How working at a startup has helped me grow as a designer

Plot Twisters startup logo is a magnifying glass!

I came across Plot Twisters during the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic. It was May 2020 and I remember sitting on my living room couch thinking about the next steps I wanted to take in life. I had just lost my job as a designer at my school. Due to insufficient funding, the project was put to a halt. I was frustrated. I was terrified. All this ambiguity and uncertainty were killing me from the inside and my anxiety was skyrocketing. As I was approaching my senior year, I feared for my future. I remember one night I was writing nonsense in my journal when all of a sudden I thought…” I’ve been alive for 21 years and I haven’t done anything that makes me feel like I’ve made a difference in the world. I want to have an impact on people’s lives, so why haven’t I done that?” At the time I was interested in education, technology, and social change.

One day I was scrolling through my Twitter feed when I saw someone retweeted something about Plot Twisters. The name “Plot Twisters” was so intriguing at that moment. I resonated with the term as well. Life at the time felt like a huge plot twist! 2020 had just started, everything was going so well and all of a sudden it was like life shut down due to COVID. I couldn’t believe it…there was actually a pandemic. 2020 felt like that movie “Contagion”. Except rather than watching it, we were all living through it. When I found out that Plot Twisters was an education technology studio that framed K-12 students as the “storytellers of their journey”. I was entranced by it. I met with the Founder, Jenny Liu Zhang a few days later after DMing her on Twitter and BOOM. I was on the team. Fast forward 5 months later and here I am today still working at Plot Twisters.

To say that Plot Twisters has changed my life as a designer would be an understatement. Plot Twisters has given me the opportunity to be friends with and collaborate with hardworking, talented, and creative designers, technologists, design strategists, illustrators, researchers, and developers. In the last 6 months, my team and I have been working to launch Plot Twisters. Plot Twisters is unlike any experience I’ve ever had in the design field.

Our Plot Twisters team prides itself on the values of play, curiosity, and learning. We are one big soccer team. We can choose when we want to lean into things and when we want to lean out. We choose to work on projects that are meaningful to us and pride ourselves on having ownership and agency of our decisions. So how has Plot Twisters helped me grow as a designer?

In the past 5 months, I’ve learned skills I wouldn’t have learned elsewhere. I’ve learned to create my own opportunities rather than waiting for an opportunity to pop up. I’ve become more confident in my ability to lead a team by leading product strategy brainstorming sessions with the team and leading UI interface workshops. Plot Twisters has also taught me to recognize the value of writing and reading. Not only have I been able to write up reflections on the values and goals of our startup/Plot Twisters but I’ve also been able to tap more into writing because everyone in our team is encouraged to be self-aware and communicate our feelings, thoughts, and emotions. We are all encouraged to keep a journal with thoughts, ideas, doodles, etc. because this is a great way to nurture creativity!

Plot Twisters has also made me realize that while pixel-pushing and prototyping can be fun, one of the most foundational aspects of launching a startup is getting to the root of why we’re creating what we’re creating, who we’re creating for, and what we want to create. I’ve always been a stickler for goals and values. As someone who cares about the “why” of things, I created a project for myself in Plot Twisters! I started having conversations with parents, teachers/educators, and students! I wanted to talk with them about their thoughts on what it means to build a journey, what plot twists mean to them, and what having an education means to them! In other words, I found that my energy and creativity comes from meeting and talking to people!

Another thing that I’ve learned while at Plot Twisters has been collaboration. Our team consists of team players located in 4 different time zones. We have someone in Australia, the UK, and California. One of the challenges we’re currently facing is how to work on multiple things and how to split the work. We currently are conducting interviews to gather insight and feedback on what we’re building, have developers wanting to build out prototypes, designers who want to start creating mockups, and researchers (like me) who want to focus on interviews and analyzing interaction patterns of mobile app/desktop interfaces of notetaking/journaling tools.

Being in this situation where we are all trying to juggle multiple tasks/goals at once, me and another team member have learned to communicate the clear goals of what needs to be prioritized. For example, we are currently prioritizing research to collect feedback on our products because this will influence the way we design and prototype our products.

However, we also need to be making some progress on what our products will look like! Furthermore, we have decided to have imagination prompts where team members can brainstorm ideas for what an interface/product will look like! This not only allows team members to feel like they’re making valuable contributions to the team but it also allows them to explore their creative freedoms! Most importantly, I’ve learned how to approach building a relationship with developers/engineers while our team is still in the research phase.

So THAT was a lot. I mostly wrote this for me because Plot Twisters has encouraged me to reflect on my experiences more often. However, if you end up seeing (whoever you are) I hope this helps you too! If you’re someone launching a startup, consider yourself to be an entrepreneur, or are curious about working in the startup arena, just know and remember that there are so many valuable skills and abilities that you can gain at a startup! Working at a startup has taught me how to be flexible and adapt quickly to changes happening. It has also taught me to embrace ambiguity and uncertainty and not be afraid of it. Hope this helped!

If you’re curious about my journey with Plot Twisters or my journey as a designer follow me at https://twitter.com/melissaregala12

UX/UI Designer at Plot Twisters empowering people to be the storytellers of their journeys through self-reflection tools. Say hi! 👋