Alumna Spotlight: Guneet Ghotra Brings Passion — and Community– to Start-Up UI/UX Design
Guneet Ghotra (BFA-Design ’20) studied graphic design at WSU and is now a product designer for the San Francisco-based startup, Edlyft. A member of the WSU, she teaches Intro to Interactivity and hosts the Social Design Club workshops, which bring designers together to collaborate and provide constructive feedback on each other’s current projects.
“I am a big advocate for community and design in general,” she explains, noting that it is the motivation behind a significant portion of her work. Social Design Club is geared towards freelancers; individuals operating — like Ghotra — as the sole designers within their company; or designers who need outside input on a side project. The workshops provide the opportunity to receive feedback from other creatives in the Metro Detroit area and help designers improve their skills and their craft.
Building Connections Through Social Design Club
The inspiration for the Social Design Club came during Ghotra’s time at WSU, particularly her work with Professor Emerita Judith Moldenhauer. “This is something that I took from my time at Wayne State. … Judith really encouraged critique, and more so very specific critique to help others improve. That was something that I really enjoyed as a part of the design process while in school,” she says. She describes that, at WSU, "the people were there to willingly support you through your journey in graphic design. It’s just amazing. And the connections that I kept from Wayne, are something that I cherish so much.”
Once outside of school, she saw a strong need to create that environment and experience for professional designers around Detroit. “Judith would have everybody put up their work, and we would look at it as a class. Everybody would just pitch in their ideas of what they liked, what they didn’t like, and how the other person could improve. I have taken that same set-up: you present your work, talk about it and then share what kind of feedback you want to gather."
The Social Design Club currently meets at Kitab Cafe in Hamtramck, and in September, it was a featured part of Detroit Month of Design. Ghotra is exploring residency options, which would bring more stability to the club. Ghotra’s desire to build community around initiatives that directly enhance professional success and satisfaction plays an important role in her own career. After a brief stint with Detroit-based startup ToDooly, she joined Edlyft last year.
Impacting Education with Edlyft
Edlyft is a Black woman-owned and women-lead EdTech startup aimed at diversifying tech spaces, specifically the fields of computer science and engineering... “We create products and programs to help underrepresented undergraduate students who are trying to make it through computer science courses and break into the field,” Ghotra says. Edlyft assists with interview preparation and provides mentorship through its Engineering Buddy Program, which could, for example, pair a student with a software engineer from a large company who meets with them monthly, offering job search and early career guidance.
“We help ensure that these students graduate and have the support and mentorship that they need, then we place them into internships at large companies like LinkedIn, Netflix, Dropbox, Tinder, etc.,” she says. Edlyft leverages a number of corporate partnerships to open doors for students from traditionally underrepresented groups; through mentorship, the company supports them in their early career paths. LinkedIn, Netflix, and Dropbox are just three examples of internship programs with which Edlyft works. “I feel very lucky. It’s very impactful work and the company is inspiring,” she raves. With five primary employees, “We’re very lean, and it’s very autonomous. I have full ownership of what I do. It’s just a wonderful environment.”
Ghotra appreciates the startup experience that encompasses diverse product design — touching everything Edlyft is developing — as well as non-product-design facets of the business. “You can wear so many hats and have so many responsibilities, and quickly see the impact and the progress that you make,” she says. From user research through product launch, Ghotra’s work at Edlyft has also involved her in website design and product management, helping set priorities, based on what is needed for the business and improvement of user experience.
She also thrives on the technical nature of the work and the fast-pace from concept to production. “We work incrementally, and there are a lot of things that we have to take into consideration, such as technical capabilities. ‘What does the back-end allow? What does our database allow for when we have to build this?’ I have to consider all that when it comes to design. I can’t go off and make a beautiful, standalone product that animates in fancy ways if I haven’t taken into account the technical capabilities/limitations and timeframe available. That’s the whole experience of working with a start-up. It’s very fast. We iterate super quickly, like weekly. We’re trying to launch products in one to two months.”
Her end-to-end process begins with user research, which she conducts, synthesizes and analyzes. This data informs the design decisions she makes to improve or add features to the product. When this requires a full restart, Ghotra steps back to gather additional user research. Once a design is completed, it moves to review, where she gathers feedback that she will work with the software engineering team to implement. They, in turn, transform that user story into a live product, which Ghotra will qualitatively analyze before launch.
Applying Learnings from WSU
“User research is probably my favorite part” of the process, she says. “I get to talk to people [and] watch them use the product. I get to analyze what they’re struggling with, what their pain points are.” Ghotra notes that it was her WSU Design Process class that first sparked the interest in UI/UX and her class project that landed her first job at Skidmore Studio. She describes immersing herself in the project, designing an entire app. The passion and excitement with which she presented the design was not lost on the company’s creative director, and she was hired soon after.
Currently, she is working on a product and website to meet a communication gap within the internship programs. User research identified a need for better connection between internal management teams and incoming interns/new hires. “Large companies, such as LinkedIn or Dropbox, might have more than 60 interns join at the start of the summer, and communicating with them is very inefficient,” she explains. To streamline, Edlyft created a forum for internal teams to connect with new hires. This platform also enables connection within the intern group, which is helpful, she explains, in finding roommates and making the social connections that are a fundamental element of career development. Conversion rate of interns to full-time hires is a key metric for corporate early career programs. Edlyft envisions this product as a way to create engagement and provide insight into company culture, which increases the connection an intern feels to the organization and the appeal of a full-time job offer.
Involvement in all aspects of product development and launch presents challenges as often as exciting opportunities, Ghotra notes. For example, the original platform was student facing, but a shift in strategy prompted a pivot to be business facing. This was a transition that needed to follow through to every element of brand identity. This brand identity challenge was one of the catalysts for her launch of the Social Design Club. Getting workshop feedback from designers who are adept at branding has played an important part in her tackling of these projects.
Advice to Students
Ghotra emphasizes the importance of opening your eyes to art inspiration all around. WSU field trips were fundamental in developing her appreciation for Detroit and the blossoming art community, which inspires her daily. She also encourages students to “find something that you're passionate about and run with it, be confident in it. That will shine through and attract collaborators and opportunities to do great work.”