By Nina Tabios
Joy Kim, an M.A. student at the Academy of Art University’s School of Web Design & New Media (WNM), is about to take her design journey to new heights.
Recently, Kim was accepted into the 2020 Kleiner Perkins Fellows Program, one of the most competitive fellowships in the country for students focused on engineering, design, and product. Kleiner Perkins (KP) provides some of the nation’s top students access to industry leaders and exclusive networking events featuring a number of KP partner companies, including tech giants like Pinterest, Uber, Slack, Robinhood, and Figma. If a Fellow starts a company, KP will invest $100,000 as part of the Fellow Investment Program. Due to its competitiveness, the program boasts of <3% acceptance rate per year.
It’s one of the more unique and challenging ways of getting your feet wet in the tech startup world. Throughout her three months as a fellow, Kim will not only gain new skills as a design intern for DoorDash but will make lasting connections with seasoned and up-and-coming designers as well as program alumni and participants. In the past, fellows hailed from universities like Stanford, Yale, Harvard, MIT, UC Berkeley RISD, Princeton, and Yale. And now, the Academy is once again in the mix (Heather Tompkins, WNM 2013 M.F.A. graduate and Figma producer designer, was a KP Fellow in 2013).
“It shows that hard work, tenacity, and a creative mindset pay off. This is such a great opportunity to gain real-world work experience at one of KP’s partner companies,” said Fred McHale, WNM co-director. “It proves that the curriculum we have created in conjunction with our industry connections is exactly what companies are looking for in students.”
The Kleiner Perkins Fellowship will continue as planned but will be remote for the summer of 2020. Kim spoke with Art U News on her journey into web design and how she landed a spot in one of the nation’s most sought-after industry programs.
You were recently selected as a fellow for the 2020 Kleiner Perkins Fellows program. What can you tell us about the program and why should other Academy students pursue it?
The KP fellowship is a program for college students that connects them with the startup companies they partner with throughout Silicon Valley, including AirbnB, Uber, DoorDash, and Robinhood. It’s a really great opportunity for students to get connected to those high-caliber tech companies in the Bay Area, plus they host a number of networking events that connect you to the institute, other companies, and also other fellows. They do networking events specific for product designers, they also organize Q&A sessions with program alumni as well. It’s all about networking. It looks really great on your résumé.
How did you prepare for the interviews?
The application process is really simple, you provide your portfolio, a personal statement, as well as submit a re-design case study for one of KP’s partner companies. Then you get notified as a first-round finalist, where you start interviewing with some of the KP partner companies. At the time, I was reading a lot of Medium articles. A lot of product designers and students write about their projects and experiences, how their interview processes work, what kinds of questions they got. I prepared [answers] beforehand, writing them down to go over how I would answer and doing mockup interview sessions by myself. I also watched YouTube videos of CEOs speaking at things like TechCrunch events to see how they speak: how designers speak and how they pitch their products. I’d try to pick up those attitudes and demeanor; I observed a lot of CEOs speak slowly but with confidence. Since the first round of interviews were conducted virtually, you [had] to be confident and speak more clearly to deliver. That helped a lot, especially since English is my second language.
Where are you from and how did you find the Academy?
I’m originally from South Korea. I got my bachelor’s degree (in sociology) at UC Berkeley and before coming to the Academy, I actually went back to Korea to prepare for law school. I was preparing for it for almost a year and a half but then I found out law school is not the path I wanted to go … I wanted to go because my parents wanted me to go. I struggled a bit with the question of, “Should I pursue my dream or my parents’ dreams?”
I realized I really wanted to create something. I was looking at different art directions and became really intrigued by motion graphics. At first, I was learning tools like After Effects by watching YouTube. And in that time, I also found out about UX design and digital media design. And that’s how I wound up choosing my path to study digital design. I was googling what are good schools for studying UX design in San Francisco and that’s how I found the Academy, where I thought the website described the curriculum really well.
How would you describe your Academy experience so far?
Overall, I learned a lot. Before, I didn’t know anything about UX design or digital media design. The first class I took on was Principles of UX and my instructor Michelle Downes not only talked a lot about tools and theory of UX design but she also talked a lot about what it’s like to work as a professional UX designer. These were practical skills that I think students want to learn from the school, and I got a lot of great opportunities from that course.
What would you say is your focus within web design?
I always say my specialty is visual design, especially UI design. I really like creating little components and I’m also interested in design systems. In my past internship [with Collective Health], I was on a design systems team, so I got more experience in learning about it and visual components. I think when you say product designer, it’s a huge field—there is also UX strategist or another pathway of visual design, like UI design.
But this is still [the] early stage of my career path, so I want to be more open about it and I want to explore more product design. In my past internship, I was looking into more digital design. In the KP fellowship, I’m hoping to learn more about UX strategy or architecture design. I’m still exploring.
Do your classes help with getting ready for the fellowship?
What we’re doing in school, within the curriculum and what assignments we’re given, is very relevant to what we need to boost our skills and be ready for the professional world. I’m taking a portfolio class, which is the last class before graduation, and I think that class really helped me out, because by doing, I get to look back on my work and review it. The Academy curriculum is all about doing the practical things that help you prepare for your career, so that’s really helped.
What are you most excited for?
I think the fellowship program is going to be a new start for me. Being that I’m international, networking has always been a challenge but I’m just hoping that through this fellowship I can meet people who have similar interests, who have similar goals that we can share. An incoming fellow reached out to me on LinkedIn and I think it’s really good that you get to make connections through this fellowship. I’m just hoping the situation gets better soon so we can start doing on-site events, networking, and making connections.
Also, when you become a fellow, your picture gets put on the website so I’m excited to have my face up there. I’m also glad to see the Academy up there. I hope a lot of people get to know [more about] this fellowship, especially Academy students and I hope they apply for it. I’m so [convinced] that a lot of people in our school are very talented and they deserve to be there. I hope my acceptance and experience can expose them to this. We deserve to be up there and have our faces there too.
This interview has been edited and condensed.