My Design Internship at Merge
Hello beautiful people! My name is Lanna Wang, and I am a rising sophomore at Stanford studying Product Design (it’s still a work in progress, but you can check out my portfolio here!). I spent my first design internship this summer at Merge, under the mentorship of Merge’s founding designer, Simeon Lee.
The internship lasted 10 weeks and took place in-person at Merge’s charming San Francisco office in the Salesforce Tower.
What surprised me the most about the internship was the overwhelmingly positive company culture. Gil and Shensi, Merge’s co-founders, are literal bundles of energy who motivate the entire team to work hard and achieve their goals. Even more reassuring was how Simeon told me that taking care of your physical and mental health are incredibly important for doing your best as a designer. In short, from day one, I discerned that Merge is a company that genuinely cares about its employees’ well-being at the same time that it encourages them to do their best work.
A great designer has a good eye, and a good eye develops through iteration
– Simeon, on my first day
Besides having a “good eye,” one of the top skills that Simeon emphasized was the ability to use Figma efficiently—which meant becoming a master at hotkeys. Additionally, he provided some supplemental readings that elaborated upon key design principles. Some of my favorites included readings on typography and color systems (this article about Lyft’s color system amazed me; I now have a much greater appreciation for the meticulousness involved in crafting a flexible color system).
At first, Simeon gave me smaller tasks such as redesigning the landing page dropdown menus and creating a footer for the Merge Documentation page. As the internship progressed however, I had the opportunity to work on larger projects in our admin portal and our app. In fact, my largest task of the summer was working on the design for our new React Admin CMS, a tool for internal Merge users to input information in a more efficient and intuitive manner that is visually aligned with the Merge brand. I created configuration pages for general integration information, marketing content, API authentication and pagination settings, API endpoints, linked accounts, and billing information. Because the primary users of the React Admin CMS were Merge employees themselves, I had the opportunity to speak with our engineers and our growth and product team to address their needs. After several rounds of feedback, prototyping, and close collaboration with the growth and product team, I generated a final version that emphasized ease of use even for less technical users.
Overall, I enjoyed getting a taste of every aspect of our product and getting to communicate with the engineers! By the end of the internship, I certainly had a more comprehensive understanding of how our product works. In fact, as one of my final tasks at Merge, I created a 3D isometric illustration to symbolize how our product functions: Merge’s Unified API powers integrations for our clients, who only need to integrate once with us.
What I’ve Learned
First of all, I have become much faster with Figma hotkeys! While I still aspire to achieve Simeon’s level of dexterity with Figma (I always thought of Simeon as a “Figma wizard”), my design process in Figma feels much more fluid now. Furthermore, I’ve taken these design lessons to heart:
The devil is in the details
If I thought that I was a perfectionist before this internship, then I was mistaken; designers are next-level perfectionists. Margins, padding, and line spacing must be consistent. Text sizing and information hierarchy are key. Black is not black, it’s #080808. And heaven forbid you don’t mess up the grays (#F8FAFC really does look like white to an untrained eye).
Of course, I say this in a joking tone, but being detail-oriented is a critical aspect of being a good designer.
Design is a constantly evolving process (that seemingly never ends)
This internship was an exercise in patience and flexibility. Design projects aren’t always guaranteed—you might work on one task ... only to have it scrapped. You might think you’re done with a project, only to go back and make dozens of more changes. And I’m totally ok with that. As a matter of fact, I expect that now. My new mindset is that most designs are only “done for now.”
Part of the joy of iterative design is the knowledge that there is always more opportunity for improvement.
Designers must ask the right questions
When I first began working with the engineers, I was tempted to ask them, “what features do you want? Should there be a dropdown for this and a form for that?”
Then, Simeon told me that engineers don’t always know what they want (sorry, engineers! It’s not just you though). Although users may know their end goal, they often do not know how exactly to achieve that goal from a design perspective.
Instead of directly asking users what they want to see in a design, it is more worthwhile to ask about how they currently experience the product and where they struggle the most.
From there, it is up to us as designers to elucidate users’ frustrations, pinpoint their ultimate goal, and synthesize these details to craft a solution through design.
More importantly, beyond improving my technical skills, my greatest area of personal growth was gaining more confidence in my abilities as a designer. Oftentimes, I rely too heavily on feedback from others, especially since Simeon always gave such detailed comments. If I didn’t get constructive feedback, I felt as though I had done something wrong. Moreover, as someone who usually shies away from conflict, I got stressed about balancing contradictory feedback from stakeholders.
The ultimate test was midway through the internship when Simeon took a well-deserved week off, and I had to fend for myself. During that period, I had more time to hear my own thoughts and justify my reasoning for certain design choices. Now, I am better at articulating my opinions and compromising with others—in other words, I have more faith in my designer’s eye!
Advice to Other Designers
Thus, for my fellow designers who are also just beginning their design journey, I offer this advice:
Believe in yourself! Know that your work is valuable and impactful.
Admittedly, I struggled at times because I had internalized that design was less important than coding; after all, the engineers are the ones building our actual product and making it functional for our clients.
In reality, everybody has their own place. Yes, engineers are on the frontline fixing bugs and adding new features for customers—but it is designers that delight the users and put them at ease while using the product.
Seeing my designs actually implemented and visible to the world reminded me that design genuinely has the power to radically alter one’s experience with a product.
Who knows? Someone, somewhere, might stumble across my 404 page design and breathe a sigh of relief upon seeing that friendly “Back to Home” button.
Now that my internship has ended, I will be returning to Stanford in the fall to continue my studies in Product Design. In the future, I would like to explore more opportunities for UI/UX design in tech or even branch out to physical product design. For now, I am open to exploring as many facets of design as possible before I settle on any one particular area—and of course, I will continue to develop my designer’s eye!
Finally, THANK YOU MERGE for an extraordinary summer!
I am immensely grateful to have completed my first design internship at this ambitious startup that will only continue to grow and foster its reputation as the foremost unified API platform.
Above all, I’ll cherish the amazing people I worked alongside at Merge! They are some of the most hardworking, passionate, and positive people that I’ve ever met, and I will miss them dearly!
Me (left) and Simeon (right)
(P.S. Merge is hiring!)