What are you currently fascinated by and how is it feeding into your work? Honestly, comic books. A friend bought me my first graphic novel, The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, for Christmas after I expressed how much I enjoyed the Netflix Series and I’m obsessed. The experience as a reader of a graphic novel is so different from that of a traditional book. I also went to see Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse and was completely blown away by the animation style. Since then, I’ve begun taking notice of Atlanta artists like Chris Veal who have comic strip style murals which appear heavily influenced by Roy Lichtenstein. As far as how it is influencing my work, we recently tossed around the idea of creating a comic strip for each of our personas as they move through their day and interact with our products. It would be a fun and fresh take on an empathy exercise with the goal of incentivizing people to use the personas more within our company.
Who or what has been the biggest single influence on your way of thinking about design? This is a tough one! I’m not sure, I can say that the work of Photographer Norman Jean Roy was a strong influence in my decision to pursue an art related career. I clearly remember the shoot he did with Emma Watson for Teen Vogue in 2009. I was captivated by the composition, light, color and general whimsy of the photographs in the spread. I remember thinking that I wanted to orchestrate something that beautiful.
What project or design problem have you faced (in the past or recently) that seemed to be a “failure” but was perhaps an extremely valuable learning experience? One of my favorite projects that I worked on at Digitas never made it into production. Some people may call that a failure because the work we did isn’t being used by anyone but I’m still really proud of what we put forward! In fact, everyone was really happy with the design solution but at the end of the day there were too many technical and budget constraints to make our full vision a reality. We were asked by our client, Nissan, to redesign the grade walk feature on their website. The grade walk is a tool to that allows a user to compare high level information about different trim levels for a specific vehicle like the Nissan Titan XD® (See gallery below for an image of what they started with and what was proposed).
“I get to network, influence, and educate non-designers about the importance of design thinking and help them advocate for our users.”
You are currently a User Experience Designer at PGi in Atlanta, GA. What is the most interesting or perhaps rewarding part of your daily design work? Are there any specific projects you are extremely proud of and would like to talk about here? One of the most interesting parts of my role at PGi is that I get to help build bridges throughout the entire organization. I sit in on many meetings about different areas of our business and look out for opportunities to draw connections between silos and standardize the way features are approached throughout different products in our product suite. I get to network, influence, and educate non-designers about the importance of design thinking and help them advocate for our users.
You recently spoke to our design classes about what it is like to work as a user experience designer. Would you elaborate on the processes and techniques you use in your work? Are there processes or programs that students could practice now to help position them for working in the field of user experience out of school? My process when working alone is to work really quickly and get a lot of ideas out on paper in low fidelity form. I get really curious about the problem I’m trying to solve and I suspend my judgement of my ideas at this stage. No idea is unworthy of being put on paper. After I’ve produced a lot of low fidelity solutions or ideas I remind myself of the goals, limitations, users, etc and start honing in on what ideas make sense to keep and refine.
When working on a team, I like to spend time together, apart, together. Together we align on the problem we are trying to solve and clarify any limitations that might exist. Then apart we individually do the process I mentioned above where we put all of our ideas on paper. Finally, we back together and discuss all the ideas everyone has and start eliminating things that don’t make sense and refining things that do make sense.
The output of this activity is usually a few strong ideas that are divided up between the designers who participated for wireframing. Those wireframes are then presented to product and development partners for final solution selection before visual design begins.
“It is incredibly frustrating to automatically be counted off for being a woman. I also recognize that I am white woman and therefore still have it easier than most. I don’t know what the solution is to overcoming bias in the workplace and becoming successful as a woman in your field but that shouldn’t keep us from going after it together.”
It’s clear you are successfully working in the field of design. In your opinion is it more difficult for women to become “successful” in the design field? Perhaps even in the user experience field? Even though it’s 2019, I believe there remains a lot of bias against women in the workplace. The extent and root cause of the bias varies company to company and so do the specific challenges. Because of bias, I’d say yes, I believe it is more difficult for women to become successful in their field, design or other.
My challenges with bias in the workplace have revolved mostly around being underestimated because I’m a “young woman.” I’ve had things mansplained to me more times than I can count. I’ve been talked over and cut off during meetings when I’m presenting to clients. I’ve been called plenty of names including sweetie and kiddo. I’ve also been referred to as a “junior designer” when junior was not in my title and my male counterpart with the same number years of experience as me was never referred to as such. Plus, I’ve encountered a few situations with male superiors that border on the edge of sexual harassment. None of this behavior is professional to say the least.
It is incredibly frustrating to automatically be counted off for being a woman. I also recognize that I am white woman and therefore still have it easier than most. I don’t know what the solution is to overcoming bias in the workplace and becoming successful as a woman in your field but that shouldn’t keep us from going after it together.
Are there any rules or habits that help you do your design work more efficiently? I’ve read recently how walking does wonders to promote cognitive function so I’ve made it a habit to take a walk during my lunch hour every day, even if I can only spare 15 minutes. During that time I open my mind to whatever it needs that day: to destress, listen to something inspiring, allow things I’ve forgotten to come back to me, find stillness, affirm myself, or make sure I’m still aligned to my priority for the day. I’ve found this active break process makes me more focused and more able to do deep creative work when I get back to my desk.
What advice would you give to student designers preparing to enter into the design field? Be a sponge! Take it all in, learn everything that you can, look for opportunities to expand into adjacent skill sets that interest you and see what sticks. No one is going to craft your career for you. You have to advocate for yourself and take responsibility for your growth. Get to know your manager, be open with them about how you are already contributing and how you want to continue to grow. This will help you leverage their influence with their peers when you want to be chosen to work with a new client, or get paid to go to a conference, or are ready for a promotion.
While you were in school at Auburn, do you remember a specific design project that challenged you the most? Everything we did in Advanced Interactive was super challenging. It was a lot of firsts for me: designing an app, designing for mobile, considering a user and their behavior, learning the basics of coding, etc. I struggled in that class because I had no idea what I was doing but I also loved it! It was my favorite class and it was when I decided that I wanted to be a UX Designer.
Would you recommend some resources that student designers might find useful? I love to listen to audiobooks while commuting. Yay for multi-tasking!
Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg
The Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni
This Is Day One by Drew Dudley
Dare to Lead by Brene Brown
Personal Growth Books:
You Are a Badass by Jen Sincero
Braving the Wilderness by Brene Brown
Designing Your Life by Bill Burnett and Dave Evans
Sustaining Creativity Books:
Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert
The War on Art by Steven Pressfield
Pick Me Up by Adam J. Kurtz
The Creative Rising by Blake Howard
Girl Boss Radio by Sophia Amoruso
Magic Lessons by Elizabeth Gilbert
Meetups are another great resource! They help me stay inspired and get to know other creatives in my city. 10/10 would recommend.
What do you know now that you wish you knew when you were in school? I wish I knew that I should partner with my creative process and trust it. Instead, while I was in school, I wasted a lot of energy trying to cheat my creative process and get things done too quickly. This was also stress inducing because since I didn’t trust the process I was inclined to have a meltdown anytime my first idea wasn’t the best solution. Design school is the perfect playground to learn how to trust your creative process and I wish I had leaned into into that more and enjoyed getting lost in the discovery phase of a project. It’s a lesson I think we all have to learn as designers so I’d say the sooner the better.
Designer responded to questions in 2019 via email.