really fun conversation.
Bruno: Great. And thank you everyone for listening to this episode of the Design is for Everyone podcasts. See you all next week. Bye.
Grace: Thank you.
I would love to keep up with this project for as long as I can, and for that I need to make sure it doesn't become cost preventive. So, to be as clear as one can be, here you can find all the costs for maintaining this project for a year. If you want, and only if you can, do support it and buy me a coffee or become a podcast subscriber.