Find a career that reflects who you truly are instead of wasting your time and energy on something that doesn't fulfil you. That's the advice Vali Gurgu would give her younger self. Here she shares how a drastic career change set her on the right path to success and how helping a team come up with the worst solutions lead them to the best results.
Can you tell us about your current role?
I am responsible for the product strategy from a design perspective, overseeing products through the UX design process, ensuring teams follow a user-centric approach and making well-informed design decisions based on data, insights and tradeoffs.
As part of my role, I plan and facilitate UX workshops, resulting in user personas, journey maps, problem statements, and value propositions. Additionally, I conduct generative and evaluative research (user interviews, usability testing, etc.) and deliver UX/UI design artefacts, including sketches, design files, prototypes, discovery reports, and any other documentation required during product development.
One of the most fulfilling aspects of my job is mentoring and guiding an associate UX designer in my team. As well as working with many different cross-functional colleagues, including product managers, software engineers, developers, quality assurance engineers, technical writers, and product marketing managers.
What does being a Senior UX Designer mean to you?
As a Senior UX Designer, I have been able to take on more of a leadership role and influence the product development process. In order to drive alignment, coordinate multiple inputs, and develop a cohesive strategy, I must constantly hone my product psychology skills and strategic thinking abilities.
Empathy and good listening skills are also essential for the role. To understand what users need and want, you have to be able to put your own opinions to one side and pay close attention to what users say and do.
For me, the spirit and culture of knowledge sharing and caring about others is one of the most special aspects of the UX industry. It is a culture that champions mentoring. I am lucky to be a mentor myself to an associate UX Designer. I find it rewarding to share my knowledge and experience and support others to forge their own path to success.
How did you get into UX Design?
I've had some "crazy" career transitions throughout my life. I started in law school, and after practising it for a year, I realised it wasn't a good fit for my personality or aspirations. From there, I made the leap into Graphic Design and Media, taking a role as an Art Director in publishing.
When the industry started to switch to digital, I became fascinated with finding new digital solutions for the publishing industry. I got involved in a few digital projects before studying UX design and undertaking some of my own research. After achieving a certificate in UX design from George Brown College (one of the first institutions to offer programs in UX design), I seamlessly transitioned into the world of UX design.
What does a typical day look like?
There really is no such thing as a typical day in UX design. Depending on the design stage of each product I work on, my day can consist of a mix of the following activities:
- Research and strategy - at the beginning of a project I am involved in the product strategy discussions. My goal at this stage is to really understand the user's needs through various research methods. After designing a prototype, I then have to test and analyse how users interact with it.
- Ideation - this phase involves a mix of research analysis and brainstorming.
- Design - this is when a concept is transformed into a rough draft, wireframes, and then a high-fidelity prototype.
- Communication - as a designer, I often need to present research reports, wireframes, and prototypes and justify changes to other teams and stakeholders.
What is a memorable moment in your career so far?
At Adaptavist, I have conducted many UX/design thinking workshops. But without a doubt, the most memorable is the one I planned a few months ago for the Orah apps team.
The purpose of the session was to come up with some ideas/solutions for a problem that needed to be solved for an existing Trello app. But the issue was we were all so involved with the specific product that we were completely blindsided. The team had reached a dead end, and enthusiasm for more brainstorming was in short supply. So I decided to change things up a bit and try something new. I proposed a "worst/crazy idea" workshop—an ideation method where team members purposefully seek out the worst solutions to a problem.
By simply reversing the usual brainstorming norms, the whole team was much more open and relaxed during the session. There was no fear that someone's ideas might seem silly since that was precisely the point of the workshop.
With this approach, we were able to overcome the impasse that other ideation techniques had created. And as a result, we came up with out-of-the-box, unexpected ideas. But more important than anything, we had fun in the process.
What's the worst part of your job?
Persuading reluctant colleagues to invest time upfront in the 'problem-framing' stage of UX. Sometimes people are impatient and want results immediately, so they naturally jump straight to ideation. But the reality is you cannot create compelling user experiences in a vacuum. It is crucial to understand the user's needs first and take the time to define the problem you are trying to solve and the outcomes you want to achieve.
As Einstein said: "If I had an hour to solve a problem, I'd spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and 5 minutes thinking about solutions." My job would be so much easier if everyone adopted this approach!
And the best?
The best thing about working at Adaptavist is that you get to work with people from all over the world and many different cultures.
I also love that I don't have to follow the same steps day in and day out. Being responsible for different products means I’m always strategising and seeking out the right tool, process or deliverable for the job. Depending on the challenge, I often try something entirely different from the day before.
For example, over the past two years, I have facilitated many UX discovery and design thinking workshops for different products and teams. For each session, I am able to choose different collaborative activities and research techniques depending on the problem we are trying to solve. I love the freedom, flexibility, and choice it gives me; it's really refreshing.
What's it like working for The Adaptavist Group?
Working for a company with the best culture (that isn't forced) and great co-workers is awesome. As well as offering great benefits, Adaptavist genuinely cares about its employees' growth and work-life balance. It's also been a privilege to be part of a UX design and research department that's growing and expanding rapidly.
Insider tip: if you are considering a career in UX design, it's worth knowing that as empathy and listening skills are really important in this field, they tend to be great people to work with 🙂
What would you have told your younger self about work?
Rather than waste your time and energy in a career that doesn't make you happy, follow your passion and find one that reflects your true self. I would also tell her that making a career change, even if it feels quite drastic, will be the best thing she ever does, so she should never feel guilty about going back to school to study design. Lastly, I would tell her that she has a lot to look forward to and will work in a cool environment and make a big difference one design at a time.
What has being a woman in a tech meant for you? Has it impacted your career or experiences?
Until I saw this question, I had never considered myself a woman in tech. But it's true —I am a woman, and I work in technology. The first thing you notice as a woman in tech is that women are underrepresented (if you look at the statistics within the tech industry, the gender gap becomes apparent). I don't think about it at Adaptavist because I work with so many inspiring women, many of which hold leadership roles.
For me, as a female UX designer, it's about carving out your own path to success. Here's what I've learned on my journey so far:
It's not all about technology—the research part is more social science than anything else. There's also storytelling and a lot of sketching involved.
I'm always learning—experimentation with new tools and processes is always necessary. As a UX designer or researcher, you must be willing to learn and adapt constantly.
Solving problems is my job—Understanding how a problem affects users involves extensive research and empathy. There is no better feeling than when a new app/product/feature you designed makes someone's life easier or better.
Anything else you'd like to share?
An interesting topic that has caught my attention lately is how bias is baked into our systems. There are some very interesting books and studies out there about data bias.
Caroline Criado Perez, the author of “Invisible Women” argues that there are gaps in big data and that human history is comprised of a gender data gap that erases women's experiences, needs and daily lives. Also, it makes you wonder why the technology sector is particularly lacking in gender diversity.
The reality is a lot of products are designed and tested with only male specifics as reference. And this has been the case for a long time. Inertia is probably one of the main causes of women's invisibility in tech.
As UX designers, we must learn how to design with all genders in mind and ALL needs in scope. Our mission should be to widen the scope of product design and create a truly universal platform with no more biases.
Continue the conversation
Watch our Women in Tech webinar to find out more about our technical roles, life at The Adaptavist Group, and what it takes to be a woman in tech.