The Startup Life: Design in Indy Tech

by High Alpha

A design intern’s experience at a new B2B SaaS company

I have always been a curious person and found myself exploring the world around me at a young age. Not much changed after finishing my freshman year at Herron School of Art and Design. It was my goal to stay curious and be involved as much as possible. I said yes to every design opportunity and became connected to the design community in Indianapolis. Now, I’m halfway through my senior year and my internship with High Alpha shaped my way of thinking as a designer.

The tech industry was always on my radar, but I wasn’t sure how to get my foot in the door. I started making connections through AIGA and networking. It wasn’t long before I heard about a new, bold, and brilliant idea within High Alpha’s newest pre-launch company. Without hesitation, I said yes when they offered me an internship, which turned out to be one of the best decisions I ever made.

Opportunities in Indy

I knew Indianapolis was growing within the tech industry, but I really didn’t know how much it could affect my journey as a designer. I had visited Studio Science and High Alpha through AIGA Indy and was familiar with both their structures. I listened to podcasts and heard amazing things about High Alpha and imagined myself working there one day in the future, but I didn’t know that opportunity would come about as soon as it did. I’m fortunate I met the right people along the way because the opportunity of working in tech was right in front of me and I might have missed it otherwise.

The Startup Life

I approached my internship with an open mind because I didn’t know what the “startup life” was and it was insightful to what my future could look like after graduation. The “startup life” was just a phrase I heard every now and then from young professionals, and I truly didn’t know what that meant until I started working with the pre-launch company. Everything about B2B and SaaS was new to me, and for context, I didn’t even know what SaaS meant. This was the challenge I needed, especially now that I’m about to graduate.

The skills I use as a designer make up my “toolbox”. I can create anything from print and digital designs to videos and slide decks, but I was ready to add another tool to my toolbox and experience design felt like the perfect next move. I am a problem solver and like to ask a million questions about why and how things work. I know how to create effective visual designs, but how were these designs affecting people? This startup was centered around people, culture, values, and making B2B an enjoyable experience. This was the perfect fit for my design skills and eagerness to learn more about peoples’ experience with design, so I went for it.

The Internship Experience

At the beginning of the summer, my mentor Megan and I made a list of internship goals and personal goals within the first week. I checked back in on the goals as my internship progressed. Each week, we would have a 1:1s where Megan would ask about my internship progress, look over my projects, and answer any of my questions. It was important to set goals for my personal growth because a typical day for me was to come into work and expect the unexpected. Things moved at a quick pace and I learned to pivot when it was necessary to complete projects. Some days I would be working on Customer Success visualizations and the next day I would be creating journey maps to use during design meetings. There was always something new to work on which was exciting because I got to learn quickly about many different facets of the company. I learned about product design, user interface design, brand/marketing, customer success, and business outcome management. I grew an understanding for product and software that I couldn’t comprehend before.

Since I worked on different projects this summer, I got to learn a lot from many different mentors as well. The experience I had with the team was great—they trusted my opinions and assigned tasks based on what I was interested in. The mentors I had in the company truly made this experience worth it because they took the time to answer my in-depth questions, foster my curiosity, and network with other designers across the High Alpha portfolio.

My Internship Advice

Always ask questions. Asking questions is your way of making sense of what you don’t understand. It’s okay to speak up during brainstorm sessions and meetings. There is a good chance if you don’t understand something, someone else feels the same way.

Seek more. If you vocalize to your team and mentors what you’re into, they can expose you to new areas and ideas. If you notice you’re into something outside of your internship scope, don’t be afraid to sit in on different meetings. This is a great way to learn more about how other people work on the team and what projects they are currently doing. Seeking more will open more doors than you can walk through.

Say Yes. Even if you aren’t sure you can complete a project, always say yes and take a stab at it. I got asked to complete exercises where I didn’t even know where to begin. I said yes! I will do it, then everything fell into place.

What’s Next

I learned so much during my time at High Alpha. I am eager to keep growing, learning, and reading about experience design, customer success, and user interaction design. I have less than a year before entering the “real world” of design and because of my internship experience, I know there is a team out there waiting to work with me. Check out my website* to stay in the loop about my design career journey. Thanks for reading!

Haley Francis-Halstead *internship projects coming soon