My first year at tonik

Reflecting on how I got here and my freshman experience.

Szymon Mółka
Product Designer

Wow, it’s already been one year, huh?

One year since, after more than half a decade of mixing cocktails, I joined tonik to become a product designer.

To say that this transition was difficult is an understatement. It really felt like wearing a pair of stiff, dress oxfords for the first time. But now, that pair is my favorite and I can’t imagine taking it off.

Humble beginnings

My story starts on Dribbble, where I used to spend every hour of my free time searching for inspiration, exploring different visual styles. Soon, I was following hundreds of designers and teams I wished to work with one day.

Feeling pumped, I spent the next 6 months learning from every tutorial, course or book I could find to design my first portfolio. I couldn’t get to the point where I felt utterly satisfied with my work, but I had to see if the force is strong with me. I sent my application to those teams I admired the most and waited impatiently.

Almost every response started with the disheartening ‘We’re not looking for a Junior Product Designer at the moment’. I thought it was over. But after a comforting pack of ice cream and a couple of self-help YouTube videos on how to deal with rejection (my recommendations page looked awful after that) I replied asking for a portfolio review.

Unexpected turnaround

To my surprise, 3 of those companies gave me fair, constructive feedback. One of them was tonik. But in their response, there was a bonus. They mentioned that they’re looking for an Information Designer. And I seemed perfect for the job.

I wasn’t picky — I replied saying that I’m interested. No more than 2 minutes after I hit send, Martyna (People & Culture) called me for an interview. I must have passed the vibe check, because the next thing I saw was the recruitment task in my inbox. At that point, I met Damian (Head of Design), who answered all my questions about the challenge.

Once I submitted my concept, he messaged me again saying that we should talk more often — which was a cool way of letting me know that I’m hired.

Postponed dream

As you noticed, I kicked off my career working as an Information — not Product — Designer. Instead of designing apps, I was working on pitch decks for startups looking for investors.

While that didn’t have a lot to do with UX design, it taught me all the basics of visual hierarchy. I could also learn how to talk with clients and pick up all the business acronyms they were using.

So even though I wasn’t where I wanted to be, that role gave me the fundaments I’m now using every day — as a Product Designer.

Clash with reality

But, as you can imagine, it wasn’t so colorful all the time. This was my first serious job in the design industry and the number of things to learn was overwhelming. I felt stressed-out.

It happens to all of us, all the time — no matter if you’re just starting out or leading the most talented team. What you can do, though, is turn those feelings into motivation to improve your skills. I know it’s tempting to run away from challenges the minute the smallest obstacles get in your way. But you grow only when outside your comfort zone.

But you grow only when outside your comfort zone.

Need something?

The people around me were — and are, still — my greatest booster. The team is ambitious, kind and their energy is contagious. I can ask them anything — no matter how trivial the question sounds in my head.

As a remote worker, I was worried about my onboarding, because I knew how much stuff I had to go through. My B2B contract, hardware setup, software personalization, company processes and values… . But it happened smoothly.

Maybe it’s because I wasn’t used to such generous workplace — but what surprised me the most was that everyone I met during my onboarding wanted me to succeed. Not just as an employee (i.e. make the company the most money) but, also, as a person. That’s something you can’t replace with higher salary or another office pet.


As an Information Designer, I only worked on a few decks. Roughly 2 months after I joined, I got my first web design project. It seemed to be a test to see if I’m ready to take on more demanding work. Once I finished it, I designed another landing page — so I guess it went all right.

One thing led to another and one evening, while sipping whiskey sour, Damian told me that I’ll be working on my first product in a few days. And if that wasn’t enough, it’ll be for one of the biggest clients tonik has ever had. Wow.

Champagne was poured after those drinks. Don’t recommend that combo though.

Beauty of this job

High salary is one of the most talked about benefits of working as a product designer. And, yeah, it’s real — even though I started humble (at least for the IT standards), I doubled my income within a year. Compare this with my previous job as a bartender, where my wage barely moved up after 6 years.

But the salary increase is only the outcome of the environment where people take such good care of you that you don’t have to ask for a raise, because they’ll be first to offer you one.

At tonik, every 6 months, everyone has a meeting where they discuss their progress — and salary. With all the cool projects, autonomy and dedicated time for self-improvement, you’ll almost certainly get a raise two times a year. This way, I feel like I’m in control over my salary with the work I’m doing every day.

And even though money is great, it’s not the thing that gets me out of my bed every morning. It’s the mission to make users’ life simpler and improve my skills as a designer. If I stay focused on this, I know that the money will come.

One of many

It’s been just a year but I already learned so much. Folks who were my idols became my friends. I had a pleasure to work with great clients. I’m so excited, knowing that more challenges lay ahead of me.


  • When people responds ’No’, ask why. That cause may not be lost.
  • If you’re starting out, don’t stress too much about your title. Catch up with the basics.
  • Surround yourself with people who want to see you succeed.
  • Set personal goals and use them as your motivation.
  • Money ain’t everything — find your why and let it guide you.

Szymon knows a couple things: how to mix cocktails and design superb products. And he's damn good at both.

Szymon Mółka
Product Designer
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tonik here — a design studio focused on early stage startups, helping founders define, design and build products.

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