Melissa Mandelbaum — Dropbox

SF-based product designer. She’s an architect by training who loves drawing parallels between architecture and product design.

What led you into design?

For as long as I can remember, I’ve loved art and design. When I think about how it all began, I have to thank my grandparents who are photographers in NYC. As a child, they took me to lots of wonderful museums. At every exhibit, they told me all about the art and architecture. They also taught me how to take photos and develop film in their darkroom. My grandparents really opened my eyes to the world of art and design. I feel very lucky to have them in my life.

Photographs by Melissa’s Grandma Babs Armour

I also have to thank Lego. It was my favorite childhood toy. It’s no surprise, I ended up in architecture school. As both an architect and product designer, I love design systems and defining the core “building blocks.”

What does a typical day look like?

I care a lot about optimizing my schedule for health, happiness, and productivity. Here’s a snapshot of my current routine.

I track my sleep with the Sleep Cycle app and wake up around 7. I have a large glass of water, then meditate with the Headspace app.

When I leave the apartment, I open email and social apps. Waiting to open these apps is one of my favorite daily habits. It helps me begin the day in a proactive way.

I then get an iced coffee and head to Dropbox. On my commute, I browse Twitter. I aim to read a few articles and learn something new every day.

At the office, I have breakfast then dive into design. Since I’m most energized and focused in the morning, I try to begin my day with deep thinking. In the afternoon, I switch to meetings and email.

Last but not least, I recently started reading books via Kindle on my evening commute. Thus far, I’m really enjoying the habit. Recommend it!

Images courtesy of Dropbox - photographed by Chris Behroozian and Laure Joliet

What’s your setup?

I love building proactive habits and limiting reactive modes. As a result, I don’t have many apps on my phone and most notifications are off. The only social apps on my phone are Twitter and Facebook Messenger. Although minimal, the setup is great for focus.

Where do you go to get inspired?

I’m so inspired by the things in my Twitter feed. Each and every day, I learn so much from the design community.

Some of my favorite blogs to follow include…

I also love visiting museums. I’m always so inspired by the art and architecture. When I lived in NYC, I enjoyed visiting the Guggenheim by Frank Lloyd Wright.

Images via Archdaily

In SF, I love visiting the new SF MOMA. The exhibits are great and the recent expansion by Snøhetta is wonderful.

Image via Snøhetta

As mentioned, I also love to read. Some of my favorite design related books are…

I collect books on Pinterest. If you’re interested, here’s a link to the board.

What have you recently seen that made you think this is great design?

I recently visited the Broad museum in LA. As an architect by training, I thought the building was incredibly well designed by Diller Scofidio + Renfro. In architecture, there’s a concept of “parti” which refers to the “big idea” or “chief organizing thought” for a design. When form follows function, the parti is often very obvious. This is true at the Broad with a “vault and veil” concept. It’s pretty spectacular. If you’re in LA, well worth the visit.

Images via Archdaily

What piece of work are you most proud of?

During my time at Percolate, I worked on a redesign of the analytics report builder. It was a very complex product that required a lot of systems level thinking.

At the time, I was lucky to collaborate with a lot of wonderful teammates across product, design, and engineering. Many thanks to all who contributed. Together, we embraced the challenge and created a great product.

What design challenge have you faced at your company?

Although I’ve been working at startups for 8 years, most of my experience has been at smaller companies. When I joined Dropbox in September 2016, the design process at a larger tech company was new to me. Since joining, I’ve learned so much about how larger companies operate. It’s been an incredible growth opportunity.

When I think about my career at large, I realize it’s been quite the journey. As an architect who transitioned to product design, I’ve faced many challenges and learned a lot along the way. If you're curious, I recently shared my story in a talk about transitioning between design mediums and teams.

What music do you listen to whilst designing?

Any advice for ambitious designers?

During my transition from architecture to product design, my friend Matias Corea advised me to, “learn from someone you admire.” Throughout my career, I’ve followed this advice and it’s led me to wonderful people and experiences.

On a related note, I’ve learned it’s important to never underestimate the power of a cold email. If there’s someone you’d like to meet or learn from, don’t be afraid to reach out. Many designers are happy to help.

Anything you want to promote or plug?

To learn more, you can find me on Twitter and Medium.

You can also follow the Dropbox Design team on Twitter, Medium, and Dribbble.

Thanks for reading!

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