Missy Titus: Figure Out Early What You Like and Don’t Like, Identify Your Strength

This interview is with Missy Titus, Design at Bindle Chat. A startup based in San Francisco. She will be speaking at the Uncharted Minds Design Gurus Summit on May 17th. Click here to get 20% off tickets to the event.

Q. When you were growing up, were you always interested in design?

A. I wasn’t. When I was really young, I liked arts and crafts, but as I got older, I gravitated more toward math and science. In high school, I was chosen for the yearbook team, where I became really interested in making layouts. I won a lot of layout competitions, and in my Junior and Senior years I was Editor-in-Chief, in charge of layout and design. That was really when my interest in design started.

Q. What were some early influences on your career choice?

A. I got really into yearbook layout and theme design (which, if I look back on it, is basically system design.) I thought I wanted to do magazine layouts when I got older. Ultimately, I really wanted to be Meryl Streep from The Devil Wears Prada.

Q. What did you study in college?

A. I have a BFA in Art & Design, with a concentration in Graphic Design. When I went to school, we only really studied print design, though. There was virtually nothing about the web, and certainly no app design.

Q. What did your parents do?

A. My mom owns a custom frame shop, but for most of her life, she did more administrative work. My dad is a jack-of-all-trades — he does art photography, some web design, and owns a plant stand business, but he’s also run a real-estate magazine, dealt poker, taught web design for small businesses, and a bunch of other things. My step-dad is an aeronautical engineer designing supersonic business jets.

Q. Tell me about your first design job.

A. Well, I’m not sure if this counts, but in high school, I had an internship at a PR and Marketing firm. I helped create ads, brochures, and a few other small projects. In college, I had a few different design jobs. The first was creating ads for the school newspaper; the second was creating digital assets and interactive experiences for our admissions office, and the third was for Associated Students Inc., where I made posters for events. If you want to know about my first job out of school, that was as a UI Designer for social games at MTV Networks. I worked on (among others) the Jersey Shore Facebook game (laughs).

Q. What were some early lessons you learned about design?

A. I think I sensed early on that I cared more about function than form, which is why I took immediately to UX and interactive over traditional graphic design. I have no patience for something that’s beautiful to look at but impossible to use. Another life lesson I learned early is to figure out what you like, and what you’re good at, and just do that. Grow, of course, but don’t do things just because you think you “have to.”

Q. Tell me about your approach to design today.

A. My approach today is informed by the lessons I already mentioned. I put function first. I try to play to my strengths. As more experience as a designer, I find most of my time is spent talking and thinking, not putting pen to paper, or pixel to…pixel (laughs). Working on complex systems benefits from thinking through options and outcomes before you make any decisions. I’ve also found that having a strong point-of-view about the product is required for making those tough decisions. I work to develop product principles, and of course actually using them. This has really helped our entire company think about the product in a cohesive way.

Q. How do you find clients today?

A. I don’t do much freelance work, but when I do, it’s just friends who need a little help with something. When I was considering going to freelance full-time, the best advice I got was to just let people know you’re available and what you’re looking to work on.

Q. What career advice would you give to young people today?

A. Try to figure out early what you like and don’t like, identify your strengths. I realized early on that I wouldn’t enjoy agency work, so I stick to in-house. Same with big companies versus small, UX versus visual, even working style, etc. It really helps to focus your job search, when you weed out the companies you’re confident that you wouldn’t want to work for. Then you can focus on those that are a good match.

Q. Hardest part of being a designer?

A. The hardest part for me, in the fast-paced world of tech, is never feeling like something is finished. There’s always some area that you want to improve on, and a lot of the time you know exactly what it is, but you can’t afford to wait. You just have to learn to let it go.

Q. Favorite part of being a designer?

A. I love working cross-functionally, with engineers, analysts, marketing and others. By constantly talking about the product with people, who have different points of view, helps me catch holes, or think of totally new ideas. This cross-functional process will round out a product in a way that a room full of just designers never could. As the only designer at my current company (of 7 total), I love being able to have a real and profound impact on the product — that’s the most rewarding part of being a designer to me.