Tech Role Models: Bushra Mahmood, Principle UX Designer at Unity

Today's Tech Role Model is Bushra Mahmood. Bushra is a Principle UX Designer at Unity.

Today’s Role Model is Bushra Mahmood. Bushra got her start in tech nearly a decade ago working in motion graphics and visual effects. She produced punk shows in Canada and worked on documentaries as a teen, which is where she developed her design and motion skills. She started doing motion graphics for advertising agencies and then gradually moved into product design. Bushra led design at a fintech startup that was acquired by Goldman Sachs and then moved to San Francisco to work for Adobe.

At Adobe, Bushra worked on several tools ranging from Dimension, Premiere Rush, After Effects and Project Aero. Bushra recently moved to a new role at Unity Technologies working in the Labs team. In her free time, she likes to hang out with her dog, write, study languages and work on her 3D art.

What’s your official title and how long have you been in this role?

I am a principal designer in the advanced UX team at Unity Technologies. I have been at Unity since July of this year.

What attracted you to this principle UX designer role?

During my time at Adobe, I became obsessed over the idea of making tools for real-time content authoring. In my research, I had found that Unity was the go-to software for nearly every engineer and researcher working in emerging tech. When the opportunity arose, I couldn’t resist the chance to be a part of the company that is already starting to shape the future.

Walk me through a typical day in your role. What activities do you engage in? What types of meetings do you join? When’s lunch?

I’m usually one of the first people into the office, getting in at around 6 am. I find that I do most of my best work in the morning without any distractions. During a product cycle, I have presentations that I give to stakeholders at the end of each week, and this lets me evenly distribute my workload into three stages.

I spend the first stage researching and sketching. Once I have a good idea or concept, I then go into prototyping and try to produce several variations. I spend the second stage doing check-ins to make sure there is alignment amongst the team. I work with some brilliant minds, so I always make time to collect feedback and iterate. This stage is also usually the longest and the most unpredictable.

The third stage is the final presentation in which I always have a deliverable that can be shared and documented.

I also always make time for lunch at noon, having an early day would be impossible without a mid-day recharge.

What skills/technologies help you succeed?

My motion and 3D skills have been monumental in my career trajectory. They gave me the confidence to explore and discover non-traditional design paradigms. My entry into augmented reality was a lot less daunting because I understood how to composite video. My tools of choice have always been Keynote, After Effects and Cinema 4D. I feel empowered to do anything with these three tools under my belt. All of these tools deal with motion and interactivity in some capacity; this then allows me to communicate much more effectively.

What’s the most fun or creative part of your principle UX designer role?

My current role involves predicting what the future might hold for creatives. I find myself continually navigating uncharted territories and dealing with a lot of ambiguity. My purpose, in a nutshell, is to understand and minimize complexities wherever I can. I love taking vague or difficult ideas and breaking them down into something more digestible for a broader audience. I aspire to make mediums like motion and 3D less daunting for any user.

What are the biggest challenges you face in this principle UX designer role?

The biggest challenge that I face in my role is not having enough concrete data on which to base assumptions. In our research, we often find that the user is not even aware that they may have a problem that needs solving.  

The speed at which technology evolves can also feel daunting. Trying to stay focused but also pursuing innovation is a balancing act that can get tricky fast.

What teams/individuals do you work with cross-functionally? Can you give an example of a time when you collaborated with another group/individual?

My team works alongside several other groups within the company. We work on early research and help with product definition, as well as prototyping and experimenting with emerging UX and UI patterns for new mediums.

What’s an area where you’re trying to grow in your principle UX designer role?

Although I have been enjoying the role of an individual contributor, I’ve started to become more interested in leadership roles. I feel lucky that Unity offers training to anyone who wishes to learn and pursue a leadership role and I plan to take full advantage of that opportunity.

What skills (tech/non-tech) have you improved as a result of working in this role?

Gaming can be a grueling medium that requires a lot of love for the craft. In turn, the field attracts people who genuinely care about the medium. I get the opportunity to work with industry veterans who are still as excited about what they do now as they were on their first days.

The leadership in my team puts a lot of trust in us and champions a healthy work environment which has in turn made me much more patient. Being more patient has dramatically improved the quality of my work and overall productivity.

Aside from technical skills, what personality traits/characteristics make for an ideal candidate in your role?

The ability to write, present and communicate are often more valuable than the technical skills themselves. These skills help create understanding and alignment across groups which in turn extend the life of your ideas.

In your principle UX designer role, what metrics define success?

Success is a difficult metric to define when building for the future. There are always things out of our hands that can change the trajectory of a product overnight. The most valuable takeaway from an experimental project is what can be learned and then applied in a practical situation. Proper documentation and case studies become valuable for teams that may otherwise not have the time to experiment.

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