Megan Dell of 99designs on UX Research and Designing for a Global Audience

Megan shared how the entire 99designs team is involved in research, the challenges of designing for a global audience, and parallels between sports and work.

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Photo of Megan Dell

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Senior Director of Design @ 99designs

Megan Dell

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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 chatting with Megan Dell, Director of Design at 99designs. It’s a good conversation about the work she is doing behind the scenes as a design leader, the challenges of creating products for a global audience and how her fitness journey has helped her career.

Megan. Thank you so much for being part of the design meets business journey. You are a director of design at 99 designs. A household name in the design world has been for many years. So I’m looking forward to today’s chat, uh, before we begin, just so everyone knows who we’re talking to. Can you give us a bit of a, an introduction, how you ended up becoming a designer and how was that journey that you’ve been on?

Megan: Yeah, absolutely. And hi everyone. And thanks for having me. Um, look, to be honest, I studied graphic arts and I always wanted to be a designer, but I could never get a job as a graphic designer. And so after getting so many rejections, I ended up applying for a role in call center thinking that I would just take that for six months and, um, actually, uh, found my way through the company, uh, into replying to customer emails.

And then. I’m doing some work on the website. This is about 20 years ago. So no one cared about the internet and kind of found myself doing user experience design without even knowing it and kind of stumbled into it through that way. And over the course of the years have kind of carved a bit more of a career through that journey, worked in agencies, focusing on mobile apps and things like that.

Um, well, do I sorry to yeah. Where I am today, uh, at 99 designs and I’ve been here for the last six years. 

Christian: Yeah, that’s quite a while in, in today’s tech world. Let’s call it. Everyone just jumps after a year or two though. They, 

Megan: I know, I thought two years was my limit, but 99 has, um, yeah, always like provide me with lots of really good challenges and learning opportunities.

So yeah, six years later. 

Christian: Yeah, well, I guess that’s what it’s all about, right? It’s just, if you’re not feeling challenged or if you don’t feel that you’ve got, if you don’t feel like you’re growing, then you’re much more likely to jump, ship and go somewhere else. So, um it had been a piece of advice for employers.

If people are leaving too often and try this, if you haven’t tried it yet. 

Megan: Oh, I was just going to say in this design, this was such a curious bunch as well. Right. So you got to kind of keep that you can’t have people get bored and feel as though they just can either too comfy in their roles. So yeah, if you want to keep them, keep them learning.

Yeah. Yeah. 

Christian: For sure. How have you found that transition from customer support, answering emails and all that to actually. Doing the work of a designer. How was that for you? 

Megan: Oh, well, because I, , because I had studied design and I was also working, um, in my own time as quite an active artist as well. So I was always doing creative work.

Um, It just felt really nice to be able to take the learnings that I had had from speaking with our customers on the phone, and then later answering their emails and then trying to solve some of those problems through the interface and understanding like the needs that they had from my first, um, firsthand experience being in customer support.

So it was very different to go into more of a design kind of role. It was definitely a gradual transition, but it prepared me so well with that, uh, solid foundational knowledge of who the customers are from kind of spending. A long time talking to them directly in customer support. 

Christian: Yeah, I can imagine that was a w.

When you have the polls, the finger on the polls, isn’t that what it’s called when, uh, when you, you know, you talk to customers at all times and you get into that mindset and you build that empathy for whatever it is they’re going through on a daily basis, then you’re also much more motivated to solve those problems.

In whichever other role you are, whether you’re a designer or a even developer, sometimes I’ve I’ve had in the past, developers brought into usability testing sessions. And as soon as they’ve seen what was going on, They became advocates for better design. You wouldn’t think that, right. So I’m sure having the finger on the polls has helped quite a lot since then.

How have you seen, well, first of all, your role as a designer and later on as a design leader, but also the role of a designer in general, you know, if you’ve been around for 20 odd years, how have you seen that change and evolve? 

Megan: Oh, That’s a really good question. I feel as though I’m also my expectations and understanding has changed quite a bit over that time as well.

And I think that that’s through the experience that I’ve gathered and just general kind of maturity and a life of my working life as well. I guess when I go back to the early days of my career, Compared with now, I certainly said design so much more as a role where facilitation is just so important and it’s, uh, bringing others along the journey, uh, your communication skills as well.

So not only your visual communication skills, but also able to kind of talk about your design rationale or perhaps, uh, explain in various different ways, the problems that you’re trying to solve with your design to your colleagues as well, and get them on board with why this is an important problem to solve too.

So I think. Uh, it’s kind of changed for me and I’ve got more of a well-rounded understanding of it. I don’t know if this is so much change throughout the gears fundamentally, uh, for everybody, but certainly my perception has evolved 

Christian: for sure. Aspects of design that I’ve noticed has evolved, not even in the past 20 years, maybe in the past 10, is that we’re having more conversations around the importance of design when it comes to affecting the bottom line.

Right? Tricks design is just a driver for, for what. The business needs to be done more so than what it used to be in the beginning, I guess. Just, can you put some CSS on it says on this HTML to make it look nice. So I would assume, and please correct me if I’m wrong, that on a daily basis for you, that is a very big part of what you’re, you know, empowering your design team to do what you maybe do at the high level as well.

All these talk. How design affects the business affects. Can it be a positive, not only unnecessarily negative. So is that, is that, am I correct in assuming. 

Megan: Yeah, absolutely. And I think that there’s also something really special that people with the design skillset and I guess the, the way that our brains can kind of be programmed to solve problems and look to simplify things as well.

We can help with some pretty gnarly business problems too and that’s just through our design thinking and our human centered design approach which is very different to, well, certainly at my level, like very different to my peers who could be like the head of marketing, head of finance, et cetera. Um, so it’s a very important skillset as well to have kind of in their senior business conversations.

Christian: How do you empower your teams to do that on a daily basis? Because again, design, historically speaking hasn’t necessarily been thought of as a business function, but it is today. So whenever someone joins your team or whenever someone is already there and has to deal with. Business problems and solve them through design.

How are you there to support them? 

Megan: Um, look, I would try to help remove any blockers that they may have. Of course, I feel like that might be a pretty standard answer, but it’s also helping them understand the work that they’re doing and how that fits in with our company goals. why that’s important, how strategically that kind of helps our business.

And of course, uh, importantly, the end users. So for us at 99, it’s both our designer community and the clients. And so like helping them connect the dots to, 

Christian: And I would assume again, that’s at the level you’re at, you’re also doing a lot of work that is not really visible per se. First of all, you’re not pushing pixels anymore.

You’re sitting in meetings sometimes you’re evangelizing for design, maybe you’re as you said, you’re trying to remove blockers. So I know that running a design organization consists mostly or heavily of work that no one really sees. Can you talk a bit about that and how you found that transition from. pushing pixels to having to 

Megan: do that. Oh yeah. I so much like we do a weekly stand up in the design team. I mean, asynchronous to service slack, and sometimes I think why don’t, what can I write here? Like, because so much of the stuff that I do is sort of behind the scenes it’s in meetings, stuff like that but, uh, yeah.

Sorry. So what was the question? The transition 

Christian: was that. Tell us about all that work that you have to do behind the scenes. That’s the challenges of that? 

Megan: Yeah. Well, first of all, it’s getting your head around. Yeah. This is also work it’s like, especially as you change roles as a designer and as you kind of move into more leadership and management roles, that’s the understanding that while I may not be in Figma all day, I’m still actually doing work that’s legit. And that could even be meeting someone for a coffee because perhaps I’m trying to network with them because maybe I want to hire them in the future or understand how they run their team and all of that. So it’s a reframing of. Is what is work, uh, in a different role and a lot of the things that I’m doing, I’m looking at hiring a design ops person.

A lot of the stuff that I do is a lot of design ops things, thinking around our teams, uh, progression in that career ladder. We’re rolling out and your review process soon. So I’m already kind of looking at everybody in a spreadsheet and ensuring, um, Like that we are looking at everybody’s salaries fairly and have the right classification for people, whether they’re a mid wage, a senior, a lead product designer, UX researcher, et cetera.

So kind of like a lot of the maintenance around running the. Also looking at all of our team rituals and looking to revisit, and re-energize them just today, we met through our engagement survey results as a design team. So I collated all of that information, prepared the slide deck, and then walk the team through that.

Um, and so on. So these are all kind of more like opposite as many types of. That I’m doing, but then also within the senior leadership team, I’m there to represent design and really be an advocate for the people that we’re designing for. So our clients and designers at the most senior level conversations within the company and bringing the perspective from those end users into those conversations as well.

And trying to ensure that my peers within the senior leadership team actually understand truly what some of the core pain points of our end-users. And that we’re accounting for that, like, you know, quarterly product planning and things like that to, 

Christian: yeah. Probably working for 99 designs is very different because it is a design led company in a way, because it’s mission is it’s designed, uh, evangelize design, if you will.

But, um, I have a. An experience working in a company that’s less design led much less than not even tech led. It’s just very, very old fashioned. And in that case, I found our director of design to be so important for us kind of on the ground, because he would be there taking all these battles. And allowing us to do the work that we’re do because he would kind of shield us from it.

And whenever we would go into these meetings with senior stakeholders, he’d be there with us to kind of support. And, and he just knew how to frame design in much better way than any of us ever could. So he was such a fundamental part of us being able to do great work. Because he was the translator translator of design for the business people.

So, um, maybe for you, it’s that part of the job is not that necessary there, but I assume in other organizations, um, it very much is, 

Megan: oh yeah. I mean, it still does come about as well. One of the. Conversations that I feel like I’m always having is, uh, so we’ve got a team, uh, Kodak delivery systems team, and, um, that’s also where our design system work is housed.

And I do feel as though I’m constantly having conversations about why we have to have two designers within that team and kind of translating the work that they do into the same realms as well. It’s just as important for us to be focusing on our own. Tooling for our design system, as it is for an engineer to be working on a tooling for their engineering counterparts as well.

So of course, we’re going to have more than one designer thinking about our design system, right? So it’s like a bit of translation in that kind of regard as well. Then I’m doing, 

Christian: for sure. You mentioned earlier, you working asynchronously in your. 

Megan: Uh, yeah. Trying 

Christian: to, yeah. Trying to, how are you finding that?

How are you finding working with designers generally with product teams, asynchronously? Because that’s a relatively new way of working. 

Megan: Yeah. We’ve been trying to do an organizationally. For a little while and now it’s certainly not strictly asynchronously. Um, and so for instance, we’ve just had a meeting today with the entire design team and that was so we could also have like a bit more of, uh, in-person interactions.

Um, it has been really challenging though. And one of the things that we need to get better at is the discipline of just trying to view calendars in a slightly different way. So if someone has some free time in their calendar doing the air quotes, uh, so to speak it’s not really an opportunity for them to just be ready and available for me.

Like, we need to respect giving people that time to kind of do their work, have focused time, as well as, you know, watch whatever loom video someone’s recorded, read the document or write the thing as well. It’s still like definitely a work in progress and it’s been a hard kind of transition for us, but I think something that I’m really keen to continue to work on improving because.

I just think we can’t go back to the old way of working. We’re definitely not going back to being into the in the office from nine to five or whatever your hours may be. So it’s all changed. 

Christian: What we’re doing at uptime is we have, because we’re also in a way where all at the same time zone, but I’m not.

So I’m kind of very far away from everyone else. So what we’re doing is that we have meetings. We have a block from meetings in morning, UK time, which is kind of. Late afternoon for me. And then anything around that, they get their time to actually do work to the focus time as we call it in their afternoon.

So UK afternoon time. In in my time, in the morning. So, so it’s having that time to say this is when we usually meet and if you have meetings, put them roughly in this block of 3, 4 hours here and everything around that is is more your time to work. And we’re finding that to be such a good way of working because it allows creative people to have focused time to do creative work, which I remember in the office was always such a challenge because if someone wants 10 minutes of you then there’s lunch, then someone’s leaving early. So they need to have a meeting with you now or all of that. You would never get. I don’t, I don’t even remember how it would get work done in the office.

Yeah. Either. It’s like, I’m a very, uh, easily distracted person as well, and a very visual person too. So I don’t know how, as they concentrate at a desk with people around me in the office back then, 

Yeah. Well, I’m certainly not going back to that. I know a lot of people want to, but I don’t, I’m not one of them.

 I’m happy the way it is right now. You’ve been with 99 designs for six years. You said, and that’s quite a while. And I also know that in the past six years, there’s been quite a lot happening for the company and acquisition in this period as well. Not only just day-to-day work, but I can assume that an acquisition.

Is a big deal. So how have you seen design help throughout these many years that you’ve been there, help the company. 

Megan: Yeah. I mean, it’s, it has been a full long journey over these past six years design. Um, one of the things that we’ve done within the design team that has been such a game changer was introduced a dedicated UX researcher into the team.

And so I hired our first researcher, um, a little over two years ago. And having, even though. Design team back then. So we were about maybe five or six people,, at that so it felt like the designer to research a ratio was probably a little bit luxurious, but, uh hiring a dedicated researcher just really helped us as a company where we want to be very close to the end user.

We all work at 99 designs because we really want to make life better for designers around the world who using our platform. And it just made somebody. Full time job. I actually able to help, um, bring people closer to our end-users and organizationally, that was huge because it meant that we were doing like regular interviews with our clients and designers were able to bring in their conversations into many more strategic company conversations and also just have more of a dedicated research practice and prioritize that heaps more than we ever did in the past, because prior to hiring a dedicated UX researcher, it was the UX designer who was expected to kind of fit that in amongst everything else as well. So sometimes they would like skimp on that a little bit to. The priorities and timelines and all that kind of stuff.

And these days we have a research team of research manager. We’ve got four UX researchers and a research ops person as well. So we’ve been able to really up the ante on that because it’s been such a huge benefit for us organizationally. So that’s kind of helped, um The underlying thing is, uh, it’s actually bringing some real data to our design work as well.

And so it is qualitative information, but it is actually factual information as well. We’ve spoken to all of these people, they find this really difficult to use. We should do something about it rather than just a designer saying, Hey, I think that usability on this is a bit crap, 

Christian: right? Yeah. Since you have so many researches, I would assume you have a monthly, weekly by weekly cadence of talking to users, or does it happen more on an ad hoc basis whenever it’s needed? How does that work? 

Megan: Um, so we have researchers work with all of the different projects that are ongoing, and we also hire designers who have skills in research in their own right. But what we’ve been doing is our product management team are also fantastic when it comes to wanting to get out of the building, so to speak and to talk to our end users.

And so they have really helped champion a continuous discovery process. And so what that means is every single week we are having conversations with clients and designers and getting to understand about what makes them tick. What’s working well, what’s not working well and so on with our platform. And so this is.

Every single week without fail across our four different groups. So we’ve got 12 different teams. They’re all getting that exposure, which is really awesome. 

Christian: Yeah. How does, if, if you’re doing this every single week for every single team, there must be such a massive challenge. Collating all that data and doing something with it because by the time you’re trying to act on something, the next cycle the next week is, is here already.

So how does your team taking all of that customer information and do something with it in a meaningful way? 


Megan: that is a challenge as well. So the team, um, Like whoever it is. So we rotate, who’s meeting the people who’s taking, uh, who’s the note-taker as well, but they are kind of blogging about this.

We use confluence as our central like organizational hub for all of this info as well. So they’re posting a link to the recording, any salient points they’re kind of putting in there in confluence, but then we also use a research repository tool, so where we’re uploading all of the recordings and then we’re actually taking them to so we can do a lot of secondary research.

So if we actually thought, Hey, we want to. I don’t understand this particular part of the experience. We can go into, um, our research repository tool and then search for those particular keywords. So it could be like the brief crafting experience from client’s perspective. And then we can find all those snippets as well.

So we’re kind of doing it. It’s not perfect, but we’re doing it in a way that is kind of thinking about, Hey, this is a massive information that we’re getting. How can we make it more accessible for anyone, uh, in the future within. 

Christian: Uh, what’s that, uh, repository you’re talking about. That’s 

Megan: very useful, uh, at the moment we’re using a dovetail, but that may be changing.


Christian: right? Yeah. I’ve heard about dovetail. At uptime we’re using. Notion for everything. And I, I personally find it to be well it’s one of those tools. That’s good for everything, but not great at anything in a way. I think a research proposed story would be really.

Yeah, you’ve just reminded me of something very important that I have to do later on. 

Megan: Yeah. We’ve been using dovetail for awhile. Um, we may be looking at a different tool where we can like put in other bits of information as well. So we use Zendesk for all of our customer support and designer support calls, and correspondence, and a tool like enjoy H Q, um, can kind of pull it all into the one spot.

So that’s where we’re probably. 

Christian: How does the rest of your product team fit into this research? Because I get it designers and researchers, there is their job, but you know, developers, product manager, testers. Are they involved in 

Megan: any way? Yeah. So the product managers are the ones who have really been, um, helping spearhead this continuous discussions.

Approach, uh, which is really awesome and a breath of fresh air as well. So there’s that from the product management side, but then also, because we do have so many opportunities to attend an interview with a client or a designer, we’ll do some other kind of research session. We really do approach it as a team sport and put the requests out there.

Hey, tomorrow morning at 8:30 AM. There’s this particular thing happening? Can anyone join us? The note taker? Try to, um, give as many opportunities to a diverse set of people, throw out the team and try to make it so that everybody actually has that opportunity within the different squad. So our engineers very much involved and sometimes like in the past, there has been a little bit of resistance from some people, but then.

My personal experiences, even if I drag that person along and sort of make them come along as a note taker to sit in on that session. After that, they’re just a change person. They always want to go to these sessions. They’re just like, oh my God, I didn’t want to come along. But that was so awesome. And I think it’s seeing someone actually interact with, or talk about the thing that you built that is just such a great feeling for like developers as well as of course, the rest of us too.

Christian: For sure. Yeah. It’s I was saying it earlier I’ve had experience in the past with the whole product team had to, had to take a day off every week. Not, not a day off, they all, from their work to be in the observation room. And then I would typically be in the in the room with the the customer and the.

Their attitude changed so fast towards the work we were doing to the point where I remember times when we were sitting in, in planning meetings and they would come up with something that I may be totally even forgot. It’s like, oh, but you remember when this happened? I think we should prioritize this issue over this other one.

And I thought this well, first of all, this makes my job easier because I don’t need to talk about design and the customer all the time. They are, they they get it. But second of all, I think the moment you build enough, trust that with your team and the moment they see the value of the work you’re doing, they will, are more likely to trust your gut feeling or trust your your intentions.

Or if you say, Hey, I think we should do this because X and Y. They’re more likely to say, yeah, I see where you’re coming from. Let’s do that rather than always having to have these battles and what do we prioritize next? Then? What’s more important is this, and it is that. So I found that bringing the product team to testing sessions.

It was a very useful way of building trust. And honestly, I thought of it as a team building exercise, it really brings a team together around one common goal. So but with that being said and where I’m actually going with this is it takes such a long time. To convince everyone to participate. Because as a developer, as an engineer, I just want to write code that’s my job.

I don’t care about that. So you have to convince them somehow to come to the sessions and then that’s it, the sessions sell themselves. Right. But how do you convince people whose job is not to talk to the customer to participate in the sessions? 

Megan: It’s a really good question. I feel as though, I mean, people talk and so once you’ve got one person who’s come along to one as well, they can then talk about, we will always run like every different product development squad that we have.

They’re running a retro every two weeks as well. So for sure, that’s going to come up as a highlight as well. Went along to this interview. It was awesome in different conversations as well. Like that was such a spread and people might be getting, hang on. Like, why did so-and-so go to that interview?

They’re raving about it. I want some of that as well. I’m kind of curious about that, but I also know that, um, like my peers really value that too. And so it’s coming from the top as, Hey, it’s really important for us to talk to the people who are using our products. Like the people that were actually in jobs like to serve and that sentiment is shared from my engineering counterpart. So the leaders of the engineering organization will always be encouraging the engineering managers to be in those conversations and to meet with end users as well as then their team members too. So it does kind of ripple throughout the organization as well, but it can be tough.

Like I remember way back when, when I was doing this in a previous job and I was doing. Like contextual inquiry without, and Jesus. When I was going to visit bookkeepers on a weekly basis, it felt like I had to bring some engineers along with me kicking and screaming. But like I would kind of talk to them about, Hey, no, it’s like, we’ll go for a coffee afterwards.

It’s totally fine. You don’t need to do anything. Just come along. Like let’s check out their environment and have a conversation with them. And. I was able to kind of bring them along, but going back to what you were saying earlier as well, this is like the part of design where it’s like, we are such a, an influencer and it’s all about our communication and our facilitation skills as well in doing this too.

Right? Like this is a great tool for us and kind of helping our teams, um get on board without design work too, and understand the problems we’re trying to. 

Christian: Yeah. So I said at the beginning that night-night designs is a household name. Every designer, I think knows about 99 designs, but with such a big brand, I can only assume there are so many challenges because you are designing for a global audience, how, how are you solving those challenges? And, well, first of all, what are the challenges? And then how are we going about solving them? 

Megan: Uh, yeah, there are a lot of different challenges. One of the things that we have on 99 designs is, uh, we do use English has kind of like the, the central language that we ask people to speak.

But then we also have localized side. So we’ve got like a, a German site. We have a Spanish site, French language site, et cetera. One of the things that would really love to get better at is the localization of all of this. So if we take our German website, we have. An office in Berlin. So we actually do have a good, like about 30 team members over there who, um most of them can speak the language and we would love to make the experiences for someone in visiting our site in Germany to actually then see designing samples that are also in the.

NA native language. And that makes sense as well. We also want to use, like, if we’re ever to use an analogy in our marketing material or something like that, we don’t want to say something as though it’s like a peanut butter and jelly, because even as an Australian, I just look at that and I think, well, that’s not speaking to me.

I’m not American. I don’t go to jelly, you know, so to try to also localize things to that kind of level, and we’ve got heaps of work to do, but I think at the. At the design phase, we have a really great opportunity to be able to affect change in this area and have it feel as though as a more localized and personalized version of the site.

It’s definitely not easy. There are the things that trip us up all the time. One of them. Oh, I was just talking to a designer before this call and we’ll talking about rolling out some particular functionality and we were under the impression that we only needed to release it in British pounds, but it turns out actually, no, we need to release this thing and have it available for different locales, therefore different currencies.

And that’s just so much more engineering work. We also then have to consider the different needs of the invoices that our clients will receive. And then the. Yeah. Like we don’t have some norms around how we may handle rounding with that currency as well. Because of course we don’t necessarily want to display decimal points because, uh I can look a bit gross that we are a design company and a design website as well.

And so then there are different trade-offs of business decisions with those things, like, hang on. Okay. So if we’re going around up or round down, Who’s going to take the hit. Are we going to ask someone to pay more money or are we going to actually take a cut on that? And how much will that kind of impact our revenue organizationally as well?

Um I don’t know. There’s just there’s heat and then add into it, our research approach as well, and trying to research with a global audience and that’s kind of tricky too. So we’re looking at other areas to improve in that regard. 

Christian: Yeah, there’s just so much that off the top of my head, I can think you mentioned currency.

You mentioned language there’s devices, the type of devices that people have all over the world. Not everyone sits on a, on a top spec MacBook pro with the retina display and not everyone has the latest iPhone. Exactly. But that doesn’t necessarily mean. If you don’t have a great Mac book, you can’t be a great designer or on the other side, that doesn’t mean that if you don’t have the greatest iPhone, you don’t have a big company that needs design work. It’s a win-win if you design for a global audience and you do it really well because, well, first of all, Individual contributors, freelancers who didn’t have access to a wealth of clients worldwide, suddenly get access to them. One on the same, on the other side, it’s the businesses that didn’t necessarily have access to great design, great get access to great designers from all over the world at different prices, with different skill sets, different design tastes and all of that.

And what that will do well, obviously to the business. That’s, that’s a positive, um, the net positives for the business, but. Because I truly believe design can change businesses in a positive way. What this does is that it, it gives design, or it gives access to design, to more companies all over the world that maybe didn’t necessarily have it before.

So I don’t know how you’re solving all of these challenges and obviously there’s a million of them, but I can see that if you get to a point where you are able to do this really well, you can really. Change, both on the freelancer side and on the business side. 

Megan: Yeah. Yeah, absolutely. And I’ll also just mention that there are some really lovely stories within our designer community about how, um even pre pandemic, like, because our working on the platform, it actually gave them different opportunities for their own personal circumstances that they wouldn’t have had, um, in other.

Uh, instances and one of them is an incredible illustrator on our platform. he’s one of my favorite illustrators based in Indonesia, I was actually trying to get him to come out to Australia to meet with the team. So we could kind of get to know some of our designer community as well. And he was quite reluctant to, and I thought perhaps it was a challenge for him because it can be quite expensive and difficult to get a visa.

Um, yeah. So there was that. But, uh, through further conversation, he actually said to me, look, Megan, I don’t speak English. I rely on Google translate to even send you this message. I thought, okay, well actually we’ve got like an Indonesian speaking team member. Maybe they could be his personal translator, further conversations.

He said, Megan, it’s not going to work. I’m deaf. I was like, oh, okay. Like, wow, you didn’t volunteer that information. First up, you didn’t need to tell me that either. It was just because I was kind of being a pain in the bomb and trying to get him to go to the Australian office, but it’s like, well, actually I wonder, like, I’d love to learn more about that.

Um, and if that’s like one of the reasons why he chooses to work through 99 designs rather than some other kinds of opportunity as well. So there’s a lot of different little nuances as well that are really nice that it kind of within a designer community and why they may choose to work on nine.


Christian: Just imagine that, I mean, that’s a disability and it’s probably harder for someone with a disability to find opportunities than someone without. So I can imagine how much the platform means for this person, because he earned a living through this platform, despite all of the disabilities that is suffering from.

So that’s so amazing. That should be a kudos to you and the, and the team at 99 for allowing the wider design community. Make a living really. So, uh, I, um I wanted to touch upon something that you’ve said earlier. You’ve said you’ve been with 99 designs, for quite a while because it keeps you engaged.

You’re learning. It’s a good challenge and all of that. So I want to talk a little bit about. The importance of doing work that matters to you and the effect that it has on you on your mental health, when you’re doing work, that doesn’t matter to you that much when you’re doing work that you’re maybe not so keen on.

Cause I remember I worked on projects before that I wasn’t necessarily happy or keen working on and that not only affected the quality of my work, but that affected my personal life too. Personal life and life. They are very much combined these days. So let’s talk about, this is how do you feel about work that you’re doing?

The work that you’re doing is so important to your mental health and you should probably be doing work that you’re really passionate about. 

Megan: Yeah, absolutely. I think I would also say. It’s so important, but I also do understand that sometimes somebody needs to be able to make a living and the opportunity that they have is perhaps not something that they truly want to do, but also I’m not going to judge them for kind of doing that thing that I don’t know.

Um, it may not be the sexiest or the coolest job ever The hardest truly in, but, um yeah when I think about like past roles that I’ve had and like directly before joining 99 designs, I worked for another company who, um have the, I think it’s the largest real estate app in Australia. And at the end of the day the kind of users that mattered most to that company were real estate agents because they’re the ones who are paying the money to post those things.

Properties. And for me I felt really conflicted because I wanted to create fantastic experiences for people to be able to find a house that they absolutely loved and wanted to either rent it or buy it depending on the type of listing than it was. But it just didn’t sit well with me and trying to then create the profile picture of the real estate agent marketing that property to be even bigger or to have much more information featured that was less relevant to the end-user.

So I felt as though there were times where I had my own inner turmoil around this and the company’s goals and priorities, and I didn’t love that. Prior to working there, I worked at. And accounting software company. And the way that I kind of kept myself motivated with that was, I would think of my dad as one of our, in Jesus, because his Attunity sweet, he’s a small business owner.

And I would think about him kind of getting frustrated when he was working with this accounting software to do invoices at the end of the week, and may as a little kid kind of wanting to talk to him or, you know, do whatever. And yeah. Going Megan, I’m on the computer doing this stuff, and I wanted to make life better for other kids in that instance.

And for someone like my dad, uh he was pulling his hair out is his computer. That was the way that I got to enjoy working on accounting software. I’m actually feeling as I was closer to the and it was also a really cool form design, but then working on real estate apps, I was like, ah, I just don’t care for real estate agents.

Like no offense to anyone who’s a real estate agent out there. But yeah, that like that it was kind of a, ultimately a big reason why I left and why I joined 99 designs because I was excited to actually be able to relate even more to a big part of our user base. 

Christian: Yeah. I find that. Has better quality when you care about the end user, rather than just a paycheck you get at the end of the month.

So you’ve said you’ve said at the beginning that there are some people who maybe are not so fortunate or don’t have as many opportunities as someone in the Western world, or as, you know, we can find a lot of examples. I think obviously that is true. I also think.

A lot of the people who are going to listen to this are maybe towards the beginning of their careers, rather than someone who’s super senior. And I also find that to be a bit of a problem, because I would like to argue that someone who’s at the beginning of their career in today’s design world is not very.

Very advantageous situation. It is hard to get your first job, but it’s hard to get your, your second job when you’re a junior designer. So let’s talk a bit about that. What’s if you were to start today and I ask myself that question all the time, and I don’t really have an answer for it. If you were to start today, how would you approach.

Megan: Oh, I haven’t really thought about this. Uh, I mean, I’ve done quite a bit of mentoring and I do I do encourage people to a lot of the people that I talked to through mentoring already have some kind of jobs, they’re not kind of completely unemployed and I encourage them to look for opportunities within their current role and the current organization that they work in.

Uh, I, I have a problem with the thinking that so many people feel as though they need to do some sort of bootcamp or something like that. And I think that this could be because I’m from like a very much, um, yeah, like I’m from a, not a particularly. A wealthy family or anything like that. I like hate the idea of having to spend $10,000 on a boot camp.

Like for me, I’m like, 

Christian: so who has $10,000 just lying around at 19 when you want to start your career? That’s crazy money. 

Megan: Yeah, absolutely. And it hurts me to think that some people talk about spending their life savings on this kind of stuff. And I just kind of think, well, maybe it’s because when I started it was.

It was a very different world as far as UX goes, but it was like, I was able to find opportunities, internally through working in a call center for bloody insurance company. Like the most un-sexy job, most boring stuff. But like I was able to kind of. You know follow my nose and seek out those opportunities and kind of show people what I could do as well, and find my way with that.

So, um, I think be creative. Don’t just think that it’s a role that you need to apply for. The officially has the job title that you’re looking for. I worked for five years at that insurance company, ultimately, and part of the reason why I left was because I wanted to have design in my job title. I was a UX designer for five years.

And not coding UX designer as well. And I think that so many people feel as though, well, in order to get a foot in the door, then like step one is get a job title of maybe it’s junior UX designer or associate UX designer or product designer. But maybe actually you could be doing that work and you’d be, could be called something else as well.

I think that we’re quite literal with this stuff as well. And we could be a bit more creative. 

Christian: Yeah, I think it’s also down to businesses and employers because you, there is such a demand right now for design, but you also got to think that because there is such a demand what there is there, the demand is bigger than the supply for a reasons, because I think it’s it’s not that easy to get into the field today.

And I, I don’t remember who this was, but I had a conversation with someone in the previous season of the podcast who said, I think today is one of the easiest times to get into design. And I agree it’s easier to compare to maybe 15, 20 years ago because you have a lot of free resources on the internet to kickstart with and all of that.

But I, I think what is, what is harder today is that the requirements to get a job. More difficult than 15 years ago when nobody knew what design could do. Oh, you can open Photoshop and that’s great let’s see what you can do versus today. It feels like you have to be able to do so many things just to get a foot in the door.

So in a way it’s easier, but in a way I also find it to be a bit harder. And I think it’s also the responsibilities of the responsibility of companies to say to open. To graduates or newer people who maybe can’t really do that much, but they’re willing to be trained and they have the right soft skills and all of that. So, yeah, it’s certainly a two-way street. 

I will be changing topics completely now. So this we’re going to move from junior designers to something totally different because. I, uh, I’ve done sports for, you know, most of my life. Um, since, since I was four, really, and I know that throughout the years, I’ve been able to draw a lot of parallels between my fitness journey and my career, my personal life too.

But we’re not, we’re not going to talk about that. So I know you’re a long distance runner. So I’m wondering whether your fitness journey has taught you anything that you’ve been able to apply it. 

Megan: Definitely. Um, and I’ll try not to talk too much about running because I am one of those people that when you get me started, I always shut up.

Cause I absolutely love it. But I do actually attribute one of the reasons why I have had this staying power at 99 designs, even through some really tough times over the last six years is through the marathon running that I’ve been doing and the training that I’ve been doing for that. And so. Uh, a big part of it is getting out there in the rain, in the crap weather or in the heat, whatever, getting it done, getting your hours in with your training, but then also, um, it’s just like a lot of resilience and grit that you’re building up through these different things.

And so for me when I think of the toughest times that I’ve had at 99 designs, one of them being. My peer, he goes to the director of product at the time, got breast cancer, and she wants to kind of keep working through that. And she kind of insisted on us not getting a replacement for her while she was working through this.

But also she really wasn’t well enough to be able to work during that period. And so I had to not only bear that the mental, like challenge of someone who had been. Someone that I really loved and a great friend going through this horrible illness, but then also seeing the impact of all of that on her team, the product management team, and trying to help lead the product team through this.

And like those sorts of things. Like when you’re doing marathon training, you kind of have to build this like sticking power to be able to run for. Let’s face it. Four hours nonstop is a pretty hard thing to do. And you build up a lot of mental resilience, like so much. Endurance training is just all in the head and that, um, that for me has been huge in helping get through some of the big challenges and kind of weather the storms and get through it, you know?

Um, yeah, yeah, yeah. 

Christian: Something that I’ve learned through doing sports is that good things take long time and sometimes playing the long game is. Wanting everything tomorrow because in most of the sports that you, so I recently started a Brazilian jujitsu and I am absolutely crap at it. You’ve got to be willing to be shit at it for six months to a year before anything good happens.

And in a way I think that whenever I picked up what it was a new tool or a new process, or whenever I joined a new company and I kind of felt out of place or anything like that and all this. It always brought me back to the idea of, you’ve got to be willing to suffer a little bit, to get to the good stuff on the other end and, and nothing worth having, whether that’s a great job a great title, a good team, nothing worth having comes tomorrow.

Everything takes more time than ideally we would like to spend and. I also run in circles here with professional athletes and I find the way they think about sports to beat me in a way kind of similar. They will never sacrifice the longterm for the short term. They’ll never, you know, go drinking a little.

To have a little bit of fun because they know that that’s going to affect the next three, four days of training. And I know those are professional athletes, but what I’m trying to get at is that idea of having a goal, looking at it and then working backwards and thinking well, in order to become that in order to be able to lead this team or to, I want to become a director of design, whatever it is.

And then work backwards. What do you, what are the steps you need to do to get there? So to me, that’s what supports really has taught me when it came to my career. 

Megan: Yeah. That, well, that is so true as well. It does mean that you have to be good at planning time management as well to get in that training.

But, um, yeah, I like, it’s such a huge help. 

Christian: I’ve also found that. It’s not something that you’re necessarily good at, but it’s something that you have to have around, which is the right people. I’ve found that whenever you’re on a specific journey, which will require sacrifice, which will require, long-term thinking the people that you have around.

Can either, there, there are two types, either the ones that will support you and will understand all the sacrifices and we’ll be there for you or the ones who will do things like, oh, I just have one, it’s just one beer who cares or don’t train today because you can train tomorrow, stuff like that. So I found that whenever you surround yourself with the right people and that’s valid for work as well, not only for sports for your personal life.

It truly accelerates your progress and it allows you to reach your potential, which is why I was saying, I think right in the beginning, we were talking about working with good teams and, you know, building that trust and working together with people, you’d like to go for a beer with creating those relationships at work can really be a catalyst for better quality work.

I’m convinced of that because I’ve seen it on myself. 

Megan: Yeah. 

Christian: You’ve worked in, uh, in house for a few years, but you’ve also worked in agencies for, uh, for, for quite a while further back. So I’m wondering, cause I’ve done that I’ve done both. And I’m wondering, what have you found to be different between the two in terms of your design work?

Megan: Yeah, I’m to clarify, like I’ve worked in house much more than I have in agencies, so I’m definitely kind of more biased in that way. What I’ve really loved about working in agencies though, is just that variety that you get. And so I think that working in-house, you sometimes maybe get variety in different ways.

Um, uh, I also enjoyed it agencies. Ever-changing group of people that aren’t worked with, like it be a different kind of many teams within my agency peers, or I feel be the only UX consultant going to work with that client and kind of be amongst an entirely different team there as well as getting to have, uh a good sticky beak at the moment.

Places as well, while I thought about, oh, what I want to work for this kind of company, let me check out their office, let me see what their processes are and get that kind of Intel as well. But I definitely do prefer clients side as kind of demonstrated by the types of companies that I’ve worked for and the jobs that I’ve, been holding.

But, uh, and I liked being able to see something through from such a finish so much more, I think, depending on what changes. You worked for the kind of work that they do and you may get those opportunities, but, it certainly does come about more. So, uh, client side. 

Christian: Yeah. I found a it’s interesting. You said that because I found working in agencies to be the best way to fit.

Where I want to work or what type of clients, because that’s experience you get it through variety and knowing where you want to be. You get that through a variety of working with different types of clients. And, and also I think learning where you don’t want to work is just as important and figure as figuring out where you do want to work.

So to me, that’s what agency 

Megan: life. Yeah. I would also just add to that as well. Whenever I’m hiring people, I do have a slight preference for somebody who has got a little bit of agency experience in the next two. And because you also get a whole bunch of other things, including some really great stakeholder management skills and presentation skills and so on as well.

 So it’s a great feather to kind of have in your cap. 

Christian: Yeah. Yeah, for sure. Well, we always end the port cost in the same way, wasted two questions. we’re about to be there. We’re almost at the one hour mark. So, uh, the first question is what is one soft skill that you wish more designers would possess?

Megan: Um, we talked about communication skills earlier. I feel like. Is really being taught to a lot of people through their design education and bootcamps and things like that. So if I were to pick a different one, um, I would actually say time management is a soft skill that it would be great for us. So all upskilled in, and it can be a real pain point for some people, especially when it comes to, you know, juggling priorities and trying to do asynchronous.

Christian: Right. Well, let’s talk a bit more about that. Cause I usually, these are five rapid fire questions, but I found, I find that interesting and surprising that you say time management with w why do you find that to be such an important, soft skill to have in today’s work environment? 

Megan: Um, Yeah, for me, I am thinking about our design team retros and things like that.

And it does feel as though so much of the pain that people are feeling where they’re not getting that focus time, that they so greatly deserve. They would be able to unlock some of that. If they were actually brushing up on some of their time management skills and investing a little bit more forethought in this area too, and kind of looking at things.

You know, in a way that they can actually take control of their time a little bit more rather than just kind of let things happen to them. In that regard, I feel there’s just so much in the bucket of self skills where I feel like I give designers a bit of a thumbs up in a whole lot of areas, just based on so many of the designers that I made, I feel like we do pretty well in a lot of them.

So I’m kind of nitpicking a bit here with time 

Christian: management. Farrah. I look, I do think that’s important. I think there’s, what’s also important is especially when you’re earlier in your career and maybe haven’t got that experienced yet, but realizing that focus time is so important for your work because we’re living in a world where.

We’re easily distracted by what that’s devices or, you know, if anything really, we have very short memory span, attention spans, I memory expands. And then you don’t realize that getting distracted and not being able to have 1, 2, 3 hours of focus work is actually. To the quality of your work. So the first step is first.

You need to know that that’s important. And then second of all is what you said the time management. How do you ensure that you actually get that time? And I think you also learned that through experience. 

Megan: Yep. Agreed. 

Christian: The last one is what’s one piece of advice that has changed your career for the. 

Megan: I don’t know if this is so much advice, but it was definitely some feedback that I received from a manager working at insurance company, way back when, when I was sort of having my first conversations around design work with stakeholders.

And I remember I was. Something about a particular interface that an agency had created. And I started to give my feedback leading with our, I like, blah, blah, blah. And my manager said to me, Megan, I don’t care about what you like, which kind of took me a little bit by surprise. I was like, oh my God, I’m in trouble.

Um, but. I didn’t care about what you liked. Tell me about if this is going to work. And I, so I’ve kind of taken that with me and I’ve also given that feedback in a different way to other people within my teams throughout the years. And it is so much more powerful rather than say, I like this. I, I don’t like that.

Like, let’s frame it as I feel as though this would work, blah, blah, blah, or would I, this kind of value, et cetera. Uh, cause it’s not about your personal opinion. This is business. We’re talking about. If it is going to work, if it’s going to be in a better solution. 

Christian: Yeah, for sure. And I also think this reinforces a point that we’ve made throughout all of this, which is design impacts businesses versus, you go to a museum and you look at a portrait or picture.

And then you can say, well, I feel like this or that, but rarely the design that we’re doing nowadays is supposed to be about feelings and more. So it’s supposed to be about. Why do we think this is working? Will it work? And what are the metrics we’re going to track to know if it’s going to work afterwards.

So I find that to be such an interesting, I know he may be delivered it in a very, uh, it was high, not sweet, but you know, sometimes you you need to take a cold shower, uh, very well, very well received, cold shower to learn something. So, yeah. All right. Thank you very much. This has been amazing. Where can people find you get in touch with you?

You do some mentoring as well. Um, 

Megan: tell us all about that. Yeah. Um, okay. So I would say you can just find me on LinkedIn. It’s quite boring. Uh, vats. Yep. So search for me there. Uh Megan has links to all of the things. So that’s just my name, Meg a N D E double L. And I’m also doing mentoring through ADP list as well.

And that’s really about it. I do have Twitter, Instagram, all of those things, but, um, you know, time management trying to get a bit more focused time and not spend as much time on all those extra things. 

Christian: Of course. Yeah. We’ll be putting everything in the show notes so people can easily find you and the, and the mentoring sessions on ADP list and all of that.

So, Megan, once again, thank you very much for being part of the design, miss business journey. I hope you had a good time. I know I had a good time, a good chat and uh, we’ll, uh, we’ll stay in touch. Thanks a lot, very 

Megan: much. That was great.

Christian: That’s so wrapped for today. I hope you found this episode useful and that you’ve learned something that you’re ready to implement at 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,