For Ivy Zhang, a UX Design intern at Illumio, this summer offered real-world opportunities for learning.
Ivy’s experience at Illumio was grounded by relevant, impactful work that benefited her team and Illumio users. She gained valuable lessons on everything from accessibility in design to proper axe-throwing form.
Here are five things Ivy learned from her time with Illumio’s internship program.
Lesson 1: Designing for dark mode
From day one of her internship, Ivy spearheaded the design of a crucial feature for Illumio: a dark mode for Illumio Core.
Ivy was excited to work on something so relevant to Illumio users across the globe.
“I feel like dark mode actually relates to everyone,” said Ivy.
While implementing dark mode may sound simple enough on paper, Ivy had to wrangle with plenty of challenges throughout her work on the project.
“In the beginning, I thought dark mode was just about black and white and greys, just changing colors. But I learned it’s not as simple as that,” she explained. “Shadows work differently. I can’t just do the same dark-grey dropdown and dark grey background. Elevation expresses differently.”
By the end of her internship, Ivy had gained hands-on experience in developing a dark mode setting, adding accessibility to Illumio Core, and saving users’ eyes from the dreaded blast of a blinding interface.
It’s not every day that interns get to work on such a relevant, widely used feature for a product.
Lesson 2: Staying consistent in design
To uninitiated users like myself, the UX/UI design of any software is omnipresent yet seamlessly blended into the background.
This quality comes from design consistency, a topic that Ivy had plenty of opportunities to immerse herself in during her internship.
“I learned to focus on consistency when I design,” Ivy noted. “Even though I’m only designing for the Illumio product, I should reference UX/UI design patterns.”
Although every software is different, UX/UI uses familiar, recurring patterns to make software easy to use. This helps users learn and navigate a platform's layout without even realizing it.
Ivy tapped into these patterns to make dark mode for Illumio Core consistent with other platforms – and easy for Illumio’s customers to use. It provided an opportunity for her to use UI patterns in a real-world project and see their impact.
“Users will have an easier time with our product if we’re consistent with products they’ve already used,” explained Ivy.
Lesson 3: Presenting the “why” of your work
UX design is a collaborative process at Illumio, one that taught Ivy how to better communicate her ideas and get the most out of her teammates’ feedback.
“I found that in UX it’s really important to pitch my work and show the value of every decision and design I make,” said Ivy.
The internship’s structure had Ivy presenting her work to the team twice a week, on Tuesdays and Thursdays. The rest of the week, Ivy worked on sketches, developed design concepts, and implemented feedback from her presentation to the team.
“When I first started preparing my presentations, they were very focused on showcasing my designs and work and talking about my process,” she said.
But as her internship continued, Ivy discovered that she also needed to communicate the value of the project and her choices.
She used this lesson when putting together her final intern showcase presentation, working closely with her Illumio mentor to better communicate the “why” of her project – not just the “how” – to her teammates.
“I learned that it’s really important to focus on storytelling during a presentation which is something I missed at first. It’s not a full story without a ‘why’. I needed to tell people whywe need a dark mode,” she explained.
In partnership with her Illumio mentor, Ivy learned how to make the most out of presentations, something that was valuable both for her career and the success of her Illumio project.
Lesson 4: Networking with your team (and proper axe-throwing form)
Internships aren’t just about the work you do or the lessons you learn. They’re also about making connections with your colleagues.
At Illumio’s Toronto office, Ivy got to know her Illumio team and internship cohort both in the office and at events.
To celebrate the Toronto office’s opening early in the summer, the local team and interns went out for dinner and a night of axe throwing.
Moments like these reinforce Illumio’s supportive, friendly culture, and Ivy was happy to experience it face-to-face this summer.
“Everyone is super relaxed and friendly at Illumio. I got to make a lot of friends in the intern program,” Ivy said.
Lesson 5: Designing with accessibility in mind
Ivy’s opportunity to dive into such a unique and exciting project like dark mode for Illumio Core served as the perfect inspiration for her next steps post-internship.
“My project was all about accessibility in Illumio, so it inspired me to take an accessibility course in the fall semester,” Ivy said. “I think accessibility is such an important concept in UX, and my internship helped me find this new interest in accessible design.”
She noted how important the lessons she learned about implementing accessible features would be in the years to come, and how the mindset she developed will stick with her moving forward.
“My project at Illumio helped me learn to always have an inclusive design from the start. It’s important to design with accessibility already in mind,” she explained.
Whether she was implementing dark mode, bonding with her coworkers over axe throwing, or developing a passion for implementing accessible design, Ivy’s internship was equal parts rewarding and educational