Salesforce’s Nati Asher: Standing Out During Your Job Search

Our conversation was centered around linking Design with the wider business efforts and round hiring – how to stand out, how to create a better portfolio, and what to ask in interviews.

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Director of Product Design @ Salesforce

Nati Asher

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LinkedIn, Website, Medium

Selected links from the episode

Things I wish UX candidates would ask me during interviews

Knowing the business: A must skill for young designers

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 Nati Asher, Director of Design at Salesforce, and instead of talking about a million topics, I’ve kept this one a bit more focused. So you’ll hear a really great conversation about hiring, how to stand out, how to create a better portfolio, what to ask during an interview and about linking your design work with the wider business efforts. This is a big episode. Enjoy!

Nati, welcome to Design Meets Business. I’m so happy that I get to talk to you today because I know you’ve got so much to share with us about design leadership and building teams and the importance of designers understanding the wider business context that they’re working in.

So it’s going to be really exciting, looking forward to the next hour. You’re a working for , Salesforce right now in Israel as a director of product design. But before that, you’ve also been with Bulldots and WeWork, and Citibank and many others before. So before we dive into everything that you’ve learned there, well, maybe not everything, but a few of the things that you’ve learned there, tell us a bit about yourself and how you started in design and how you got to where you are. 

Nati: First of all, thank you, Christian, for hosting me. , I’m really, really excited about this opportunity and yes, at the moment, I’m leading a team at Salesforce for the last nine months. , before that, as you said, I’ve been in different companies, startups, corporates, all around the Israeli ecosystem of high-tech companies, CSA I’m based in Israel.

And I’m originally from Uruguay and moved here almost 17 years ago. So it’s been a while. and they have a master degree on the computer science, but I started my career back then when I was studying instructional design, which in many ways is kind of a niche of a UX. I, I didn’t know the term. I didn’t know what UX was.

And then. Through some courses that I have the in university, I started learning the field and it wasn’t very much developed here in Israel at the moment. So, eh, I just went to meet ups and read stuff in the internet and started, , this process of self-education and learning until I had my first opportunity at one of the top agencies here in Israel. and since then, yeah, it’s been almost 10 years in the area of UX and I’m actually feel very lucky that I just found it halfway by mistake, halfway by luck. , but I feel very, very lucky yeah. To work on this field. , that’s pretty much it. 

Christian: I think a lot of us have found it by mistake. Haven’t we, at least that’s a lot of the stories that I hear is, oh, I kind of fell into it. I didn’t plan to become a designer. 

Nati: Yeah. But in the moment I discovered it it’s like everything fell into place because I always had this, the thing about organizing the world, organizing low ledge, where do things go? I need some order in my life especially in my mind to get things working. And so when I understood what UX was, information architecture, like everything clicked and okay, I found the right thing for me. So I’m again, super happy and lucky to work on this field. 

Christian: How, you know, you said you had a master’s in computer science. How did you get from computer science to design? What was that transition like? 

Nati: Well, actually, I got my computer science master while I was already working on design.

And it’s kind of a long story that connects between the university of my first degree. And there was some connection there. So a couple of us were taken there to do a, our master’s degree in Sweden. And my first degree is here in is, was done, completed here in Israel. but it was already working on design back then.

And I have to say that there weren’t many points of connection between, you know, my day to day work and that degree, but I did learn a lot on how stuff gets done, I did complete a master thesis on creating a bot, which was a, quite a hot thing back then almost five years ago. So I did learn a lot of the experience after all. And I guess I’m a fair coder as well. 

Christian: You said that about five years ago, boats were a really big thing. I just remembered, but it seems that they’ve gone away. There was a big discussion about bots and bots being the next thing five years ago. And now nobody talks about them really anymore. 

Nati: Well, since I spent such a long time planning a bot, I had like this very, I could speak on this in an entire different podcast, but I had this theory of artificial intelligence is still not there. So with better plan, a good experience. And then it will be probably the bot will probably be able to complete some basic flow. So that was my hypothesis and what I tried to prove actually, 

Christian: Well, how did you, did you prove it or. 

Nati: I believe so, eh, but let’s give that for the next podcast. 

Christian: Right? Okay. That’s fair enough. Cool. People are not here so listen to us. Talk about 

Nati: 2018. So

Christian: Right. And as we know that’s a few years ago, so let’s just stick on the topic of design.

Also. I know nothing about boats, so I wouldn’t be able to ask any relevant pertinent questions about bots so, okay. Let’s go back to design. So one of the main reasons why I wanted to speak to you is because in all of these companies that you work for, you’ve had a lot of experience designing products for a large number of peoples. Whether Salesforce or WeWork or Citi bank, these are brands that have shipped products to probably all in all hundreds of millions of people. Now, one of the questions that I was having was when you design for so many people, how do you manage to balance the needs of so many individuals with the needs of the business, and maybe at some of these companies, you weren’t necessarily pushing pixels yourself, but still even being in charge of those teams. How were you balancing those two? 

Nati: so it’s a good question. I think that sometimes we get confused between having docents or millions of users and the name of, for big brands. So products that I worked out, eh, on at Citibank or we work or a Salesforce recently, eh, these are big brands, but not necessarily this products are used by millions.

Each of the things that I worked at there were not necessarily niche, but had, uh, eh, uh, defined user, a couple of personas, two, three, and at Citi bank, these were internal users, eh, at we work, it was various public. And now at Salesforce, it’s also a business interface for, people that work in the area of field service.

So I cannot say that it’s really everyone and everything. And I did design a product for millions of users quite a few years back in my career when I was at the lead designer for the AVG antivirus on mobile. So we had over a hundred million users and that was pretty much a wild ride because we have 32 languages and then app that needs to work in so many different devices and countries across cultures. And the answer is that you need to be very careful about how do you design and always designed for them minimum common denominator. So if you’re targeting to an older audience and you’re not going to do flashy things or, or hidden buttons, you are going to do something it’s, it’s like with inclusive design.

Basically you rely on that. You got to make it accessible for the less tech savvy person that you got, or the less experienced whatever the the common denominator is. Back then I also wrote an article on what I called shiny shiny apps, such as it was, um, Snapchat and calm all this apps that barely had an interface.

And you couldn’t know where to press so many, it wasn’t accessible to many users. and that’s fine because we evolve and not necessarily you want to be accessible to every user may be maybe you want to be luxurious. Maybe you want to be cool to a younger audience but you, if you are designing something for everyone, then you just need to rely on the most common denominator for all of them.

Christian: Yeah. One of the things that I struggle with whenever I’ve found myself designing some of these products is. Is maybe accepting the fact that you were, are never going to design something that will be perfect for everyone, because you have so many people who said you have to design for the, let’s say the least technologically advanced person or whatever it is.

But there will always be a pocket of users who doesn’t necessarily feel like they’re included in the design of that doesn’t necessarily feel that the solutions are good enough for them, which is so different than when you design a very niche product. Then you can, you can tackle the design in a very different manner because you know exactly who you’re working with, you know, exactly what their needs are, you know, exactly where to find them, to put the products in front of them, if you want to test and all of that. I guess maybe one of the things is that you need to accept that you’re not going to please everyone, if you design for so many people, 

Nati: or you, you’re not a pizza, so you can not please everyone, 

Christian: Even pizzas don’t please everyone 

Nati: but yeah. Joke aside. Probably a product that eh, needs to work for everyone is probably going to be a bit more concerted conservative than the average. it may be boring for some people, but at least it will work for everyone. And that’s probably the goal 

Christian: Yeah. I know these organizations are not necessarily similar maybe in the way they were putting their teams together or even in the way, even in the work that we’re doing, but I, would you be able to extract any patterns from there in terms of what the design capabilities of these organizations were struggling with at every single company you’ve worked with? Is there anything that you’ve found to be a problem at every single company you worked for? 

Nati: And I’m so glad that you asked that because the answer is yes. So if I look. At Citi bank and, uh, also at Bulldots and right now what Salesforce, these are very different companies. There is a banking company. There was a construction startup, and now while Salesforce is all around but something that I’ve found that it’s somehow coming back again and again, to me is the fact that humans, cause I I’d rather not call them users, eh, but humans don’t necessarily trust automatic processes that they cannot see and cannot understand how and why happened.

I first noticed it back then when I was at Citibank and I was designing an interface for a investment bankers and sales salesperson says people have their trading room and this guys, we would show there a price of a bond. And this guys wouldn’t believe it because no, it’s probably, it wasn’t calculated.

Right. I’m not sure if the information is coming through the right the right interface there from the right channels. And there was like, God, what can I do to make you believe it it extra it’s actually coming from the right place. And it was such a struggle. And, funny thing is that I had exactly the same reactions and the same situations, eh at the construction startup, because.

The construction manager would look at the information about the progress of each building. And, yeah, I’m not sure that this is actually right. I got to go check myself on the field because probably you didn’t get it right. And then now it sends for us. I got dispatchers that need to manage fields, the resources in the field.

And so we have these huge crazy optimization and automation engine that should, eh, put every resource, you know, on the right time and the right place to do their job. And they look at this grant and say, now it’s probably not the best way to organize a people. And then I’m just speechless when I get that reaction.

But yet again, it seems to be a pattern that people don’t believe automatic processes that they cannot understand and, and still the, the funny part of it is. There is no way in this world that a dispatcher can organize a 1,500 field resources in the field in a smart way. It’s such a big, it’s just big data that you cannot manage us as one person, and yet they won’t trust what’s done for them.

Right? So it’s a big challenge. one that my team is tackling right now on how to make this, uh this information more transparent and more trustable. 

Christian: It’s a, it reminds me of a search engine I just don’t remember the name, but one of these search engines, that’s looking for flights. They know the, it could be my Momondo.

I could be wrong. They know all the flights at the moment to hit search most of the time, but it delays, sending the results to you to make it, to make it look to you as a user is if you’re actually really searching hard when in fact they have the results almost instantly. So it goes back to that.

There’s people just don’t trust it. If you’re too fast with it, they don’t trust it. So they just give it to you slowly over time, it takes like 5, 6, 7 seconds. So then you as a human thing, oh, the results are probably accurate because it took a long time when in fact the results were there almost instantly.

Nati: Absolutely. And we have the exact same case back then on th on the antivirus, the scan would take two seconds, but then you, as a user would think that they, they were not properly scanning my phone. So we had all this work of creating fancy animations to fill the time and actually figuring out what’s the right time to let you wait. Is it eight seconds? Fine. Is it 12? Oh, there was a lot of work around that. 

Christian: Yeah, I can imagine. Yeah. It’s interesting. I’d like to talk about trust in an organization when it comes to design and designers and their work. But what you’re talking about is on the other side, which is trust between organizations and their users.

So I find that an Eva, probably an even bigger challenge, because you could be having in an organization, you maybe have, you know, 20, 30 people you might have to build trust with. But on the other side of a product, you might have hundreds of thousands or millions of who knows. So probably a massive challenge that you you’ve got to find a solution for in, uh, one of the articles that you wrote on medium.

And I, I will put this in the show notes cause you wrote quite a few ones and they’re really good. And we’re going to talk about two of them today because I found a couple of nuggets there, of information that I think it would be good to unpack. So in one of your articles, When you work for a business, you would need to understand how the business makes money caring for the users.

Not enough. You’re a product designer, not a social worker. Let’s unpack that because that’s what this podcast is all above. 

Okay. So yeah, I wrote that a while ago, not too long ago, eh, but I absolutely believe on, on what I wrote there. And the reason I, I think it’s pretty obvious, but somehow I got to that realization while I was interviewing a young designers to replace me back then on one of my maternity leaves.

And the thing that I noticed is there’s a lot you can learn about designers and their experience and the way they work by, eh, by asking. Letting them ask you questions. And it was very, very clear to me which of them were junior designers and which were more experienced because the more experienced ones with always ask about the business, always be more interested on not just how is the team, how many people you have you got in the team?

Do we do the research? You know, all the logistics, that’s pretty basic. Anyone can ask that. but senior designers will come to you with tough questions about how do we make money. what would be my goals in the next 30, 60, 90 days which eh, business functions do, I have to work with them in business functions.

I mean, stakeholders. And so that, that got me thinking. I got to realize that also myself as a designer had quite an evolution on that. At first, I was kind of, you know, young and naive and it’s yeah. On about user centered design. And I want to make it right for the user. And I’m not trying to mock anyone.

If, if anything, I’m mocking myself about being naive about the fact that I’m actually working for a business. So my job as a designer is to provide solutions that can answer for that business goal, hopefully when making it the best way possible for the user providing God delightful experience or a good experience, or, easy to use, whatever is your KPI or whatever you’re maximizing for.

It could be a fancy app and then you want to make a delightful. a business interface and then you just, if there’s a person that’s going to use this 12 hours a day, you don’t want to make it flashy. You want to make it easy to use and easy to understand. So yeah, my take on that is that as a designer, you cannot, eh, isolate yourself from understanding the business, understanding how the company makes money and what are the business goals?

What are the KPIs that we are all together as a team working towards? I that’s a takeaway as a, as a senior designer who understands the business. I understand that I don’t work inside a bubble of making fancy nice looking things. That’s just not good enough. And so that’s what I would recommend every designer ask the tough questions and understand that we’re not an isolated function. Part of the team and that’s what makes us partners. 

Yeah, I think there’s some experience that needs to be earned there by designers, because to be able to do that because school doesn’t really teach you that we don’t really talk about it enough in front of junior designers or with junior designers, we just bring them in and we bring them up to speed with tools and we bring them up to speed with process learn how to do, how to run a testing session, do this, do that.

But I feel that that conversation or that if the evolution of a designer being able to be in a room with business people and talk about business calls and all of that from a design perspective, I think that happens a bit later in your career. I don’t think when you come out of school, you’re ready to, to go in front of a board and argue for this next design iteration, because it will do this and that metrics. So. Well, what’s your, what’s your take on that? 

No, absolutely. I agree with you there, there needs to be an evolution. I think it’s really, really bad that actually the academy and the different, you know, places where designers learn how to be designers. Don’t talk about that. And that’s something that could be easily fixed.

Guys be aware we don’t design for ourselves and we don’t design just for our users. There is a business. And if you guys want to get the money by the end of the month, then you probably need to align to those goals too. You know, it sounds funny, but it’s reality. We. If you were working on charity or you were a social worker, then that’s fine, but we’re not, we are working and helping teams achieve a achieved goals.

Now, I think it’s fine that designers are maybe naive or unexperienced, eh, at the beginning, it’s fun by fine. I mean, it’s natural. And, but at some point when you work in product companies, I would expect product managers or other senior designers to enlighten junior designers about guys, it’s fine that you are new, but this is how it works.

And I wish we all aligned together. So I was very, very lucky. I worked with very experienced people right from the beginning. and yet it still took me a while to understand that, 

Yeah I think it’s also a thing that designers can do themselves. So when they know that they’re in this role where they are supposed to care about metrics and all of that, but they don’t understand them well enough well that’s where, what they can reach out to a product manager.

They can reach out to an analytics team rather than waiting for, for it to be the other way around, which is, I think in my opinion, less likely to happen. But if you reach out and you start being interested in and you start trying to connect the dots between what happens when I change something in the interface.

What happens in the product, what happens with our conversion rate? And as soon as you start trying to understand those metrics and you reach out to other people, what I have found is that your learning curve goes like that just super fast, because people want to talk about their work. Just like us designers want to talk about their work.

If anyone in the team comes to you and wants to know about design, you will talk for ages and they will learn. Cause you talk, you’re excited to tell them about your job. Well, similarly, if you go to someone whose job is numbers, they would love to just talk numbers with you. And that’s how you can learn.

Nati: I agree. But also, you know, as also as young designers you just assist us, you just said, you just gotta be interested. You just gotta ask. And then probably the answer is there. So, okay. We are redesigning this logging screen. Fine. Why aren’t we doing that? Why is that important? What is the benefit that we’re trying to.

Achieve, eh, or what is wrong right now? Why is this not working? I mean, there’s gotta be a reason and if it’s prioritized, then it’s probably, there’s probably a better reason than just make it beautiful. Eh, so as a designer, you just gotta put yourself out there, explore, ask the right questions. and then that’s the way you learn. 

Christian: I think asking questions. You’ve mentioned it a couple of times is so important. Not only asking questions, but learning how to ask the right questions. Because I remember when I was working in product teams a few years ago, and I wasn’t this experienced than you, you get features, feature requests trickled down to you and you don’t really know where they’re coming from.

You don’t really know why they’re happening at your job is really to ship them. And I think that actually, if you think about it, your job is to ask questions before you ship anything. Or as you said earlier, why are we doing this? What’s not working right now. Not only because you want to get the reason to see what metrics you can improve, but actually sometimes what ends up happening is that if you ask the right questions, everyone else in the team will start wondering the same thing.

It’s like, oh yeah. Why are we doing this? Really? And sometimes features that come from above, get pushed out of the. Because someone asks a couple of questions and makes everyone else realize what actually we don’t really need this right now. It’s not that big of a deal. It’s not that big of a priority.

So I find that to be the responsibility of a designer in a team, especially in smaller teams, when you might not have a product manager or someone who takes care of that side, I find that that’s where designers should fit in. 

Nati: Absolutely. Also, if you don’t ask the questions, you cannot really know what should be fixed.

Is it everything? Maybe it’s just a little thing that that’s making it hard for users to move on the funnel, unless you ask you just kind of know where to start from. 

Christian: Yeah. And what are the success criteria? How do we know that after we’ve shipped this, we’ve done it right or not? Is it just, and you know what, it’s also, in my opinion, it’s also fine to say we’re doing this because we want our absolutely.

Maybe for our brand that’s, that’s also fine, but at least, then at least we know that’s the goal. And then we know how to measure at the end of it. But I find that if you start every project with figuring out what the goal is, or the success metrics or criteria, rather than trying to retrofit them afterwards, you are much more likely to actually help move those metrics in a positive direction.

Nati: I cannot agree more. I think that together with the whole concept of a business goals, something else that is not taught back then at school is a KPIs and goals. And I think that when designers hear that term, many of them get scared because, oh my God, how they are going to measure this, how are they going to measure this?

And how am I going to make it, make it right. And I believe that goals. They shouldn’t scare us. They are actually there to advocate for our work, because how can you measure the success of something if you haven’t set a goal? I could say that, that same thing for almost every process in life.

I mean, if you don’t have a criteria of, what’s the, to consider it done, then you cannot measure this. So whenever someone comes after a year and asks you, okay, so what did we achieve with this? And you don’t have a good answer, then that’s too bad. If you have an answer, if you had a goal from the beginning and then, okay, you can say, okay, yeah, we achieved this.

Or we didn’t or what would I do to make it better next time? But you got to have a goal from the beginning. Otherwise there’s nothing to compare it. 

Christian: I also find if you’ve been in a company for long enough, this is more of a long-term play. But if you keep asking the right questions all the time, if you keep talking about metrics, if you keep bringing results in front of your stakeholders sooner or later, I don’t know when, I don’t know if, if it’s after three months or one year or two years, but at some point in time, people in the business will start thinking of you as more of a business person, rather than just a designer.

So sometimes it’s, it’s just so happens that they come straight to you and they say, Hey designer, we are really struggling right now with our conversion rate or we are really struggling. Whatever metric right turn or whatever it is, what can we do about that? And I think that the moment you start talking about it, the moment you start putting design in that light, where design stuff suddenly can start moving metrics, you become such a, such an such a much more important part of the company. Then if you’re just there and you just push pixels around, 

Nati: of course, and you have everything to gain in that situation. Because first of all, they see you as a, as a business partner, not just again, a pixel pusher. And so that’s the first benefit benefit. And second benefit is that after a while, you will actually, you will see that you don’t need to ask that much.

They will already come with the answers. And then that’s awesome because things become way more clear. And when you’ve kind of. I wouldn’t say, finished that education process of your stakeholders, but they are somehow aligned on what you need to start working. Then it makes it easier for everybody. And then when they have to prepare all that stuff before coming to you, and you already make sure that the things that, that you get to do are more important or more elaborated, or they have been thoughts through in a deeper way. So that’s, you know, gain for. 

Christian: Yeah, this reminds me of something that the director of design used to say this, my door will always be open, but I don’t want you to come to me with problems. I want you to come to me with solutions. And the interesting part about that was that you, you always had to present the list one solution. Here’s the problem. And here’s what I think we should do. And his role would be to not necessarily validate. Cause obviously he couldn’t validate that, but to say, this is the right direction, or this is not the right direction, but what ended up happening more often than not is as you start working through the.

You don’t end up going to him at all because you actually have a solution already so very rarely would you end up talking to him because more, most of the time you just wouldn’t need it anymore. So it’s a, this is similar to that. when people just come to you with a well-thought-out problem versus just, Hey, here’s my problem. Help me solve it. 

Nati: Yeah. Sounds like smart guy by the way. 

Christian: Oh yes. Yeah. We’ve had him in the first season and he’s episode was really successful for a great guy. So I want to segue a little bit from talking about this article that you wrote in.

Into another one, but I won’t refer to the article straight away because that’s a, I’ll do that a bit later, but I want to talk about hiring because at this point in your career, I can only assume you’re not really pushing pixels anymore. I can only assume you’re not in Figma that often anymore, or at least not as often as you used to be, I can assume that a lot of your work revolves around managing designers and maybe talking to stakeholders on a daily basis framing design in different ways in front of these people evangelizing the power of design, whatever it is.

So let’s talk a bit about, first of all, the, some of that work that someone at your level does. So people get the context and understand a bit more what you do on a daily basis. And then we’re going to talk, hiring a little bit. 

Nati: Okay. So. To your question. Yeah. My time gets divided between some hands-on work, which I still have because we have a relatively small team and still there as much to do.

And personally, I still enjoy the hands-on work. So I keep a couple of projects to myself and, but definitely there’s a lot of time spent on em. I call it, enabling my designers, just helping them do their best work, facilitating whatever process they got that is stuck, or maybe fair. They want to review, go through some of their work to get more ideas or come with a problem and hopefully an answer.

Um, and a while, you know, since say we are stealing the COVID era and most of us are working from home. So I spend a lot of time on. On thinking of how we can build our team and feel as a team. So we got out all our offline meetings and we meet once a week at the office. also my team is located here in Israel, but we have another half of the team in the U S eh, so sometimes it’s quite complicated to coordinate.

And, there’s a lot of, there’s a lot of collaboration though, but we spend a lot of time on thinking out this processes, how to work together with our team in the U S how to field as a team right here when we are not all together in a room and yeah. Some hiring too. So there’s a, there’s quite a lot of time spent in all this.

Christian: And when it comes to hiring someone told me recently hiring is the most important job of a design lead or someone who leads the design organization what’s your take on that? Do you find that this one a more challenging as well as important parts of the job, or maybe not necessarily now at Salesforce because of the size of the team?

Nati: Eh, right now at the moment, it’s at the moment it’s not taking much of my time. And also the Israeli design community is so small that, eh, in the last time we had to recruit, I couldn’t, eh, interview all of our candidates because I had some previous acquaintance with some of them and then I didn’t want it to be unfair.

So that’s like a challenge of a whole different level. but my take on this is. It’s a very time-consuming activity. There’s a lot of candidates, some of them good, some of them bad, and most of us as recruiters just don’t have the time and the patience to focus on each of them. I give a lot of advice on mentoring to designers who are starting their recruiting processes and it all the time I tell them to picture me as a persona who is, jetlagged, tired, bored, and annoyed in general.

So I just want to have, I would just want to see the value of your portfolio in 30 seconds or less. I need to understand really, really fast that it’s worth for me to go deep into whatever you got. You have to show me. so yeah that’s actually my best advice. If you get me to be interested in your portfolio and read what you did and see your mockups prototypes videos or whatever you show there.

And then there’s a good chance that we may talk and move forward. But you know, that saying that there is only one, one opportunity for, uh for a first impression. So it works pretty much like that. Also with a portfolio I get 20, maybe 30 portfolios need to go through all of them. If I don’t see the spark in 15 seconds, it’s gone. It’s not fair, but that’s reality 

Christian: for sure. I like that idea of imagining a persona for your portfolio, because your portfolio is a project that is a design project. If you think about it. So you’ve got to think, well, who do I want to read? What state will they likely be in, when they’re going to read this, how much time are they going to have, and then adjust your portfolio based off that.

So I think that is really some great piece of advice there because I, I think w we talk a lot about portfolios and we tend to say, well, here are kind of the things you have to do. Talk about this, talk about that, but very rarely do I hear this idea of, but also think of, who’s going to read your portfolio and also think of how little time they actually have.

So thanks for being somewhere, some, well, some much needed the reality into this. Some people just spend 15 seconds and that’s it. So. What attracts your attention than if you only have 15, 20 seconds? What attracts our attention in a portfolio? 

Nati: It’s a good question, because it also depends on the kind of designer that I’m looking for at that moment.

I met maybe focused on UX, maybe focused on UI. Usually when I’m looking for product designers, I’m looking for someone that does both, but I realized that 99% of the designers are stronger either here or, I mean, UX or UI and unicorns don’t exist. Eh, I’m sorry to disappoint you all. And so well, depending on my focus, I’m kind of in, in a certain state of mind, but in any case, even if it’s a UX designer that I’m looking for stronger in UX.

I still expect a very clean and neat portfolio, which has a good structure. And that can, you know, I got to look at one of your projects and understand very clearly. What was the problem? What did you do? What was the result?

Actually, I, a few years ago I had one, a project in my portfolio, and then I spoke to some startup founder and he told me, I read one of your case studies. And it was so clear to me. What was the project and what did you do? And I felt like it was like one of the nicest things someone ever told me. I actually made.

It, was able to explain the properties. I felt very, very good about it and explaining. In two or three sentences, it’s really, really tough, but you gotta get it right. You gotta have that summary on the top. What were you trying to achieve? What happened? And then that may be the the teaser for me as a recruiter to, yeah. Okay. This sounds interesting. Let’s let’s read on. 

Christian: I don’t know if you know about this saying that journalists use called don’t bury the lead, which comes from the second world war when they could only send a short messages and they wouldn’t know when the message would cut. So they would send the most informed the most important information first.

And that’s the way I think of a portfolio if you only had one or two sentences, And that was everything you could communicate to someone about the piece of work. What would that sentence be? And what I always say is for as much as possible, and I would be interested to hear if you have a different opinion on this is start with the results, something along the lines of designing a business to business tool that helped the company increase conversion by 5%. I don’t know this is off the top of my head, something like that. Yeah. 

Nati: well, of course, and I’m not sure if you necessarily need to have the results there, but it’s got to be a very short and very clear paragraph on what is this all about? with enough motivation to, to read on, eh, what about what you just said?

I do recommend writing goal those results. In your CV, you know, sometimes people post, yeah. I was a UX design lead that this and that company. and in that description, they write design mock-ups and wire frames work together with stakeholders. And I’m like, okay, that’s fine. That that’s pretty obvious.

That’s a place actually, where I would be happy to see. I designed an app that converted a hundred percent better. I don’t know it yet. Again, we’re coming up with all these KPIs, but that’s actually something that I would like to see are our results focused. A C. 

Christian: Yeah. And I don’t think people should be pressured into necessarily putting a number to it, but results doesn’t necessarily mean I’ve increased conversion by 5% because that’s also very much depends on what work you’re actually doing.

If you don’t work in the growth team of your company, you’re probably not going to touch the conversion rate. Right. But again, going back to what we said earlier, starting every project with some sort of a success criteria, that’s what you want to talk about and say, well, maybe, maybe it’s not a number, but maybe it’s allowing disabled people to access universal credit, whatever it is.

Again, this is totally off the top of my head. 

Nati: Absolutely. But it can also be, you know, design goals such as created a design system, which helped consolidating the entire design language of, uh, of the company’s products. That’s a design goal. That’s perfectly okay. 

Christian: Yeah, for sure. Any portfolio red flags, anything that you you see and your straightaway turned off anything. It might depend on whatever role you’re looking 

Nati: for, but good question. I try really hard to be objective and not be guided by my own bias. Eh, but I think that when I see grammatical mistakes or like a little grammar mistakes here and there, I don’t mind, but when I see like really bad English or things that very, you know, big typography issues, eh, things that just seem unprofessional, I’m kind of turned off and it’s sad because it doesn’t necessarily mean that this person is.

It’s not the good UX designer or they don’t understand how to do their stuff, it’s your presentation card, so you got to get it right, 

Christian: for sure. Yeah. It’s, it’s all about, it’s all about what you can control and you might not be able to control to control what’s someone looking at your portfolio thinks about it, but what you can do is you can control your grammar.

You can control how clean it is. You can control the way you write your study case. You can control the imagery you use. It’s all of that. That’s quite easy to do. I would say 

Nati: of course. And, uh, you know, some people sometimes have the excuse that it’s not their matter language or stuff like that, but you can always find someone to review your things, even if it was, if it is your own language, I would recommend you to have someone, a friend of yours review read, even someone that is not experienced in design ask a friend of.

You read this, do you understand what I meant? Do you understand what I did? It’s all I know. It’s not a designer and maybe they will not understand everything, but keep in mind that also HR recruiters sometimes go through our work portfolios. So the person that can, it’s not only the hiring manager, you got to various personas that could go through it.

Christian: No, I actually think asking someone who’s not a designer is a really great piece of advice because they will not be understanding naturally some of the jargon you would normally be using and it might push you to write. Even clearer or even more jargon-free at which we’ll never hurt anyone. Nobody will ever say, oh, this portfolio is too.

Well-written see. I read. So I think asking, asking someone, and even you look, look, even if it’s, if you don’t have anyone can do it, whatever, just use basic stuff like Grammarly, at least it iron’s out your grammatical mistakes. Okay. Yeah. 

Nati: And they would, I would avoid the jargon anyway. 

Christian: Right. Yeah, for sure. So that’s that’s yet another advice is try to write this clear as possible avoid words that not everyone might understand. 

Nati: I have this love and hate relationship with the jargon sometimes because sometimes I want to, you know clarify some point about something which is not clear and maybe it doesn’t have enough affordance.

And then I feel really bad about saying the word affordance to our stakeholders. I have this love and hate relationship. I gotta, I gotta admit that. Yeah. 

Christian: Fair enough. When you write affordance and then you write the star and at the bottom of the presentation, you write the definition of affordance just in case or 

Nati: straight, the linked to Google somewhere, right?

Christian: Thesaurus.com. Yeah. So when it comes to hiring, I would assume you approach hiring differently if you’d go for a junior designer, a senior or lead. So what are some of the differences, but also what are some of the similarities in how you would approach hiring people at different levels? 

Nati: So we already spoke about this a bit.

Eh, I can learn a lot by the questions people ask , and, uh, well, sometime in the last few times that I had to hire, we weren’t necessarily looking for a senior or a lead or a principal. We were looking for a designer and we would be happy to find the right person regardless of the title. but a few years ago when I was hiring in one of the companies I was working at, I just understood that one of the things I’m looking for when they hire is, uh, is that I would like to drink coffee with that person every morning. I look for, people that we can get along with, um, that we will have interesting topics to talk about that I can see, you know, a thinking person with critical thinking, that questions, things that could work in a team together.

Be helpful, be helped and help others. So I’m looking for designers, but I’m also looking for people that can work together as a team. 

Christian: Yeah. And culture is very important. So no wonder, like, I can remember many times when in interviews we’ve rejected very well-skilled people because we didn’t think they would fit in culturally. So I think that’s fair. 

Nati: That’s a complex topic though, because culture doesn’t mean that everyone should be, you know, same age or, living in the same city and being B kind of like minded. but I do need to see a connection. I think that teams that have a people of different ages and different maybe even coming from different countries.

I think there’s a lot to win from having. Different people with different perspectives parents with little kids or people that are not married, you know, in different stages of life. So I aim to have a various team, but again, I need to have some personal, okay.

Christian: Yeah. W 100% when I said culture, obviously culture is a very wide word. I didn’t mean, I didn’t mean culture. I meant what you said is what I have a coffee with this person every morning, which is I find is important because it creates relationships between people who didn’t have to work all day long.

And you’re much more likely to want to, I know, give better feedback or have an open, honest conversation with someone you’re connected with in a way. So I find that to be very important at work, especially when you work remotely, because that’s, sometimes it can feel alone or, sorry, not alone, lonely to be remote, but if you have a really good connection with a couple of people in your team, you can always reach out to them and say, Hey, don’t have a five minute chat or about this robot that are about nothing.

I find that to be very important. You, wrote an article and this is the last thing we’ll, we’ll talk about all the topic of hiring, but you wrote an article about the questions that. People to ask you doing an interview and then you categorize them. You know, you said, know these are the boring questions and these are the smarter questions.

So let’s talk a little bit about the smarter questions and why it’s important to ask some of those. What does it tell you as someone interviewing when someone asks one of those questions? 

Nati: Well, first of all, he tells me that they took the effort of even planning, what would be a smart question to be.

So that’s already something. And my claim is that the boring questions. I mean, the answer to those questions will come up anyway, because you’re probably going to know who’s going to be your manager or what projects you guys at working out. So that’s going to come up anyway. Um, but I think the smarter questions first make you look more experienced, more interesting more, eh, Well, you know, just more knowledgeable of what’s your craft.

Because again, if we go back to the topic of the podcast, design meets business, then we need to remember all the time that we are not isolated. We designed for a company, and then you got to be connected to whatever that company is, or at least undersstand it. 

Christian: Yeah, I’ll just run really quickly through a couple of them. and I’ll just, we’ll just link the article so people can actually read the reasoning between, um, behind everything. But what are the biggest challenges the team faces at the moment, strengths and weaknesses. If I loved this one, if you could do any magic what current problem in the product you would solve right away.

And I think that tells a lot about what problem you might have to solve if you joined that company, , what are the traits and skills that would make me successful in this, in this company or in this position? These are a few of them and the last one, which I actually think is the best one. Do you have any doubts or concerns regarding my fit to this position that I can address before we end? And I think that’s a ballsy question to ask, but I also think it’s yes. It’s, let’s talk just for a second about that. Cause I love that. 

Nati: Okay. So just let me go back to the magic wand question, because I think that. Eh, you know, you got to remember that when you go into an interview, they are interviewing you, but also you are interviewing them in some way, and there’s so much you can learn from that company. And that person, when you ask that question, then you can see if, if there’s some bright brightness in their eyes and they are all excited about what could be done or maybe they just start raising up all this issues that make their development process so slow or so complicated.

I mean, it could be anything, but I’ve seen so many different questions, so many different answers, and that bring up so much information for you as a candidate. So it’s really worth asking that one as for the last question, eh, yeah. It, uh, it requires a lot of confidence, eh, and guts, um, But I, yeah. You know, I stand by what I wrote. If these people tell you that everything is fine and then they reject you, then they are not so nice people just to put it that way. Right. 

Christian: Fair enough. Yeah. But they might also tell you something that’s been maybe misunderstood in the, until you, and you get the chance to clarify it or something that you haven’t had the chance to talk about. That’s quite important for them. I find that to be such a good question. 

Nati: Yeah. That’s exactly the idea. I got to say that even myself, at some point I wanted to ask that and like, I, okay. I kind of put on myself to ask that in that moment. but it’s worth doing. And the, whoever did it from what I’ve heard, had good results. So you got to try, 

Christian: I also think you, you kind of know where, when to ask that question and when to not ask the question, if you know the interview hasn’t gone very well and you’re not too fast about it, then why would you ask that? But if you think it’s gone well, if you really want the job then maybe it’s a good time to 

Nati: exactly. Don’t push it. If it’s suits, then ask it also, if you don’t that want that position, because what if, what you have just heard during the interview, then maybe it’s not worth, you know, Yeah, for sure. 

Christian: Yeah. 100%. Something you mentioned earlier, you said I am still pushing pixels. I’m still doing work at the moment cause I enjoy it. And because the team is quite small and something that I wanted to ask is you start in design and you become an individual contributor.

And at some point in time, you get so good at what you’re doing, that you are at a, at the junction where you can get to decide to continue on that path of being an individual contributor. Or you can say, do you know what I want to go into managing people? And very rarely there is that combination, that hybrid role, where you can do some in some, but when you find yourself at that junction, how do you know which way to go?

Nati: I guess it’s a bit of a personal calling and it requires to be very honest with yourself about. What you like, what you’re capable of and where you see your career in a few years from now, I can tell you that before I joined the Salesforce service, one of the designers on my team, and he was asked if he would be happy to lead the team.

And he explored the position for a few months, and eventually he decided that he’s not happy being a manager and not so interested in that. And he’s happy being an individual contributor. And I have so much respect for him, just for being honest about what he’s interested in and what’s he’s not.

Um, so that’s the reason why, especially big organizations have this parallel titles of principal designer and the same level as this director. So that’s perfectly fine. There’s a lot of to do in both, uh, in both. 

Christian: For sure. All right, let’s go to the end of a podcast questions, a couple of them, and then I’ll let you go. So one of them is what’s one soft skill that you wish more designers would possess. 

Nati: I think if I got to pick one, then I would go with the communication skills, more specifically storytelling. A lot of what we do of course is the work we do. But I think even more is the way we tell it the way we explain it to our stakeholders, the way we present it, both in interviews and also, you know, in the day-to-day work there’s a lot to lose and a lot to there’s a lot to miss when designers don’t know how to explain their work properly, you may have done great stuff, but then you are not able to make it through stakeholders and. It’s a lost opportunity. So I would love it. If designers got more practice on that too, 

Christian: that’s a great answer. And the other one, and this might be a tough one. What is one piece of advice? Step has changed your career for the better? 

Nati: well, I’m not particularly proud of this, but I think that as a young designer, I felt that my work was me and it wasn’t necessarily from a place of ego, but I was very passionate about every single thing I did.

And when I learned that it’s not all about me, but it’s about us as a team working together towards some goal and just leave your ego at the door when you get feedback or you get criticized. It’s not because you are not okay. You’re not a good designer and a good person. It’s just because someone is trying to help you make whatever you think.

Better or simply giving you a different opinion. And then I think the whole design craft became better and nicer for me to complete because until then I felt like under, you know, a very criticizing guy and then I understood it’s perfectly fine to get feedback about something that maybe it’s not as good as it could be.

Leave the ego at the door, be open. And from there, I think that’s kind of a realization that really changed the path of my career. 

Christian: Awesome. That’s great to finish on. So not any last words, where can people find you? Anything that you want to let everyone else know? 

Nati: So first I want to say thank you. This has been great. you can find me on LinkedIn. You can find me on medium. And the guest Facebook and Instagram, just as anyone else. Tick-tock not just yet. I’m just watching from the side and I guess that, yeah, LinkedIn would be the best. 

Christian: Sounds good, Nati. Thank you very much. Once again, for being part of Design Meets business, this has been a massive pleasure.

Uh we’ll uh, we’ll be in touch 

Nati: Thank you very much.

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, peace.