Today’s Tech Role Model is Meghan Lazier. Meghan is a UX designer who builds better policy, programs, and services across the federal government through her work as a designer and strategist. She has worked to improve how Americans interact with government through high visibility projects at the Federal Reserve Board, the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau, the Department of Veterans Affairs, the Millennium Challenge Corporation and the Office of Personnel Management. She is a Board Member of AIGA’s DC Chapter, where she organizes the biannual DotGov Design conference. Meghan is a graduate of the Design for Social Innovation MFA program at School of Visual Arts.
What’s your official title and how long have you been in this role?
I’m a UX/UI Designer. I also do service design work and design research. It’s tough to nail down a particular title, but I tend to avoid my official government title, Technology Analyst, because it’s so vague. I’ve been doing this work for about six years, in and out of government. Previously, I worked in communications and media.
What attracted you to this UX designer role?
Design within government typically involves designing for a huge variety of people at scale. Considering every American in one design is thoroughly challenging and rewarding. My work is also inherently tied to my values. I’m proud to say that I’m a public servant.
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?
My team is small and co-located in Washington, DC. There are three designers and three developers, plus our manager. As a designer, I’m a generalist. Aside from handing something off to a teammate, there’s no one else to outsource to. I work on every part of the design process from start to finish.
I love the way my team works. We typically work on one project at a time, so we’re able to focus and dive in deep. Our days start with a daily meeting (aka stand) where we go over our progress and talk about what we plan to get done that day. From there, my day really depends on what stage of the project we’re in. If we’re in the early stages, I’ll be doing interviews and sketching ideas. If we’re about to ship a product, I’ll be sitting with a developer to review designs and writing up a launch announcement. I’m typically always working with someone else on my team. I’m not alone very often, which is great for an extrovert like me! I also enjoy the connection and accountability that comes from working with a teammate.
Fortunately, I’m not involved in many meetings. Of course, we have to meet with project stakeholders. We get together for team retrospectives twice a month, but our culture is not meeting heavy. I have a maker’s schedule, which I really value. I’m free to plan most of my day according to what I need to get done. I like to take a late lunch when my energy starts to dip in the late afternoon, and I typically workout during my lunch break.
Aside from my project work, I help organize an internal meet-up of designers. It has been fun to grow a community and get to know other people who do similar and related work.
What skills/technologies help you succeed as a UX designer?
You must master certain skills and software programs to work as a designer in tech. But more importantly, you must have skills or experiences that set you apart and makes you different from others in your field. Working abroad in Hong Kong, Kenya and Afghanistan helps me think globally and consider more perspectives than just my own. I’m also trained in a variety of qualitative research methods, which has made my work more rigorous, meaningful and interesting. This combination of skills and experiences makes me more valuable. Mastering a design tool is easy. Having a compelling story and point of view is much more difficult to acquire and articulate.
What’s the most fun or creative part of your role?
Before I went back to school to study design, I thought I would be a journalist. I love talking to people, and a new design project is a great excuse to talk to people. I love translating insights from conversations into a prototype. I always want to be involved in the research process of a design project.
What are the biggest challenges you face in this role?
What does a creative career in a bureaucracy look like?
What teams/individuals do you work with cross-functionally? Can you give an example of a time when you collaborated with another group/individual?
In my current role, I create digital tools for economists to improve how policy, research, and data is shared and visualized within the Federal Reserve. So, I’m constantly working with economists, as well as people who support economic research to understand what problems look like from their perspective. As a whole, economists are so sharp and talented. I really love this type of collaboration.
What’s an area where you’re trying to grow in your UX designer role?
I really love the idea of coaching over management. I’m trying to expand my skills to work as a coach does: ask questions that invite possibility, encourage people to do work that fits their strengths and interests and provides safe spaces for tough conversations.
Aside from technical skills, what personality traits/characteristics make for an ideal candidate in your role?
Hopefully, you’ve picked up on the fact that I’m a curious person. I love trying new things and it’s hard for me to sit still. These traits are advantageous as a designer, especially in a generalist role, because there is always something new to work on or learn.
What skills (tech/non-tech) have you improved as a result of working in this role?
I’m often taking on the role of a project manager, both formally and informally. Leading projects has helped me become more decisive.
In your UX designer role, what metrics define success?
This is a fantastic question, and it’s difficult to answer. Shipping high-quality work that solves meaningful problems is key. Being organized and reliable is critical. But outside of solid work and work habits, everyone can bring something different to elevate a team’s performance. Where I’ll tell you what’s on my mind without hesitation, I have a teammate who is the opposite. She is more reserved and measured in her communications. I really value her temperament because she helps me not be quite so reactive.