What’s your story? How did you get to SinnerSchrader and what happened along the way?
Oh! That is indeed a long journey, almost 10 years. After learning German during my sabbatical in 2009, I decided to look for a Job at a German company to practice and not to forget it all again. German is not an easy language, I’ll give you that!
I didn’t find many UX jobs at the time and between graphic design and development, I went for development because payment was way better and it was a bit more challenging for me. Back then, most companies didn’t think this Spanish lady would survive a single German winter... it took me almost 6 months to get my first job. I got my chance to prove them wrong in Hamburg at what today is SinnerSchrader Commerce. I had worked as an innovation design team lead in Spain and now started as an intermediate Content Manager with focus on developing jsf components for a project with Telefonica. I was very happy to work in German and practice the language. The dark side: the headaches were horrible the first weeks. My brain was so fried that I could only collapse on my bed after work.
Still, those were great times and I made friends for life. After that, life took me to Munich in another frontend role, and some years after I was given the chance to work as an international Sr. UX Architect at a large US company. This was not easy, I had great frontend recommendations in my profile and many German companies didn't think who was a dev could also be good at UX. So I travelled in the region in all topics UX; Design systems and UI implementations and consulted companies from Pharma to Mickey Mouse size going through football, insurance, banking, telco etc. Across 7 countries, several continents and in 5 languages. I was the only German speaking team member worldwide, and I got to build and coach the UX team, devs and sales colleagues in the region. During all this time I had kept in touch with my ex colleagues at SinnerSchrader. We met during the css conf, I was even at the Munich studio opening party and 3 years ago was the turning point: I left my role as UX DACH team Lead (ASG) to start as a Principal Product Designer in the Frankfurt office, which was the closest to home in Cologne. I can without doubt say that it has been a ride!
Where do you see overlaps between different disciplines and tech?
Everything overlaps in the experience. Tech is part of our lives. There is tech everywhere you look. There is no design without development and no development without design. The bigger the project, the more support you’ll need from Project Managers and Product Owners. If you don’t consult and sell it right, there will be no tech at all or not a tech as good as it could be. Without research and strategy you cannot know if you are designing the right thing. It is an interdependent ecosystem. There is no experience without access and there is no great experience without performance. I was always a performance freak. I hate to wait!
Products are created and delivered by cross- functional teams. From the initial research to the final go live and bug fixing, we need to work together to first find the right problems, and then achieve the best solution to problems we found. Projects based on assumptions or gut feeling can be very risky.
It’s the good understanding along the phases and more importantly the people taking part in the process that makes the difference. I’m a huge fan of co-creation. This involves not just designers, but all roles, including all sorts of engineers, specialists and users of all sorts along the way.
Would you say that the field you work in offers a huge chance to improve things and work on societal issues in the world even though it might not be the case at the first glance?
Yes of course we build products, we work on innovation and we try to disrupt our customers' markets. We’re building the future and we have not only the responsibility but also the capability in our hands. Building accessible inclusive products that take diversity and cross-cultural differences into account is much easier if done from the start. We want to bake it in. Not to bolt it on afterward. That’s when it gets ugly and really expensive. For example you are working with an international customer with a website that will roll out in the US, Germany and Japan, let's say research and design teams don’t take culture into account and developers don't implement a change in locale to enter dates in local format. Germany users would try to enter dd.mm.YY, US users mm.dd.YY and Japanese YYYYmmdd. Maybe that input is not even a date type but just a text input and we are checking for errors via js instead of using native browser capabilities. That is a mess, there will be a lot of errors, and we could avoid error input if we consider the context of our users from the beginning and use the right semantic elements. We cannot just blame the devs because they are at the end of the line and will be the ones fixing it. It is a joint effort, and luckily many issues can be fixed at design level way cheaper than at later stages.
What would you like to see happening in the next years to come?
From a general perspective: more inclusion, cross cultural teams with diverse backgrounds, different background stories and a wide range of abilities working together.
From a learning and training perspective: designers would show more interest in understanding development techniques and developers would show more interest in things like semantic HTML, standards and how their libraries are finally rendered in the browser. And accessibility, of course. Users access our designs and products via the browsers so both designers and devs must understand their capabilities. This includes things like screen readers, keyboard navigation and voice commands.
Is there any advice you would like to give to anyone who would like to become more actively involved in initiatives at work?
Find a group of like minded passionate folks to join forces, try to get an ally or two at C-Level if possible. If you are a junior, a more senior mentor or coach can help a lot too.
Don’t let anyone bring you down. If you need help, ask for it. If you need to take a step back please do and take impulse forward. You and your mental health come first. There will be people who might not understand what you do or are trying to do, give them time. Use the critiques in your favor to grow. Sometimes critiques show you your strengths and can give you a path to follow when you are lost.
Join professional associations (I’m a member of the German UPA for UX, GI & ACM for Tech innovation and IAAP for accessibility), attend meetups Take the lead if no one else is doing it. I lead the SinnerSchrader accessibility skill group and the German UPA accessibility working group.
If you have something to share, forget about perfectionism and get confident with public speaking, use Twitter, LinkedIn, medium or start a blog, you might suck and “your ego might suffer” at first, but you’ll get better.
Know that you are not alone: I started the Digital Accessibility Initiative to join forces within Accenture worldwide just 6 months ago: now we are people from more than 10 countries across the globe, almost 200 and growing, and have started training almost a hundred of colleagues from all disciplines. We have created a safe space where people can ask, discuss and ask for support if needed.