Role Models: Emily Withrow, Director of Quartz Bot Studio

Today’s Role Model is Emily Withrow. Emily is director of the Quartz Bot Studio, where she writes, designs, and builds narrative experiences for messaging and voice platforms. Her work examines how people and bots interact, and how to build meaningful relationships with audiences on these emerging platforms. She’s also faculty at Northwestern University, where she taught for six years prior to joining Quartz. Withrow spends much of her free time talking with robots, rock climbing, and researching recipes she will eventually abandon for nachos.

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

My official title is “Director, Quartz Bot Studio.” I’ve been at the Bot Studio for almost two years, and in the director role for about six or seven months.

What attracted you to this role?

The mix, and the freedom. We’re a small team with a mandate to explore, which is an incredible thing. My job is a mix of writing, editing, design, observation, play, code, data/analytics, direction, and management. I get to exercise different parts of my brain, and I love it.

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 day really begins the night before. I review my calendar for the following day, and then write out everything I plan to do, hour by hour. I block off time for big-ticket items that will require a lot of attention, and I even write down what to eat for lunch and reminders to drink water. That way, I can follow a script and focus my decision-making on deeper work when I’m fresh. If I start my day by saying, “What should I do today?” I’m sunk.

So: My days always start with a Slack check-in with my team. I’m remote, so I post what I’m up to and read their statuses. From there I usually dive into a large task—this could be working on the conversation design for a new project, reviewing and giving feedback on a project proposal, putting together a project budget, editing a giant feature, or working on a prototype for something more experimental.

My meetings are typically stacked on Tuesdays—one-on-ones with people on my team, strategy meetings, pitch meetings. Lunch, I totally shut down and eat without a screen (unless it’s our team lunches on Wednesdays!) and often read a book. This is crucial because the rest of my day is spent looking at a screen.

Afternoons I typically reserve for more creative work—writing and editing, building. Sometimes things are derailed by an urgent issue—something’s broken or not functioning as expected, etc. Then I help triage and troubleshoot. I typically check email twice a day, beginning and end, and respond.

I keep water-tight boundaries on home vs. work, so when I log off, I stay off until the next day. (There are periods in which this is not possible, of course, but mostly it works!)

What skills/technologies help you succeed?

Creative problem-solving, killer observational powers, and a can-figure-it-out attitude. There’s nothing I love more than hard problems with no obvious answers. The learning curve for me, therefore, over my career, has been a slowww understanding that not every difficult problem is one that needs me, or one that advances the ball. So that means getting choosier and more strategic about what problems I work on over time.

That, and my path has been paved by picking up new tools or technologies when I’m curious about them. Understanding the guts of something is quite powerful. You understand the thing’s potential and limitations, and when everything breaks, you’re more useful.

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

Literally all of it. Our team is amazing, and I’m constantly inspired.

What are the biggest challenges you face in this role?

I think it’s continuing to fight the easiest answer. (Note that I’m not saying simplest. Easiest.)

Working in a new space means you’re working so hard to find good answers. When you find one, it’s hard to resist the urge to keep doing that one thing—to rest and repeat the solution you found. But this field is also constantly evolving, so there’s a real danger in not continuing to push your thinking forward, or to revisit things you’d rejected before.

And of course, as you form opinions, you become less open to other ideas. So I think that’s the main challenge—constantly checking myself to make sure I’m finding fresh ways to look at the problem, and to really listen and observe.

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

Our core team is already a crazy mix of people, so that’s a daily for me, in terms of interaction with design/creative/editorial/product/analytics/etc. And then of course we have a commercial arm, so I’m also working with our business development and sales teams.

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

I’m always working on truly listening, and on giving and receiving better feedback.

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

It’s hard to know where to start, but I think the largest bucket is around communication—understanding your audience and writing/speaking directly to them, both in the work we do, and in how we frame our work.

The second would be around how to function in a remote role, and how to best balance a demanding job with an active personal life.

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

Thoughtfulness, high analytical/critical function, unbound curiosity and enthusiasm for the unknown.

In your role, what metrics define success?

I think if we’re doing it right, everyone feels comfortable putting out new ideas, giving open feedback, and jumping into new projects. Failure would mean people are holding onto their thoughts.

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Role Models: Bushra Mahmood, Principle UX Designer at Unity

Screen Shot 2018-11-26 at 10.48.36 AM

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 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 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 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 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 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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Role Models: Morgane Santos, AR Engineer at Mapbox

Morgane Santos

Photo credit: Samuel Unéus

Today’s Role Model is Morgane Santos. She studied computer science at Berkeley and has worked in tech for about five years as both a web developer and designer. Morgane is currently an augmented reality (AR) engineer at Mapbox, a location data platform. Since she is around computers all day, she likes to hike, read, and otherwise avoid technology in her free time.

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

We don’t have official titles at Mapbox, but I’d call myself an AR engineer. I’ve been at Mapbox for just under a year and have been on two teams in the time. Prior to being an AR engineer, I worked on our Unity SDK (also as an engineer).

What attracted you to this role?

I’m really interested in the growing 3D space in tech, and knew I wanted a job in AR or VR (virtual reality). I was tired of working on websites and wanted a fresh challenge. AR and VR are still so new that no one’s an “expert” yet, which can be daunting but it also means *you* can be the trailblazer. A lot of AR/VR roles also combine design + development, which I enjoy; I don’t like just doing one or the other.

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’ve actually written about my day for our company blog before. You can check out the post here

tl;dr though, there is no typical day for me. I *can* tell you that my days are a mix of 3D math, coding, sketching out ideas on paper, and drinking a lot of tea. I keep a fairly traditional 9-to-5 schedule, eating lunch at noon and getting tea with coworkers around 3pm. I never stay late. I work from home maybe once or twice a week (which I prefer; I don’t like open offices at all). Every so often my job requires going to a conference, so I may be traveling for that.

What skills/technologies help you succeed?

I’ve used a lot of different tech over the years, but this is what I use now: Xcode (we program in Swift on my team); Unity/C#; Git; Figma…

As for skills, I think the most important thing is to be curious and willing to see an idea through. In AR, there are no answers. There’s no book you can read that tells you exactly what works and what doesn’t. You have to come up with an idea, sketch it, prototype it, and build it yourself to learn if it was ever a good idea. Of course it helps to already be comfortable with math and programming, but the curiosity is ultimately much more important. Are you willing to learn? Are you willing to fail? Being comfortable with so much uncertainty and ambiguity has been critical to my success in this role.

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

I literally get to think of what could be cool in AR, and then I make it! This is a role with lots of freedom and room for experimentation. It’s really exciting coming up with the very first solution for something and learning by doing. It’s similar to playing with Legos as a kid: you have a visionary idea, you have some basic building blocks, and you just go for it. Sometimes I can’t believe I get paid to do this.

What are the biggest challenges you face in this role?

Everything that makes it exciting: there are no answers. I can’t easily research how someone else has solved a certain problem. I definitely can’t anticipate most problems I encounter. The tech is also nascent, so the limitations of the software and hardware can be frustrating at times.

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

Our team’s fairly insular, but we do work with the sales, business, and marketing teams to better understand what potential/existing customers might want in the AR space, and how we can make that happen. We also collaborate with other engineering teams sometimes to create specialized AR experiences.

While I can’t talk too much about the work we do for customers, I can mention a more individual collaboration. Part of my job includes writing tutorials for how our SDKs work. In those cases, I work closely with our documentation team to make sure my instructions make sense and are easy to follow. People like Heather Stenson (who you interviewed!) are really instrumental here.

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

I like teaching and mentoring; I want to focus on how I can share my work with others and help them get more comfortable in AR/VR. I recently spoke at Nordic.design about how designers can get started in this space, and it’s something I look forward to continuing.

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

I’ve touched on this above, but I’ll say it again: curiosity and being comfortable with ambiguity.

I also want people who like collaborating and don’t have huge egos. My team is really supportive and kind; we judge each other’s *work*, not each other. I’d rather work with a “junior” person who’s thoughtful and excited to learn than a “senior” person who’s rude and stuck in their ways.

So how can you show that you’re curious, collaborative, and thoughtful? Maybe you have a few side projects that illustrate how you learned a new technology. Maybe you blog a lot about engineering or design. Maybe you volunteer somewhere on the weekends for a cause you really believe in. Maybe you have totally non-tech-related hobbies like learning a new language. I’m more interested in any of those facts than where someone went to school or if they’ve worked at a “famous” company before.

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

Being self-organized. I need to plan out my own work, including the metrics of success; I can’t rely on someone higher up telling me exactly what they need from me because no one knows what’s a reasonable ask in AR yet.

I’ve also gotten a lot better at understanding how people process 3D space, which is a cool perk of working in AR/VR.

In your role, what metrics define success?

Tangibly, it’s building a prototype/demo/app/whatever you want to call it that clearly communicates a certain idea. These demos are used by teams like the sales team to help convince customers to use Mapbox, specifically for AR.

Aside from the *business* success, we’re successful in our roles as long as we’re learning and honing our AR skills. The more we know about how to design and build something for AR, the better.

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Role Models: Trucy Phan, Senior Product Designer at Yello

Trucy Phan, Senior Product Designer at Yello

Today’s Role Model is Trucy Phan. Trucy is a self-taught designer and developer with Mechanical and Civil Systems engineering roots. She was born and raised in Iowa to Vietnamese immigrants, lived and worked in the Bay Area in California for 10 years, and just moved to Chicago last year. Some of her favorite things include: grocery shopping when traveling in other countries, handwritten cards, and koalas. Currently, Trucy a Senior Product Designer for Yello, a talent acquisition CRM.

Give me a quick summary of your career thus far. Where did you get your start? How do the dots connect to where you are today?

It’s hard to do a quick summary of 9 years but here we go:

  • After a year and a half doing odd jobs during the recession that hit in 2008, I finally got a job at a government research lab (LBL) doing energy efficiency analyses.
  • After that, I ran a company with a business partner for 4 years in San Francisco designing and building websites, apps and data visualizations for city planning and transit agencies. At that company, I was a designer, developer, and project manager.
  • In the last 5 years, I’ve worked for a handful of seed stage startups as their only full stack designer and front end developer, and working as a full-time product designer at larger startups.

If you want to hear more about each of these bullet points, I spent a lot of time detailing how I got into tech for The Techies Project!

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

I’m a Senior Product Designer at Yello and have been here for 7 months.

What attracted you to this role?

Yello had most of the things I was looking for when I was interviewing! Some of those were:

  • A data-heavy application with an abundance of design problems to solve
  • An existing design team (i.e. I wouldn’t be the only designer in-house)
  • A company without a robust design system (so I could help create and maintain one)
  • An existing product (i.e. not something with 0 users) that could be improved, since I had previously worked places that only had new features and few users to get feedback from

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?

Here is a sample of things I might do in a given day:

  • Sync up with engineers, my PM, and other designers as needed
  • Heads-down design time during which I might sketch, explore medium and high fidelity prototypes, or modify something in our pattern library
  • Participate in phone screens and onsite interviews for front end engineering, product manager, and product design candidates
  • Pair with another designer for an hour on a design problem
  • Give feedback to other designers on their work, and go through feedback left on mine
  • Chat with clients and summarize client feedback
  • Write surveys to send to clients

What skills/technologies help you succeed?

Technologies: Outside of the normal suite of tools our company uses (Slack, Confluence, Jira, G Suite, Zoom, etc.) I love Figma. I use it for everything from designing, illustrating, prototyping, and dev handoff to maintaining a shared pattern library across our team and using their commenting and sharing features to collaborate with PMs, engineers, and other designers. If you’re a designer and haven’t used it, I highly recommend checking it out. It’s free, works in the browser and as a native app on any Mac or Windows computer.

Skills: Since designers at Yello are responsible for doing so many things: recruiting, user research, and full stack design (wireframing, info architecture, visual, interaction design/prototyping), time management and prioritization is crucial.

Work is fun if you’re curious and are also learning (not just in execution mode) so I try to investigate new tools and more exploratory designs when I can. A good designer can understand when to focus on the details and when to zoom out to get perspective, so I’m practicing that, too.

When it comes to people, being a nice person goes a long way, as well as being patient and having empathy for both your team members and the people who use the software.

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

I love talking to clients and getting feedback! I also love meeting other product designers over coffee, talking to them about what drives them, and seeing how I can help them in their career. When I’m designing, I love the exploration phase early on, and creating a functional, high fidelity prototype at the end. The middle stuff for me is like a bunch of crap and terrible ideas I’m embarrassed to show.

What are the biggest challenges you face in this role?

I used to be the one who implemented my own designs, so if I changed my mind it was very quick and easy to change the code and push it to prod. The traditional designer/dev handoff happened in my head, so nothing was lost in translation. Now, I have to be a little more sure of a design before I give it to a developer to be built and iterated on, and be sure of what’s an exploration vs. more final.

I used to work in much smaller companies, where I would sit just a few feet away from the CEO, CTO, VP of Product, VP of Engineering, and customer support. At one particularly scrappy place, I literally shared a desk with the CTO. As a result, at those companies I usually felt like I always knew what was happening, and if I didn’t know, I was a quick conversation away from knowing.

Now, one of the challenges I’m facing is getting all the context and information I need across different departments from people who all have busy schedules and still feeling like I can move forward and make the right decisions without having all the information all the time.

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

I work cross functionally with engineers and my PM on a daily basis. At least once a week I might touch base with PMs on other teams, and people who work in our customer support group and sales.

Recruiting is a good example. Since designers help interview for front-end engineers, product managers and product designers, I’ll also chat accordingly with other engineers, other PMs, other designers, and our in-house recruiter to discuss each interview and align on interview guides, on-site questions, and post-interview discussions.

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

I want to become better at coming up with more design explorations in the beginning stages of a new feature, and better at interaction design. I want to spend more time exploring beyond what low hanging fruit is, or an MVP, and actually thinking about what an ideal user experience would be, starting with understanding a user’s journey and pain points instead of jumping right into nitty gritty high fidelity work. I’ve always had a more technical approach to design, so I think I could be better at stepping back to understand where a user is coming from a bit more.

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

An ideal product design candidate is able to take information — both quantitative and qualitative — and solve a user problem related to a company’s goals. Each design choice should be intentional, and always link back to the user.

It’s an overused term, but the ability to work in a cross functional team goes a long way. Knowing what strengths people bring to the table, understanding where someone is coming from when they disagree, and having fun are all important to me.

An ideal candidate also should be self-aware. How do your decisions impact your team? What about others at the company? How do your choices impact users?

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

Hands down, recruiting. I’ve interviewed so many candidates for Yello since I started, I’m getting better at assessing hard and soft skills of product designers in a way that’s fair to them (and more useful for us), which include coming up with better interview exercises that allow them to shine.

Hiring my own manager is something I never thought I would do either, but we definitely wrote a job req and created on-site interview exercises for that role. (P.S., if you want to be my manager you should apply!)

Lastly, I think I’m always going to be a huge advocate of changing ineffective tools and processes at each company I’m at, so I’m currently learning how to balance making others feel included in the process with also getting things done. What you don’t want, is too much change too fast, which could backfire because someone perceives it as a threat. But at the end of the day, we should all be working together because we’re all on the same team!

In your role, what metrics define success?

That depends. If it’s a new feature, is it being delivered on time? Is it sellable by the sales team? Do a greater number of prospects become customers after the launch of the feature, or do people fail to renew their contracts despite being given the new feature?

In terms of the recruiting we do, does a candidate accept the offer? How did they view their interview and on-boarding experience?

Yello was, and is, going through a lot of change, so it’s really exciting to be a part of that but also hard to measure success when all the variables and constraints are changing.

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Role Models: Sam Provenza, Product Designer

samprovenza

Sam Provenza began her career in graphic design, but today she builds intuitive and beautiful user interfaces for digital products. She’s currently a Product Designer for Tailwind, a SaaS start-up producing Pinterest and Instagram marketing tools. In spite of her busy schedule, she is also the NYC chapter lead of Girl Develop It, a group that organizes coding classes and career workshops for women.

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

Product Designer. I’ve been in this role at my current company for a little over a year and a half, but I’ve been in this role for other companies since 2014.

What attracted you to this role?

My background is in design. I started out in graphic design but was always really interested in designing for the web. When I started working as a web designer at a SaaS product company back in 2013, I was instantly drawn to the product side of things because of how much it involved working directly with users. I started out with small projects on the product side and eventually switched full time to the product side. I have been doing that ever since.

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 work for a small SaaS start-up, so my day to day varies greatly depending what we are focusing on that sprint. Because of the small size of our team, my day is part Design, part Coder and part Project Manager. I spend a lot of my focus scoping out new features or user flows for our web application and then I work with the engineering team to implement them. I am also involved with some of the UX research and spend time conducting user interviews with our users on video calls. I work with users to discover the root of the problem we are trying to solve so I can help craft a user experience that will solve their frustrations. I’m often an advocate for the user and I need to ensure that the products we are making are understandable and accessible for our user base.

What skills/technologies help you succeed?

Some of the skills that are helpful is knowing how to use design tools like Sketch, Photoshop, Figma, Invision, Adobe XD, Illustrator (there are so many now!) to create mock-ups and prototypes of web and mobile applications. I also know HTML/CSS and JavaScript, which isn’t necessarily required but it’s been really helpful for my success. I can design experiences that I know can be built and I can just jump into a project and make changes if needed without relying on the engineering team.

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

Brainstorming is one of my favorite parts of the process. When we are kicking off new projects or features, the product team will collaborate to define the problem we are trying to solve, brainstorm solutions that we can implement, and figure out how to measure if they are successful or not. I love getting in front of a whiteboard, tossing around ideas and sketching solutions.

What are the biggest challenges you face in this role?

In my current company, I am the sole Product Designer on the team. It’s often challenging for me to be juggling multiple projects across different parts of the product.

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

I work with our Product Managers and Engineers on a day-to-day basis. The PMs and I will often collaborate on the initial kick-off of new projects. We work together to define requirements needed, brainstorm ideas, and I’ll present designs to them for feedback along the way. They are also really helpful to figure out how to measure the success of the designs and defining what metrics we are trying to move with any new experience.

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

I really want to become more informed about the Product side of my role. I would like to learn more about collecting data to measure and track design decisions as well as use the data to define requirements for new features and requests.

In your role, what metrics define success?

The most important measure of success comes from customer feedback and the overall user experience you are crafting. It can be difficult to figure how to measure this, so making sure you are making data-driven decisions in your design choices really helps you measure how successful your output is.

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

100% my communication skills. Being able to present designs and educate the team on the “why” behind them has helped me better articulate my design-thinking skills. Also talking with users has significantly helped me from an interviewee standpoint.

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

Problem solving and empathy are probably the two most important skills. There are often complex features that we need to build, and it’s my job to find a solution that will resonate with our users and present the most important information in the simplest way possible. You need to be empathetic, be eager to talk and listen to users, and be able to figure out what makes them tick.

 

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Role Models: Erin Morrissey, Advanced Digital Designer at Criteo

Erin Morrissey is an Advanced Digital Designer at Criteo.

Erin began her digital design career at a small tech startup before transitioning to Criteo, a global ad-tech firm. Over the past three years, she’s climbed the ranks to her current role of Advanced Digital Designer. Work keeps her busy, but she still finds time to work on personal art projects in her free time.

 

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

I am an Advanced Digital Designer at Criteo, a global Ad-Tech company. This August will make three years at Criteo’s New York branch. I started as a Designer and was promoted this past January… so I’m newly enjoying my “Advanced” projects.

What attracted you to this role?

Prior to Criteo I worked in a position that required both design and administrative tasks. It was my first professional job after I completed my education and worked far too many restaurant gigs. That job taught me I am at my best, and happiest, focusing solely on projects that excite, challenge, and exercise my creativity. Criteo extended to me an opportunity to work exclusively in creative design while collaborating as part of a highly skilled design team. I also found the company’s global reach, and possibility for travel, attractive.

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?

With the exception of a few standing meetings, my job lacks redundancy so days aren’t super typical, which for me works well. My position consists of: product workgroups, personal initiatives, client work, and varied meetings. Lunch is sacred… it is a French company so lunchtime meetings are a big no-no : )

When I transitioned to Criteo, I found it difficult and overwhelming to work creatively as part of a team, especially as someone who identifies as an introvert. However, working together has molded me into a stronger designer, a better coworker, and communicator. I get to work with designers from around the globe for the workgroups. In the end, it feels impactful to work on designs that develop in to new products.

The personal initiatives are also very important, and a fun alternative to day-to-day client work. I just finished the collateral for 2018 Pride parade. Right now, I’m making icons for an upcoming rooftop party, designing an internal newsletter that will be seen globally, and participating in a team striving for greater exposure for our designers.

Lastly, client work is a large part of my job as well. I meet with new and existing clients or agencies, discuss their branding, create ads for our platform, and maintain those accounts in a bevy of ways.

What skills/technologies help you succeed?

The baseline for design skills is always evolving. Awareness of new tools and trying them out is essential, and can be really fun and challenging. However, design moves so fast that positions are needed to be filled before there are even people trained to do the job. UX and UI, for example, are now ubiquitous design jobs that are highly in-demand positions.

However, most schools are only now offering these courses to students. This is exciting, but also can instill the fear of “impostor syndrome” in designers currently in the job market. So be flexible, sign up for continuing education classes, go to design talks, and always try new platforms.

Lastly, design on your time too… while your employer should have your best interest at heart, and you’re hopefully working on meaningful projects, you cannot also expect them to hold your hand. Introduce yourself to parallel industry standards and have fun trying.

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

The most fun, honestly, has been the travel! I’ve seen Geneva, the Alps, Paris, South of France all for work events. I have developed deep connections with coworkers, now friends, from the offices in France, Spain, Brazil, China, Japan, Korea, Sweden, and of course here in the States. I am not only a better designer, but more empathetic and understanding of design needs globally.

Those experiences are hard to compete with, but I have also loved my design projects. Working on really difficult client work can be especially fun. I love being stumped by a seemingly unsolvable problem. It takes a lot of internal, in-the-zone thinking and time (some would call this procrastination.) The moment you work through it is pure joy!

What are the biggest challenges you face in this role?

There are a lot of moving parts in my position and everyday is varied. I love the lack of routine, but it can be challenging.

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

I could not work without my teammates. Tech is so dynamic and alive that no one person or singular team can make it alone. For product workgroups, I collaborate with other global designers, the Product and R&D teams in Paris, and local Sales for client feedback. The personal initiatives are whatever I want to contribute to Criteo so right now I am working with people from PR, Marketing, and designers from around the world.

As for client work, everyday is a constant open line of communication between fellow designers, the technical team, analytics for data about how our ads are performing, and the account managers.

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

There are certain constants, like client work, and other aspects of change in my position. Growth is a ongoing conversation, and evolution is natural in any role, but especially in design. I have watched coworkers transfer departments, move to other offices around the world, and/or redefine their positions within a team. As business needs change so do we, which keeps things interesting. Keeping an open mind has served me well – as needs arise and trends pivot, I want to stay agile and open to change.

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

I am stronger designer and better employee/coworker than I was before Criteo. Thanks to having open, judgement-free, relationships with my peers, my skills have been honed and my eye for good design is improved. I also feel far more confident pitching to clients, and even just speaking up and asking questions. Plus now I can speak extremely mediocre French ; )

In your role, what metrics define success?

“Success” is measured in two parts: Client Relations and Personal Growth. The clients I manage and integrate are measured by several metrics in order to maintain the highest brand standards. While grossly boiled down, success (specifically for a designer) is an amalgamation of: creative satisfaction, proper account maintenance, and education of our product.

Personal success is defined by the designer and agreed upon by management each year. It is an ongoing conversation that allows for great possibilities. For me, it’s very specific to my role, but essentially I want to learn more and do more!

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

Flexibility and ingenuity are essential traits in a designer. Good design requires several iterations and failure is inevitable – scrap it and move on. Don’t be defensive and listen to feedback. On the other side of that coin, give feedback that is constructive, helpful, and direct. Share your successes and encourage your teammates to do so as well. Most importantly, share your pain points in the effort to save others the same missteps.

 

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