This is the transcript of Ask Me Anything Session with Nicole Saidy on Product Tribes community, October 3, 2019
Nicole is a UX designer based in Amsterdam. She’s focused on design systems, accessibility and shaping new designers through mentoring and online teaching. She’s currently working in the design systems and accessibility team at Booking.com.
You are now based in Amsterdam but you’ve been — to quote yourself — a digital nomad. How was it?
Before moving to Amsterdam I was a digital nomad, indeed. Meaning I was traveling while working on the go. I was doing a bunch of things at the same time while traveling the world: I was teaching at a coding bootcamp in different cities, working with clients on design projects, blogging, mentoring and creating online courses for new designers.
It was great. Especially the part where you don’t have a 9-to-5 job. Of course, it also had its ups and downs. Like the lack of stability, not having a “home” that you can get comfortable in, moving from city to city, etc. But that’s what made it so exciting.
Do you have UX writers in your team at Booking.com? If yes, what does your design process look like? I’d love to find out about it!
Yes, we do have UX writers. Normally our teams are cross-functional (designers, developers, product owners, etc.) but UX writers are external members who take care of multiple teams at once. We try to involve UX writers in the design process from the beginning and they usually work very close with UX designers. Normally, the process goes between them and it involves working on the copy of certain features that the designer is building, they join our design thinking meetings as well. They also work closely with translators as we do a lot of those at Booking for localisation. The copywriters are the bridge between us and translators.
Do you work on designs in collaboration? In other words, how does the copy make its way from them to your design?
Usually, designers request copy from writers during the design process and then iterations would normally encounter during the process.
Would you say your front-end dev skills are helping you as a designer? If yes, in what way?
It has opened my eyes:
- I can now know what is possible on the web, it liberated any restrictions. I’m now more in control of my own designs and it opened new possibilities for me which feels like it liberated my restrictions.
- My designs can now be accurately implemented since I have the knowledge of the technical implementation of my own designs and can therefore design accordingly.
- It actually landed my job at Booking, as not a lot of companies hire you without some coding knowledge and Booking is one of those.
When mentoring newer designers, what are some important (or favorite) nuggets of advice you like to impart?
I think newer designers have one common challenge which is “how to start”. And I think starting is indeed the hardest part of any journey. Especially when they feel like they don’t know what they’re doing or that they are not good enough to be a designer.
So I what recommend to new designers is:
- First, know that they are not supposed to be “born with it”. I get many questions about someone changing their entire career and if that’s a possibility. I say that it’s always possible. If you have the passion and the will to be a designer then with practice and determination you can do it, by yourself.
- Familiarize yourself with the design terms, like design thinking, design sprints, process, fundamentals, etc. This will make you understand things more when you’re discussing projects with designers and will give you context.
- Know that you can develop your eye for design and this is a skill that you can learn with time.
I talk more about these things in my article 7 steps to become a UI/UX designer.
Following up on your nomad life. How did you come up with the idea of online courses?
I have been blogging for a while and I realized that I have some knowledge for new designers that I can share. And I thought — hmm, some screencasts and videos would be convenient to share this information, and also, it would be nice to generate passive income from something that you work on once and then maintain it. So I did that!
You can find my online courses on my page — Become a UX/UI Designer.
How do you measure accessibility?
Good question, I think accessibility can be measured in different ways. Most of the times, you start with an audit where you find accessibility bugs through manual testing and/or automated testing, you prioritise the bugs and you fix them with your dev team. That’s the first thing you can measure: what were the bugs, how many were they? and are they fixed?
The testing can be manual by dev teams, but another one can also be qualitative testing with users with disabilities. You can do that with a user lab where you ask the users to perform certain tasks and you measure the success of the task before and after the bug fixing.
Do you have any advice around getting developers to well… develop an eye for accessibility and adhering to practices?
This is an ongoing challenge that I am now dealing with at Booking.com! In the accessibility team, we are now working on raising awareness of the accessibility topic within the tech department.
We do this by:
- training teams for accessibility. We teach them the importance of accessibility, how to use a screen reader, as well as the different accessibility best practices, technical dos and donts, and we let them test their own products for accessibility issues.
- making accessibility part of our design system and including accessibility guidelines within the component guidelines.
- celebrating accessibility and campaigning for it as much as possible. For example, we celebrated Global Accessibility Awareness Day this year and we brought external speakers to talk about accessibility.
These are some of the things we’re doing but it’s an ongoing process and we are seeing great progress so far!
How does Amsterdam influence your work and/or what does the design community look like in Amsterdam?
Amsterdam is my favorite city in the world! That’s a nice question. Amsterdam has indeed changed my life as the culture and vibes that I feel here are really unique. There are SO many different people from all around the world and from completely different cultures who live in the same city and that is why I love it so much. Each human here has their own life, their own ways of living, their own unique values but we somehow manage to be all together and happier than ever.
And the same is at Booking where I currently work. It is also very multicultural and this has opened my eyes to how different people can be and how you should adapt to different cultures. To give you a practical example: communication styles. I learned that communication has a scale from Direct to Indirect and your communication style relies heavily on your culture. I’m an indirect person and most dutch people are VERY direct (as you may have noticed) and actually living here has moved me on that scale from indirect to a bit more direct and that changed me a lot.
The design and tech community is pretty big and lively and there are SO many design meetups happening everywhere. Come live here!
Because you said you were travelling as a speaker as well, I’d like to know which conferences or events would you recommend to designers?
I recommend using a tool like confs.tech to look up the conferences that you would like to attend.
I especially recommend Awwwards!
Being a digital nomad, did you find it vital to have those various “work” things in the mix — across your teaching, blogging, speaking, and designing? For example, what do you think about the current landscape of freelance? Do you think there is still a place for agencies or independent freelancers in an ever-growing in-house design team industry?
I found it vital for me to have different channels as it made me motivated and kept things exciting.
Yes, I definitely think there is a place for independent freelancers in the industry. I think what’s important is for you to figure out what’s your added value. What is that one thing you can bring to the client that no other designer can? What is your true expertise? What is that thing that will make your client choose you and pay you a bit more than what others get? If you find your added value, you can indeed succeed in the business.
How the work of UX designer looks like in Booking.com? How does your daily routine look like?
If you ask this to any Booking employee, we will tell you a similar thing: it depends. Haha. That’s because every designer has a completely different team and each team works in different methods. But I can give you a general idea of my work.
I work in the Accessibility and Design systems team. And we maintain the design system of the product. We mostly work as a support team by helping designers and developers use the design system, as well as maintain the system (the tools, the framework, the documentation, etc.). I also advocate for accessibility as I mentioned previously.
As a general idea for other designers, they mostly work on product teams where they take care of an area of the product — for example, search results. They work in a cross-functional team and they work closely with copywriters and researchers to come up with solutions either for a new product or new features for an existing product. At Booking, we do a lot of experimentation, as in A/B testing. So we work closely with product owners to come up with a hypothesis and validate it with data.
How would you explain the difference between UX design and product design, if there is any difference?
At Booking, we only have a UX designer role but in my opinion, a Product designer is a combination of UX designer and product owner. A product designer focuses on the business side and the product point of view rather than just the user.
At your current job, how do you know what the most impactful thing is to work on?
Nice one! At Booking for me, the most impactful thing I can work on is when I interact with users the most and make a positive impact on them. Currently, I’m most passionate about accessibility and making a change around the company. And I think the more people are interested in the topic and the more they are advocating for it, the more I’m happy and I feel like I made an impact.
How does/can your lead/manager help you grow and develop?
I was a manager myself for a while but I decided to drop it as I wanted to focus on my craft more. I think a manager plays a huge role in my personal growth.
I think it’s important for a manager to create a psychological safety around the team. For me, that’s very important as it makes me feel comfortable to work with the people around me (for 8 hours/day!) and if I don’t feel comfortable enough then I can’t do my best work.
- A manager should be available for support when needed. I should be able to talk to my manager about anything (work-related) and they should help me by coaching and mentoring me.
- A manager should advocate for me. A lot of times I encountered managers who seem like they’re against their employees. On the contrary, I think a manager should be the one who should help their peers develop and grow and be the one advocating for them in the performance conversations.
- And of course, a manager should help me grow on the path that I want to pursue and should help me set my objectives, and know when to coach and when to mentor according to the situation.
In other words, a manager’s job is very hard.
Seeing as Booking.com centers around travel, how does travel inspire or influence your work? Are there any other inspirations (people or otherwise) that influence you as a designer?
Personally, traveling is one of the most important things for me. And without it, I wouldn’t be where I am today (not just technically, haha, but also in my own personal development). Travelling and meeting people from other cultures has helped me, inspired me and overall increased my empathy as a designer.
And on that note, did your passion for travelling had anything to do with you working for booking.com now?
I used the product a lot while I was travelling but I moved to Amsterdam through Booking.com when I got hired and the company helped me with the move and my papers a lot. It was a really easy move!
Is UX instrumental in deciding what to work on or is it feedback through customer service, requests from product management? What does that partnership look like when building and executing on a product roadmap?
I think it’s a bit of everything. Most of our work starts with data, with user feedback, with the results of other experiments, and we try to improve the product with data in mind. But sometimes it’s also an internal drive to improve a certain feature from a UX point of view. Such as improving the consistency in design through our design system, because from a UX point of view we need to be consistent and we need to follow design guidelines. Also for accessibility, we need to follow accessibility standards but we also want to do that for our customers, because we want to include everyone.
What’s the one thing you would like to share with our community on Product Tribes?
If there is one thing I can share today it would be: find your added value. I’m now constantly working on my personal development (not just career but anything really). And I recommend everyone to find that thing you’re really good at and pursue it. I’m sure each one of us is good at something and I want you to find that and make it your own thing. It will make you happy.
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