Ioana Teleanu on Design Education and Speaking the Stakeholder’s Language

On this episode I talk to Ioana about the importance of speaking your stakeholders' language, how you can learn from her career trajectory, and about design education.

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Photo of Ioana Teleanu

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UX Manager @ UI Path

Ioana Teleanu

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LinkedIn, Instagram, Twitter, Mento Design Academy, Honest UX Talks Podcast, TikTok

Selected links from the episode

UX Rescue

Democracy Lab

Full transcript

This transcript is provided by an automated transcription service and might not be entirely accurate.

Christian: Welcome to Design Meets Business, a show where design leaders talk about practical ways to quantify design, about making our work more transparent, and about how designers can make a bigger impact in their organization. I’m your host, Christian Vasile, and before we begin, I’d like to thank you for tuning in today..

Today, I’m talking to Ioana Teleanu, who is working as a UX manager at UI path, but it’s more well known in the design world for her design academy mentor and for the content she posts under the handle UX goodies. This conversation is it’s not so much about the content though, but more about the importance of speaking the language of our stakeholders, how she started in design and what you could learn from that and about how you can change the mentality around design.

When you’re the only designer in a company there’s plenty for you to learn in the next hour. Enjoy.

You and I welcome to design which business I’m excited to have a fellow Romanian on the podcast today. That’s a first, you are currently the UX planetary UI pass. A Romanian unicorn company is being called nowadays, I guess, but outside of UI path, you do a lot of things for the design community.

And I don’t even know where to start, whether that’s mentoring designers, whether that’s creating content for them on social media, hosting your own podcast. There’s a lot to talk about there. So why don’t we start by you just telling us a little bit about how it all started for you and how you got to where you are today, and then we’ll take it.

Ioana: Yeah, absolutely. I’d be excited to talk about my journey, but before heading into this topic, uh, and unpacking it, I just want to say thank you for having me on your show and thank you for the invitation. And thanks to anyone who is listening right now to this conversation between us. And I’m also happy to speak to a fellow Romanian.

 It’s pretty exciting because most of the podcasts appearances and even my own podcast they’re made of conversations with people from all over the world. So I rarely get to speak to a fellow Romanian. So yay to that. Yeah. Yeah. And to get back to your question of how my journey. I think, it’s interesting.

Cause I keep answering this question for several years now and it, the, the beginning feels further and further away. Like at some point I will probably not even be able to remember how it all started because it’s going to be so, so far away into, in the past. But yeah, I keep rehearsing it. So I know the story right now I’m able to deliver an answer.

So actually when I went to school, I think everything w actually everything started in my childhood, but I’m not going to go that far away. Uh, so when I finished in university I didn’t have, I don’t have a design background because there wasn’t even that option in Romania back then.

I’m not sure it is. There’s the option now. No, I don’t think so. Yeah. I think there are some like six months, uh programs within different universities, but nothing dedicated to, to design a digital design UX design and product design in general. So this option, wasn’t an option back then. That’s why I went and got hired into a big, big company, ING bank.

It was a bank. My family was ecstatic. Everybody was so proud. She made it she’s in like working in a multinational was like the best you could do in your twenties. Like I was a, the pride of the family. But obviously I wasn’t as excited as everyone else was because I was working in a call center that wasn’t very glamorous, as you can imagine.

And so I kept switching jobs within the ING bank, which was great, having the opportunity of exploring different positions, different roles, different things, different aspects of how a big company works. And then eventually I ended up witnessing the creation of the UX department, which was very exciting to watch because I started having this feeling that, okay, maybe that’s what I want to do.

I feel, I feel he’s not typically drawn to, to do whatever it was that the designers were doing. So I started researching the topic. I started like shadowing them lurking on under meetings and everything. The more I got into the topic, the more exciting it felt. So I, um at some point I explicitly manifested the intention of becoming a UX designer with my manager.

And from that moment, I actually waited for one and a half or two years before getting the job officially. So it wasn’t instant. It wasn’t immediate. And this message goes to anyone who is contemplating a career in UX design. It’s not going to be overnight. You really have to put in the effort and sort of strive for it if you want.

So, so, yeah, so that’s how I think I went into a lot of detail as to how my journey began, but I transitioned and, uh, from a non-design role and. And then, um, I moved to UI path, which eventually became the first Romanian unit car and God listed on New York stock exchanges.

It was the best success story that Romania had so far in terms of startups going so big. And, um, apart from that, I also always had consultancy gigs part-time roles, different projects that I work on. I collaborated with design agencies with different startups from all over the world.

So I just couldn’t sit still. And just one role, I think that it’s maybe a designers, uh, disease in general, we have to do, several things because I think one thing informs the other. So it’s really. An opportunity for growth and for becoming better in your daytime role, if you have like the spar times role or project based roles as well.

So I always kept feeding this appetite for experimentation and trying different industries, teams, projects, and so on. So so I think that’s mean I’m not chill plus all the content part, but I’m not going to go into so much detail on that. So we have time to talk about something else as well. Yeah, for sure.

Christian: Yeah. There’s a interesting something. Something interesting that you said there is, the way you started by going through different roles and ending up becoming a designer. And I, I feel that a lot of the people we’ve had on the show have a similar story. Nobody really started out thinking I want to become a designer because they will, whether there was not a thing called design or whether they just wasn’t, they just weren’t aware that it exists.

Right. So you kind of find out as you’re jumping from one job to another, that you want to be a designer, what was it that attracted you to. 

Ioana: Looking back. I think that probably I have some false memories about it because now I’m giving the interpretation of everything I know about design today. I’m adding that storytelling layer to everything.

So it was more so, so to be completely honest, if I take out everything that I know today, and if I take out this magical storytelling layer that I feel like adding to the to the story, I think it was just some sort of intuition that maybe I would be right for it. I didn’t really understand what it was, but I sorta, it was.

Immediately obvious that it’s about people. It’s about solving problems. It’s about talking to your users, understanding how to build products. They love understanding how to make products better and ultimately their lives better. So I don’t know if there are people out there who would, wouldn’t be attracted to this idea.

They think it’s pretty seductive for anyone. But for me, I was a person who was fascinated by people for all my life. Even since childhood I’m into all sorts of things, psychology, trying to unpack what goes on in people’s minds and their emotions and everything. So I’m naturally drawn towards understanding people.

And I felt like this job kind of combines working in a company in a team. So I don’t have to become a therapist to work with people, but I can solve problems for them through technology. And I think that was a very seductive and powerful. 

Christian: We had someone in the past in the past on shore, who said that she also started working in a call center first and became a designer afterwards.

But she feels that while she was in the call center, she was doing the job of a UX designer without being called a UX designer. Because at the end of the day, you solve problems, you talk to customers and we solve problems the best way we can. So it’s 

Ioana: parallel. Absolutely correct. I think the call center was the best foundation I could have for my career as a UX designer, because you start, I started by listening to people, which is what you do as a designer, essentially.

Christian: I think, uh, some of these jobs, I think it was Casey Neistat. Who said, when someone asked him, well, how do you, how did you find out what you wanted to do in life? And he said, well, I had all this crap jobs. And I knew while doing these jobs that I didn’t want to do them. So kind of through that experimentation, I found out what I didn’t want to do.

And through that, I found out what I did want to do. And for me it’s a bit similar because while I did work in a call center, I worked in a sales call center. So it’s a bit, it’s outbound, not inbound. And I knew right away, that is just not something I want to do for the rest of my life. So, um, yeah, it’s, it’s sometimes it’s a, it’s figuring out what you don’t want to do first.

And then you find out what you. Yeah, 

Ioana: absolutely. For me, that was the case for my personal life. Like having different relationships with people, it kind of helped me understand what I care about in relationships in general and help me filter out people as I grew older. 

Christian: Yeah. I think that’s, it’s still valid today in any area of life, but mostly at work, I can see it manifesting because when you work at a company in a specific team with specific people that you maybe don’t feel that you’re a really good fit there, that’s how you find out where you want to work, who you want to work with.

What type of companies? For me, I know agencies are not really my thing. I prefer to be in-house, but that’s because I worked in agencies and I had that experience. So I always say to people who ask me well, I’m working at this place and I’m not really enjoying. And I ask, well, what do you think that.

If you’re not enjoying it, what do you really think? It means? Oh, like, I guess it means I don’t really, I shouldn’t do it more of this, you know? Yeah, exactly. you gotta have some bad experiences too, to figure out what you want to do. At least that’s the way I think about it. Did the because before you became a designer, you were also a content manager, right?

So you had a lot to do with the content of the bank, is that correct? 

Ioana: Yeah, that’s correct. It was a job still in the digital team. So I was, so the banking app for ING Romania is called home bank. And so I was working on the banking app. Uh, I was sort of very, very close to UX designers and product managers, but I was doing something completely different.

I was actually managing the content and, um, what I would say it was like a. Product. It was it wasn’t the direct banking product. It was a product that would give you, uh, some money back when you were shopping with ING cards. So a sort of cash back program, if you want a very, it’s a Buddhist very simply.

So I was the one who was operating with all the offers, making sure to offer us make sense that the images look good, that the logo is good. And I was working with Photoshop, which eventually became my first design tool. And at that point, nobody was using sketch at least in Romania sketch or Figma wasn’t even around.

And Adobe XD was. Launched at all. So, so the thing is that I started doing UX design and Photoshop. So the thing that helped me kind of pick up very quickly, the UX job was that I mastered this tool. But if eventually in my career, I understood that tools are like the last sort of least important part of the design process.

It’s the process and the product thinking that matter. But, knowing the tool kind of gave me a quick jumpstart into prototyping, ideas, solutions, testing them and so on. 

Christian: Yeah. I love what you just said. There tools are the last thing that matters. There are all these other things that matter more. So let’s talk about them.

What are these other things that are your opinion? And I tend to agree with you matter more than just mastering Figma or whatever other tool there is. 

Ioana: Well, the first thing that came to my mind maybe because my, I have this bias, uh, towards people being at the center of everything is I think in UX design, people matter most in two ways.

If you want, on, on one hand, I think the users should be obviously, and I know that there’s a conversation in the design industry that argues that. Ditch the term user and just call them people or humans, because user sounds very the, I dunno, impersonal and a bit strange, but we normalize it by even the name of our role, right.

User experience designer. So I think that human people should be at the core of everything we do and understanding them is actually our mission. But also I think that a very important part of the design role is working with other people. So aligning people around a goal for your users. So collaboration for me, was probably the the most important part of my design role.

Being able to align people around a design goal and to make sure that things are happening and that the users needs are reaching other people in our team. So everyone understands why we’re doing what we’re doing and so on. I think that’s the most important part of design. And then there’s also the.

The process, if you want to thinking, like, what’s the problem I’m trying to solve? Why am I solving this problem? Is this the right problem to solve? Is this the right way to solve it? And so critical thinking, always asking questions, always being intentional with everything you do. In design challenges and design projects, um, was something that looking back became more important.

So in the beginning it was just like the classic checklist. I have to do wire frames and then I have to do a prototype. And then it’s something that I criticize openly today. But in the beginning, I was just like that, obviously. So I kept going from one stage to another in this linear process, which was totally fake and unnatural.

And it proved to be very messy in reality. And there was a lot of back and forth. And now I know the design process is non-linear, but in the beginning it was pretty much like that. And then eventually I started redefining my own defense. Of UX design. And today I think it’s it’s people process and thinking 

Christian: those mistakes are part of the growth.

That’s how you learn, isn’t it? That’s the nobody comes out of school or get self-taught and is a perfect designer or knows everything about design. So I think we all have done those mistakes. We all have done those processes thinking I technically, I don’t need a wireframes here, but I’m going to do them because it’s expected of me.

So it’s expected for the portfolio to have a wireframe. So yeah, I think we’ve all done those, but you said something interesting there aligning people around the common goal is one of the most important parts of the role. So tactically on a daily basis, how do you go around about that? Doing that? 

Ioana: Well, if we’re going in the trenches of how you’re doing design work and trying to understand, uh, what it feels like from the front line, I think that, you do it through a lot of conversation and I think that.

What I’ve learned gets us to the best results, not only in terms of the best alignment, but also the best outcome for our users is to be in a constant state of, in a constant, conversational state. So I think that the number one. Method, if you want, or path to building alignment is to have continuous conversations while also respecting boundaries.

Like now we’re like in our free time. And so I’ve been, I say that because I’ve been in projects and I’ve worked with startups where, uh, the boundaries were very. Fuzzy. And we kept talking even Sunday evening conversations about a users or an interesting insight or an interesting idea. And I, I don’t want to support that anymore.

I feel like that, that we should also, we should talk as much as possible, but also respect the mental health and breaks and disconnecting and having a personal life. So, so with that, uh, out of the way, I think conversations should be a part of our daily role with other people. And I think that as designers, I mean the purpose of design deliverables is actually to create the right conversations to generate the right conversations and to align people around different goals at different stages of the design product, uh, of the design process.

So with everything we do as designers, we basically socialize. Design goal, a design insight, or a couple of design insights. We socialize the rationale behind everything we’re doing and everything. So we’re we’re socializing, um, insights and everything. So that’s why. We should, fight for conversation and that to be more tactical, even more tactical, I think we do it through, okay.

I’m not a fan of personas, but it’s the first example that comes to my mind. So if you want people who are not designers, non designers, to understand who you’re designing for at least in, in an abstract conceptual way, right? You can or make it less abstract or less conceptual. You can build this fictional person.

That again, there’s a lot to unpack about personas and not be a huge fan of personas, but it’s a way in which we socialize. We circulate insights that we have from research and that the main idea or the gist of what I’m trying to say is that we should do it continuously. And we basically do it through our.

Christian: There’s a again, to stay on a tactical level. Another way that I’ve managed to do that and rally people around, not necessarily a goal, but more so a persona, if you will, was a few years ago, I was working with a company where every user customer would have a profile and a profile picture attached to that.

And then sometimes we would bring them in for testing and then we would take the profile. And if they had a problem in testing or if they got a bit frustrated or whatever, and then we would write down kind of a quote from them. And then we would print the profile picture on that same piece of paper, and then we put it on the walls.

So every single day you would walk into the office, you would have on the left-hand side and right-hand side on the Wallace, you would walk. Okay. Kind of like on this corridor, full of images and quotes from customers and that in the morning framed the work you were doing. It’s like, okay, these it’s not an abstract user somewhere in the world.

We’re doing it for it’s these people on the left, on the right-hand side. So humans. Who we’re designing for. I find that to be a great way of bringing the entire productive together around that goal. Because as designers, we care about the users because that’s our job, but the engineers, maybe product managers, testers, it’s not really part of their job to care.

If you somehow manage to bring them around, turn them around and make them care, they’re going to start advocating for design themselves. So kind of makes their job easier too. So you say people matter the most. And we agree on that. So how about the business? Because at the end of the day, none of us would have jobs.

If the businesses would be working for wouldn’t make any money. So yeah, the people matter, but what’s the balance there between designing for people and designing for the business. 

Ioana: I love the question. And I know that it’s actually the title of your podcast. So you probably have this conversation quite often, but I didn’t really have the tense to have this particular conversation with this focus.

So I’m very happy to talk about my thoughts about this problem. Um, I think that I want to start by saying that understanding. The importance of business and collaborating with business and understanding business is a maturity lesson in your career ladder or in your career path. I feel that in the beginning, I somehow demonized the business like businesses, the bad guy, uh, businesses, uh, like the evil that’s trying to like steal from the good experience that the user has, that, that there’s always going to be a conflict between what the business wants and what the user wants.

And I have to be the superhero that sort of advocates for the user perpetually, and doesn’t allow the business to win this battle because the world will, will go to pieces if business wins. So business was the bad guy for me for a couple of years early in my career. And then eventually I realized that I was looking at things from a very skewed or inefficient perspective because.

Like you said I was, I had a job because that business was working. So the business needs. And it’s definitely not the devil that I, I, I felt like I have to stand up against the business and reject, then push back on whatever the business or the CEO wants. So then I eventually understood that we have to become friends and I feel that it’s a mistake that I see very often in junior, uh, ship with many designers.

I think that, um, that you become a mature designer. Once you understand that you’re also working for the business. I mean, you’re working for the business. That’s where you get paid from. So the business also has to succeed if you build the perfect product, but the company has to go out of business, then, then.

Okay, that’s great. But, but it’s not really it’s not ideal. So, so to your question, I feel that the business is a very important part of our work as well. And understanding is the business side of things and building, I, I’m not a huge fan of the word empathy. I think it’s very much diluted this days and overuse.

 But to sort of, if it makes it easier to like push my point building empathy towards the business as well. So not just towards the user, but also what is the business struggling with? What is the business trying to achieve? What would make our product more successful? What are our success metrics?

Also speaking the language of business was something that it took me a while. So in the beginning, I just zoned out whenever I heard business conversations or I, I felt like it wasn’t. Place or my role as a designer to understand whatever the business was in regards to. But, but now I realize that it’s essential as well.

So it’s not just a user, it’s also the business. So yeah the bottom line would be that businesses is very important and we should listen to the business people as well. 

Christian: I find that one of the more effective ways to have this conversation with business people is to speak their language, obviously and speaking their language.

What do I mean by that? I mean, using data because most of the business functions around design are very much data focused, whether it’s someone in finance, whether it’s someone in customer support and they have this cost that they need to cut down, whether it’s a CEO cares about the bottom line, whenever you’re able to link your work on a daily basis with some sort of a metric that other business functions care about, it’s much easier to have this conversations.

And it makes people listen to design versus 10 years ago, when we didn’t really know about these new metrics, KPIs, what are all these things? And we would just come in as a more, a more of a, more of an artistic function, if anything. So how do you use data on a daily basis to how, or do you use data on a daily basis to have those conversations?

Ioana: So I think that in my experience, it wasn’t that much about data, but about numbers in general. So I feel that business people respond very well to like the language they’re speaking, which most of the times is ROI or whatever way they translate or they name their profit or their business goals.

So I feel that in the beginning I used to be not naive, but like very, very how can I say sweet, a sweet person that was just talking about how the users will love this and it’s going to be great. And we’re building such an amazing experience for our users. Yay. But nobody, I mean, of course they care.

Everybody wants their product to be nice to use and to be delightful and to be, uh, usable and know. But at the same time, I wasn’t able to get buy-in for research or for hiring new people or for if, if I couldn’t like, just like you said, speak our language and our language is numbers because that’s the mindset they’re in because they’re in a way, I think the people running the business are our users as well.

So we also need to understand them to understand who is this persona, if you want that we’re talking to. And what’s the vocabulary, what’s the, what’s his space. If you want, what what’s the, of course the language, but also like, what are his concerns? What are the goals, the needs, everything, when it comes to business I think we should make money.

Maybe not equal, but we should make a considerable effort in that direction as well. So in my experience, yes, speaking to our language work and, um, it, it over time working with different startups and with senior people from business, I got better at articulating what might be. So now I feel that like experiences in a way, like we means that we have educated guesses if you want.

So I, my intuition got better as to what I might need to say, to get buy in for whatever thing I was trying to get buy in. So language, yeah, you made a great point. Speaking. The same language is essential. 

Christian: I find that whenever you are able to speak their language and have conversations around it, what he said to ROI or whatever the metrics are in that business, these people also become very much your support.

They become allies in the business because suddenly they realize, oh, oh, this design team, they can actually help us push metrics. I didn’t realize that if it’s a con, if it’s an organization that didn’t have a lot of designers before, or it doesn’t have a design culture, it’s not really a well known that design can push metrics in the right way.

So I find that by having this conversation in their language, you earn their trust, which is so important. And you earn an ally at work, which again is very, very important. And there will come a time when you will need. You will need some budgets for research or whatever, that’s where you would be able to catch seen all of that karma that you build up over time.

Ioana: Absolutely. I agree with that. And I think that trust is such an important part and I think that they feel like somebody needs to fight for them as well. And when you show that as a designer, definitely, they feel just like you said, that someone is on their side and I think. Thing or phenomenon that helped us with building a better, a stronger relationship with business was that I feel that in the industry as a whole, the conversations around how design benefits business have like increased or they’re more out there or more often or louder, starting from studies like McKinsey’s study of the design industry and how much does design can benefit numbers and then the profit, then the effectiveness of a company.

So there were studies about it senior leaders from like the big four, whatever co whoever is influential in the world of business. I feel like voices started tackling these topics and the importance of design. And we’ve seen a lot of reports. We’ve seen a lot of conversations. I think now they’re they’re again, a bit tuned down, but there was this moment in time.

Where even through the like design thinking, which I’m not a fan of. And I think that for some parts is doing more harm than good, but I think that this entire conversation is about innovation design thinking. Every company needs to have the least, at least a business people starting hearing about design, which is pretty powerful in itself.

And they gave it a chance if you want so that we, I think these buzzwords kick the door open, but we’re the foot in the door that we needed to like start a conversation and. Yeah. So I think that a couple of things happened, uh, at the same time, which were favorable to these two sides of the, of the fence to like join forces or maybe I have a personal bias around how things shaped out for me.

Christian: Yeah. Well, we’ve seen a lot of companies in the past 10 years that have been really successful. And whether you look at the media coverage or anything like that it’s spoken quite a lot about how the impact of design or what the impact of design was on that company. And I think more and more people are listening to that too, or are watching those examples and they want some of that success themselves, which is where they go in and hire designers.

But what I found in the past is that, okay, someone hires designers, because they’ve seen that apple has succeeded or all these design led companies or designed it form whatever, but they don’t really know what to do with this. The hiring a designer versus being a design driven organization. Totally not the same thing.

So do you have any experience going to beat the first one in the company and having to build and anything like that? 

Ioana: Yeah, I’ve had this, experience in my life and it’s not a very happy place to be, but it’s also, an exciting challenge because you get to shape and organization, but also a mindset around design.

And that’s something that you like aspire to be able to do when you grow in your career. So I’m not complaining that I’ve had this situation in my life, but it it wasn’t easy. I think that there’s a limit to this experience in itself. So I think that I would only be able to be the only designer or the first designer in a company for a couple of years in my career.

And then I do want to join immature design organizations and go in, in, in companies where I design is already settled and is already influential. And the power that the value of design was already proven. And everybody agrees that design is important but yeah, I’ve had the experience of being the first designer or having to convince people that design is important.

And I think that the best way to do that in the beginning, uh, is to two things have worked in my experience to go in a very tactical on a very tactical level. Again number one is doing small. Proof of concepts. so I think it’s, it’s, it’s very valuable to show people in with the small features or small improvements or small research projects showed him at controllable scale that doesn’t require a lot of funding or a lot of effort from their side showing them.

Why design is valuable or how design can benefit them. So doing these pilot experiments with would definitely be a way in which just start out promoting evangelizing and getting buy-in for design and scaling design. And then the second thing is exposing them to users as much as possible.

You sort of touched upon briefly earlier in our conversation on the importance of seeing the users. And I want to build on that because I feel that whenever I saw significant shifts in mindset or an attitude towards how important research is or how important design is in general, it wasn’t a presence of users not necessarily live, but like, as a result of seeing how do users interact with a product, then many times it was.

On a ground of panic or on grounds of like just concern or being frightened by the issues that you see when you observe your users interacting with the product. So, and then you want designed to save you obviously then you won, then you say, okay, maybe my bet. Wasn’t right.

And maybe the product needs improvement. So please, now I trust you. I handle, please save me. This is the kind of shifts that I’ve seen, in my own experience. So yeah, two things, uh, small projects to start building on and gaining power and influence, and then as much as possible everyone who’s a non-believer should be around users because that will make them believe.

Christian: There is nothing that I have ever seen change the minds of business stakeholders faster. Then seeing a user struggle or a customer struggle using their products. They’re instantly there, their mindset shifts instantly because I guess in their minds, you’re not really thinking on a daily basis about the user.

Again, this is not their job. So suddenly you’re you get the reality in front of you, very close to see someone struggle with the product that you’re trying to build and mentality shift very fast. And the importance of design becomes apparent very quickly. So you said something, you know, he’s not a very happy place to be, to be the first designer in a company where design is not very valued.

It’s not a very happy place to be. And I’ve been there myself and I agree it’s not a very happy place to be, but I think it’s a place of opportunities and the place of growth because I have. Experienced tremendous growth, more growth in the roles where I were designed. Wasn’t valued than the ones where I came in and people kind of knew, okay, we know what this business function can do and I found that a lot in the business to business world in the enterprise software, where design is historically not known to be a differentiator like in the consumer world.

And you go into a business to business company, they never had a designer before. The difference you can make, there is so much bigger than going and working for Spotify and working on a little feature in a corner of the app or something like that. So, you know, you work in business to business right now.

And I’m wondering, how have you seen that? Moving from ING, working on a consumer product to UI path, working on enterprise software how have you seen that opportunity and growth happening? 

Ioana: Well, it was a huge change for me on many levels, because I was also like a different style of company, if you want a different size and obviously maturity.

So Beth was a fast growing startup hypergrowth. I joined right before one year or two years before IPO. And so it was sort of a big company, but it wasn’t ING bank big. So the. The pace and the way of working was completely different from what I knew and what I was accustomed to. So I’ve been with ING for 10 years.

So I was very much, yeah, I had roots in, in the way we were doing things, the speed at which we were doing things, the pressure. And when I moved to UI path, I felt like I’m overwhelmed completely by the pace at which things are being done. And the, like the hecticness of everything and the opportunities that you have for shaping a design language.

And I’m meaning I’m, I’m talking about a design language within the company, not the design system or something like a style guide. Um, so. So it was a huge opportunity and it was also a culture shock if you want. Uh, because I wasn’t ready for a dotcom. I wasn’t, I mean, not that I wasn’t ready, but I wasn’t used to that speed and that hecticness and like grabbing things to solve from a bucket of many things to be done.

Design was not yet mature. I wasn’t the first designer to join UiPath. there were plenty several designers before me, so we kind of joined forces when I came, I already joined us frontline of designers, trying to evangelize design and D purchase of design. But what you can imagine are what’s an interest.

Thing is that there was no design leadership. So there wasn’t anyone in a design leadership role. There was no. Okay. Okay. Maybe not many companies have a chief design officer, like a C level, a role for designers. Maybe that’s a rarity, but we didn’t even have a VP of design and we didn’t even have a director of design.

So there was no one representing us on that level. Uh, talking to top management, talking to the CEO or the chief product officer there wasn’t, there was none on design. So that was a clear, uh, telltale that there’s a problem with how design is being valued and perceived and the power the influence design has within our company.

And that changed after I joined, I think in even less than one year, we had infused the company with design talent senior leadership talent from the. Mostly Seattle, mostly Microsoft. So there was this this new wave of leaders that were trying to build up a design culture. And, uh I apologize if anyone can hear babies in the background, but this is just, uh, 

Christian: that’s the life that’s the life.

Yeah. So I think a lot of these conversations that we’re having right now are really important to have for junior designers to listen to, because I feel, you know you said to yourself you’re not educated in design. I am, but I can’t really say that I’ve learned a lot in design school that I’m still using today.

I think there is a fundamental problem with design education today. Well, with education in general, but we’re not going to talk about that today, but with design education, I think it’s severely lacking behind what the business world needs because the business world moves at a really fast pace. And in education, a traditional education system has a really hard time keeping up with that.

And that’s fair. So I know that you many other designers and many other design leaders all over the world are trying to solve that problem in a way or another. So you have the design academy. Uh, could you tell us a bit about that? Why did you start it? What gap in the market have you seen? Have you tried to plug that and all of that?

Ioana: Yeah. I love to talk about that because it’s my most important project as a designer. Up-to-date and it started just like you assumed by spotting a gap in the market by understanding that there’s a pain, a huge need for better design education. of course. I didn’t start out believing that I can create the perfect system or the perfect recipe.

There is no such thing. it’s a combination of many things that a person needs to do in order to start our design career. But we observed by looking at other bootcamps by following conversations in the industry. And most of all, the experience that bootcamp graduates had after they finished a bootcamp.

And once they, they were on the market and had to deal with the realities that they many times they weren’t warned about, or weren’t very transparent to them. So we kept seeing myself. And when I say we, um, I co-founded mental design academy with my co-founder, uh, he was a design manager at Fitbit.

 He’s now VP of design. So he also had an, a startup in Germany. And so he also had leadership roles working with designers, junior designers and mentoring designers in different bootcamps, uh, the bigger boot camps that probably everyone knows. So he was mentoring and doing, and I was also mentoring through UX Goodies.

So we were both doing similar work in different setups, and we were encountering the same problems again and again, and the same stages in. Transition the transition to UX design started to Curt. And so we realized that there is a gap there that there’s an opportunity. And for me, there was this constant feeling that, okay, now I have a community on your equities.

I have close to 200,000 followers. what does that even mean? It means that now I have a voice, whatever that is, and I also have a responsibility. So what am I doing for all these people? Who in a way, give me some. Offer me. So they grant me some of their time and what am I giving, what am I offering?

How am I helping them? How am I, I have a lot of messages even today from people in my inbox. And I felt like in the past, before mental was launched. I had nothing, no way of helping them. I kind of pointed them or it’s different resources, but it felt very unstructured. It felt not that it didn’t feel like a reliable system of helping people transition into UX design or start a UX design career from scratch.

So, so mental was sort of on my mind for several years before actually having the conversation when reached out to me and then it took a year to build it. We underestimated how difficult it is to build a design school of any sorts and how much content and effort and talent had to go into it.

We assembled a team of 10 designers. With different backgrounds, different specialties. So researchers, visual designers even a project. So design ops, we have people from different backgrounds, right about the part of the curriculum that was where they were specialized then. So we try to fix many of the problems and starting with the broken curriculums that we ran into another bootcamp, then continuing to the problem with mentors, not being specialized in design it’s a problem.

You’ve seen the design industry today, as well as so many bootcamp mentors and big boot camps. They’re actually front-end developers or they’re graphic designers or they’re branding designers. So who is teaching you? UX design is another important point. So we had like, I can talk about it for days because I’ve been in this problem space.

So immersed for three years, I think now that I kind of understand everything about it. So, but that would be it in a nutshell. 

Christian: So, what are some of the keys that you’ve spotted as that, that are useful for someone who either wants to transition or wants to start from scratch? What are the two or three things that are just so much more important than everything else to learn?

Transition or starts. Yeah, 

Ioana: I that’s my favorite question in the world and I’m actually launching a course about it with a big chorus platform. so yes, this is the most interesting question. So what do you need? And I, I. Kept thinking for many years, for the past year is building mento, doing X goodies, doing the podcast, doing all the content that’s educational at its foundation.

So what am I teaching people? What am I telling people? what is the message that I have to send out there? And I realized that by, by doing a lot of introspection, by being a self-aware as possible through, I don’t journaling watching the conversations I have with people and genuinely listening to the people who are either struggling to start their career switch or just, they just did it.

And they’re struggling with what follows after you learned the theory and do a project. so by really, really paying attention to this problem space, I realized that there are like four main ingredients that you need for a successful career switch into UX design. And those ingredients are theory.

On one hand, I wouldn’t say this is the most important because the theory is. Like design working as a designer is very practical and you do need to know the concepts. You do need to speak the language. You do need to understand why we do what we do and everything. So it’s, it is important, but even more important than theory, which is the first ingredient is the second ingredient, which is practice.

So doing real design work, you like with everything in life you learn by doing and design makes no exception. Art it’s like in particular important to work as a designer before understanding what goes into UX design and Practice is super important and it feels very discouraging or daunting or difficult in the beginning.

Oh my God, where do I start? Who will hire me? Nobody will hire me. I have no background. I have no experience. How do I find my first project, but through our bootcamp and through all the work I’ve been doing, mentoring people, I I’ve learned that. It’s not that it’s hard to find the real first design project that you can apply the theory.

I think it’s really important to okay. Get dual course basic course that gives you the theory or, or, I don’t know. There are so many, I think you can do it for free on the internet today, but you just need some structure. Uh, so you gain the theory, you apply it into practice. You can do that by reaching out to people in your network asking them if they have any sort of design problem with their business, with their, I don’t know, restaurant online, shop website, presentation, website, whatever.

It might be. Someone in your network has something that you can improve. So, and they’re where you, that’s where you get real experience working with a real person. So that’s all you need to do. Just try a little, to reach out to people to find real projects. And then the other two ingredients, which I value a lot as well are mentorship, which is why I decided to call my bootcamp mentor.

I think it’s, it’s really, really important to have someone Giving you feedback challenging you, teaching you how to think, because the biggest problem when you’re starting out is that you don’t even know how to look at things. So you’re doing things, but how do I look at them? You are not able to think critically from the get go, and it’s totally natural.

A mentor will teach you how to think critically. And which are your blind spots, where are your unknown unknowns? Where do you need to do that? You haven’t done yet. Mentors are essential I transitioned without a mentor or I had some accidental and informal mentors but I think it’s ideal and.

The strongest foundations are built with mentorship as well. And then the last thing is community. I, whatever learning journey you’re on community will help you stay on track. Feel motivated, feel like you’re part of a bigger group that’s going through the same thing helped you figure out some I don’t know roadblocks that you need to overcome or things that just knowing that someone else is doing the same thing as you are at the same time is, is pretty powerful.

And I feel that design communities are very accessible, very welcoming. I feel the design industry as a whole is a very nice place to work in because we’re working with people. So most of the times for nice or just, I dunno, welcoming. So to recap, very quickly theory, practice, mentorship, and community.

This is what you need for a strong transition into UX design in mind. 

Christian: Well, yeah, for sure. I feel mentorship is really easy to get nowadays with incredible platforms. Like ADP least it’s as easy as finding a person in your time zone and booking a slot. That’s it? It’s, there’s no excuse to not have a mentor today.

If you need one or if you want one or if that’s what you need, there is no excuse to not go there because it’s just, this platform has made it so easy for everyone. So I wanted to say whenever people ask, where do I find my first project? One of the things that I say to them that I’ve been involved in the NGO world for about 12, 13 years now of volunteering.

And I’ve made that connection. There are so many NGOs that are need NGOs that do great work that obviously cannot afford a full-time designer on stuff that need some somehow. And I would argue that that is a better project to do, rather than taking one of these, you know, fake clients.com or whatever all these sites are because not only you get to work in a real world situation, but you also get to have an impact on the world, which is the, one of the reasons that some of us started this in the first place is to be able to impact.

And so I only say there are so many NGOs out there that need design help badly that you could be, it could be a mutually beneficial relationship. 

Ioana: Absolutely. And I just want to mention that there are even places that kind of gather opportunities from NGOs. And I would recommend checking out with democracy, lab.com.

That’s a website that has NGO volunteering work opportunity opportunities. And another one is UX rescue.org. So these two websites are like aggregators of, of opportunities from NGOs. And definitely volunteering is a wonderful place to, to build your first case study and explore. Yeah, 

Christian: we’ll put those in the show notes so they can be easily found.

I, I didn’t even know about them. See, that’s so great that we can now share these resources with more people. So before we finish, I really want to talk about UX goodies and you as a brand, over the past few years you have built a brand. Let’s just say it as it is, you’ve posting a massive amount of content to help up and coming designers, become better and not only up and coming designers with even people who work in design and have worked inside for a while.

So I’m just curious how did you think about studying that and why. 

Ioana: Well, I, I feel like I have the long story and the short story. So the long story would be, uh, that before creating your goodies, I was actually doing some social media work for some rock bands in Romania. So that’s how it all started.

I started doing social media without being a social media person, but of, I had friends that had this rock band and I said, you know what? I’m going to help you grow. And social it’s really important. Even if you have like a live concert, it’s nothing. If the internet doesn’t seed, so I’m going to help you with that.

So I did social media for this rock band and for two, three years. And then I realized that that. Um, w what if I do this, like for myself and I do it for myself, and I do it for something that I’m passionate about, and I was passionate about UX design. So I started building this page where I basically just, I was spending a lot of time on Instagram anyhow.

So I just said, you know what, I’m going to spend this time constructively from now on. So the point of UX equities was never to have many followers and. I didn’t think it was possible. I thought that UX design was such a small niche and who would ever want to like learn UX from Instagram because it’s not the place to learn.

So I didn’t start out saying I’m going to build a spade and I’m going to be like this brand. And I had no idea where the journey would take me. It just started like a small, personal project do not waste so much time. And to kind of force me to be learning everyday something new or synthesizing a topic that was interesting or doing some sort of research work or maybe, I don’t know, it was just a self-discipline kind of effort for learning.

And I started doing it and of course it wasn’t spectacular for a long time. It was like I had 400 followers and I remember very, very clearly that I said that if I ever reach 4,000 followers, it’s going to be unbelievable. I will tell everyone. I mean, my, all my friends will know everybody it’s yeah. It was like a dream to reach 4,000.

And now I’m at almost 220,000. So, so yeah, the thing is that I did it for. Not fun, but I actually genuinely enjoy social media. So so I think that’s one thing. Cause many people think that, oh, I should start a personal brand. Everybody has their UX, Instagram nowadays, and everybody has a personal brand and I have to do it.

I have to be there otherwise I won’t find jobs and I’m not competitive, but if you don’t like it, maybe that’s not your way of, of building a personal brand. Maybe you want to write medium articles, which is always superior to creating an Instagram post, to be honest. So if, when I, when I started writing on medium.

When, what it means to create long form content and how difficult it is to actually build a coherent story. In words, not just like bite-sized Instagram posts, one one-pagers with these are the resources, which of course those take time as well. Cause I, I spent a lot of time on Instagram. So the following that I have today is though this, the result of hard work, I’m not going to minimize it, that it happened because I spent a lot of time building this community.

But it, you don’t have to, I mean, for people looking to build a personal brand, there are many, many ways you can start a podcast like you did. You can start, I don’t know. Maybe you’re more into yeah. Writing whatever works best for you. And the most important part is that you have to.

Christian: Oh, for sure. You know, Gary Vaynerchuk talks about, if you want a great content, you don’t need to get on video. Like he does. It’s just because he’s comfortable on video. That’s why he does it. Maybe you don’t like to hear your voice, then you should certainly not do podcasts, but maybe you’re good at writing, but maybe you’re good at graphic design you just need to find what you would enjoy the most, which is exactly what you said.

So, um, I like that. What have you learned in the years you’ve made all this content? 

Ioana: A lot of things. I think that UX goodies became part of my identity professionally, personally. So it’s it just, I, if I start talking about what I’ve learned, I can never stop. I I’ve learned so much, but, um, but I’m going to just maybe tell you the top three to three things that come to my mind.

Um, I’ve learned that You learn a lot when you teach others? So teaching, well, I don’t consider myself a UX teacher really, because I think teachers are traditionally people that build a course, that’s like consistent and I don’t feel like I did that. I have a lot of bite-sized content. I have a lot of content everywhere, video in all formats, but it’s not like this.

Like I go to university and for three years I teach people how to do something. I don’t feel like I have that level of knowledge and expertise and authority. So I’m not a teacher, but I feel that every time I try to present a concept or promote a concept to my followers, I’m learning, I’m the first one to learn.

So that’s really, really valuable. I think this is one of the most important lessons or a thing that I’m grateful for. And another important lesson is that having a. I hate the word personal brand in a way, because I feel like it’s also a bit fat, the shies, then everybody talks about personal brand and it feels a bit like commercial and for some parts cheap.

And I really, I’m not a big fan of calling it a personal brand, but that’s what it is. I mean, I’m not going to invent another name for it, but it’s great to have a personal brand because my network has grown so much and I’ve met a lot of people from all over the world. I’ve made a lot of friends.

I found you mentors. So it’s incredible. Once you have, once you’re comfortable enough to put yourself out there through any means, that makes sense to you and you’re proud of, and you enjoy, and it’s go here and with your aligned, with your personality, then once you’re out there, you’re going to meet people.

And that’s the best part of the journey. So for me, what mattered most is. I got to meet all the people that otherwise I wouldn’t have known from my podcast. Co-host to my mentor, Stephen Gates to, I don’t know, even talking to Chris DOE was something that I, I wouldn’t have had the opportunity if I wasn’t there consistently putting myself out there.

So there are a lot of benefits, but the most important part is meeting people. 

Christian: Yeah. 100% for me, the podcast it’s two things. One of them is meeting people and the other one is giving back to the community. I really want people to listen to this. And at the end of the episode, think I’ve learned something today.

I’ve enjoyed that. So this 100% and teaching is the best way to learn. I agree with you. I know we’re almost at the one hour mark. So I’ll ask you the end of podcast questions. Two of them, everyone gets these, and then I will, um, let you go. And, uh, you know, did they care for the baby who was crying a bit earlier?

So first one is what is one soft skill that you wish more designers would possess 

Ioana: critical? I have absolutely no hesitation, critical thinking. I think many designers sometimes forget to like question themselves and question the things they’re doing. And the point is to like, have a rationale and intention behind everything we do.

So critical thinking is, is the number one. 

Christian: Okay. We haven’t had that answer just yet. So that’s good. The antibodies, what is one piece of advice that has changed your career for the better? 

Ioana: Hmm. I gotta think a little, because now it’s like overwhelming, uh, ones in my mind, I have a lot of things.

 It’s hard to pinpoint. Just one. I think there were a lot of things, but one of them was definitely in the beginning of my career, I also created a sort of professional persona.

We all have a professional persona. It’s like how our minds work. We are show up as something that’s a bit controlled and and adjusted to work in society and so on. So the best piece of advice that I got was from my mentor, Stephen Gates, who told me that. There is nothing more powerful than being authentic and vulnerable and as a designer, but as a professional in general.

So I was very much afraid to say something that wasn’t right or say something that’s controversial or say something that’s uncomfortable. And he pushed me to become more authentic and to be a bit more confrontational with everything that I do. And I was avoiding or, yeah.

So just being authentic and being you, if that makes sense that that’s the number one piece of advice 

Christian: for sure. That’s and it’s a good piece of advice and we haven’t had that one either before, so there you go. Tip that is great. Yeah. And I work in people find out more about you reach out.

Follow all your content, all of that stuff. Yeah. 

Ioana: I think you you should start. So I have a lot of content on different platforms. I think you should start. Everyone should start from Instagram. My handle is UX goodies with no point no line or nothing. Just UX goodies in one word. And, now I’m trying to grow my tech talk because I feel like it, it helps me.

I laughed at tick-tock and I thought it was like the worst place for content in the history of content. But now I find it pretty addictive because it, it gives me the freedom to not calculate so much or over-engineer the content I create. It’s just very spontaneous and it is like liberating in a way.

So I’ve started to enjoy it and on. UX goodies actually, I’m UN squiddies everywhere. So if you wanted to find me on Twitter, on Facebook, on Tik dog, wherever it’s your exclude goodies, it’s that symbol. And also people can listen to my own podcast, which is called honest UX talks, and we have it on all the platforms.

And I think that’s it. And also mental design academy. So if anyone is listening, that’s looking to transition into a UX design career or know someone who wants to transition into a UX design career. Mento design academy is the way to go. 

Christian: Those will be very easy to find in the show notes. We will put everything there so people can easily get ahold of you, your honor, this has been a great conversation and a fantastic experience.

Thank you so much for being on the show. This has been really great. I’m sure people will learn a lot from this conversation. Just as I said earlier, when people finish an episode, what I want them to say is I’ve learned something today. So a check this has happened today. Learning has happened.

Thank you 

Ioana: very much, Ioana thank you for inviting me.

Christian: That’s a wrap for today. I hope you found this episode useful and that you’ve learned something that you you’re ready to implement the work tomorrow. If you’ve enjoyed this as always, it would mean the world to me. If you’d share it with your community, if you’d leave a review. And of course, if you’d remember to tune in for the next one, peace.