Baby Steps into a Design Career: Reflections on building professional practices

Stella Sun
4 min readMay 5, 2021


In the last few months of my junior year at California College of the Arts (CCA), I had the opportunity to take a course called Professional Practices with professor Kate Rutter. As this semester comes to its end, I want to share my reflections on this unique course about industry preparation and self discovery.

My first encounter with the terms “professional practices” was through a friend who had been in CCA’s Industrial Design program, who told me that “it’s just a class to help you prepare your portfolio.” Upon hearing that, I had anticipated a semester-long portfolio and resume workshop that would hopefully land me a summer internship.

However, as I entered the virtual classroom, I realized that this course was much more than an exhaustive portfolio and resume workshop, both to my dismay and excitement. On one hand, the systemic feedback I had craved for my portfolio was held tightly within the format of Junior Review, with results I would receive after a three months wait. However, the autonomy and openness that one of the main tasks of the class– a set of self-made and self-directed objectives and key results (OKRs)– presented an exciting and daunting challenge for me to step away from the comfort of academia and slowly peek into the realm of a design career.

With a half-completed first draft of a portfolio website, I began Professional Practices with timid excitement.

A list to track in progress OKRs

As I planned my “professional life OKRs,” I subconsciously divided many of my objectives into ones I knew I could accomplish, others I wanted to tackle, and still others I didn’t know if I could complete.

One of the objectives I was most hesitant to address was virtual event attending. The seemingly endless hours I’ve spent on Zoom since the past year has been constantly battling against my digital attention span. I wanted to quickly dive in and out of a handful of events to check off and move on from the OKR. However, as I began attending events, I quickly realized that many design and career related lectures and workshops were moving away from the rigid and formal qualities that a Zoom meeting room normally brings forth and were transforming into casual and friendly chatter between hosts, speakers, and attendees. Similar to myself, many people desired natural social interaction, even within a collection of isolated boxes on a screen. The seemingly monotonous duty of online event-going transformed into an exciting way to connect with new communities and reconnect with friends and peers.

I began attending a few events each month since the past few months, as well as co-hosted an event with a fellow classmate for our other college students.

Illustration by Ainsley Carter

Another objective I was eager but hesitant to attempt was creating a personal purpose venn diagram. During the first session of Professional Practices my professor, Kate, had lectured briefly on the assets that an interaction designer needs. In my notes, I had reproduced:

Although I had known that a designer should have skills and the means to showcase them, their own perspective, and a community of support, having been “taught” about these seemingly obvious resources sparked an urgent question of whether I carried these assets. However, as I pondered on my seedling of a professional life, I discovered that while I had proven myself to be a great design student, I had no outlet to present myself as a designer. Thus I took on an objective to explore my personal and professional interests through a personal purpose venn diagram.

View personal purpose venn diagram post on LinkedIn

The populating of information on this diagram took equally long as the contemplation of whether to share it online. I was simply a college student with little “real” work experience trying to determine answers to a not yet existing professional life. As I scrutinized my diagram, I realized that just like a design project, this purpose blueprint can evolve and be iterated upon as I gain new experiences and perspectives. Thus I shared my venn diagram via LinkedIn and will hold myself to further reflections to it in a near future.

Finally, an objective that I felt confident in accomplishing was continuously working on my portfolio website and gathering feedback. Over the course of the class, I had received feedback from a collection of practitioners and peers. The transposing of school projects into outward-facing case studies introduced both unexpected challenges and a multitude of opportunities. More importantly, it generated space for connecting with friends and fellow college-designers.

Throughout the Professional Practices course, I was able to reassess my strengths and weaknesses and take more autonomy in my professional development.

Connect with me!

As a last challenge for myself at the end of this class, I want to reach further beyond my institutional setting and connect with my community and continuously expand it.

I would love your feedback on my portfolio, or chat about anything, such as meaningful networking, ixd, etc!