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Apr 12, 2022

Inside Maze: My experience as a remote design intern

Sabrina Nedjah, Associate Product Designer at Maze, shares her experience as a remote design intern at Maze and her first design project.

Sabrina Nedjah is an Associate Product Designer at Maze. She joined Maze as a Product Design Intern in 2020 while finishing her master’s degree. In this article, she shares what it’s like being a design intern at Maze—from her remote onboarding to her first design project.

I first came across Maze back in 2020 in a tweet from Figma announcing the Maze + Figma integration. I decided to give Maze a try for a school project as part of my master’s degree in Digital Communication Engineering at HETIC–my team and I quickly tested our prototype with Maze and got rapid insights from our target users.

After that first experience with the tool, I wanted to improve my user research skills. So I contacted Jonathan, Maze’s CEO and Co-Founder, to see if Maze offers an internship program. He told me he was indeed looking for a product designer and invited me to apply. After a round of interviews with him and Maze’s Director of Product, Arjen Harris, I was offered the chance to become an A-maze-ing.

An a-maze-ing welcome

On my first day, I was warmly welcomed on Slack by all the A-maze-ings. While our team is fully remote, Jonathan and I live in Paris, so he invited me to a welcome breakfast at WeWork. In addition, our colleague Marteen was also in Paris visiting, so I got to meet him too.

Sabrina meets with some fellow a-maze-ings in Paris 🇫🇷

I then started my onboarding process with a coffee chat with Jola Gil, Lead Designer at Maze. Jola introduced me to how the Design team works and collaborates with product managers, engineers, and other teams. After that, I continued with my onboarding—a self-paced and asynchronous process via Notion. This guided me to learn more about the company, its mission and vision, and allowed me to understand the product and ecosystem. As part of my onboarding, I also scheduled virtual coffee chats with team members to learn more about the people I’d be working with.

The value of a remote design internship

Since day one, Maze completely changed my vision of how work can be done, with fewer meetings, more energy and time to focus, and multiple opportunities to collaborate with incredibly talented people worldwide. Thanks to Maze’s remote-first culture and habits, like a practice of strong communication and documentation, I was able to quickly onboard and start working.

For new starters, everything from onboarding FAQs to product how-tos are documented via Notion, meaning you can learn at your own pace without feeling like you’re bombarding the People team with questions or navigating the induction period alone. Practices like the coffee chats you initiate during onboarding are designed with remote-working in mind, enabling you to meet the people you’ll interact with regularly, learn what they’re responsible for, and put faces to names before you need to contact them regarding work.

I was able to balance my internship with being in school mainly due to the fact that I didn’t have to commute to work. Attending school in the mornings and doing my work in the afternoons was as easy as switching between the Slack and Figma accounts on my laptop. My teammates were also understanding and accommodating of my school time, and only scheduled meetings when I could attend them.

Maze completely changed my vision of how work can be done, with fewer meetings, more energy and time to focus, and multiple opportunities to collaborate with incredibly talented people worldwide.

Working with a global team has allowed me to meet people from different countries and cultures; being exposed to such a diverse team helps me become a better version of myself every day. I’ve always wanted to be part of an international company—it’s a dream come true.

Our remote rituals

As a fully-remote team working in a mainly asynchronous way, it’s crucial for us to have regular contact between team members to build rapport and get to know one another. Considering the remote environment, I was incredibly surprised by the number of interactions I have with my team.

At a company level, we all meet together during an all-hands quarterly meeting, called The Amazing Time, to learn about the company's performance, departmental updates, and important goals. It’s a fantastic chance to celebrate the team’s success and get an overview of the bigger picture we’re all collaborating on day-to-day. On the other side of this, everyone can attend the Amazing Games every Thursday—a work-free time for us to let loose and play games like Gartic Phone or Geoguessr.

Last but not least, our entire team gets together for an offsite every year. Last year, we went to the Azores. Many of us met in person for the first time, and we all loved spending time working and partying for a full week!

Sabrina joins her first Maze off-site in the Azores 🏝

On the Design team, we have our own rituals that help create alignment. Since I started, we have iterated these rituals regularly and arrived at a cadence that works best for us. Here’s a quick overview of how we operate on the Design team on a weekly basis:

  • Mondays Heads-up: An asynchronous practice where we report the status of design work and weekly priorities to keep everyone informed on what’s going on across different projects and teams.
  • (Async) Design Reviews: For Design Reviews, we can choose between asynchronous or synchronous, depending on our current needs. For async Design Reviews, we use Figma to prepare work to review on an artboard with all project details, and either a Notion document or Loom video for additional context. Once a project is ready for review, we use our custom-made Slack Feedback Bot for submitting feedback.
  • (Sync) Design Reviews: Alternative to our async Design Reviews, we can choose to have an optional synchronous feedback session every two weeks to discuss projects in real-time. The feedback slots are 20 minutes long, after which we share the next steps with everyone involved.
  • Design System Sessions: Every two weeks, we hold dedicated sessions to review design system work and discuss work in progress.
  • Casual Fridays: Every Friday, we meet together for an informal session to talk about our weekly progress, the lows and highs, and spend some quality time together as a team.

My first design project 💙

During my interview, I shared my desire to work on a design system and the importance of starting this project at the right time in a company’s growth stage. I had already worked on creating a design system as part of my previous internship at Withings, so my interests and experience coincided with Maze’s need for its own design system.

A few months after I started my internship, we had gone through a major rebrand, so we needed to improve consistency through our design assets and scale the new brand across the product. We had a strong brand we wanted to implement throughout the entire user experience to make it delightful, seamless, and intuitive.

A design system brings together the entire set of design guidelines and components of creating a product, from the visual foundations of the brand (typography, color palette, iconography, spacing system, etc.) to the functional elements (buttons, headers, footers, content maps, etc.) and the principles governing them.

Design systems have been an essential asset of hyper-growth companies. Companies like Apple, Atlassian, Shopify, and Adobe have public design systems that guide the creation and design of intuitive end-to-end experiences. So as we started to grow our product team, and with new designers on the way, it was the perfect moment to begin working on our design system and create the foundations for success. That’s when Ariane—our new design system—was born.

We got started by creating an action plan, defining the timeline, assigning tasks, and setting directly responsible individuals (DRIs) for each action. Here’s a high-level overview of the process we went through to create our design system:

1. Audit product needs: We started with an audit of our current needs to understand which components were missing and required.

2. Create icon system: After defining our tasks, we started with our biggest priority—the icon system to ensure each icon is pixel-perfect.

Meet Ariane's iconography

3. Update color system: The second task was reworking our colors to ensure consistency and accessibility, then creating our first global design tokens.

4. Create documentation: Next, we created documentation to allow a better bridge between design and development. This enabled us to keep track of changes and requests, and establish principles to follow.

5. Set up contribution and maintenance processes: Last but not least, we had to think about a maintenance plan, especially as we were growing rapidly across the product team. Here are some key things we did to ensure success:

  • We created a dedicated board for requests related to the design system in Linear. This allowed us to connect designers with developers on the same platform.
  • We set up Design Ops Sessions: 1-hour check-ins every 15 days for all designers and developer stakeholders to discuss processes, techniques, etc.
  • We developed a contribution system to know when to submit a new component and matched the maintenance process in Figma to the contribution model.

Ariane Design System documentation

People, especially designers and developers, are at the heart of every design system. Working on a design system is a team effort. I was proud to work on the first version of our design system in collaboration with Jola, Lead Designer at Maze, and my colleagues from the Engineering team–Jepser and Kaue. We’re continuing to iterate on our design system and have built a dedicated team to support this cornerstone project.

Things I learned during my internship

I’m incredibly grateful for the opportunity to complete my design internship at Maze. During these six months, I learned a lot and developed my skills:

  • I learned to work in product cycles. I learned about Shape Up and how to collaborate with product managers to achieve product goals.
  • I became more autonomous and confident in my ability to work remotely. I was trusted to get my work done and was given challenging projects that helped me contribute meaningfully to our work.
  • I’ve grown a lot as a designer. Now, I think more systematically about introducing new features, evolving existing products, and submitting new components.
  • I understand the importance of testing hypotheses, features, and new products as soon as possible. This helps me prioritize work, be confident in my work, and know that my designs add real value to users.

I’d like to say thank you to all the A-maze-ings for helping me become a better person and a better designer every day. I’m so proud to be part of this adventure. Shoutout to the Maze Product Design team. 💙

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